Established in 1973, the Chitwan National Park is a 932 square kilometre nature reserve of jungle, forest and marshland awarded world heritage status in 1984.
The Park replaced a hunting reserve used by the rich and famous; King George V and his son, the future Edward VIII, bagged 18 rhinos during a 1911 shooting trip.
Chitwan—meaning ‘heart of the jungle’—offers visitors an excellent chance of spotting one-horned rhinos, deer, monkeys, wild boars, hyenas, gharial crocodiles and over 450 species of bird (including parakeets, kingfishers, orioles and drongos). The Park is also home to (more elusive) leopards, wild elephants, sloth bears and majestic royal Bengal tigers. Despite setbacks during the Maoist insurgency, animal numbers are improving: a 2011 census counted 501 rhinos and 125 adult tigers. We suggest that visitors should spend two days in the park, so as to allow plenty of time for foot and elephant treks. One of Nepal’s premier attractions.
9. A day trip to Patan
Patan is situated to the south of Kathmandu, and only separated from the capital by the Bagmati river. It is the second largest town in the Kathmandu valley.
Patan has an ancient history, with the corners of the town being marked by stupas erected in around 250 BC. Research by Lonely Plant suggests that Patan has a greater concentration of temples per square metre than either Kathmandu or Bhaktapur! Patan’s most interesting attractions include the Golden Temple (together with a number of tortoises found in its courtyard), the five-storey Kumbeshwar Temple (dating from 1392), and the Red Machhendranath Temple (dating from the 17th century, and containing carvings of a number of weird and wonderful animals).
The Patan Museum is housed in a carefully restored Malla royal palace on Patan Darbar and exhibits about 200 examples of bronze or copper gilt statues of Buddhist or Hindu deities. Opened in 1997 by King Birendra, the building’s 14-year restoration was funded by the Austrian government.
Highlights include a 12th century seated Buddha, named Shakyamuni, made of copper alloy and gilt and the Museum’s Keshav Narayan Chowk courtyard (complete with wood carvings, red-brick facade and golden door and window). The works are accompanied by helpful explanatory information, produced by the eminent cultural historian Mary S. Slusser. The Patan Museum Cafe, situated in the peaceful garden, offers good quality snacks and light meals.
10. Kopan Monastery
The Kopan Monastery is a gated community of Buddhist monks found on a hilltop north of Boudhanath.
Founded by Lamas Thubten Yeshe and Zopa Rinpoche in the early 1970s, the Monastery houses 360 monks in grounds which include an enormous Bodhi tree, the Chenrezig gompa (temple), statues, prayer wheels, prayer flags (at the top of Kopan Hill) and the colourful Thousand Buddha Relic Stupa (pictured).
The Monastery is twinned with the nearby Khachoe Ghakyil Nunnery. Those visiting should expect to replace the hubbub of central Kathmandu with morning chanting, an evening pooja/puja ceremony (involving pageantry and traditional Tibetan music made from cymbals and large horns), study, silence, peace and love. The Monastery also offers daily and longer courses in meditation and yoga, provides panoramic views over the Kathmandu valley, has an immaculately kept garden and great gift shop and café. Just beware of the monkeys: they have a habit of stealing ice-cream from unsuspecting tourists!
11. Royal Botanical Gardens
The Royal Botanical Gardens, found 18 kms south of Kathmandu in the foothills of Mount Phulchowki, are a site of outstanding beauty.
Opened by King Mahendra Bir Bikram Shah Dev in 1962, the Botanical Gardens—the only in Nepal—now hold over 500 species of plant in 82 hectares. Highlights include the decorative Coronation Pond, visitor centre (with interesting exhibits on Nepal’s flora), greenhouses, and collections of rhododendrons (Nepal’s national flower), lilies, orchids, cacti and ferns. Spring and autumn are the peak flowering seasons and therefore the best times to visit.
The Godavari Spring, found 200 metres from the Botanical Gardens’ main gate, is also well worth a look. This freshwater spring spouting ice-cold water from the Gadavari river is reputed to have been created when the Buddhist Mystic Padmasambhava struck a rock (in order to demonstrate that the ultimate truth is clear and will fulfill the people’s thirst); unsurprisingly, the Spring is a popular Hindu and Buddhist pilgrimage site.
Those with more energy will enjoy a hike to the top of Phulchowki (2715 m), the highest hill in the Kathmandu valley, to take in the views and a small Buddhist shrine at the summit.
12. Swayambhunath Stupa
The Swayambhunath Stupa (meaning the ‘self-created’ stupa, aka the Monkey Temple) is found on a hilltop to the west of Kathmandu.
Second in importance only to the Boudhanath Stupa, the Swayambhunath complex, founded by King Manadeva during the fifth century, contains a stupa, temples, shrines, Tibetan monastery, museum and library.
The Stupa, re-gilded with 20 kilograms of gold in 2010, has a large white dome at its base, above which are painted four sets of Buddha’s eyes and eyebrow; further up the Stupa are found four pentagonal Toran (gateways) and thirteen tiers leading to the Stupa’s golden spire.
Monkeys live to the north-west of the complex; they are said to be holy because they grew out of head lice living in the bodhisattva (enlightened person) Manjusri’s long hair! Visitors should also inspect the carvings of the five Panch Buddhas found on each side of the Stupa, the two lions guarding the Stupa’s entrance, the adjacent Harati Devi Temple, Shantipur (a small temple northwest of the main stupa), and the Pratappur and Anantapur shrines.
We recommend accessing Swayambhunath by the 365 worn steps that lead up the eastern side of the hill; the start of this climb is marked by a 12-foot Tibetan prayer wheel and three painted Buddha statues. The Stupa offers great views over Kathmandu, especially in the early evening. To catch the Tibetan pilgrims, you will need to arrive before 9am.
13. Langtang National Park
Langtang was established in 1976 as Nepal’s first Himalayan National Park.
Covering an area of 1,700 square kilometres, Langtang has a maximum altitude of 7,200 metres and contains climatic zones ranging from the sub-tropical to the alpine.
Found in the Nukator, Rasuwa and Sindhulpalchok districts of central Nepal, Langtang is best known for its flora and fauna, sacred Hindu sites and great trekking (being the third most popular trekking area after Everest and Annapurna).
The Langtang National Park’s highest peaks are Langtang Lirung (7,227 metres) and Dorje Lakpa (6,966 metres). At lower levels the flora includes oaks, pines, maples and rhododendrons, and the fauna includes red pandas, Himalayan Tahrs (which resemble goats) and black bears, Rhesus monkeys and (if some accounts are to be believed) the occasional Yeti!
At 4,380 metres and with a surface area of 34 acres, the sacred Gosainkunda lake (pictured) is a must-see. Considered to be the home of Hindu deities Lord Shiva and Goddess Gauri, the lake is a popular pilgrimage site for the Janai Purnima (Sacred Thread) festival in August of each year. This festival marks the date on which Hindu men change the yellow cotton cord worn around their chest or right wrist.
Starting at Sundarijal, a short taxi ride from Kathmandu, the 10-15 day Langtang valley trek takes you into the heart of the Langtang range. Passing through the villages of Chisapani, Kutumsang and Gosainkund, the trek crosses the 4,610 Laurebina Pass on its way to Langtang village. The views of the surrounding peaks—for instance the 6,400 Gangchempo or ‘Fluted Peak’—and the Everest and Annapurna ranges to the east and west are breathtaking.
14. Garden of Dreams
The Garden of Dreams is a beautiful enclave found a stone’s throw from the centre of Thamel.
The Garden—formal in style—occupies about half a hectare. Its lush lawns, sunken flower gardens, large central pond, fountains, gazebos and three neo-classical pavilions are kept in pristine condition.
Built by Field Marshall Kaiser Shumsher (1892-1964), son of Nepal’s prime minister Chandra Shumsher, the Garden was inspired after a trip to Edwardian England using funds that Kaiser had won from his father in a game of cowrie shells.
The Garden was restored by the Austrian team responsible for the renovation of the Patan Museum (see above). They are best savoured in good weather, over a picnic or whilst reading a book or surfing the net (wifi available).
Located 80 miles to the west of Kathmandu, Pokhara is a stunningly beautiful and refreshingly tranquil traveller’s paradise.
Pokhara is built around the Phewa Tal, Nepal’s second largest lake (pictured). It offers a number of high-end hotels, clean and comfortable guesthouses, and a range of excellent restaurants and bars.
Don’t miss the opportunity to paddle a boat into the middle of the lake and capture a picture of the sacred Machhapuchhare (Fish Tail) mountain and the Annapurna range reflected by its emerald coloured waters.
Other activities include: swimming in the lake or in the lakeside pool of one of Pokhara’s hotels (non-residents can usually use the pools if they pay a small fee); the 1-2 hour walk through lush forest on the western shores of the Phewa Tal to the World Peace Pagoda; an early morning start to take in the Himalayan views from Sarangkot; visiting the extensive International Mountain Museum (and trying out its 21 metre-high climbing wall); or taking a course in meditation or yoga.
For those after more of an adrenaline rush, why not take a rafting trip down the Kali Gandaki and Seti rivers or trying your hand at paragliding.
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