How I Made the Most of a Week in Nepal
I visited Nepal for one week at the end of a two-month trip. It would be my final stop before returning home to London. Though I originally planned to stay for two weeks and then go to India for a month, I cut the entire trip short for personal reasons. So, with only one week to fill I decided to stay in Kathmandu for a few days and then go to Chitwan National Park. I figured I would walk around Kathmandu and get to grips with Nepal, then go see some exciting wildlife. Here’s how I made the most of my week in Nepal.
Arriving in Kathmandu, I leaned hungrily out of the taxi, drinking in all of the sights, sounds, and noises. My first impressions were good: my taxi driver was kind and eager to help, the city looked exciting and busy and my hostel, Fireflies, was homely and atmospheric, with paintings on the walls.
With only a week before returning home, I resolved to spend a little more than a backpacker’s budget in Nepal. I was aware of the effect of the earthquake in 2015 and the impact that had on tourism, and was eager to contribute in my own small way. Besides, I wanted to experience as much of the country as I could in the time that I had.
The best thing I did in Kathmandu was to take part in a cooking class. It was a family-run class that is run out of a family home just outside the city. The father of the family picked me up and took me to his home, surrounded by vegetable plots. The mother of the family who showed me how to grind spices with a heavy stone, laughing as I struggled to get a hang of the technique.
She showed me how to make momos (delicious dumplings ) and traditional celebration cakes similar to donuts, called sel roti. I also met the father’s mother and one of their children, a student with brilliant English who chatted with me about smartphones. The whole family was incredibly welcoming, we ate dinner together and they told me about Nepali food and traditions. It was a great introduction to the culture and the lovely people.
I was aware of the effect of the earthquake in 2015 and the impact that had on tourism, and was eager to contribute in my own small way.
When I’m in a new place, I like any activity that includes a view. It helps me get to know a place by getting a lay of the land, and I find city landscapes particularly beautiful. The view from Swayambhunath Temple, which sits at the top of a hill in Kathmandu, is astounding. A long flight of stairs is flanked by traders and cheeky macaques. At the top, the temple is surrounded by colorful, fraying prayer flags flapping in the wind.
Swayambhunath sustained some damage from the earthquake and is currently under repair. However, with its golden spires and painted eyes, it remains striking and well worth a visit. There are temples dotted all around the city, so if you choose to explore on foot you’re likely to stumble upon one.
After some time in the city I wanted to get out into the jungle. After a long coach journey with a couple of hiccups due to dodgy roads, I arrived in Sauraha, near Chitwan National Park. It was right before the wet season and sweltering, and this part of the country was particularly hot and humid. There weren’t many tourists about and Sauraha was a bit of a ghost town. However, I had plans to see wild rhinos and I was in the right place.
I booked all my national park experiences through the kind and outgoing hostel manager of Jungle Resort where I stayed. Through a guided tour, I rode in a traditional canoe along the rivers that trace the border of Chitwan. The wildlife was abundant, particularly the birds. We saw multiple kingfishers, electric blue like the ones on Indian beers, and even thin-snouted gharial crocodiles, which are having a resurgence in the region due to a successful breeding program.
I honestly don’t think I had a bad meal during my time in Nepal.
Following the boat trip, I took part in a walking tour with a couple of knowledgeable guides who obviously loved the park and knew it inside out. They helped me to spot a mother rhino and her baby cooling off in the river, surrounded by reeds. There are tigers in Chitwan, but your chances of seeing them are slim-to-none, particularly if you only touch on the outer perimeters of the park in the daytime. However, even being near them and in a place where wild tigers live was excitement enough for me, an avid big cat fan!
I also did a jeep safari which goes a bit deeper into the park but makes a lot of noise. We saw another rhino in a different location. Happily, the park’s been protected from poachers for a while, and that has allowed these amazing animals to thrive.
I really enjoy eating in restaurants when I travel alone, particularly in the evening. The food around Chitwan, which is right on the border of India, is similar to North Indian food. There are lots of great vegetarian options. I enjoyed a delicious thali, cold local beers, and thick, frosty milkshakes. I loved the simple but satisfying Nepali dal bhat (lentils with rice), which is eaten all over Nepal, and I regularly ordered large plates of momos, which usually come with a warm, spiced dip.
Restaurants in Kathmandu offer huge tasty salads with peanuts, and cozy cafes serve top-grade coffee. There are also bakeries all over the city, with savory buns, sweet cakes and pastries, and often the hostels and hotels serve great food. I honestly don’t think I had a bad meal during my time in Nepal.
There was a lot to love about Nepal, and a lot more I didn’t get a chance to see. But that just gives me an excuse to go back. Next time, I plan to visit Pokhara and climb a mountain!