Nepal for the Discerning Traveler

Text by Raj Gyawali / Photo: Kim Bannister

Nepal pulls the traveling soul towards itself with a compulsive pull. Not once, but several times. Some times to stay. This perhaps makes up for the land’s famed mystic quality. An exploration.

There are tourists, and then there are travelers, and Nepal is a paradise for the latter—offering experiences, learning, lasting friendships, and tons of fun—creating memories that last a lifetime. It’s not strange then that Nepal has one of the highest percentages of return travelers in the world, many of who immerse and involve themselves deep into the country and its people. 

 The first thing that travelers notice when they come to Nepal is the infectious friendliness of the people, who laugh easily, smile continuously, and accept differences in culture very easily. This, perhaps, is our heritage of centuries of relatively peaceful coexistence among a myriad of cultures: Indian, Indo-Tibetan, Tibeto-Burman, Indo-Burman, and everything in between. As Nepalis, we are constantly surprised by the traditions and practices of our own compatriots, to the extent that we are travelers in our own country. 

This, perhaps, has developed in us a very deep quality of acceptance. The friendliness and nonchalance comes from the fact that we are essentially traders, bridging the gap between the north and the south for centuries. We are communities etching a living in one of the most inaccessible areas in the world in the past, the high passes and the highest mountain range in the world protecting us in the north, and a dense jungle full of wild animals and deadly diseases bordering us in the south. This has led us to be myriad mix of people, from a mysteriously malaria-immune community of Tharus in the south (who purportedly are inhabitants of Rajasthan who fled the Moghul invasions of the past and settled in a harsh jungle beyond the impassable Ganges), to the legendary high-mountain conquering Sherpas (who fled the repression of Buddhism and settled in impassable valleys and protected the sacred philosophy). 

Interesting theory here—these previously impenetrable high valleys, where enlightenment was preserved by these early Buddhist settlements that dot the northern side of the country, is considered Shangri La (not the valleys with springs, flowers, animals, and humans running around surrounded by plenty, but valleys where philosophy and the future of the world was preserved). As you can see, the onion that is Nepal can be peeled several layers to go deeper and deeper, making it a land of discovery for the intrepid traveler.

 Created by the continuous grind of the Indian plate into the Tibetan plate, and constant rising of the Himalayas, Nepal is one of the steepest places on earth, boasting land between 70 m (above sea level) and the top of the world at 8,848 m within a paltry 250 kilometer breadth, creating climactic and geological zones that can grow anything from pineapple all the way to apple, walnut, and nothing. This steepness leads it to become a paradise for adventure, with hundreds upon hundreds of unexplored mountains, rivers, terrain, valleys, flora, and fauna. Again, another element of the onion that travelers love to peel. 

Today, Nepal is a world leader in adventure sports that is slowly allowing more and more adventure lovers and enthusiasts to enjoy what the country has to offer. Travelers often discover that the country allows one to feel audacious and test out their skills in a safe environment. The potential is endless, or so it seems right now, as new opportunities keep opening up. Travelers come here to realize they always missed something to do that was within reach, and hence have to come back. No choice.

 The element of discovery is endless for the traveler who is interested in these three assets that Nepal has—its people, its environment, and its myriad culture. This is perhaps what makes it such a paradise for travelers. This country has more festivals than the days of the year, over 150 different languages and dialects, over 100 different ethnicities, all within the 27 million odd inhabitants who live here peacefully.

What’s coming up?

 To bring things to context at this time of the year, it’s monsoon, and life giving rains are coming down by the bucketful. Discoveries now will include the tradition and celebration of rice sowing in the mid-hills and the south of the country. In the high mountains, the rain shadow areas beyond the high mountains will have lush pastures full of summer flowers, where communities are going into the alpine pastures right now to collect Cordyceps (yarsagumba), the incredible half caterpillar, half mushroom ‘herb’ that fetches thousands of dollars in the international market for its vigor-giving qualities, the yaks and livestock are in the meadows in their summer jaunt, and the jungles in the south are lush and wild. The shaman full moon festival, the thread changing ceremony, the festival of the dead, and the sarcasm and laughter festivals are coming up.

The discovery never ends for the discerning traveler in Nepal.