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Nepal: Nature, Culture and UNESCO Sights

One day we understood we were going to Nepal. Clas had a business trip approaching and the only thing we knew about it was that he should spend a week or two working in Kathmandu.

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

Nepalese children in Sarangkot, Annapurnas

Nepalese children in Sarangkot, Annapurnas

Mountain climbing and extreme heights maybe is not what we should try. We don’t want to stay overnight in tents or tea houses made of piled stones. I have to admit I sometimes prefer my comfy, heated hotel room.

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

Nepal: Nature, Culture and UNESCO Sights

So I went to my office and started searching. Very soon I had my first draft. Maybe we could still see the Himalayas without having to trek for weeks. If we could just get close enough in another way, like these children?

And maybe we could learn about the rich Nepalese culture and the country’s UNESCO sites that there are so many of.

Culture and heritage exists in the lowlands. Nepal is a country of nature, culture and UNESCO sights and that’s what we have to see there.

Bhaktapur Durbar Square and pagoda

Nepal: Nature, Culture and UNESCO Sights

I also learned that we could see green jungle lakes and hike through dusty country villages – and hire a jeep to get to the smallest dirt roads.

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

Local women of Pokhara, Nepal

Nepalese culture: local women of Pokhara

This post will show you what we saw in Nepal, to which parts of the country we went and how we managed it all.

We had a great journey that gave as an awful lot of new experiences and sometimes even more than we could adapt. Simply, Nepal became a journey to remember! Nepal with its nature, the culture and UNESCO treasures!

Prayer flags and Himalayas from Sarangkot

Typical sight in Nepal: mountains and Buddhist flags

Nepal on the Map

 

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 lies on the south side. So Nepal consists of Arctic mountain areas and tropical jungles and everything in between.

The Indian subcontinent literally continues to push against the Himalayas and that’s why earthquakes still occur in Nepal, the lastest in 2015.

Rebuilding the country after the 2015 earthquake

Rebuilding the country after the 2015 earthquake

It has always been hard to travel around in the hilly country which makes that Nepal’s population consists of many small ethnic groups, more than 100 in number and the same number of different languages are spoken.

Locals discussing

Newari people in Bhaktapur, Nepal

The official language is Nepalese and English is widely used and understood.

Our Nepal Itinerary

Traveling by land: Greenline Bus, Nepal

Traveling in Nepal: taking to bus from Pokhara to Kathmandu

The map below shows the places in Nepal we went to. The places are marked with blue arrows. Zoom in the map as much as is needed to get the exact locations.

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

Then we took a domestic flight to Pokhara 200 km west and visited Sarangkot for the best Annapurna views. When it was time to get back to the duty we took a bus back to Kathmandu and the rest of our time we stayed in the Nepalese capital.

 

So the first thing we wanted in Nepal was to see the mountains:

Nagarkot Himalaya Views

Hotel Country Villa Nagarkot

The Himalaya mountain range seen from Nagarkot 

Nepal is blessed with the highest mountains on earth and within the country’s limits exist eight highest peaks of the world. The king is Mount Everest 8848 m and in addition there are seven others that are almost as high.

We so much wanted to see those peaks. We had heard there’s a place from where you can see the whole Himalaya range – morning, day and night – so 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

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 of the hotels.

Choosing a Hotel with Views

We compared Nagarkot hotels and chose the hotel we thought has the best views. And we also wanted views directly from our room. So we checked in Hotel Country Villa in Nagarkot.

We arrived at night and were wondering if we will have any views the next morning. We set the alarm at 6:30 and were ready for the sunrise. That was a bit tough as our internal clock was four hours behind. But we were waiting for the sunrise, starting half an hour before!

And I opened my eyes:

Hotel Country Villa room view

Hotel Country Villa, Nagarkot: view from my bed

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

Hotel Country Villa view before sunrise

Waiting for the Himalaya sunrise.

Sunrise from Hotel Country Villa Nagarkot

And there comes the sun!

Nagarkot morning

The majestic peaks of Himalaya in morning light

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

They have a cozy restaurant where you can sit indoors or you can also use the sun terrace that has fireplaces at night. Nights are cold up here but days are pleasant. The birds are singing and the Alpine sun shines strong. This terraced hotel is a perfect place to relax!

If you got interested you can read more on 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.

Sunrise over Himalaya

The magic sun

Hotel Country Villa breakfast with views

Afterwards: breakfast on the sun terrace

Hotel Coutnry Villa flower decorations

Our terraced hotel garden

Hotel Coutnry Villa Buddha statue

The lowest terrace has a Buddha

What to Do in Nagarkot

Hiking in Nagarkot, Nepal

Hiking in Nagarkot, 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 believe me you have to see it. We walked along a 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. Here’s a small Nagarkot photo gallery:

Cocks, chickens and goats on the road

Cocks, chickens and goats on the road

Nagarkot village, 2200 m above sea level

It’s spring in Nagarkot!

Nagarkot village women

Nagarkot Central Square: the meeting place

Nagarkot hike village life

Every day is a good 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

Nagarkot village life

Nagarkot, 2200 m above sea level

The strong Nagarkot colors

Getting to Nagarkot

Nagarkot is 30 km east of Kathmandu and a bit less from the airport. But that does not mean it’s just a short drive away. Nepalese roads are terrible, and driving often is a pain.

Driving to Nagarkot took us more than two hours –  one way. Nepalese roads 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 nature, culture and UNESCO sights.

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

Bhaktapur, the UNESCO City

Bhaktapur Durbar Square and Royal Palace

The UNESCO listed city of Bhaktapur

Did you know Nepal has a large collection of Unesco World Heritage Sites? Seven marked sites exist in the Kathmandu Valley and the rest further away in the country.

Nepal is a country with a prominent national heritage but for thousands of years the country was isolated from the rest of the world. No roads existed and few foreigners found their way to Nepal. Nepal remained a hidden secret between China and India.

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

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

Bhaktapur Durbar Square supported houses

Nepal: Nature, Culture and UNESCO Sights

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

A quiet shopping lane

An old facade in Bhaktapur, Nepal

An old facade in Bhaktapur, Nepal

Culture and UNESCO Sights

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

Yet Bhaktapur is worth the bumpy downhill ride. We checked in a boutique apartment just off Bhaktapur’s Durbar Square and started exploring. When it gets dark there’s not much that happens in the city but we continued the next day.

Some more photos on what life in Bhaktapur looked like in our eyes:

Bhaktapur monkey statue

A monkey with many arms

Family gathering

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 women in matching clothes

Bhaktapur locals at work

Artists at work on the Pottery Square

 Copper items for sale on Bhaktapur Durbar Square

Copper items for sale on Bhaktapur Durbar Square

An old Bhaktapur couple

An old Bhaktapur couple on temple stairs

Kathmandu Valley’s UNESCO Sights

The other UNESCO Sites of Kathmandu Valley are the Patan and Kathmandu Durbar Squares. They all are palace squares, durbar means 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.

Pokhara

Pokhara Lake Phewa

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 mountain range and just a short drive from its hiking trails.

On its other side Pokhara has Lake Phewa which is a green, tropical jungle lake. Yes, Pokhara is in the subtropical zone. It’s located remarkably lower down than the Kathamdu Valley.

Pokhara’s setting really is exceptional and so is its location for day and longer hikes in the Annapurnas. It’s the second biggest tourist city in Nepal after Kathmandu.

Pokhara lakeside pagoda

Nepal: nature, culture and UNESCO sights. Pokhara lakeside pagoda.

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

Rowing on Lake Phewa

Photographing Annapurna reflections

Rowing boats on the lakeside, Pokhara

Renting one of these boats

Pokhara lakeside rental boats

More Lake Phewa boats

Lakeside, Pokhara

The Lakeside tourist area has mangrove trees

Blue statue behind the lake

Behind the lake we found a blue statue

Pokhara local home

And there was a blue home along our hiking trail

See the Annapurnas from Sarangkot

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

And 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 which is just a 45 min drive from Pokhara Lakeside.

Himalaya view from Sarangkot

A small stupa and the view

The Annapurna Range seen from Sarangkot

The Annapurnas are beyond the valley

The Annapurnas seen from Sarangkot

Shining in white like a cream cake

Mountain spotting in Sarangkot

Finally on the top!

Fishtail, Annapurnas, seen from Sarangkot

Machhapuchhare, the Fishtail Mountain gathering clouds

More about Pokhara

I also wrote a separate article about Pokhara. If you want t o read more of the area and its activities you can find my Pokhara post here: Pokhara: Short Hikes, Lake and the Annapurnas

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

Domestic Travel in Nepal

Boarding a Kathmandu to Pokhara flight

Boarding Buddha Air morgning 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 finally decided to choose one. We flew with Buddha Air.

Flying 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 window seats on the mountain side we asked for and the luggage came with the same plane. So no worries at all!

And 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!

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

Welcome to Pokhara

Welcome to Pokhara

Delivering the luggage

Luggage delivered

Flight or Bus to Pokhara?

Pokhara to Kathmandu by Greenline Bus

Flight or bus to Pokhara?

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

From Pokhara we came back by bus. The reason for that again was that Pokhara buses drive to Thamel where most Kathmandu hotels are. In Nepal you will have to think about travel times, more than somewhere else.

So I compared the buses. There are many companies running a daily service between Pokhara and Kathmandu. They all start early, around 7:30 in the morning 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.

Greenline Bus

We traveled by a Greenline bus. It’s the most expensive of all tourist buses, USD 25 one way. But they are said to have the best drivers and lowest accident rates. They are also known for their high quality buses that have air conditioning (not needed 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 European passengers the driver invited us to travel in his cabin, together with a cock. In Nepal cocks are valuable presents and one of the passengers was taking a present 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

Cock traveling from Pokhara to Kathmandu

Here he is, the cock!

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

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

Pokhara to Kathmandu: a misty morning

No visibility, what will this journey be like?

Pokhara to Kathmandu: what will this be?

Will the road be like this?

Highway lunch, Pokhara to Kathmandu

Bus trip Pokhara to Kathmandu: lunch included  (beer at an extra cost).

Riverside road from Pokhara to Kathmandu

A Himalaya mountain river

Traveling by land in Nepal: Greenline Bus

Our bus made regular short stops

Nepalese Nature, Villages and Mountains

The weather got nice and so was the scenery. We really enjoyed our slow drive through Nepalese countryside.

Otherwise we would not have seen all these country villages and how people spend their days in them. We saw market happenings, religious festivals, school children waiting for their school buses and mothers carrying their babies. And we saw people crossing rivers along rope bridges.

And we saw a lot of different vehicles that carry everything from standing people and tightly packed cows to loads of rice sacks.

Highway from Pokhara to Kathmandu

Highway Pokhara to Nepal: A typical painted truck

Roadside view, Pokhara to Kathmandu

A young mother with her children

Highway traffic Pokhara to Kathmandu

Fixing a broken truck

Road from Pokhara to Kathmandu

Beautiful highway scenery

Highway village Pokhara to Kathmandu

Typical roadside village

Closer to Kathmandu it all got more hectic. More villages, more traffic, more stops, slower driving.

And finally, we were in Kathmandu. And it took eight hours…  Happy but a bit exhausted we took a taxi to our hotel. We had thought we would walk but we now needed to wash our hands and get a clean hotel room.

Highway view Pokhara to Kathmandu

Village life between Pokhara and Kathmandu

Traffic from Kathmandu to Pokhara

Nepalese traffic jam

Trucks on the way from Kathmandu to Pokhara

Nepalese trucks on the road

Road Kathmandu to Pokhara

Just another bus approaching

About Our Air and Bus Tickets

I was thinking I would buy our flight and bus tickets online but then heard it’s not that simple. The flight ticket was electronic but you have to confirm it and the bus company only had an online request form for reservations and you had to pay separately and go and collect the paper tickets.

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

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

But now we are in the Nepalese capital Kathmandu 1400 m above sea level.

Kathmandu

Thamel main street, Kathmandu

Kathmandu, Nepal

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

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

Thamel

Thamel, Kathmandu

Thamel, the old part of Kathmandu

There is the old Thamel, 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 of the 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 find back to our hotel.

Each morning Clas took a taxi to his hospital. The distance was short, you could almost walk 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

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!

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

Part of the Swayambbunath Buddhist Temple, Kathmandu

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

The biggest of all 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 a brief introduction to what Kathmandu offers. But this is not all. We spent a week and a half in the bustling city and found new things everey day.

We also went out from the city, to Patan, to Chandragiri and to Shivapuri National Park. I will show you those places in my later posts on Nepal.

Goodbye now from Nepal!

Buddhist prayer flags, Kathmandu, Nepal

Buddhist prayer flags, Kathmandu, Nepal

More on Nepal Travel

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