While most people I know chose to spend the holidays in Japan, Korea or US. I digressed from the usual go-to countries during December. And so I picked an off the beaten path travel experience with my HS bff - go to Nepal!
Nepal is a country in South Asia. Some call it as "A Root Between Stones" because it is sandwiched between two big countries namely China and India.
Most people close to me were surprised when they knew I went to Nepal because of such questions:
1) Is it not hard to travel there?
2) Since it is an unusual travel destination, isn't the fare expensive?
2) What's there to see? (a lot! I'll prove it later)
Let me answer these questions.
1) Personally, it is not hard to travel in Nepal. Although there are no direct flights from Manila, it will only take you one connecting flight before getting to its capital city which is Kathmandu. The flight that my friend and I booked had a layover in Guangzhou, China. Layover time was relatively short compared to my previous travels. It was just 3 hours or so.
2) The idea of "expensive" is relative especially in terms of airfares. Some may be cheap for others while some may be too much for them. I think it just depends on how you budget your travel expenses. But in this Nepal trip, I'd say it wasn't so expensive since our travel dates fell during the holiday season. We booked our flight in February 2018 but as early as January I was already searching for flights. When I first checked Skyscanner (hello ad placement. Please give me freebies or discount hahaha jk) in January, fare price was too high for our budget but I put my app on alert mode in case the fare price will change. My patience paid off so when February came, the fare price reached our target budget and we immediately booked it.
3) Nepal is a third world country. And honestly (without trying to be offensive here), their social condition is worse than the Philippines. In spite of this, Nepal's culture is very rich and vibrant that's why it still captured my heart! (Side note: If you're a Marvel fan, the movie Doctor Strange shot different scenes in Nepal.) For people who appreciates history, ancient cities, architecture or culture in general, then I'd say Nepal should be part of your "Must-visit countries" list.
We stayed in Nepal for 6 days but it was still too short of a time to explore other parts of the country like the provinces. We were only able to explore the city and nearby towns plus go on a Mt. Everest adventure. The weather in Nepal during December ranges from 4 to 15 degrees Celsius. Of course, it's coldest in the morning and evening. The pictures may not show how cold the weather was because of the surrounding's earthy colors.
To know more about this very vibrant country, here are some of the places you could visit and the things you could do when in Nepal.
Walk around Patan Durbar Square and get to know the rich history of Nepal
Durbar Square refers to "Royal Palace" because this is where the kings lived back when there were still existing kingdoms in Nepal. Patan is one of the three old cities (Bhaktapur and Kathmandu are the other two) in the Kathmandu Valley. Also, I love how this tourist spot is just few minutes away from our apartment in Nepal (I'll say more about this later)
Immerse yourself at Nepali culture and beliefs
There are two main religions practiced in Nepal - Hinduism and Buddhism. For the former, I will talk about it separately but in the latter, I discovered something new about Buddhism. See even if I teach Asian history and Asian religions, there are still a lot of things I don't know about.
According to our local tour guide, there is one Buddhist practice in Nepal wherein every month, a 4-7 year old boy must be sent to the Golden Temple for three months to immerse himself in the Buddhist way. In one month, the boy is not allowed to take shower using soap or shampoo (just clean water only) and not to take any medicine in case he gets sick (because they believe Buddha will heal him). Then after 53 years, the young boy who once learned the Buddhist way must go back and serve as the elder monk who will teach another young boy.
In another aspect of their culture, Nepali also believed in using healing bowl to heal different diseases and disorders like body pain, migraine, stress, depression, etc. One interesting thing I learned is the difference between healing bowl and singing bowl. You can determine their difference by listening to the sound when you strike the wooden mallet or stick. It is a healing bowl if the sound lasts for a minute or so while it is a singing bowl if its sound lasts for just a few seconds.
When it comes to Nepali art, they have this popular painting called thanka/thangka or painting on cloth/silk where they depict their Buddhist deities and scenes through a mandala.
|This is a mandala made of sand. Imagine how it was so meticulously done.|
Of course, food is another reflection of culture. It is always a must to try a local cuisine whenever I travel even if it doesn't suit my palate.
Helitour over the Himalayas and see the Mt. Everest
Himalayas is the longest mountain range in Asia while Mt. Everest is the highest mountain in the world above sea level. In this part of our trip, I would say this was my biggest splurge but it was worth it because it's a once in a lifetime experience . Plus, I got to scrap off another item in my bucket list.
Fyi, we did not climb the peak of Mt. Everest. We weren't even physically and mentally prepared for that activity so we only reached until the base camp. I wore 5 layers of clothes yet my hands and feet were still feeling cold. I guess 5 layers was still not enough in a -24 degrees Celsius weather.
|Who gets to spend their breakfast with Mt. Everest as their background view?? LOL|
|At the Mt. Everest Base Camp|
Tour around Bhaktapur Durbar Square
Another ancient city in Nepal is Bhaktapur. Among the three cities I mentioned earlier, Bhaktapur is the oldest.
Complete all three ancient cities..
The last city we visited was Kathmandu. In this area, there's a chance to see the Kumari (living goddess) at the Kathmandu Durbar Square but it's so rare to see her so if you're lucky, then you're lucky. Hahahaha. However, taking a photo of her is not allowed. When we dropped by at her house, we were not able to see her but we heard her voice.
However, my most favorite thing to do in Kathmandu Durbar Square was shooing the pigeons away. Looks like someone traveled back to her childhood years ehemmmm..
More about Hinduism and Buddhism
Pashupatinath Temple is considered one of the most sacred Hindu temples in Nepal. Hindus do their various rituals here such as worshiping their gods, cleansing the bodies of their deceased loved ones.
It was also in this place where we got to see several palm readers (I am not a believer of this so it was my friend who tried it) and meet Sudhas (monks who renounced the worldly life).
In Swayambunath Stupa, a Buddhist temple, you can see a lot of monkeys wandering here and there. Just a warning: hold on tightly to your cellphones/camera when taking photos of them because they might grab it and you might not be able to retrieve your things anymore. Some people call it The Monkey Temple because of the monkeys obviously but ironically, locals are not aware that some people call it that way. When we asked one local how to go to Monkey Temple, they didn't know what we were talking about.
Shop at Thamel
Thamel is Nepal's shopping district. There is a long array of stores selling various goods such as Nepali coffee, tea, cashmere cloth, etc. Prices of the products are cheaper compared to other stores in different parts of the city. So I highly recommend this place for shopping souvenirs and pasalubong for your loved ones. There are a lot of nice places for eating, dining and chilling too. :)
Overall, my trip to Nepal was very memorable because I consider it as my most unique travel experience so far. And it became even more memorable because of the people we interacted with - the people in the apartment we stayed at, our local drivers and tour guides. People were so hospitable, genuine and sincere that is why I appreciate everything about Nepal.
I would really recommend Life Story Guest House if you're looking for a nice yet budget-friendly place to stay in Nepal. One, it is centrally located. It is near Patan Durbar Square, coffee shops, restaurants and other commercial establishments. Two, the manager and staff are so friendly, helpful and accommodating. The manager even allowed us to extend our stay for free at the apartment during our last day because our flight was late in the evening . To know more about them, click here.
On a last note, some people would ask me and my friend if it is safe in Nepal. Again, the idea of safety may be relative and subjective depending on one's experience. But just to answer that question, wherever you go, wherever you travel, there is always a possibility of encountering danger because we are not capable of predicting things. When people ask me how am I able to do these things and how am I able to survive traveling especially when I'm on my own, I always tell people "You have to be street smart." Do not be afraid to ask but you also need to get a feel of people around you. We have our intuition and sometimes we just need to follow that so we will know who are trustworthy or not.