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Travel in Nepal: Mountains and UNESCO Heritage

One day we understood we were going to travel to Nepal. Clas had a Kathmandu business trip approaching and should spend a week or two in the Nepalese capital.

So I started creating a trip to the mountain country from scratch. What can we do and where should we travel in Nepal?

Nepal children in Sarangkot, Annapurnas

Nepal children in Sarangkot, Annapurnas

Most travelers go to Nepal for mountain climbing and extreme heights but that’s not our thing. We don’t want to stay overnight in tents or simple huts called tea houses. I have to admit I mainly prefer a comfy, heated hotel room.

Neither do we want to carry our baggage across mountain ranges, even if someone else is carrying it for us. My question was: what does travel in Nepal offer for people like us?

Travel in Nepal: Nature, Culture and UNESCO World Heritage

So I went to my office and started searching and very soon had my first draft. Maybe we could yet see the Himalayas, without having to trek for weeks. If we could just get close enough in some other way, like these children? How can you see the Himalayas without trekking?

And maybe we could learn about the country’s rich heritage and UNESCO sites. Culture and heritage exists in the lowlands and that’s what we have to see while in Nepal.

Travel in Nepal: Bhaktapur Durbar Square and pagoda

Travel in Nepal: thousands of years old culture and UNESCO World Heritage 

I also learned that we could see green jungle lakes and hike through Nepal’s country villages – and hire a jeep to get to the narrowest mountain roads.

So that was it! We went ahead and bought flights to Nepal.

Travel in Nepal: meeting Nepal people

Travel in Nepal: meeting Nepal people

This post will show you what there is to see in Nepal if you don’t hike in high altitudes. I will show you to which parts of the country you should go and how we managed it all.

We had a great trip to Nepal that gave as an awful lot of experiences, sometimes even more than we could adapt. Simply, Nepal became a journey to remember.

Prayer flags and Himalayas from Sarangkot

Typical sight in Nepal: snow-capped mountains and Buddhist flags

Nepal on the Map

 

Map of Nepal, the country in the Himalayas

This is Nepal on a Google map. Nepal is a long and narrow country pressed in a mountain area between Tibet and India. Tibet and China is the neighbor in north and India on the south side. So due to its location Nepal has both Arctic mountain areas of the Himalayas, tropical jungles of the lowlands – and everything between them.

As India in the south literally continues to push against the Himalayas, earthquakes are still common in Nepal. The latest earthquake was in 2015.

Rebuilding Nepal after the 2015 earthquake

Rebuilding Nepal after the 2015 earthquake

As it has always been hard to travel in Nepal which is a hilly country, Nepal people consist of many small ethnic groups. There are more than 100 ethnic groups in number and the same number of different languages.

People of Nepal: Newari people of Bhaktapur

People of Nepal: Newari people of Bhaktapur

Nepal’s official language is Nepalese and English is widely used and understood.

Travel in Nepal: Our Nepal Itinerary

Travel in Nepal: Greenline bus from Pokhara to Kathmandu

Travel in Nepal: Greenline Bus from Pokhara to Kathmandu

The map below shows the Nepal destinations we went to, Nagarkot, Bhaktapur, Kathmandu and Pokhara. The driving route between them is also marked on the map so you know the distances. To get the exact locations, zoom in the map.

We first stayed close to Kathmandu, in Nagarkot and Bhaktapur that are located in the Kathmandu Valley, east of the airport.

After Nagarkot and Bhaktapur we took a domestic flight to Pokhara 200 km west where we also went to a place called Sarangkot that has great Annapurna views. When it was time to get back to the duty we took a bus back from Pokhara to Kathmandu, where we spent the rest of our time in Nepal.

 

Our Nepal travel itinerary: Nagarkot, Bhaktapur, Kathmandu and Pokhara

So the first thing we wanted to see in Nepal was, of course, the majestic mountains:

Nagarkot Himalaya Views

Hotel Country Villa Nagarkot

Travel in Nepal: the Himalayas seen from Nagarkot 

Nepal is blessed with the highest mountains on earth. Within its limits Nepal has the eight highest peaks of the world, the king of which is Mount Everest, 8848 m. That’s the famous one, but think about that in addition there are seven others almost as high.

We so much wanted to see those peaks and as we had heard there’s a place from where you can see the whole Himalaya range – morning, day and night – we went to that place. And what did we see there?

Nagarkot Village and the world's highest mountains

We saw the world’s highest mountains right in front of us

Nagarkot morning view

We could breath the cool, clean mountain air of Nagarkot, Nepal

The place was Nagarkot. A tiny old village at 2200 m on the Kathmandu Valley Rim. Most of the village has Himalaya views and so do many hotels, but not all.

Choosing a Hotel with Himalaya Views

We compared Nagarkot hotels and chose the hotel we thought might have the best views. And especially we wanted views directly from our room. So we checked into Hotel Country Villa,  Nagarkot.

As we arrived at night there was absolutely nothing to see, it was all dark. So we were wondering if there will really be any views the next morning. To be ready for the sunrise we set the alarm at 6:30, which was a bit tough as our internal clock was four hours behind. But at 6:30 we were there, waiting for the sunrise, well in advance as we had been told to do!

And I opened my eyes:

Hotel Country Villa, Nagarkot: sunrise view from my bed

Hotel Country Villa, Nagarkot: Himalaya view from my bed

That was a magic half an hour. Like they said it looks even better before the sun comes up.

Travel in Nepal: waiting for the Himalaya sunrise

Waiting for the Himalaya sunrise.

Sunrise from Hotel Country Villa Nagarkot

And there comes the sun!

Travel in Nepal: Himalaya in morning light

The majestic peaks of Himalaya in morning light

Hotel Country Villa, Nagarkot

Did you like our balcony views? Our hotel turned out to be fantastic. Hotel Country Villa is a family owned resort that they are taking care of like it was their own home. The place is a bit like an Alpine outdoor resort where the overall feeling is very relaxed.

They have a cozy restaurant where you can sit indoors or you can use the sun terrace that has fireplaces for heating at nights. As Nagarkot is located above 2000 m, nights are very cold up here and days are warm and pleasant. Birds are singing and the Alpine sun shines strong and clear. This terraced hotel was the perfect place for us to start our Nepal journey.

If this Nepal hotel with Himalaya views interests you, you can read more about the place on the Hotel Country Villa website.

Hotel Country Villa sunrise view from balcony

Himalaya sunrise seen from our balcony

Nagarkot morning at Hotel Coutnry Villa

Don’t miss the morning’s golden hour! It really is golden.

Travel in Nepal: sunrise over Himalaya

The magic Himalaya sun

Hotel Country Villa breakfast with views

Afterwards: breakfast on the sun terrace

Hotel Coutnry Villa flower decorations

Our terraced Nepal hotel garden

Hotel Coutnry Villa Buddha statue

The lowest terrace has a Buddha

Travel in Nepal: What to Do in Nagarkot

Hiking in Nagarkot, Nepal

Hiking in Nagarkot, Nepal, 2200 m above sea level

What else did we do in Nagarkot than watching the sun? We walked, a lot.

We walked around in the old village that was just a short distance from the hotel. Nagarkot village is very different from our European villages. To really believe what it was like you would have to see it.

We walked along winding country roads past farmhouses, simple stone homes and terraced rice fields. And we walked to the view tower on the highest point of the village. To show you Nagarkot, Nepal, here’s a small Nagarkot photo gallery:

Travel in Nepal: cocks, chickens and goats on the road

Travel in Nepal: cocks, chickens and goats on the road

Nagarkot village, 2200 m above sea level

We have winter at home but it’s already spring in Nagarkot!

Nagarkot village women

Nagarkot Central Square: the meeting place

Nagarkot hike village life

The Himalayas: every day is a laundry day

Nagarkot street view

A nice little Nagarkot house

Hiking along Nagarkot rice terraces, Nepal

Rice terraces are getting green

Nagarkot day hike through villages

Hiking in Nepal: Nagarkot village life

Nagarkot, 2200 m above sea level

Strong Nepal colors

Our stay in Nagarkot was supported by Hotel Country Villa, Nagarkot, but like always, all opinions expressed by me are my own.

How to Get to Nagarkot

On the map Nagarkot does not look like a distant place, being only 30 km from Kathmandu and even less from the airport. But that does not mean it’s a short drive as in Nepal roads are terrible and driving in Nepal is a pain.

Driving to Nagarkot took us more than two hours –  one way. Since Nepal roads just are like that.

Nagarkot to Bhaktapur road conditions

Driving on Nepal roads needs time

But once we got to Nagarkot we were happy and didn’t want to leave.

The views, the cool clean air and the little luxury we had in Nagarkot made us forget all about night flights, jet lags and things like that. We got accustomed to life in Nepal. We were here to discover Nepal’s fantastic nature and UNESCO sites.

So that was our first Nepal destination Nagarkot. We left it for our next destination, Bhaktapur.

Bhaktapur, the UNESCO City

Travel in Nepal: the UNESCO listed city of Bhaktapur

The UNESCO listed city of Bhaktapur, Nepal

Did you know Nepal has a huge concentration of Unesco World Heritage Sites? Seven marked sites exist in the Kathmandu Valley and more can be found in other parts of the country.

As Nepal has been isolated from the rest of the world for thousands of years it became a country with an exceptional national heritage. For thousands of years no roads to Nepal existed and very few foreigners found their way to the unknown, distant country. So Nepal remained a hidden secret, a treasure between China and India.

And that didn’t change until the 1950’s when Nepal first began to open up and decent roads were built to reach different regions of the country.

Maybe we can thank the isolation for the treasures we can find today in all corners of Nepal. Here are some of the treasures the UNESCO listed Bhaktapur has:

Nepal culture and UNESCO sites: Bhaktapur

Nepal culture and UNESCO sites: Bhaktapur

A golden gateway in Bhaktapur Palace Square

A golden gateway in Bhaktapur Palace Square

Bhaktapur temple

Even the smallest temple has decorations

A quiet shopping street of Bhaktapur, Nepal

A quiet shopping street of Bhaktapur, Nepal

An old facade in Bhaktapur, Nepal

An old facade

Culture and UNESCO World Heritage

So after a couple of days in Nagarkot we wanted some culture and treasures and took the hotel taxi from Nagarkot to Bhaktapur. The short drive on the map, only 13 km, took us an hour and a half, yes, it really did! Good that our hotel driver was one of the best drivers you can think about. I normally get super worried on roads like this.

Yet Bhaktapur is worth the bumpy downhill ride. We checked in a boutique apartment just off Bhaktapur’s Durbar Square and started exploring the city. Then it got dark and at dark not much happens in Nepal cities, but we continued the next day.

Some more photos of how life in Bhaktapur, Nepal appeared to us:

Travel in Nepal: Bhaktapur monkey statue

A Bhaktapur monkey statue with many arms

Nepal people: a family gathering on the square

A Bhaktapur family with many members

Old and modern meet in Bhaktapur

Father and son consuming old and new media

Women in red, Bhaktapur

Three Nepal women in matching clothes

On the Pottery Square of Bhaktapur, Nepal

Artists at work on the Pottery Square

 Copper items for sale on Bhaktapur Durbar Square

Copper items for sale on the Durbar Square

Nepal people: an old Bhaktapur couple

Nepal people: an old couple on temple stairs

Kathmandu Valley’s UNESCO Sites

In addition to Bhaktapur, two other UNESCO Sites of the Kathmandu Valley are the Durbar Squares of Patan and Kathmandu. All three are palace squares, and durbar is the Nepalese word for palace.

Then there are the two Buddhist stupas Swayambhunath and Bouddanath and two Hindu temples Pashupatinath and Changunaryan.

Electric cables in Bhaktapur Old Town

Electric cables in Bhaktapur Old Town

Then after two days in Bhaktapur we moved on to Pokhara. That’s where everybody was telling we should go so we followed the advice.

Travel in Nepal: Pokhara

Travel in Nepal, Lake Phewa in Pokhara

Travel in Nepal: Lake Phewa in Pokhara

Pokhara is a lakeside city in Central Nepal, 200 km west of Kathmandu. It’s very close to the massive Annapurna mountains and a very short drive from Annapurna hiking trails.

On the other side Pokhara has Lake Phewa, a green, tropical jungle lake. Yes, Pokhara is in the subtropical zone, located much lower down than the Kathamdu Valley.

Pokhara has a fantastic setting and so is its location for day and longer hikes in the Annapurnas. All this makes Pokhara the second biggest tourist city in Nepal, after Kathmandu.

Travel in Nepal: one of the many Pokhara lakeside pagodas

Travel in Nepal: one of the many Pokhara lakeside pagodas

We stayed five nights in the tourist city and made day hikes in all directions. I will tell you more about Pokhara in a later post. Here I want to show you what the place looks like:

Rowing on Lake Phewa, Pokhara

Lake Phewa, the green jungle lake

Hiking to Pokhara from World Peace Pagoda

Aerial view of Pokhara, Nepal

Travel in Nepal: photographing Annapurna reflections

Photographing Annapurna reflections

Rowing boats on the lakeside, Pokhara

Renting one of these boats

Pokhara lakeside rental boats

More Lake Phewa rental boats

Pokhara Lakeside tourist area

The Lakeside tourist area has mangrove trees

Blue statue behind Lake Phewa, Pokhara

Behind Lake Phewa we found a blue statue

Pokhara local home

And there was a blue home along our hiking trail

See Annapurna from Sarangkot

But it’s not only the lake and the village that make Pokhara what it is, there are the mountains. Go and see the Himalayas. Take a taxi to Sarangkot and ask him to drive all the way up. You can do it at sunrise but it’s still better do it at daytime.

Travel in Nepal is so great: we saw all the majestic Annapurnas!

Annapurna 1, 8091 m, Annapurna 2, 7937 m, Annapurna South 7555 m, the Machhapuchhre 6993 m,  Lamjung Himal 6983 m and the others. You can see them all from Sarangkot, just a 45 min drive from The Pokhara Lakeside.

Himalaya view from Sarangkot, Pokhara

A small stupa and the majestic view

Travel in Nepal: Annapurna seen from Sarangkot

Travel in Nepal: Annapurna seen from Sarangkot

The Annapurnas seen from Sarangkot

Shining in white like a cream cake

Traveling to Sarangkot for Himalaya views

Visiting Sarangkot: reaching the top!

Fishtail, Annapurnas, seen from Sarangkot

Machhapuchhare, the Fishtail Mountain gathering clouds

More about Pokhara

As Pokhara offers so much to see, I wrote a separate article about it. If you want to read more Pokhara and its activities you will find my Pokhara article here: Pokhara: Short Hikes, Lake and the Annapurnas

So this was Pokhara and Sarangkot. But how did we travel there? By plane.

Domestic Travel in Nepal

Domestic travel in Nepal: Kathmandu to Pokhara flight

Domestic travel in Nepal: Boarding the Buddha Air morning tour to Pokhara

To get to Pokhara we had to make a hard decision. Flying was a much faster way than the bus but we didn’t really feel like using any of the local airlines.

Nepalese flight statistics look really scary but so do their road statistics. There are many private airlines and helicopter companies you can choose between and all of them have been in accidents. Nepal has the world’s four unsafest airlines, of which we after careful consideration chose one. We flew with Buddha Air.

Flying from Kathmandu to Pokhara

Kathmandu airport, Nepal

Checking in to our Pokhara flight

I wish I never examined those accident statistics. The plane was a normal ATR and the 25 minute flight was just as smooth as my domestic flight Tampere Helsinki at home. We got the mountain side window seats we asked for and our luggage came as planned with the same plane. So no worries at all!

And moreover, as we came all too early to the airport (for those window seats), they put as on the previous flight and we were in Pokhara in no time at all!

If you are interested in flying in Nepal, this is the Buddha Air website: Buddha Air

Fasten your seat belt

Fasten your seat belts

Leaving behind the dusty Kathmandu

We left behind the dusty city of Kathmandu…

Himalayas from flight Kathmandu to Pokhara

…and soon we had clear skies!

The Annapurna Massif from Kathmandu to Pokhara flight

Nothing wrong with these window views

Himalaya mountain range from Kathmandu to Pokhara flight

Soon to land in Pokhara

Travel in Nepal: welcome to Pokhara

Welcome to Pokhara, Nepal

Delivering the luggage

Luggage delivered

Flight or Bus to Pokhara?

Pokhara to Kathmandu by Greenline Bus

Flight or bus to Pokhara?

The final reason we took a flight to Pokhara was that we were coming from Bhaktapur that only was a short taxi ride behind the airport.

Then from Pokhara we came back by bus and the reason for that was that Pokhara buses drive to Thamel where most Kathmandu hotels are. Traveling in Nepal you will have to consider travel times, maybe more than anywhere else.

So I compared the buses. There are many companies running daily between Pokhara and Kathmandu. They all start early, around 7:30 and the journey takes the whole day, 6, 7 even 8 hours depending on how much traffic there is. Which you can’t know in advance.

Travel in Nepal: Greenline Bus from Pokhara to Kathmandu

We took a Greenline bus which is the most expensive of all tourist buses, USD 25 one way. But they are said to have the best drivers and lowest accident rates which we appreciate. They are also known for their high quality buses that have air conditioning (no need for it in winter).

Pokhara to Kathmandu in driver's cabin

Traveling in the driver’s cabin…

Our driver was very good so there were no worries at all. But I wouldn’t call this a luxury bus, for me luxury in buses has another meaning.

Yet the bus was good enough and as we were the only Europeans on board the driver invited us to sit in his cabin, together with – a cock in a box! Why? In Nepal cocks are valuable presents that people donate to their friends and families. This time one of the bus passengers was bringing a cock to his family in Kathmandu.

More information on Greenline Tours: Greenline Tours PVT. LTD.

Cock in a box, Pokhara to Kathmandu

… with a secret box containing a cock

Travel in Nepal: cock on the way from Pokhara to Kathmandu

Here he is, the cock!

However, in beginning the journey looked like a disaster. It had been raining and the road was soft and full of water pots.

But it got better with time and then, before we noticed, there was a half-way stop, a free lunch in a small riverside resort.

Travel in Nepal: Pokhara to Kathmandu on a misty morning

No visibility, what will this journey be like?

Pokhara to Kathmandu road: what will this be?

Will the road be like this all the way to Kathmandu?

Highway lunch, Pokhara to Kathmandu

Bus trip Pokhara to Kathmandu: lunch included (beer at own expense).

Domestic travel in Nepal, bus from Pokhara to Kathmandu

A Himalaya mountain river

Traveling by land in Nepal: Greenline Bus

Nepal domestic travel: our bus made many short stops

Nepal Nature, Villages and Mountains

The weather finally got nice and so was the scenery. We really enjoyed our slow drive through the beautiful country of Nepal.

Without traveling through Nepal by bus we would not have seen all these country villages and people spending their time in them. We saw market happenings, religious festivals, school children waiting for school buses and mothers carrying  babies. And – we saw people crossing rivers along rope bridges. There was just a rope bridge, nothing else.

And we saw a lot of trucks carrying everything from standing people and tightly packed cows to loads of rice sacks.

Driving in Nepal: a typical Nepal truck

Highway Pokhara to Nepal: A typical painted truck

Travel in Nepal: Roadside view Pokhara to Kathmandu

A young mother with her children

Highway traffic Pokhara to Kathmandu

Nepal travel: fixing a broken truck

Road from Pokhara to Kathmandu

Nepal’s beautiful highway scenery

Highway village Pokhara to Kathmandu

Typical Nepal roadside village

The closer to Kathmandu we came the more hectic it got. More villages, more traffic and more stops meant slower driving.

And finally, we were in Kathmandu. This all took eight hours…  Happy but maybe a bit exhausted after the eight hours we now took a taxi to our hotel. As the distance was short we had planned to walk but the wild Kathmandu traffic made us change our minds. After all travel we now needed to wash our hands and get a clean hotel room.

Highway view Pokhara to Kathmandu

Village life between Pokhara and Kathmandu

Driving in Nepal: traffic jam on the Kathmandu to Pokhara road

Driving in Nepal: traffic jam on the Kathmandu to Pokhara road

Travel in Nepal: Nepalese trucks

Nepal trucks on the road

Road Kathmandu to Pokhara

Just another bus approaching

About Nepal Air and Bus Tickets

I was thinking I would buy our flight and bus tickets online but then heard it’s not that simple. Flight tickets are electronic but you have to confirm them before travel, and the bus company we used only had an online request form for reservations. To get your paper tickets you have to pay separately and then go and collect your tickets. That all is simply too hard if you are still abroad and want to travel in Nepal.

So I used a local travel agent for the tickets. The travel agent I happened to find was the small family enterprise called Distinctive Nepal and it all worked well. We communicated through whats app and they came and delivered our tickets to us as we were in Bhaktapur.

This is the travel agent’s website: The Distinctive Nepal website

But now, we are in Nepal’s capital Kathmandu, 1400 m above sea level:

Travel in Nepal: Kathmandu

Travel in Nepal: Kathmandu, the capital

Travel in Nepal: Kathmandu, the capital

So we arrived in Kathmandu. A dusty, noisy, polluted city, and super busy compared to the other places we had been to.

But this noisy ever growing city has something that makes me want to dive in and see more.

Thamel, the Old Part of Kathmandu

Thamel, Kathmandu

Thamel, the old part of Kathmandu

There is the old Thamel which is a labyrinth full of shops and bazaars. Its streets are overloaded with people, motor bikes, rickshaws and taxis. And all kind of stuff.

Thamel is a touristic area where most Kathmandu hotels are and it also has the services a tourist needs. So we stayed right there, in the middle of the maze and used Google maps to navigate back to our hotel. You get lost in Kathmandu.

Each morning Clas took a taxi to his hospital. The distance was short, you could almost walk it, but not with this traffic…  walking in Kathmandu is a mission impossible. So Clas learned how to negotiate taxi fares.

Traffic in Thamel, Kathmandu Old Town

Traffic in Thamel, Kathmandu Old Town

Kathmandu motor bikes

Kathmandu, Nepal, is full of motor bikes

A corner in Thamel, Kathmandu

Travel in Nepal: a quiet corner in Thamel

Prayer flags in Thamel, Kathmandu

Prayer flags hanging across the street

Kathmandu Durbar Square

Kathmandu Durbar Square pigeons, Nepal

Kathmandu Durbar Square pigeons

Then there is the Durbar Square. It’s right south of Thamel and has a lot of old pagodas, thousands of pigeons and some former royal palaces.

It’s another UNESCO World Heritage Site, and a beautiful one, even if it’s smaller than Bhaktapur’s.

Kathmandu Durbar Square, Nepal

Visiting Kathmandu Durbar Square

Kathmandu Durbar Square

Inner court of Kathmandu Durbar Square

Kathmandu Durbar Square

Locals enjoying afternoon sun on temple stairs

School class visiting Kathmandu Durbar Square

School class visiting the UNESCO listed Kathmandu Durbar Square

Hindu and Buddhist Temples

The monkey temple, Kathmandu

A side building of the Swayambbunath Buddhist Temple, Kathmandu

And, a third thing about Kathmandu. There are shrines and temples all around the city, temples exist in every corner. It’s said there are more deities than people in Nepal and all deities need their own holy place, so Nepal people make them.

The biggest of all Kathmandu temples is the Buddhist temple Swayambbunath, the monkey temple on a high hill:

Swayambbunath, the Monkey Temple

Swayambbunath is the Monkey Temple

So this was Kathmandu and one of its temples. But as I said there are more of them and you can read about them in my other post Around Kathmandu: Temples and Himalaya Views.

The post also shows you places we went to to get out from the city, Patan, Chandragiri and Shivapuri National Park.

 

Goodbye now from Nepal!

Buddhist prayer flags, Kathmandu, Nepal

Buddhist prayer flags, Kathmandu, Nepal

More on Nepal Travel

Check out my other posts on Nepal:

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