Namaste from Nepal! I know it’s barely been two weeks since my trip to East Africa and here I am, in the opposite end of the world.
This time, I’m in an area that I know very little about and is completely new to me so I’m really looking forward to discover and learn. The Himalayan nations of Nepal and Bhutan have always intrigued me with the layers of cultural traditions and multitudes of outdoor activities. They seem to offer exactly what I look for as a curious traveler and I’m just bursting with excitement to see and explore as much as I can here.
For the first part of the trip, I will be joining G Adventures on the Nepal Adventure trip, a 10-day journey that will bring me through the highlights of the country. As some of you may know, I’ve been working with G Adventures closely since 2011, joining a few of their trips each year as one of their Wanderers in Residence. I’ve traveled to Antarctica, the Arctic, and Southern Africa with them, and have thoroughly enjoyed each and every one of the trips so I’m quite sure this trip will rank high on my favorite journeys.
Before hopping on the tour, I’ll have a few days to explore the pagodas, temples, and alleys of Kathmandu on my own and hopefully I’ll be able to soak up all the undercurrents of the Nepali capital in such a short period of time. My base will be the gorgeous heritage hotel, Dwarika’s Hotel Kathmandu, well known for its impressive architecture modeled after the palaces of the Newar Kings. I’ll also have the privilege of experiencing the newly opened Dwarika’s Resort Dhulikhel, a holistic lifestyle retreat surrounded by the magnificent Himalayas.
Buddhist Temples, Wildlife and Mountain Treks
From Kathmandu, we’ll head over to Pokhara, the adventure capital of Nepal. Pokhara, at an altitude of 827m, lies on a once vibrant trade route extending between India and Tibet. To this day, mule trains can be seen camped on the outskirts of the town, bringing goods to trade from remote regions of the Himalaya. The enchanting city has several beautiful lakes and offers stunning panoramic views of Himalayan peaks – and I hope to explore its temples, Tibetan shrines, and quaint streets.
The highlight of my trip will probably be the three-day Annapurna foothills trek. It’s a pity I haven’t got more time to go on a proper trek (and probably also because I’m seriously unfit these days), but I’m hoping this hike will give me a good glimpse of the Himalayas and its mountain communities and rugged scenery. According to the trip details, we’ll be visiting monasteries and temple along the way, and passing waterfalls, crossing icy rivers, hot springs and high mountain passes. Can’t wait!
After the Annapurna trek, we’ll be continuing on to the UNESCO World Heritage site Royal Chitwan National Park. Known as the Terai Tarai (“moist land”), the landscape here will be completely different. This area is a belt of marshy grasslands, savannas and evergreen and deciduous forests fed by silt deposited by the yearly monsoon floods. Here, we’ll be watching out for the endangered Indian rhinoceros, as well as elephants, Bengal tigers, bears, leopards and other wild animals.
The Happiest Country in the World
The second half of the trip brings me to Bhutan, a country that’s famed for its Gross National Happiness (GNH) development policy. It’s been lauded as the happiest country in the world – all thanks to the government’s efforts – and I’m determined to come and find out why/how it’s earned that title. I’ll be traveling with Bridge to Bhutan, a reputed local tour operator with a strong emphasis on meaningful connections and preservation of Bhutanese culture. Bhutan’s national carrier, Druk Air, has kindly subsidized my flight from Kathmandu to Paro, Bhutan. I’ve heard that we’ll be able to see spectacular views of Bhutan’s snow capped peaks upon descent on the flight, so expect some aerial shots from me.
On the seven-day Glimpse of Bhutan trip, we’ll start off at Thimphu, Bhutan’s capital. Some of the spots we’ll visit include the nunnery temple of Drubthop Lhakhang, the Bhutanese Indigenous Hospital, Traditional Painting School, and the Simtokha Dzong (fortress), the first Dzong in Bhutan built in 1624. Thereafter, we’ll head out on a long drive, climbing through a forest of pine and cedar near Dochula pass and eventually descending along a series of hairpin bends to the fertile valley of Punakha. The following days bring us on hikes through the rice fields surrounding Chimi Lhakhang temple as well as the steep slopes that lead to Namgyel Khamsum Yuely Chorten.
One of the most well-known attractions in the country is the Taktsang monastery (Tiger’s lair). Built in the 1600s, this incredible monastery clings to the edge of a sheer rock cliff that plunges 900 meters into the valley below. It is believed that, in the 8th century, Guru Rimpoche, the tantric mystic who brought Buddhism to Bhutan, landed here on the back of a flying tigress to subdue a demon. I’ve heard that the hike up there is worth the journey on its own – so I’m really looking forward to that.
On this trip, I’m going to focus on learning the Himalayan cultural heritage, and hopefully get to meet locals and share their stories with you here. I’ll be writing more about what I find here over the next few weeks, so please stay tuned!
Disclaimer: This trip was made possible by G Adventures and Bridge to Bhutan. All opinions expressed above are my own.