People mostly think only of the Himalayas when mentioning Nepal. I have been asked numerous times if I have climbed any mountains (even Mt. Everest), however in fact only very few Nepalese actually have (I haven’t). Though Nepal has a remarkable number of mountains; it is a land of diversity. There is a lot of diversity in terms of geography, landscapes, culture as well as flora and fauna. Every year, Nepal makes it to various lists of must-visit places. It indeed is beautiful – and beautiful consistently throughout the country. I have been lucky enough to travel massively across the country and explore the places which are not typically touristy. My work required traveling to the rural parts which made it possible for me to experience the country’s beauty in its rawness and also have a close look at its various issues. In many places, tourism has become the main source of livelihood and with the growth of international as well as domestic tourism, many places have become commercial and too touristy.
The places on the list are the places that I personally love and that have made an impact on me – but aren’t the typical tourist destinations.
1) Khaptad National Park, Farwestern Region
Though a national park may sound like a typical tourist destination, Khaptad National Park is a place which has a low inflow of tourists although many locals do visit as it has spots with cultural and religious significance. The main reason for not many people visiting despite it being so surreally beautiful is its difficult accessibility. The national park lies in the far-western part of Nepal which is one of the least-developed regions. It can typically take 2 to 3 days to reach there from the capital Kathmandu (my amazing hometown) even if you take a flight and that would include at least a day of walking as there are no motorable roads to the place.
The park spreads across fours districts and has amazing landscape. It comes alive with different rare herbs and wildflowers during spring and is filled with snow during winter.
I visited the national park when I was on a work field visit to a nearby district and it was at the end of the winter. I wasn’t prepared for the trip, but did not want to miss the opportunity so I walked in the snow for a day with not so good shoes (which many times would get stuck on the snow when I lifted my feet) or proper snow clothes (with no places to buy new ones). The journey started with one of the stiffest cliffs I climbed and we had cross rivers without proper bridges- to list a few difficulties. But the place was worth every effort. There are just a couple of places where you can stay and they aren’t in any way luxurious. I remember the night I spend there, we had made a bonfire to keep ourselves warm, I could see the snowcapped mountains shining in the moonlight and the stars shining on the clear sky (I had never seen so many stars).
The place offers different scenery during different times of the year, so you can choose what you want to see and enjoy the wilderness.
2) Pokhara, Kaski
Well Sorry! I know, Pokhara is as touristy as it can get and it must be on the list of anyone who dreams of visiting Nepal, but I CANNOT exclude this place from my list. This is one of my absolute favorite places in the entire world. Pokhara is the city of lakes which lies in the mid-western part of Nepal. It is just twenty minutes flight or 5-6 hours drive from Kathmandu. It is a gateway city to many of the famous trekking routes and other destinations. I love Pokhara because it is a city which has all the modern facilities which many other parts of the country lack, but yet it is calm and serene (unlike Kathmandu, which is more crowded). The city offers a lot of adventure sports activities that can keep anyone occupied like bungee jumping, paragliding, zip fly, ultralight flights, white water rafting, hiking and many more. For people not into adventure stuffs the city offers many caves and lakes, so you can go boating on one of the lakes or relax by the lake enjoying a book or a drink. And if even that is not your cup of tea, you can enjoy its amazing nightlife. There are many restaurants, clubs, and bars which offer local and international cuisine and many have amazing live bands.
So all in all, Pokhara is a wholesome package, with a luxurious stay, amazing food, breathtaking scenery, adventures, and amazing nightlife where you can do both very touristy and non-touristy stuff- there will not be a moment anyone can get bored there.
3) Simikot, Humla
Humla is one of the remote districts in the western part of Nepal, which is now under the newly formed Karnali province and Simikot is the district headquarters. It borders with China on the north and is mostly mountainous; making it difficult to access. Ground transportation is close to non-existent, so you will have to fly to reach Simikot and that flight is definitely not for a faint-hearted person. Small twin-otter planes fly to those regions and the flights can be scary with or without challenging weather conditions. It was April when I traveled there and it was already hot in most part of the country but still very cold in Humla. I remember the exact moment we landed in the Simikot airport – it was absolutely breakingly beautiful. I and my friends literally ran and danced with happiness for reaching there (alive).
I truly understood the meaning of ‘snowcapped’ when I saw the green hills covered by snow at surrounding the place. Every morning as I looked into those mountains – I felt so overwhelmed (even though my hometown offers mountain views too). Being in that place reminded me of the realities of my country – where people live in these remote parts inaccessible through roadway, where the goods have to be transported via planes so everything is so expensive. Sometimes, when the flights are closed due to bad weather people are just stuck there for weeks or even months. Simikot seemed so cut off from the rest of the world, but when I walked a day’s distance from there to another village and then looked at the far distant hill with about 15 houses at the top, I wondered how life there must be.
So if you want to experience true remoteness and see how people actually live (happily) in a place without electricity or mobile networks, you have to visit a place like Humla and not a popular trekking destination. Traveling from Kathmandu to Simikot takes one or two days (two flights) if you are lucky, depending on the weather and flight availability.
4) Sirubari, Syangja
There have been a few moments in my life when I have felt like a celebrity (I used to work for the most popular radio program of the country with a massive fan-following). But this experience was something that I cherish till date. I traveled to this place as a student and when our local bus reached the village, I saw that there was a festival ongoing, where locals had gathered in traditional attire playing traditional instruments. It looked like a beautiful celebration. When we got down, I realized, the gathering was to welcome us. The whole village came together to welcome three university students with so much enthusiasm and showered us with so much love. They welcome us with garlands and tika (red vermilion). With a whole band of traditional instruments playing ahead, they took us to a local Gumba (Buddhist temple) to seek blessing and did a player ceremony for us where they offered us some snacks and local liquor in a silver vessel. There were no commercial hotels in Sirubari, and the whole Gurung (a caste/ethnic group) village hosts a home-stay package for its visitors. So you stay with a local family and experience their way of living – which is such a marvelous experience. The host family took us to watch the sunrise from a hilltop, which was so surreal. We could see beautiful mountains all around and the whole village was too pretty.
But more than anything the hospitality that we got made us feel like celebrities. Everyone greets you and welcomes you and invites you for lunch even though only the host is actually obligated to serve. They hosted a traditional dance event for us and even gave us some local gifts and the price for the whole package was something that you would spend over a lunch in the U.S. The whole stay was such a feel-good experience, something that I treasure for the hospitality experience, even though I might have been to more exotic places in Nepal – so definitely a must visit.
Sirubari can be reached in a day if you fly from Kathmandu to Pokhara and then take a bus, it might take up to two days via road.
5) Dharan, Sunsari
Dharan is a beautiful city in the eastern part of Nepal which may not be a typical tourist destination but has many things to offer. Though it looks hilly, it is mostly hot and humid as it is very close to the Terai plains. It is a clean and fashionable city which offers some great food. It is also a gateway to make other attractive destinations and trekking routes of the eastern part. There are different spots like temples, lakes, and hilltops with amazing views. The city also has a famous medical college, BP Koirala Institute of Health Sciences, which is an amazing destination in itself where you can stroll around and if visited at the right season you can see the Gulmohar trees in full bloom which can be mesmerizing.
Dharan is also close to another city called Biratnagar, which is in the Terai planes and offers a completely different experience from the hilly and mountainous areas of Nepal. It borders with India and shares a similar culture. The cities in the plains are mostly loud and crowded but come with its own beauty. You can ride on a human drawn by-cycle rickshaw, try different local dishes and also visit the local markets called ‘haat bazar’ where farmers sell different kinds of produces. If you visit Nepal and just go to the mountains, you will miss this side of the country which is so vibrant, colorful and sometimes chaotic but still beautiful.
Dharan/Biratnagar can be reached by a 40 minutes flight from Kathmandu (the airport is in Biratnagar and Dharan is an hour and a half’s drive). Drive from Kathmandu can take half a day or so.
So, if you are planning to visit Nepal or you are in Nepal, keep these places in mind apart from what might already be in your wish-list.