Ever since Nepal first opened its borders to outsiders in the 1950s, this tiny mountain nation has had an irresistible mystical allure for travelers. Packed between the high wall of the Himalayan range and the steamy jungles of the Indian plains, Nepal is a land of snow peaks, yaks, monasteries and mantras. Today, trekkers in great numbers are drawn to the Himalaya’s most iconic and accessible hiking. Here someone can find the world’s best trails leading up to Mighty Everest and the Annapurna range and beyond. In a few words, Nepal is nirvana for mountain lovers. For us was a scenic stopover on our way on driving through the Himalayas and into China via Tibet, as well as a beautiful, peaceful alternative to bustling India.
As we entered from the south and after our dramatic experience in the Indian streets that led us here, we needed a quiet place to gear down as well as get a face-to-face contact with this new, thrilling country and its people. After detailed research we chose Lumbini, the birthplace of Buddha. In this small settlement that lies close to the border with India, the spiritual heart is Maya Devi Temple, which marks the spot where Queen Maya Devi gave birth to Siddhartha Gautama (later called Buddha).The whole site is set in the middle of the large 4km by 2.5km park grounds known as the Lumbini Development Zone. Most people rush through Lumbini, allowing only a few hours to look around. However, that was not our case. We spent four days exploring the area and its monasteries, and soaking up the peaceful atmosphere. A great start to our passage through Nepal.
The country is known for its mountain scenery. So we soon left the low lands and Voukefalas started climbing the lower part of the Himalayas and headed to our next destination. Pokhara is the place that ticks all the right boxes, spectacular scenery, adventure activities, and accommodation and food choices for every budget. Lakeside Pokhara is the perfect place to recharge your batteries. The scene is a chilled-out version of Thamel, stretching along the shore of a tranquil lake. From the lake, and possibly even from your hotel bed if you pick the right one, you can enjoy a clear view of the snow-capped mountains, just twenty or so kilometers away. We picked an overlanders camp about 8km away from the city. Here we met more people traveling the world in their own vehicle and got to exchange ideas, plans and experiences over bottles of wine. Worth mentioning here is that Pokhara is the gateway to the world-famous treks in Annapurna range, something we had planned to do but it was canceled as the news from our travel agent in China rushed us to the capital Katmandu in order to take care of our visas.
Stepping into Kathmandu now is a whole different experience on its own, a riot of sights, sounds and smells that can quickly lead to an overload of senses. Whether you’re barreling through the traffic-jammed alleyways of the old town, marveling at the medieval temples of Durbar Sq or dodging trekking touts in the backpacker district of Thamel, Kathmandu can be an intoxicating, amazing and exhausting place. To really glimpse the soul of the city, take a walk through the backstreets, where the capital’s timeless cultural and artistic heritage reveals itself. This endlessly fascinating, sometimes infuriating city has enough sights to keep you busy for a week, but be sure to leave its backpacker comforts and explore the ‘real Nepal’ before your time runs out. As you have figured out by now, we are not the city types, so after the visa formalities and all the necessary exploration, we moved out to our next destination, the small settlement of Nargaroth.
Nargaroth, although just 30km out of Katmandu, is located in a mountain drop of an altitude of 2100 meters, that faces the Katmandu Valley on one side and the Mountain Everest ’s mighty pick on the other. Unfortunately the weather was for one more time against us and the pick was covered in thick clouds.
With a quick visit to some local friends back in the valley of Katmandu, we took the final stretch of highway that leads deep in the Himalayan range and in the borders of China.
Known between thrill-seekers, the Kodari road climbs up the valley of the raging Bhotekoshi River, 12 km from the Tibetan border. Here we picked Borderlands Camp as a base where all the groups, that we would be crossing China with, would meet and drive the last 13 km before our entrance in Tibet.
Our Nepal adventure kept for us an end that we will probably remember for the rest of our lives. But since you already know that we are safe, I chose to describe how we survived the 7.9 Richter earthquake in our upcoming post, which is dedicated to all those people that lost their lives in one of nature’s most horrifying moments.