Photo: Bo Jørgensen
1. Get high with holy men on Shivaratri.
Marijuana is illegal for most of the year in Nepal (although you wouldn’t necessarily know it). Except during the Shivaratri festival in March, that is. On these two days, young and old, male and female, smoke a joint or imbibe ganja ‘tea,’ to honour Hindu Lord Shiva. If you happen to be in Kathmandu during this time, visiting the Pashupatinath Temple — the holiest Hindu site in Nepal — can be a colourful but crowded experience, with the thousands of sadhus (Hindu holy men) who travel from across Nepal and India to get high and worship Shiva. But Shivaratri celebrations are held all over Nepal, so you can join in wherever you are. It’s a pretty chilled out couple of days.
2. Visit Buddha’s birthplace at Lumbini.
You’ll quickly learn after arrival in the country that ‘Buddha was born in Nepal.’ After all, those slogans emblazoned across the sides of trucks can’t be wrong. At the time that Siddhartha Gautama Buddha walked the earth, Nepal wasn’t Nepal and India wasn’t India as we know them today. But the place of Buddha’s birth, Lumbini, is situated on the southern plains of what is now Nepal. So although only around 11% of Nepali people are Buddhists, all Nepalis seem to be proud of this fact. Join the pilgrims at Lumbini, and visit the ruins of ancient monasteries as well as newly built ones from nations around the world while you’re there.
3. Paddle for nine days down the Sun Kosi River.
Although the country is better known for its hiking trails, Nepal is also one of the best places in the world to take multi-day whitewater rafting trips. The Sun Kosi River, in particular, often featured on top-10 places to go whitewater rafting lists. The 260 km/170 mile, nine-day trip will take you past high hills, terraced rice paddies, sparkling and remote beaches, friendly villages, local temples, dense jungle, and finally the flat plains bordering India. GRG’s Adventure Kayaking runs popular rafting and kayaking trips down the Sun Kosi, as well as other rivers throughout Nepal. And if you don’t think you’re quite up to a full nine-day affair, single-day rafting trips in Nepal are just as awesome, and every river is different.
4. See a real-life yeti skull in Khumjung.
Behind the grimy glass of a small cabinet in the Khumjung Monastery sits a yeti skull. Or rather, what a toupee for someone with an extremely large, pointy head would look like. If you’re skeptical and don’t think that the yeti skull alone is worth the 3-4-day trek from Lukla, know that the town of Khumjung sits along the Everest Base Camp trek, so there are other good reasons to visit.
5. Be blessed by a living goddess.
The modern city of Kathmandu is actually comprised of three major ancient kingdoms: Kathmandu, Lalitpur (Patan) and Bhaktapur. Each erstwhile kingdom has its own Kumari, or Living Goddess. A little girl from the Newari Bajracharya caste is chosen at the age or 3 or 4 as the embodiment of the goddess Taleju. She is deeply revered by the Newari people (the original inhabitants of the Kathmandu Valley) and is involved in many of the traditional festivals. Her blessings are said to be especially potent, but don’t prompt the serious-looking child to smile at you: it is said that if she does, the goddess Taleju is summoning you to death.
6. Paraglide over Pokhara.
Pokhara is beloved as a place to relax and de-stress after the clamour of Kathmandu. One of the most peaceful experiences is to paraglide over the city. As well as views of bright green terraced farmland and the calm turquoise waters of Phewa Lake, on a clear day you will get sweeping views of the Annapurna Himalayas, which are close to Pokahra. Babu Sunuwar is one the best-known and most well-respected paragliders in Nepal, and runs Pokhara-based Babu Adventure.
7. Soothe your aching muscles in a natural hot spring.
Look out for towns named ‘Tato Pani,’ which means ‘hot water’ in Nepali, as many of these places will have natural hot springs bubbling from the ground and piped into public baths. This isn’t just some fancy spa experience, however. The hot springs of Tato Pani in Myagdi District for example, on several of the Annapurna trekking routes, are rugged baths cut into rock beside the Kali Gandaki River. No bikinis here — women, especially, should be fully clothed. But the soothing hot water is just what you need after long, steep ascents and descents in the mountains.
8. Spot Royal Bengal tigers in Bardia National Park.
Because it’s not as popular as the Chitwan National Park (due to its greater distance from Kathmandu), the Bardia National Park in Nepal’s far west offers a more rugged jungle and safari experience. It also means that your chances of spotting tigers are higher, because there is less disruption to their habitat.
9. And rhinos in Chitwan.
The Chitwan National Park may get a lot more visitors than Bardia, but you are practically guaranteed to spot a rhino here. The animals are enormous and quite intimidating to encounter from an open-topped jeep, but this experience shouldn’t be missed while in Nepal. Out of the estimated 645 rhinos in the whole of Nepal, Chitwan is home to more than 600 of them. Plus, Nepal has just celebrated its second ‘zero poaching year’ in a row, meaning that the rhino population’s stability is looking good.
10. Stay at a rural homestay.
Nepal has many beautiful hotels from the cities to the mountains, but for an intimate, peaceful and local experience, homestays beat the luxury and packaging of a hotel. Homestays are also a good way to meet and interact with local women, something that is often difficult in Nepal because of the dominance of men in the tourism industry. While staying at the Barauli Community Homestay near the Chitwan National Park, for example, you will have the chance to help the women cook the evening meal, go for a bike ride down to the Narayani River, or just take a guided walk around the traditional Tharu village.
11. Ride a local mountain bus — preferably on the roof.
It’s technically not legal to ride on the roof of a bus in Nepal. But there are many things that are ‘technically not legal’ here that are done anyway. You’ll feel equally terrified and exhilarated by the wind rushing past your ears as you brace yourself for dear life.
12. Fly safely to the ‘world’s most dangerous airport.’
Sure, the Tenzing-Hillary Airport at Lukla is technically the world’s most dangerous airport, with numerous crashes resulting in loss of life in the past few decades. But flying there is the quickest way to reach the Khumbu region, where Mount Everest is located, so the visitors keep on coming. The short runway cuts directly into the side of a mountain, and veers sharply to the right after a few short metres. But on a fine-weather day, the experience is so exciting — and so beautiful, with views of enormous mountains, farmland and sheer valleys –that it’s easy to forget the danger amid the excitement of arriving here.
13. Get drunk on local chhang or raksi.
Befriend any Nepali person and before long, you’ll be offered some kind of local alcohol, either chhang or raksi. Both are made from rice, but chhang is less filtered so has a milky colour, slightly lumpy texture and smoother taste. Raksi is more refined, so it is a strong, clear liquor that tastes much like Japanese Nihonshu (sake). You’ll probably need your Nepali friends to buy it for you though, as it’s often just sold in repurposed mineral water bottles at the local corner store.
14. Trek, raft or fly through the deepest gorge in the world.
The Kali Gandaki Gorge, at 5,571m/18,287 feet is the deepest gorge in the world, and there are many ways to experience it. You can take a nail-biting flight from Pokhara to Jomson through the gorge, looking above and below at the mountains out the window. You can trek one of the many mountain trails of the Annapurna region that pass through it. Or you can whitewater raft or kayak down the Kali Gandaki River, for river-to-peak views of some of the highest mountains in the world.
15. Experience one of the world’s best-preserved Tibetan cultures in Mustang.
Until 2008, the Kingdom of Lo was a separate kingdom within Nepal. It became the Mustang District in 2008, when the whole of Nepal became a republic. It has been a strategically important region for a long time, as it is on a major trade route between China and India. Mustang was closed to foreign visitors until 1992, and still requires an expensive permit to go there (US$500 for 10 days). But for the few tourists who do venture there, the well-preserved Tibetan culture and barren, windswept landscape in the rain shadow of the Himalayas make the effort worthwhile.
16. Lower yourself backwards down a waterfall.
Lowering yourself backwards down anything might not seem like the smartest idea. But canyoning is another example of a great adventure sport that you can do in Nepal, and there are many places to do so. From The Last Resort, on the Bhote Kosi River, you can canyon down eight waterfalls in one half-day trip. But, arguably, the prettiest spot to go canyoning is the waterfall at Jalberi, just past Mugling, on the main highway between Kathmandu and Pokhara. At Jalberi you can also jump into numerous waterholes, slide down slippery channels between the rocks, and in the monsoon, swim in the high waters of the main waterfall’s plunge pool.