Nepal: India’s Little Sister
The country of Nepal is most readily associated with the Himalayas and Mount Everest. Nestled along the sacred mountain range, this tiny country has a history and tradition harking back to thousands of years. The origin of Nepali culture is heavily linked with ancient Hindu and Buddhist religious traditions. Over the years, it has evolved as a unique mix of Indian, Tibetan and Mongolian cultures.
Though Nepal is aptly called the “roof of the world”, there is much more to this tiny country than just mountains and mountaineering. Granted, a majority of the tourists who visit the country come to climb the Himalayan peaks. But Nepal also has plenty to offer for people interested in culture, religion, spirituality, nature and wildlife.
Places to See around Kathmandu Valley
An ancient temple dedicated to a manifestation of Lord Shiva, one of the three gods in the Hindu Trinity, this temple is built in a two-tiered pagoda style and stands on the banks of the sacred river Bagmati. The temple is at the centre of a town called Deopatan, which lies just a few kilometres outside Kathmandu. It is an important Hindu pilgrimage centre with numerous smaller temples and shrines.
This is the largest stupa in Nepal, and the holiest site for Tibetan Buddhists in the country. Located in the town of Boudha, it lies on the outskirts of Kathmandu. It was built sometime in the 14th century. The temple hosts the largest celebration in Nepal during the Tibetan New Year in February-March, called the festival of Losar.
This 2000-year-old Buddhist temple is one of the most important holy sites in Nepal. The “all seeing eye of Buddha” atop this temple’s roof is readily associated with Nepali culture. The site is situated atop a hill in Kathmandu, accessible by 365 steps cut into a steep hillside. The temple hosts several festivals throughout the year, including Losar, Buddha Jayanti and Gunla.
The “House of the Living Goddess” is a unique cultural and traditional landmark in Kathmandu. It houses the living embodiment of the Hindu Goddess Durga, who is the patron deity of the city. The goddess is chosen from young Buddhist girls, much like the way lamas are chosen. Indra Jaatra is the important festival which is celebrated at this site.
Kathmandu Durbar Square
Along with the royal palaces of the old dynasties that ruled the kingdom, there are also numerous temples and courtyards which showcase the unique local architecture and culture here. There is a famous statue of Hanuman, the Hindu monkey deity and devotee of Lord Ram at the entrance of this site.
What to See at Lumbini
This is one of the holiest places for Buddhists from across the world. As the birthplace of Gautama Buddha, it is one of the four holy sites directly related to the Buddha’s life, and the only one outside India. There is a sacred Bodhi Tree and a holy pond at the site. One of the 10 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Nepal, there are several ruins of ancient Buddhist temples in the area. Several modern Buddhists temples have also been built, by countries like China, Japan and Burma, who have major Buddhist populations. There are also an ancient stupas and a stone pillar installed by the legendary Emperor Asoka at the site of Buddha’s birth.
The entire area has a lot of peaceful gardens and monasteries following the various major schools of Buddhism. Lumbini is a place ideal for relaxed sightseeing and meditation. It is situated near the Indian border and is not that easily accessible. The nearest town is Sunauli in Nepal. It is also accessible from Bhairwaha on the Indian side.
Important Wild Life Sanctuaries and National Parks to See
Chitwan National Park
Located in the Terai Lowlands of Nepal This World Heritage Site, this place has a sub-tropical climate, with monsoons throughout the year and dense jungles. Bengal Tigers, Mugger Crocodiles, King Cobras, Rock Pythons and Rhinos all call this area home. This is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Nepal and offers jungle lodges as well as elephant safaris.
Sagarmatha National Park
This reserve lies in the midst of the mighty Himalayas, with the Everest dominating the horizons. It is home to traditional Sherpa villages as well as a rich diversity of birds. Rare animals like the musk deer, snow leopard, Himalayan Black Bear and the Red Panda also survive in the harsh and stark landscape.
Shey Phoksundo National Park
Situated in the trans-Himalayas, this is one of the most scenic sites in the entire world. There are incredibly beautiful lakes, a waterfall and pristine glaciers in this high altitude park near the Tibetan border. The Phoksundo Lake is the star attraction here. It is also home to a wide variety of wildlife, including Snow Leopards, Himalayan Tahrs, Tibetan Sheep, Musk Deer and Grey Wolves.
Location: Central Himalayas, in South Asia; bordered by China in the north, and India in the south, east and west
Connectivity: Air travel is best, owing to 41 domestic airports, and one international one, Thribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu; accessible from Bihar, West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand by road and rail; major crossing points are Kakarbhitta, Birgunj, Bairahawa, Nepalgunj and Dhangadhi.
Official Language: Nepali
Currency: Nepali Rupee (NPR)
Time Zone: Nepal Standard Time, UTC + 5:45
Climate: Five different climate zones, depending on the altitude; Tropical and Sub-tropical (below 1,200 meters), Temperate (between 1200-2400), Cold Zone (2400-3600), Sub-Arctic (3600-4400), and Arctic Zone (above 4400m); temperature ranges between -15 to 40 degrees, depending on altitude and seasons.
Food and Drink: Vegetarian and non-vegetarian are available, subject to restrictions at certain religious sites. Beef (cow) is prohibited according to Hindu beliefs, though cara-beef from water-buffaloes is available. It is advisable not to consume anything other than bottled water and cooked food. Foreign Liquors and loca spirits are also easily available.