Recent trips to Nepal prove that it is no longer just a trekker’ paradise.  Kathmandu is well connected to a number of major airports including Shanghai, Seoul, Bangkok, Dubai and of course, all major cities in India. Organized tour buses are full of Chinese, Indians, Russians and even Australians.  Visas are required of everyone but are given for $25 at the airport itself. Nepal is a novel destination!

The best time to visit Nepal is October-November after the monsoon rains have washed off the summer’s dust and grime from the green foliage and the hills are at their greenest.  February through April is another good window with the winter chill gone and the summer heat yet to descend.  Given its location in the middle of Himalayas, Nepal is surprisingly warm and Kathmandu can get intolerably hot during the summer.

Kathmandu (kath-maandoo), the capital, is a comparatively small town in the middle of a large valley.  Having developed as a junction for the silk and spice trade routes, it now boasts western hotels like Hyatt Regency, Crowne Plaza and Radisson.   It is also home to five UNESCO world heritage sites and in close proximity of two world heritage national parks, giving one an opportunity to see seven heritage sites in just a few days.

The heritage sites include Durbars (palaces), Buddhist stupas, and Hindu temples.  Alas, the last restrict admission to Hindus, but others can view the external architecture. The buildings are over 1,000 years old but unfortunately, not as well maintained as heritage sites in other countries.  The best part is that they are all within a 20 minutes drive from downtown.

Do visit Patan and Bhaktapur, both have very spacious and better Durbars than Kathmandu.  You will discover a three-tier entry fee at most sites: one for Nepalese, another for Indians and a third for everyone else.  Most are still within the $10-15 range.  One can also get a one-hour Mount Everest flight for $160 or a 3.5-hour helicopter flight for 3-5 people for nearly $9,000.

If you get to Pokhara – 35’ flight from Kathmandu – you may see the Annapurna range up-close and personal, with a once-in-a-lifetime sunrises and calm and peaceful reflections in the Pokhara lake.

Shopping in Nepal can range from buying antiques – illegal to export without permit – to the traditional tourist trash.  Everyone sells Pashmina but it is hard to differentiate between pure and mixed wool. Try Tara Emporium, on Lazimpat Road, near the French Embassy, for high-end shawls and scarves.  Nearly everyone accepts Dollars and Indian Rupees [$1=~70 Nepalese Rupees].  ATMs are also easily available in large towns and most shops accept credit cards.

While in Nepal drink only bottle water. Carry a multi-prong adapter, expect power cuts in smaller towns, and don’t eat any uncooked items, including salads.  It is a poor country; so do be generous with the village folks, who will happily share their meager food with you.

Nepal is not a novelty now, it is a novel destination. Enjoy your visit!