When I landed in Nepal with everything under the sun except trekking gear and not wanting to add to my already overstuffed 20kg backpack (or attempt a trek physically unprepared in new gear) I knew I needed to find something else to do in Nepal. So, I turned to my trusty friend Google, but that turned out to be absolutely no help at all as if you search “what to do in Nepal that isn’t trekking” or any such variation, all Google picks up is Nepal and trekking and tells you all about the best treks and how to prepare for them. But I was here and I wasn’t going to give up, so after some painstaking research I put together a rough itinerary for my two weeks in Nepal. I spent the first few days of my trip in bed or taking things really easy thanks to some dodgy palak paneer so you could realistically do this in a week as a compliment to trekking or you could use the extra time to explore some of the parts of Nepal I didn’t have a chance to see.
There isn’t a huge amount to do in Kathmandu but there are a few squares and temples to explore if you’re into that kind of thing. It’s also a great place to stock up on any winter wear or trekking gear you may need. I picked up a nice and toasty The North Face (the woman in the shop assured me it was real) jacket for a cool $15USD. Real or not, there was a couple of Norwegians trying on jackets at the same time as me who told me that they were good quality, and they ought to know! Any coffee lovers out there should also make the most of the coffee while you’re here, as you’ll be lucky to get ‘coffee with milk’ that isn’t lumpy in Chitwan. Himalayan Java in Thamel (this is where you want to stay while in Kathmandu) make a decent cup of coffee and their food is pretty tasty as well.
If you aren’t going to be doing base camp but still want to see Mt Everest (I mean, you are in Nepal after all!) then you have two options. If you’re made of money, which sadly most of us aren’t, then for the low low starting price of $2000USD (nope, that’s not a typo) you can take a helicopter to base camp, get out for a few minutes, snap some pictures and then fly back. If like me, this is just a little out of your price range then you can take a one hour flight past the famous mountain for around $180USD. Before booking I asked about the kind of planes that each company flies and was told “this company fly American plane, this company fly Russian plane” and couldn’t get any more than that out of the travel agent I was using. I opted for the Russian plane as it was $20USD cheaper than the newer American plane that the competition was offering and it was fine. Yes it was old and had ashtrays that had been welded shut, but I’ve flown on passenger planes older and in worse condition, and we didn’t fall out of the sky. What more could you ask for in your sightseeing plane!? It sat 17 people and everyone, except the poor Indian man in the middle seat in the back row who kept nudging me, pointing out the window and saying “mountain” got a window seat.
Chitwan National Park
While not the biggest National Park in Nepal, it’s the easiest National Park to get to. All the travel agents in Kathmandu offer packages here, but it’s so easy to do yourself. All the packages also include an elephant safari, and as a firm believer in not torturing animals for tourism (read why you shouldn’t ride elephants here if you’re curious) I strongly encourage you not to support these tours. Currently the tourist bus to Sauraha, the town next to the national park, leaves at 5:40am and takes between four and eight hours depending on traffic and the roadworks on the one and only road into town. This is the roughest road I’ve ever been on (being on a bus on this road is what I imagine being in a washing machine feels like) so I wouldn’t attempt it hung over or if you’re not feeling well. I actually didn’t mind it, but the woman seated in front of me was throwing up in little plastic bags and then dropping them out the window every twenty minutes or so, so fair warning if you throw up easily!
Once you’re in Chitwan you have three (well ok four, but again PLEASE don’t do the elephant safari) options for seeing the national park, and I chose to do all of them in day, which is the option most people seem to choose. We started the day at 6:30am for a 7am canoe ride down the river before beginning our 3 hour walk back. It’s really cold here early in the morning so be sure to wear layers that you can start peeling off as the day warms up. The walk takes your through parts of the park that you can only get to on foot which was a really nice perspective and we did get to see a Rhino, deer, monkeys and peacocks. We arrived back in town about 11:15am (enough time to go and have lunch) before leaving again at 12:30 for the afternoon jeep safari. While the jeep was obviously confined to the roads inside the park, it also meant that when we saw a Rhino we could actually get up close to it with the protection being in a vehicle offered, and it was nice to be sitting down after the morning walk in the heat. It also meant we got to see a lot more of the park than we’d been able to see earlier and I loved seeing the terrain change the further we went.
All three activities will set you back around 5000 Rupees or less. They will start higher, so be sure to haggle and go to a different agent if necessary. Also be sure to ask about group size as I ended up in what seemed to be the biggest walking group in the park, and being in a smaller group would definitely be more enjoyable. If you don’t want to cram everything into one day it can be spread out but you will pay 1695 Rupees per day for the permit to go into the park. If you want longer on foot, they offer a full day walking tour and also a two day walking tour where you stay just outside the park before walking back the next day. And if being crammed into a jeep with nine other people isn’t your thing you can hire your own jeep in the morning, and the same goes for the walking tour, a private guide can be hired, but these are obviously going to set you back a lot more than the group tours.
One word people: PARAGLIDING! While there’s a whole lot more to Pokhara than just paragliding, it’s the reason I chose to come here. After all, what kind of self proclaimed adrenaline junkie would I be if I didn’t travel to a town simply to hurl myself off the side of a perfectly good mountain at the mercy of a piece of fabric and favourable winds?
The drive up to the top of the mountain actually turned out to be scarier than the paragliding itself. It’s a winding single lane road with lots of washed out bits, and our driver was a madman! I was just waiting for us to have a head on collision or go hurtling off the side. Thankfully we didn’t though, meaning I was free to go hurtling off the side under my own steam about fifteen minutes later. After a quick briefing that was basically “when I say run run, when I say stop stop and don’t sit until I say you can sit” we were all hooked up and ready to go. We stood there for what felt like an eternity waiting for the wind to come and then all of a sudden my pilot shouted “run” and off we went towards the edge before the wind picked us up and we began to climb over the valley below. It was such an amazing view, and I would have happily stayed up there forever looking down at the world below. I also seemed to have scored the best pilot there, as we spent most of the time higher than everyone one else which was just fine by me, and towards the end when he asked if I wanted to do some tricks I jumped at the chance. The only thing I will say is if you suffer from motion sickness like me, maybe take some pills before you go up, as I wasn’t feeling so great after the tricks, but it was definitely worth the nausea; it felt like being on a rollercoaster in the middle of the sky. My 30 minute paragliding adventure set me back US$65 but there are so many companies to choose from, so be sure to shop around until you find one with the right price that you feel comfortable with.
Sadly due to a disastrous arrival in Pokhara involving twelve hours on a bus, some ‘character building’ communal toilet stops on the side of the road behind a shipping container, a landslide, a car accident, an overbooked hotel, nearly sleeping on the street and ending up miles outside of town, I didn’t actually get do anything else in Pokhara, but this town is definitely worth at least a few days of your time. Just try not to travel around New Year (April 14, 2017) as you will find accommodation hard to find. It’s also worth noting that a booking means absolutely nothing in Pokhara. I’d made a reservation several days in advance as I’d known it would be busy but when I arrived they had given my room away to someone else who had agreed to pay more, and everywhere else in town was already full. So if you do find yourself travelling during this time your best bet is to get a Nepali sim, find where you want to stay and call and speak to them directly, and keep them updated if you have any delays so they know you’re still coming.