TOP ACTIVITIES TO DO IN NEPAL ( An 8 Day Itinerary)
Nepal is known for its spectacular, breathtaking landscape and a mix of mind blowing exotic cultures. Due to its location in the heart of the Himalayas, it’s packed with a range of adventures for both the long term and short term traveler. I being in the latter group, had only 8 days for the trip and I found that with a little research you’ll have a list of activities to keep you occupied to the last day. People from all over the world flock there every year. If it’s not to conquer a mountain, then it’s to delve in to the festival rich cultures, or to meditate with the Monks, or even try a hand in extreme activities. I arrived in late August when the monsoon season was coming to an end so it was a bit rainy and cloudy, but the rain tends to fall at night mostly. I want to share my favourite top activities to do in Nepal on an 8 day itinerary with you, hopefully you’ll get tempted to squeeze in a wee trip too in the near future.
Visa – Visa for Nepal is on arrival for most nationalities as per the immigration website. The cost of a single entry visa for 15/30/90 days is USD 25/40/100 respectively. That said there are 12 nationalities mentioned on the website that require to apply for visa through the embassies in their respective countries. If in doubt check online or call the embassy.
I have included all average costs at a later section of this guide.
WHERE TO GO IN KATHMANDU CITY.
If you traveled to Nepal by air, your first stop is Kathmandu the sprawling Nepalese capital. This bustling city is culture soaked and full of hidden gems beneath the dusty exterior. The chaotic transport system, nostalgically transported me back to my native home city in Nairobi where I was always in a constant dance to avoid getting knocked down by buses. It’s an attraction in itself just watching the craziness around you while continuously holding your breath hoping no one gets hit. After a while you get used to it, after all it’s just regular people going about their normal routine. There’s always a festival happening every now and then and it’s difficult to get bored or run out of things to do. Now, if you haven’t already booked a hotel, don’t worry, there’s a range of decent budget hotels and hostels in Thamel available for walk in guests. You can also find several hotel agents outside the airport by the greeting area.
Explore the city – Depending on the time you arrive, plan to spend at least two nights in Kathmandu. That gives you a full day to explore the city. The best and cheapest way to see the city is jumping on a public bus. The idea is as it makes its way around the city dropping off and picking up passengers, you get a chance to see the real Kathmandu and its people going about their business from the comfort of your window seat and for less than a dollar too. Taxis are pricy and I didn’t see any tuk tuks in the city. However there are plenty of rickshaws around the touristy Thamel area.
Swayambunath – If you get tired of the bus ride or have had your fill, ask the ever helpful Nepalis for directions to Swayambunath. This is otherwise known as monkey temple aptly named after its resident monkey population. This ancient Buddhist sanctuary sits on top of a hill. When you manage to complete the nearly vertical endless stairs to the top, you’ll be rewarded with unobstructed and incredible views of the sprawling city of Kathmandu beneath the hill. Crowning the hill is a beautifully adorned Giant Stupa with the all seeing Buddha eyes looking on to the world. This structure and other shrines around it is a Holy site for both Buddhists and Hindu people and many of them visit daily to pay their respects. Be wary of the monkeys as they are cheeky and will grab anything loose off you. A local myth goes that the monkeys are holy too. The entrance fee for the temple is less than USD 2 for tourists and free for locals.
Pashupatinath Temple – Another temple worth visiting is Pashupatinath temple dedicated to Lord Pashupatinath and one of the holiest Hindu temples on the continent. This Hindu temple is also a UNESCO heritage site, and it consists of several temples with detailed courtyards and stairs connecting them. I wasn’t allowed in to the inner Holy place as it’s restricted to only people of Hindu religion, however the detailed outer courtyard is full of sights for everyone to see. Besides you can walk down to the sacred Bagmati River right behind the temple to watch one of the more interesting aspects of the Hindu religion; the hair raising actual cremation of human remains following a funeral ceremony by the relatives. The entrance fee for the temple is USD 10 for tourist and free for locals.
Thamel – A walk or should I say getting lost in Thamel is a must do for every traveler in Kathmandu. This is the backpacker capital cum shopping centre of Kathmandu. Here you’ll find people from almost anywhere in the world as it serves as a beginning point, watering hole and ending point for most activities in Nepal.
You can buy anything from trekking and hiking gear, mountain climbing gear, original cashmere clothing, and souvenirs in plenty. Be ready to bargain too as the prices are generally inflated for the largely foreign shoppers.
Thamel also boasts a variety of restaurants both for the budget and luxury traveler. You’ll get a decent meal for USD 2 upwards within Thamel and for less than a dollar outside the area. You’ll find out sooner rather than later that the cheaper local food is fresher, healthier and more delicious than the food in the trendier restaurants. The area is also packed with hostels, hotels, home stays, and guest houses making it the best place to stay for two nights due to its central location and affordability.
Durbar Square – The sprawling square houses the old royal palace of the Kingdom. It comprises of houses, courtyards, temples and statues of Hindu gods. Despite having been heavily damaged by the recent earthquake, It’s a beautifully and culturally decorated place and there is always a festival of some sort going on there. It’s very much worth a visit. Not to forget that it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
POKHARA LAKESIDE CITY
Pokhara is the little charming city on the lake and is considered to be the gateway to the popular Annapurna Himalayan region. It has such a laid back feel to it that I felt strongly that I could easily live there. The locals and residents alike are easy going friendly folks, the countryside is magical and it’s difficult to fault it. However it sits at an uncomfortable 850 plus miles from Kathmandu.
Beautiful Trip to the Countryside – Plan to wake up early to catch the 7 o’clock tourist bus to Pokhara. You have the option to fly there instead and save time, however I recommend you take the bus as the sweeping views of the dramatic landscape are totally worth the uncomfortable 8 hours ride. There’s the big Trishuli River that flows alongside the road most of the way, and of course the rolling and dropping hills bordering the river, and occasionally dotted by small waterfalls. The bus costs USD 10, and should be booked at least one day earlier. Some of them have air conditioning, but though most advertise wifi when booking, rarely do they have wifi on them. However they do provide a bottle of water and stop several times along the way for you to stretch and have some lunch.
I stayed at the Hotel the Coast on Lakeside Pokhara, which was a convenient location for me to see the whole place on foot. Besides it had amazing views of the lake and twice when I happened to be in the room, I was rewarded with a spectacular show of the paragliders descending from the other side of the lake.
Adrenaline Junkie? – There’s a host of activities to do in Pokhara. It’s packed with waterfalls, caves and rivers waiting to be explored. You can choose to do paragliding, bungee jumping, zip lining, mountain flights , white water rafting and trekking depending on the weather. You’ll find companies offering these activities at every turn in Pokhara. I recommend that you don’t book online. Wait until you get there, go from agent to agent and compare the services. If you are keen on photographs, ask to see their portfolio so you can get an idea of which company to go for.
Paragliding – You can do paragliding either in the morning if the sky is clear or in the afternoon. Usually photos are taken by the pilot using a go pro camera. The company I used for my paragliding was called Tibet Paragliding and although my flight was remarkable, with breath taking views, I wouldn’t recommend them due to the fact that they insisted I take the morning flight while it was still cloudy, and kept from me the fact that they had an afternoon flight when the sun was out in all its glory. Due to this, my photos and videos are mostly useless. Make sure to ask around preferably other travellers to find out the best company for your needs.
The paragliding flight is surprisingly not scary at all. The descent is breathtaking, with green terraces of rice paddies on one side, the glimmering Lake Phawe on the other, and the gorgeous rugged Himalayas on the horizon. There’s no word to describe the emotions you feel when flying atop all this natural beauty.
Bungee jumping, and mountain flights can be done too, and costs slightly higher, and depend strongly on the weather. I really wanted to go bungee jumping but couldn’t due to impassable roads to the drop place. Thats why I recommend waiting to book activities until you are there.
Boat Ride – After the paragliding, an evening boat on the lake is not only therapeutic, but also an opportunity to watch the sun go down on the beautiful lake. Lake Phawe is calm and still and therefore perfect for rowing, paddling and fishing the latter being a pastime that locals indulge in every evening at the edge of the lake. Something else to watch out for when you have nothing to do with your evening. The rowing can be done with a guide, like in my case, or in a group. The cost of renting the boat is from USD 3 upwards depending on the length of time you need it for. If you’re alone, you’ll be charged an extra USD 2 for a guide’s services. If you have time, drop by the island temple at the far end of the lake and visit the little Hindu temple on it, if at least for the views it affords you of the lake around it.
DAY 5 & 6
Sarangkot viewpoint – On the 5th day you can either take a guided or solo two day trek to Dhampus. However on the day of the trek, get up early by 4 o’clock in the morning, and together with your guide drive to Sarangkot view point to catch the sun as it rises upon the majestic Annapurna Himalayan range. There’s no feeling like watching the glowing orange sun illuminating the beautiful mountains and the picturesque Lake Phewa far below, as you enjoy a cup of hot coffee. While the sun rises around 5 o’clock in September, it’s best to have breakfast up there, wait for the Annapurna and Fishtail to show themselves in their full glory. Later when you’ve had enough of the views, you can begin your trek down to Dhampus.
Dhampus Trek – The trek is moderate mostly and then testy towards the end due to the number of steps you have to conquer to reach the top. The steps continue to climb for close to two hours, towards Dhampus. Depending on your pace, the trek should take about 6 hours if you’re walking briskly and you stop for lunch and sight seeing along the way. If you’re trekking during the rainy season, watch out for leeches. I got attacked twice even though I wore knee high boots the whole time.
You will spend the night in a hostel in Dhampus, most likely interacting with fellow
travellers, and then in the morning you’ll wake early again to catch the sunrise on the mountains. Honestly, you can’t have enough of the sights. After breakfast, you pack up, and trek down to Pokhara. It takes about 4 hours to get back, and a lot of achy bones.
Phawe – If you are up to it, Phawe is a town worth exploring by foot. It’s a small shoppers mine, and there’s also a walking path adjacent to the lake that circles the lake almost to half its circumference. You can also walk up the hills for short walks by yourself. There’s no shortage of photography opportunities for the photographer in you. While you’re there, look out for the Movie garden. It’s among others, a place to chill and watch a block buster movie out in the open on their huge screen while you enjoy a drink, or just hang out with fellow travellers. Remember to go early or book in advance to avoid missing a seat.
DAY 7 & 8
On the 7th day, catch the 8 o’clock bus to Kathmandu. On arrival, I recommend driving up or in my case, take a taxi up to Nagarkot hill, another spot to watch the sun go down on the Himalayas. It’s a great idea to spend the night there and while at it remember to catch up with the locals. While I was up there, I wore my sari and joined a group of women who were dancing for nearly 2 hours. They were celebrating a festival of women, and it was just pure fun getting out danced, laughed at but mostly taught how to gyrate hips the Nepali way. Not that I mastered it. Some things require a lifetime of practice. The next morning catch some more mountain views, and then make the 5 hour hike down the hill through villages, down hill and up hill again, until you reach Changunarayan. This is another Hindu temple and a UNESCO heritage site, largely destroyed by the recent earthquake but still a marvel to visit. You can buy souvenirs and paintings there too, as there’s a painting school next to the temple. After eating some freshly made local food and resting your body, take a taxi back to Kathmandu and on to the airport.
Flights – Flights to Nepal are cheap if you’re flying out of the middle East or connecting through Asia. At the moment the best bet for a killer saving is with the Tajawal website.
For instance, I searched a multi-city flight plan, (Nairobi-Dubai-Kathmandu-Dubai-Nairobi), for the dates between 18th of January and 1st of February and the overall cost is USD 683 for the whole trip. Another flight plan, (Dubai-Kathmandu-Dubai) for the above dates starts from USD 301.
Other recommended websites to find cheap flights include among others Momondo, Skyscanner, Airtreks and Google flights.
Hostel Prices – Hostels in both cities are cheap and range from USD 5 upwards for a night in a dorm, and from USD 10 upwards for a private room. It all depends on your need for luxury or privacy. If you’re keen to save some more bucks on accommodation you can check out the couchsurfing community in Nepal for a possible host.
Hotel Prices – Hotels prices similarly vary depending on your needs. Cheap hotels start at USD 15 upwards. I stayed in Holiday house in Kathmandu for USD 15 a night with breakfast, and in Pokhara I stayed in Hotel the Coast for USD 25 a night for a lake facing room with breakfast. Pricing also largely depends on the season that you’re visiting.
Transportation Costs – Transport is cheap and costs less than a dollar within Kathmandu if you are using public transport. As long as you inform the driver where you’re going, you should be fine. The airport pick up or drop off costs roughly USD 5 for independent taxis, and USD 8 to 10 for airport taxis. The tourist bus ride to Pokhara cost USD 10 for one way, which is incredibly cheap for an 8 hour journey. I didn’t require any transportation within Pokhara as I walked mostly. While taxis are not overly expensive, rickshaws are common and a cheaper way of moving about.
Food – Food is affordable in local restaurants and stalls, with breakfast going for USD 1 to 2 and lunch or dinner less than USD 5. A plate of Dhal Bhat the local Nepali meal costs USD 3 in a local food stall, and double the price in a touristy area. Nepali food is not only healthy, but also delicious as a result of the rich multi-cultural influence. My favourite snack was momos. These dumplings are stuffed with either chicken, buffalo, vegetables, or beef. They may be either steamed or fried. Continental food such as steaks and pizzas go for USD 10 upwards for a meal.
If you’re not much of a drinker, you’re costs will go down considerably as a local beer costs USD 5.
Paragliding or Zip-lining without pictures and video costs USD 50
With pictures and video they cost USD 60
Bungee jumping costs USD 85 at the Last Resort for the jump only, but if you need to be transported to the jump site from Thamel it will cost you USD 100 in total. Check out the Last Resort website for more activities.
Most people I met recommended that I do the bungee at the Last Resort because its more scenic. Unfortunately the resort was closed due to the Monsoon weather.
A short 2 day trek to Dhampus costs USD 20, which included the price of the room for the night, and taxi fees to travel up to Sarangkot. The guide fees was about USD 50 for the two days which would be cheaper if you’re traveling in a group and sharing the cost.
Nepalese are some of the nicest and kindest people in the world. Traveling solo enables you to interact with locals most of the time which translates in to a rich and raw experience. I made friends with my boat guide, and he ended up inviting me to have dinner with his family, and his wife cooked especially for me. From that experience alone I feel like I made friends for life in Pokhara. While trekking down to Changunarayan, Nepalese women invited me to taste the local wine that they were brewing just off the path. Those and so many others are the experiences I took away from my solo adventures in Nepal.
Nepal’s flag is the only Flag in the World that isn’t rectangular in shape.
Nepal is a secular country and as a result her people are hugely tolerant and peace loving folks whose company and hospitality I enjoyed immensely.