Upon hearing the word Nepal it’s hard not to make an immediate association with hiking a mountain. So deeply bound are the two that one might be shocked to hear of anyone travelling to the country without visiting a Himalayan peak. It’s almost a travel sin, that could be likened to not seeing the Eiffel Tower in Paris or skipping the rum in Cuba.
Given the wealth of culture, sites and heritage richly knitted through the entire Republic of Nepal, there’s plenty of wonder to absorb when the hiking boots need a rest. From a soak in a hot spring to a cooking class in Kathmandu, there are heaps of ways to enjoy Nepal without carving a steep path up a Himalayan mountain.
1. Enjoy a massage by the blind
Signing up for a massage need not be a hedonistic pursuit when travelling in Nepal. Social enterprise Seeing Hands works with visually impaired men and women from across the country, offering them the chance to gain full-time employment and use their sense of touch to offer healing massages to those who visit. Each masseuse spends one year being trained and educated in anatomy, physiology and advanced massage techniques by international volunteers before commencing their career. With salons in Lalitpur, Kathmandu, Pokhara and Boudha, a soulful massage with an ethical undercurrent is never far from reach in Nepal.
2. Visit the Sherpa museum of Namche Bazaar
Sherwi Khangba Center is a museum, gallery, library, documentation centre, conference hall and hotel, all rolled into one. All housed within a traditional Sherpa house, it is dedicated to preserving the culture of the mountaineering heroes in the Everest region, while showcasing their genuine hospitality to visitors from across the globe. Inside you can see photos of Tenzing Norgay Sherpa, the first person to reach the summit of Mount Everest, as well as original artifacts that tell the history of the region.
3. Shop for treasures
Kathmandu is a gold mine for shoppers with a hankering for all things exotic and tribal, from Nepalese hemp clothing to Kushuthara Bhutanese woven textiles, and masses of silver jewels. The central neighbourhood of Thamel might be shunned as the over-trodden tourist district, but it’s hard to look past for picking up treasures and souvenirs.
4. Learn to cook Nepali food
If you’ve not yet fallen in love with Nepalese food, a few days in the country will quickly change that. A simple yet delicious cuisine, the techniques are worth picking up and carrying home to share with loved ones. The Seven Women social enterprise offers Nepalese cooking classes that raise funds for disadvantage women in Nepal. During the 4-hour class you’ll tour a community greenhouse, discover how the produce is grown, learn the names of vegetables in Nepali, and learn how to make traditional Nepalese dishes passed down over generations. Traditional momos and dal fry could soon be in your repertoire.
5. Sip champagne over Mount Everest
Decadence and adventure combine in adrenaline-inducing harmony with a flight alongside the world’s highest peak. A little easier than attempting the mighty Everest trek by foot, many airlines offer this scenic and sweat-free activity for less than $US200. Nervous fliers will be eased by a glass of bubbles before take off, not to mention the joy of giving the bucket list a well-deserved tick.
6. Soak in a hot spring
Even if your trip to Nepal involves more casual walking than hardcore trekking, you will have earned yourself a soak in a steaming hot spring given the prevalence of squatting toilets and limited hot water supply. Found in various locations across the country, your soothing oasis might come with a sighting of Himalayan black bears in Langtang National Park, or follow on from a skip across a suspension bridge near Poon Hill.
7. Visit an open-air crematorium
The saying “burning is learning, cremation is education” is often heard in whisper at Hindu burning Ghats across South Asia. If this wisdom rings true to you – and the sight of a corpse wrapped in flames wouldn’t spoil your holiday – then a visit to the open-air crematorium on Bagmati River should be on your Nepal holiday to do list. Visitors to Pashupatinath will find themselves watching from a respectable distance on the opposite side of the river, and can rest assured that their presence supports a good cause. The entry fee collected to visit this spiritually significant Hindu space goes to the Pashupati Area Development Trust, which provides financial support to local families that can’t afford cremations.
8. Relax in the Garden of Dreams
When the often chaotic setting of Kathmandu begins to overwhelm, respite can be found in the Garden of Dreams. Originally built in 1920 (but neglected for decades from the 1960s after the death of its financer), the near 7000-square-metre garden space has now been lovingly restored and attracts visitors eager to admire the colonial architecture and stunning flora and fauna, most notably the lotus ponds. Pack a good book and a blanket to sit on, and a whole day could be lost here beneath a circus of chirping birds.
Spanning less than 5% of the geographical area of India, Nepal’s diversity, beauty and cultural depth is nothing short of remarkable. From Base Camp to Annapurnas, and Gokyo Lakes to Langtang Valley, there’s no denying hiking is a compelling part of visiting this country. But remember to leave time in your schedule for all the other magic on offer, and don’t be steered away from Nepal if ‘admire mountains’ isn’t on your holiday to-do list.
You don’t have to be a hardcore hiker to get the most out of Nepal. Check out our range of small group adventures (some with hiking, some without) now.
Feature image by April Wong.