Nepal is a popular destination among trekkers from around the world because it houses 8 out of the 10 highest peaks in the world. It is a general perception that most people travel to Nepal for trekking. Definitely, trekking is one of the main reason but there are some other interesting things to do in Nepal other than trekking. I traveled to Nepal twice and visited some beautiful places in the Himalayan nation. During my trips, I spent a little more than 2 weeks in Nepal but I didn’t do any trek. I explored the beautiful cultural heritage of Nepal and relaxed in the lap of nature. My first trip was the solo and second time I traveled with my parents. So I traveled at a slow pace and safety was my first priority.
Must do things in Nepal and sightseeing
Visit Durbar squares of Nepal
Durbar square’s literal meaning is a “Royal Square”. It is a type of plaza and open area opposite the royal palaces in Nepal. These areas have temples, statues of Gods or Goddesses, open courts, small water bodies, and towers. Durbar square is a perfect showcase of beautiful Nepali architecture.
Kathmandu Durbar square is in front of the old royal palace. There are several temples and towers in this square but most prominent ones are Kumari temple and Hanuman Dhoka. When I visited it before the 2015 Nepal earthquake it was in good condition but now several temples are broken and restoration work is going on. This royal palace had suffered maximum damage along with a couple of temples in the square.
Kumari temple in the Durbar square had minimum damage and it is still standing tall.
There are shops around the Kathmandu Durbar square and several small vendors have displayed their items on the floor in open area. It is a perfect place for street shopping.
This ancient city of Bhaktapur is 15 Km from Kathmandu and its a UNESCO world heritage site. There are lots of open areas with several temples spread across in this square.
The major attractions of Bhaktapur Durbar Square are a museum, several temples and other buildings with the beautiful woodwork on windows. There are some restaurants in Bhaktapur durbar square compound with open and inside the sitting arrangement. In Bhaktapur, most of the souvenir shops are outside the Durbar square compound.
Patan Durbar Square is in Lalitpur, which is 6 Km from the city center of Kathmandu. It is comparatively smaller to the other two durbar squares of Nepal but it is equally beautiful and intricate in workmanship. There are some unique temples and other heritage buildings in the square. The shops are outside the square. Durbar squares are one of the must-visit places in Nepal.
Explore Thamel in Kathmandu
Thamel is one of the popular hot spots of Kathmandu from the hippie days. Even today it is very popular among backpackers from across the globe. The lanes of Thamel remain busy till late night with the pedestrian, cycle rickshaws, two-wheelers, and cars. At first glance, it looks overcrowded market with shops on both sides.
In Thamel, almost everything is available from trekking gear, music systems, mobile phones, DVDs, handicrafts, souvenirs, shoes, food items, woolen products, and clothes. Since it is popular among tourists so there are several travel agents and money exchange shops in Thamel. There are several budget hotels in Thamel.
Thamel has are several restaurants, pubs, clubs, dance bars, and massage parlors. It is one of the most popular places for a night out in Kathmandu.
Visit Pashupatinath temple and its surrounding areas
The Pashupatinath temple is Nepal’s biggest temple. Situated on the banks of the Bagmati river and is dedicated to Lord Shiva. The original temple was constructed in the 5th century and it was later on renovated by Malla kings. Pashupatinath temple is one of the most sacred temples for Hindus. There was no damage to this temple during the 2015 earthquake. Photography is not allowed inside the temple. Non-Hindu’s are not allowed inside the temple.
If you are Hindu then go inside the temple and pray. If you are non-Hindu then explore the surrounding areas. The market and outside area in front of the temple are quite interesting and have lots of character for any traveler.
If you want to see some rituals then go to the backside of the temple on the riverfront of Bagmati. People perform pujas on the riverfront for their wellbeing and also in the memory of their loved ones. There is a small cremation area also on the Bagmati and it is considered auspicious burning pyre here. Unfortunately, the Bagmati river is not clean but this area is an interesting place to understand the local culture and rituals.
Visit Stupas in Kathmandu
A visit to stupas of Kathmandu is must to experience the rich heritage of Nepal. There are several big and small stupa’s across Nepal but Swayambhunath Stupa and Boudhanath Stupa are two most significant.
The literal meaning of Swayambhunath is that “The one who self-manifested or self existed”. It is believed that the stupa emerged at this point on its own and later on kings made big stupa at this place. It is also popularly known as monkey temple as there are many monkeys in the complex.
The Swayambhunath stupa is situated on a high hill and if you come from the city side then be prepared to climb 365 stairs. Fortunately, there is a road which leads to the base of stupa and we drove by car. On this side, we have to climb very few stairs. There are several structures and temples at the top but the main attraction is the stupa with the eyes of Buddha. Also, the overview of the Kathmandu valley from the top of the hill is beautiful. The view is one of the highlights of my visit to the stupa.
Boudhanath Stupa is 36 meter in height and it is the tallest stupa in Nepal. There is a small gate in the wall from where we entered the stupa complex. From outside it doesn’t give the idea of what is inside. The stupa is made in mandala style with a large round dome in the center. There are several monasteries around the stupa.
The Boudhanath Stupa complex is surrounded by double and triple story buildings. There are several shops around the stupa selling souvenirs. There are some good coffee shops and a rooftop restaurant around the stupa. Light a lamp at the base of stupa and spend some time in a coffee shop in the complex.
Take Mount Everest flight
Everyone can’t climb Mount Everest and trekking is not everyone’s cup of tea. Take a mountain flight and see Mount Everest up close from a small airplane. The 3 airlines are doing Everest flights. This one hour flight is from Kathmandu and airplane fly along with the Mount Everest range. The pilots and attendants point the Mount Everest. It is visible from windows still the pilot invites people inside the cockpit so that one can have an even better view.
Watch the sunrise in Nagarkot
After spending a few days in Kathmandu, we traveled to Nagarkot which is 30 Km. There are several small eco-trails in Nagarkot to explore the natural beauty of this small town. It is close to Kathmandu but still quite peaceful.
My favorite in Nagarkot is to watch the sunrise. If the weather is clear then you can watch a spectacular sunrise and sun coming up from behind the Himalayan range.
I traveled to Nagarkot twice and on one occasion I watched a beautiful sunrise but the second time around it was too cloudy. A sunrise view in Nagarkot is worth taking a trip to this place. Don’t stay in the main area, stay in a hotel or resort which is slightly outside and near the valley so that you get a good view.
Laze around in Pokhara
Kathmandu to Pokhara is 200 Km but it takes around 7 hours by road. There are narrow valleys and high mountains on both sides of the road going to Pokhara. The road is full of twists and turns. Road travel is one of the most economical ways to travel to Pokhara but it’s a tiring journey. There are direct flights to Pokhara from Kathmandu in small planes, which save lots of time.
Pokhara is very popular among trekking enthusiasts because it is the base for several treks, the most significant of them is Annapurna base camp trek. I didn’t go for any trek but I had a wonderful time in Pokhara.
There are several interesting places like Phewa lake, Davis fall, Shree Bindhyabasini Temple, Seti river gorge, World peace pagoda, Pokhara old market and several other places to explore.
If you literally don’t want to do anything than sit on the lakeside or in the cafes across the lake or take a boat ride in the lake. Rent a cycle or 2 wheeler and explore the natural beauty of Pokhara.
Paragliding in Pokhara
If you like to add a little bit of adventure in your trip without any effort like I did then go for paragliding in Pokhara. If you don’t have a paraglider and you are not a trained flyer than do tandem flights for 15 to 30 minutes. Time of the flight depending upon the package.
Pokhara is one of the top destinations in Asia for paragliding. The view of the Pokhara valley while paragliding is worth taking the gliding trip.
Do wildlife safari in Chitwan National Park
Chitwan is 170 Km from the capital city of Kathmandu and its a world heritage site of UNESCO. There are several hotels around Chitwan national park for all the budgets. It is advisable to spend a couple of day in Chitwan to explore the flora fauna and wildlife.
Go for an ethical wildlife safari in Chitwan, a canoe trip, visit elephant and vulture breeding center. During wildlife safari, you can see one horn rhino, elephants, monkeys, deers, crocodile, alligators and several varieties of birds.
A perfect place to spend some time in the lap of nature.
Eat Nepali Thali and Momos
Traditional Nepali Thali and Momos are two must-have food items when in Nepal.
The traditional Nepali thali is mostly vegetarian but sometimes non-vegetarian are also served in it. Nepali people call it “Dal Bhat Tarkari”. The Dal is lentil curry which is usually spiced with salt, cumin, garam masala, turmeric and later on tempered with a masala of onion, garlic, ginger, chilly and tomatoes. Sometimes tamarind is added to give tangy flavor. Sometimes goat meat is added into the dal but it is optional. Bhat is boiled grain, which is mostly rice because it is the staple food of Nepal. Tarkari is a vegetable dish made of seasonal vegetables. Most people eat “Dal Bhat Tarkari” twice a day at their homes in Nepal.
If you go to a restaurant then they will serve a dal, rice, 1 or 2 vegetable, 1 non-vegetarian dish, yogurt and pickle in Thali.
Momos are steamed dumplings (A type of Dim Sum) made from refined flours with different stuffings. Momos are served with garlic red chili chutney. The momos are available in vegetarian as well as non-vegetarian varients depending upon their stuffings. Vegetarian variety has many varieties, these can be finely chopped vegetables with onions, or mashed potato with onions or filled with cottage cheese. Non-vegetarian momos have minced meat filling, which can be chicken or goat meat. Momos are available everywhere in Nepal as street food stalls as well in fine dining restaurants.
Take a bus in Nepal
The bus travel in Nepal is an adventure in itself. Before visiting Nepal, I thought we don’t have good buses for Hill station of India from Delhi. After taking a bus journey from Kathmandu to Pokhara (One way only) by bus I changed my opinion. It is not one of the safest bus services and accidents do happen.
Still, a bus journey in Nepal is fun because you get to meet local people and experience the culture. The biggest advantage is the scenery as you soon as you leave the city. Just for experience take a short bus ride to the nearest town from Kathmandu but pre-book the tickets.
Take a flight in a small plane
The road conditions are not very good as you travel from Kathmandu to other parts of Nepal. If you are not on a tight budget then it’s wise to take flights to travel between different cities. Just in case if you are on a tight budget then also take at least one flight in a small plane. There are around 10 airlines in Nepal, which operate between different cities in Nepal.
It is a fun flight in a small plane, it is an interesting experience if you had never traveled in such an aircraft. Another advantage is that you will see one or the other Himalayan range from the flight. Most of these flights are 30 minutes +- duration and ticket are economical.
Go for shopping
Nepal is a good place to shop for some interesting souvenirs. Kathmandu market is full of different items, which are unique yet economical. The most popular items to buy in Nepal are Masks, Handicrafts, Magnets, woolens, clothes, shoes, prayer flags, incense sticks, honey and most important is a Khukri.
If you had done street shopping in India for souvenirs then it will be easier to bargain and negotiate a good price.
These are some of my simple recommendations if you like to travel comfortably but at the same time want to experience Nepal. These are some of my favorite things to do in Nepal as a regular traveler, who is not into trekking. I love to explore the heritage and culture that’s why these are the must-do things during a Nepal trip.