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Asia travel

Five things to do in Nepal – other than trekking through the mountains

Had enough of hiking? Now it’s time to see what else Nepal has to offer, from Unesco World Heritage site the Pashupatinath Temple to its wealth of wildlife wonders and a festival or two

PUBLISHED : Monday, 16 October, 2017, 6:00pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 17 October, 2017, 7:12pm

Home to the world’s highest peaks, Nepal is globally renowned for its trekking adventures. But if hiking Annapurna or tackling Everest isn’t your idea of a holiday, there are plenty of other sides of Nepal to explore. There’s pristine nature, with 7,500 different types of vegetation, more than 60 ethnic groups with different cultures, customs and languages and a festival almost every day of the year.

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“There is much more to Nepal than the mountains. The culture, the people, the daily lives; this is what people want and this is what we have, ” says Shiva Dhakal, managing director of royal Mountain Travel, who has spent the last two years developing a network of 12 community homestays across the country.

Here we round up some of the lesser-known attractions that make booking a trip to the country essential.

1. Religious Nepal

Home to the birthplace of Buddha – Lumbini – Nepal is dotted with a blend of Hindu and Buddhist monuments, shrines and temples. Those wanting to delve into the country’s diverse origins and practices have a wealth of options to explore.

Pashupatinath Temple on the outskirts of Kathmandu is a colourful cacophony of life – and death. The Unesco World Heritage site is Nepal’s largest Hindu shrine. Half-naked, dreadlocked sadhus (holy men) offer blessings, while families bring their dead there to be cremated. The ceremony Antyesti (“last sacrifice”) is carried out on the riverbanks.

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The Nepalese also have a strong spiritual connection with the Himalayas. To Buddhists, the highest peaks are sacred, and Hindus believe they are where the gods meditate. Nepal is also home to many meditation retreats for those looking for some soul-searching. Nepal Vipassana Centre (shringa.dhamma.org) runs 10 to 45-day silent courses that use the ancient form of vipassana meditation to attain true personal insight. This means no talking, no phones, and no social media or contact with the outside world.

Kopan Monastery (kopanmonastery.com) offers seven-night, 10-night and month-long retreats, ranging from discovering Buddhism to transforming problems into happiness – a five-day course that takes in Tibetan mind-training techniques developed in the 14th century that help to identify and overcome negativity.

2. Natural Nepal

If it’s the trekking that draws visitors to Nepal it’s often the warm nature and innate generosity of the people that makes them return. Thanks to the recent development of community-based tourism projects, visitors can now discover the country’s colourful variety of tribes, ethnic groups, religions and ways of lives across the country.

CommunityHomestay.com is a network of 12 homestays aimed at travellers wanting a glimpse into genuine Nepal. Run by Royal Mountain Travel (royalmt.com.np), visitors stay with host families in remote villages, immersing themselves in daily life, from working the fields and cooking, to joining celebrations at local festivals.

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Patlekhet community homestay in Kavrepalanchok district works with 18 homes in an organic village that has breathtaking views of Mount Jugal and Mount Ganesh. Visitors can explore the community forest, where terrace and agricultural farming takes place, learn about cattle farming in the area and plant fruit and vegetables.

3. Adventurous Nepal

The Trishuli River (three hours from Kathmandu) is a popular spot for white-water rafting, with the series of rapids – given names such as Ladies Delight and Scout Upset – varying in strength depending on the season. Thrill-seekers can also get their fix bungee jumping 160 metres into a tropical gorge with the Bhote Koshi river roaring below. White Water Nepal (raftnepal.com) offers a range of a trips geared towards adrenaline junkies.

For a bird’s-eye view of the mountain range, check in with Avia Club Nepal (aviaclubnepal.com), which offers a range of daily flights out of gateway to the Himalayas, Pokhara. Options include ultralight flights, paragliding, skydiving, hang-gliding and paramotoring. Another unique way to see Everest and Annapurna is heli-skiing – off-trail skiing accessed by helicopter. Himalayan Heliski Guides (heliskinepal.com) puts on various trips.

4. Wild Nepal

Nepal’s plains offer a wealth of wildlife wonders, from rhinos, tigers and elephants, to crocodiles, deer and a host of birds. Chitwan National Park is the country’s largest nature reserve, and was made a World Heritage Site in 1984. Sprawling across 932 km, it is home to more than 68 mammals, including Bengal tigers and leopards – although spotting the giant cats is a rare treat.

Various safaris run in the park, which has run a series of successful rhino conservation projects, with more than 600 one-horned rhinoceroses now calling it home. Guests can travel on foot, by ox-cart or jeep. Tiger Tops’ Tharu Lodge (tigertops.com/tharu-lodge) is an idyllic wilderness retreat on the edge of Chitwan that runs safaris, as well as a range of other nature and cultural oriented trails.

Tiger Tops also recently opened its Elephant Camp (tigertops.com/elephant-camp) on the edge of the park, near Narayni River. Advocating responsible tourism, it offers no elephant rides. Instead, guests can sit on the sidelines, watching the elephants grazing in their natural habitat and meeting the mahouts who spend their days with the beasts.

5. Luxurious Nepal

Nepal isn’t reserved for the backpacking crowd or trekkers. While luxury offerings are in their infancy, there are numerous ways to splash the cash and live the high life. Fancy champagne breakfast at Everest Basecamp without the effort of getting there? No problem, a helicopter or private plane is on hand to arrange it – if you have a few thousand dollars to spend on three hours. Thill Nepal Adventure (thrillnepal.com.np) offers a three-hour trip with a helicopter ride to either Everest or Annapurna base camp to enjoy a champagne breakfast, starting at HK$32,798.

Pokhara is also home to a growing number of hotels offering lavish experiences. At Rupakot Resort (rupakotresort.com), nestled on Sarankot – overlooking Pokhara to one side and Machapuchare (fishtail) mountain to the other – guests can lounge in an infinity pool overlooking the Annapurna range, glance down on shimmering Phewar Lake in Pokhara from the floor-to-ceiling windows in each sumptuous room, revive with yoga and meditation or be pampered at the spa.

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And for those trekkers who don’t like the idea of sharing a cold shower and insect-riddled bathroom with fellow guests, a range of luxury, tailor-made treks through the Himalayas have been developed to suit guests’ individual needs and upmarket tea houses have opened. ACE the Himalayas (acethehimalaya.com) organises 14-day luxury treks to Everest base camp, staying at the finest lodges available along the way.

Getting there:

Cathay Pacific flies direct from Hong Kong to Kathmandu (five hours) five days a week.