If you have ever wanted to go to Nepal and have not been able to convince yourself yet, let me sort it out for you, right away. A perfect blend of adventure, Nepalese hospitality, gorgeous Himalayan landscape and world heritage sites await you at this landlocked central Himalayan country.
However, when I reached Kathmandu for a 12-day trip, I wondered whether I did the right thing by choosing the cultural tour over the adventure one because I had only known Nepal as a paradise for trekkers and a gateway to the mighty Mount Everest. But after checking into a beautiful eco-friendly hotel, gorging on delicious dumplings, exploring the colourful lanes of Thamel (backpacker’s paradise) and indulging in authentic Nepalese thaali, I had found my peace by late evening. I knew I was in for a different kind of adventure!
THE MANY FACETS OF NEPAL
The capital city of Kathmandu enjoys the architectural brilliance of 7 UNESCO World Heritage Cultural Monuments. The historical village of Panauti basks in the beauty of traditional hospitality and homestays. Chitwan is the land of wilderness which promises an enriching jungle experience in the company of one-horned rhinoceros, elephants, tigers and more.
Bhaktapur is famously known as the ‘living heritage’ or a ‘living museum’ for preserving amazing architectures, art, mythology and cultural vibrancy of the Newari tribes. Lumbini is the birthplace of Buddha. Pokhara makes a picturesque city of tranquil lakes. Annapurna is definitely one of the best trekking regions of the world. The city of Patan is best known for its finest traditional crafts and artists. Excluding Annapurna, I visited all the places.
For me, the first authentic and rich local experience in Nepal happened when I travelled to Panauti, a village 32 km from Kathmandu. It gave me a chance to stay with the locals and get acquainted with their traditional homes, shops, old temples and so on. And most importantly, I loved the fact that the local people had all the time to stop, smile and talk about their village.
“You must have the Laakhamari,” said the owner of my homestay in Panauti and in no time she offered me a big, round sweet dish made from wheat flour dough and pure ghee. The intricate patterns looked very interesting and when I tasted it I could make out that a heavy coating of thick sugar on top made it delightfully relishing. It is a special dish made by the Newari families.
Unlike other places where I stayed for only one or two days, I got a chance to stay for four days in Kathmandu in an eco-friendly heritage hotel. The hospitality was great and the friendly hotel owner would greet the guests every morning. Dressed in traditional attire and Dhaka / Nepali topi, he would exude a lot of warmth and cheerfulness. Later, I learnt that it is customary to wear a Nepali topi (cap or hat) on special occasions and the bridegroom always wears one on his wedding day.
Shopping for souvenirs is the best time to interact with locals and appreciate the art and culture of a country. I took a fascination for the products made from Nepali paper (Lokta), Hemp bags, Thanka Arts, the puppets of Kumari, Ganesh and Bhairab, the statues of Buddha, masks of Green Tara, White Tara, and the ceramic and wooden crafts while walking around the shopping streets of Pokhara and Kathmandu.
The vibrant warm smiles, heartfelt handshakes, helping gestures and friendly banters of the Nepalese people added to my experience and created some fond memories.
RISE AND SHINE
Nepal was hit by a devastating earthquake in April and May 2015 but the country and its resilient people have bounced back. Though the damage of life and its historic buildings was heart rending, the repairs have helped to rebuild the confidence that nothing has been lost and Nepal is as beautiful as any other place.
I was in Nepal to attend the Himalayan Travel Mart and International Travel Bloggers and Media Conference along with 100 bloggers around the world. The two events were organised by Nepal Tourism Board and Nepal PATA Chapter and the aim was to show us the real and natural Nepal. I feel they nailed it by taking this positive step towards their tourism.