Want to truly get inside Nepal? To go beyond the prayer flags and the trekking routes to Everest Base Camp (not quite literally perhaps). Stubborn Mullette Kelly Perks has just returned from a rather unusual recce.
From following little used walking paths at accessible altitudes to staying in simple family homestays in friendly villages, from feasting on home-made delights to exploring communities by bike, Kelly really did discover the hidden side to Nepal. Combined with some classic activities in Chitwan National Park and Kathmandu, this was a wonderful insight into a fascinating mountain kingdom. Sit back and relax and let Kelly and her camera take you on a journey through Nepal.
1. Life stories at Boudhanath Stupa
The giant stupa (dome shaped Buddhist monument) in Kathmandu is high on the list of tourist must-sees, but I particularly loved it because of the all the pilgrims visiting. I got chatting to this woman in one of the doorways around the main stupa and (via our guide) she told me she was 104 and shared some stories from her life. It was one of my favourite experiences in the city.
2. Saddhus at Pashupatinath
Pashupatinath is another highlight and kids will be fascinated by the saddhus (holy men) with their dreadlocks and painted faces. They won’t let you photograph them for free, but as they’re so photogenic most visitors don’t mind making a small payment. This Hindu temple is important to many locals, hosting funeral ceremonies on the riverbank and filled with people offering sindoor (vermillion) red dots on the forehead, which is a symbol of purity and good luck, and to honour the gods after visiting a temple.
3. Experiencing community homestays
Nepal has many different community homestays dotted around the country. These have been set up primarily to empower local women by raising their social standing and giving them the opportunity to earn extra income for their family, where previously only the husbands would have had the means to support the household financially. I stayed at a number of different homestays and really enjoyed the opportunity to meet local families and gain a bit more of an understanding about local life. Most of the women are still learning basic English, however are keen to try and chat. Children also learn English at school so can help with translating!
4. Special homestay meal
Our hostess at one of the homestays had spent much of the day preparing this very special traditional meal for us. The white thing in the centre is a yomari – a dense dumpling with a sweet treacly filling. Other items on the menu included chicken, dahl, beaten rice, pickles, chickpeas, spinach and (my favourite) curried cauliflower and potatoes. Fresh water is provided at the homestays, as well as a western-style bathroom and a hot home-cooked breakfast.
5. People-watching in Panauti
People-watching in Nepal is fascinating for visitors unused to seeing the way of life here. For many children visiting, this could be the first time they have experienced rural towns and villages and will love exploring the crooked alleyways and seeing the traditional houses with their sometimes crumbling facades. These men having an impromptu table-tennis match in the small town of Panauti were having a great time and there certainly seemed to be some healthy competition going on!
6. Hiking from Panauti to Sanga
Ask anyone about Nepal and they instantly think of trekking. But did you know you don’t have to commit to lengthy and arduous hikes to experience some of the fabulous trails? Of course, many Stubborn Mule clients have younger children that are not interested in doing long treks, and (let’s be honest!) some of the parents may also not have the time nor inclination to spend months preparing for a tough trek. We are happy to make all sorts of other suggestions that will enable you catch a glimpse of what trekking would be like, but on a shorter and easier basis. I did a short hike from the homestay at Panauti to the village of Sanga (3-4 hours walking), after which we drove on to Bhaktapur – perfect for families.
7. Magnificent views
The 3-4 hour hike from close to the Panauti homestay to the village of Sanga is fabulous. This is suitable for all fitness levels (even mine!), is not too steep or arduous and offers magnificent countryside views with those stunning mountains in the background. You’ll go through tiny villages and past farming terraces on the way, seeing children playing and taking photos of baby goats, as well as admiring those panoramas. We can also make hiking suggestions for low-key 2 or 3 day routes, or longer trips of 5 days, right up to the iconic high-altitude Everest Base Camp trek which can be 14-17 days in duration. [ See our family trekking holidays blog if you are looking for a serious family challenge].
8. Medieval Bhaktapur
Lose yourselves in the backstreets of Bhaktapur and browse for souvenirs. As well as being one of the ancient capitals of Nepal, along with Kathmandu and Patan, and boasting some impressive temples (even post-earthquake), Bhaktapur is small, friendly and charming and even with the earthquake damage is still well worth exploring. These colourful stalls are jam packed with fascinating items, you’ll be spoilt for choice. Check out the Peacock paper shop and learn how paper is made, or perhaps sip a masala tea while challenging the children to a game of Bagh-Chal (goats and tigers). This is a strategic game for young and old, where the player controlling the goats tries to surround the tigers, and the player with the tigers tries to eat the goats. The shopkeepers will soon explain the rules to get you started! (I later recreated a version of this game at home to play against my son, Eddie, using storm trooper Lego mini-figures as the tigers…)
9. Tractors, bikes, carts…
You’ll be amazed at what constitutes a vehicle as you explore towns and villages. Keep your eye out for weird and wonderful tractors, bicycles, carts and motorbikes, often loaded up way beyond what looks physically possible. The main challenge is to dodge your way out of their path, while taking a photo of them as they whizz past! Cue blurriness…
10. Neydo Monastery
A stay at Neydo Monastery guesthouse offers a fascinating glimpse of the monks’ lives… Don’t forget to set your alarm to hear the monks doing their early-morning chanting. It’s not easy hauling yourself out of bed at 5am in the dark, but the chanting is strangely relaxing and truly an experience not to be missed – when are you going to have another chance to do this?! Sunrise, enjoyed from the monastery rooftop, has never been more spiritual. Make sure you wrap up warm while you’re waiting for the sun to come up over the mountains and a delicious hot breakfast will be awaiting you afterwards. Neydo is around 2 hours’ driving from Bhaktapur, so fits in well with our itineraries. Contact us for our suggestions for your family.
11. Chitwan homestay
The Barauli Community Homestay at Chitwan offers guests the perfect balance of personal privacy whilst being in the heart of the village. Some families can find a traditional homestay, where you are truly with the family in their house/kitchen, a little intense. This especially applies to the introverts among us who like our own space and quiet, or those with super-fussy eaters who will (to our horror) absolutely point-blank refuse to eat any of the lovingly-prepared homestay food! At the Barauli homestay, you actually have your own little cottage, which is in front of your host family’s house and is looked after by the woman of the house. The cottages are simply furnished, with tin roofs, but have all you need such as electricity, fans, bathroom and mosquito nets. Food is eaten in the communal dining hall and you can order what you want, as well as notch up a few beers on your tab – perfect.
12. Chitwan jeep safari
A jeep drive is the perfect way to look for rhino in Chitwan National Park. It’s bumpy, but the views are great and your ranger, who sits in the back with you, will point out various animals along the way. This area of the park did not have many smaller creatures such as deer, monkeys and birds, but was well-known for successful rhino sightings. You’ll go through grassland and woodland on your drive, all the while keeping your eyes peeled! See our Nepal with Kids post for more on Chitwan.
13. Rhinos, monkeys, crocs and more
Spotting rhino in Chitwan National Park is a highlight. Our group saw around seven individuals in four separate sightings, as well as monkeys, peacocks and gharial crocodiles. There are currently around 600 rhino in the park and you have a good chance of seeing some of them. There are also tigers in Chitwan, currently around 120, however don’t get your hopes up too much as they are very shy and mainly active at night. My group did not see a tiger, however another jeep out driving at the same time DID catch a glimpse of one – it’s truly exciting to know they are around.
14. Canoe along the Narayani
After your jeep drive in Chitwan, we think the perfect ending (other than seeing an elusive tiger…) is to hop into a canoe down the Narayani River. Your boat man will point out the small gharial crocodiles lying along the river bank. A great late afternoon activity is to cycle along the Narayani River for sunset; it’s only about 15-20 minutes from your homestay and an easy ride. Well worth it for the terrific sunset views over the river.
15. Explore by bike
Having learned nothing from past experience, I tried a selfie while cycling around the village! The terrain is flat and as soon as you set off from the main homestay centre you are right in the middle of the village seeing the houses, goats, chickens, water pumps, children playing… During some of your free time staying here we highly recommend taking to two wheels and going for a spin. For other cycling options in Nepal, we can also arrange family-friendly biking in the Kathmandu Valley, or it’s possible to do more challenging rides in the area around Pokhara.
15. Join in the stick dancing
Staying at the Barauli homestay at Chitwan, you’ll be treated to the Tharu people’s stick dancing one evening. It’s customary to join in, even if only for a few minutes, and great fun. Some of us also found it quite a cardio workout, having been paired up with some very enthusiastic dancers who did not allow us to slack off!
15. Everyone is so friendly
These cheeky children loved having their photo taken near the charming homestay in Palpa (between Chitwan and Pokhara). Don’t forget your “namaste” and a big smile!
16. Retail therapy in Pokhara
Bag a bargain (and learn the fine art of haggling) when shopping for souvenirs in Pokhara. The shopkeepers here are very friendly and less pushy than those in Kathmandu. Of course, we are always up for a little haggling, but it’s good to feel you are paying a fair price and helping someone earn their living when doing your souvenir shopping. My husband is eternally grateful that I was running low on funds by this point and did not come home with endless silk rugs, cashmere scarves and blankets, cushion covers, local artwork, Tibetan objects, Buddha statues, singing bowls and countless other items…
17. Sunrise from the Peace Pagoda
Sunrise from the World Peace Pagoda just outside Pokhara is stunningly beautiful and well worth the 300-stair-climb. It only takes a few minutes to get up there and it’s not too busy. The views of Fishtail Mountain and the Annapurnas are simply breathtaking and you won’t be able to tear your eyes away as the pink sunrise creeps across in front of you.
18. Pokhara to Kathmandu
Top tip! Sit on the left hand side of the plane during the short flight from Pokhara to Kathmandu and you’ll get the best mountain views. The flight is only about half an hour long and you can see the noticeable change in the air quality as you arrive over Kathmandu; the dust comes from the vast amount of construction work going on there, rebuilding post-earthquake and improving the roads.
I loved getting deep into rural Nepal and experiencing village life first-hand as well as seeing some of the more famous highlights. The people here are so welcoming and the mix of stunning landscapes, fascinating cultural history, outdoor activities and the wildlife makes this one of my favourite places for family travel. When it comes to seeing the positive impact of visitors coming to the homestays, there is no doubt that the income generated has a direct effect on local lives. From paying towards teachers and resources in the local schools, to generating electricity in smaller villages, our visits all genuinely empower and enrich the women and communities taking part. It’s been said before, but there really is something to excite everyone here!
Stubborn Mule Travel Consultant