The insider advice on this page is from Wendy’s Trusted Travel Expert for Nepal: Antonia Neubauer of Myths and Mountains.
Founder of the award-winning travel company Myths and Mountains, Antonia “Toni” Neubauer has spent the past 30 years exploring Asia, focusing on the culture, crafts, religions, and natural environments of the places she visits, and forging and cementing close relationships with communities there. Her vast network of loyal friends and experts on the ground means you get a warm welcome as well as unique, meaningful experiences far from where other tourists go. Whether you want to plan a Burmese wedding, learn how to make a mandala or understand Bhutanese architecture, or spend time with a Nepali Mothers’ Group, you’re guaranteed an imaginative and immersive experience. Toni is dedicated to making a positive contribution to the countries in which Myths and Mountains operates; as of fall 2015, READ Global, the renowned nonprofit she founded, has built 79 libraries in Nepal, Bhutan, and India. Toni was also included in Perrin’s People, Wendy’s award-winning list of top travel specialists, which was published annually in Condé Nast Traveler magazine from 2000 to 2013.
Where to Stay and Eat
Best bang-for-your-buck hotels
Although there are fancier hotels, I keep returning to the Yak and Yeti in Kathmandu. Location, location, location! The hotel is just off a main shopping street and down a small side street lined with shops and money changers. It’s an island of peace with a tranquil garden, a small pond, and a very proud group of ducks. There is a well-kept pool and spa, and the rooms have recently been renovated. From the hotel, you can walk to the tourist area of Thamel and some excellent restaurants. We can certainly help with upgrades and make sure rooms are facing the gardens.
For a charming stay off the main road in Bandipur, try Gaun Ghar. The manager is a great naturalist and a friend. He can help with the choice of room, tell you about the best trails to explore, and, if time permits, even take you for a walk.
In Patan, a unique place to stay is The Inn in Patan, an old traditional brick-and-timber Newari house in Dhurbar Square. The Inn has ten rooms, each beautifully furnished, surrounding a lovely private courtyard. Staying here provides an opportunity to really get inside the local life of Patan and enjoy being part of this city of artists.
Restaurant the locals love
Kathmandu’s Chez Caroline—a French restaurant located in the renovated Barbar Mahal Revisited heritage complex—is a local favorite and a personal favorite, too. Owned by Caroline Sengupta, a Frenchwoman who came to Kathmandu many years ago and made it her home, Chez Caroline serves food prepared from organically raised or grown ingredients. Appetizers and dinners are excellent, and there is a good choice of French wines to accompany dinner. Salads are wonderfully creative, but my love is dessert. Don’t leave without trying the gâteau coulant—with whipped cream—a delicious chocolate cake with a center that just oozes bittersweet chocolate.
What to See and Do
Dear to my heart is the Solu area of Nepal—the lower Everest region below the airport town of Lukla. As of now, you’ll still find wonderful hiking routes not bisected by roads; places where you still need to camp in tents with a staff of porters and cooks; far fewer tourists than elsewhere in the country; a vibrant Buddhist culture; and striking views of Shorung Yu La, Kanteiga, Everest, and other sky-touching peaks. One of my favorite destinations in this region is Dudh Kund, a turquoise-blue lake sacred to both Buddhists and Hindus, and a favorite pilgrimage spot for Jhankris, or Nepalese shamans.
Hiking to Everest Base Camp is overrated. Trekking the additional route from base camp to Kala Pattar at about 18,514 feet, with its 360-degree view of the surrounding mountains—Everest, Pumori, Cho Oyu, and others—is definitely worth the effort. Base Camp itself, however, is lower, about 17,598 feet, and views of Everest are not as dramatic. If you want to see where climbers begin their summit attempt and tell people you’ve been there, that’s fine, but the place is not as striking as Kala Pattar.
The charming hill station of Bandipur used to be a major town on the salt trade route from Tibet to India. When the Kathmandu-Pokhara highway was constructed, Bandipar was bypassed and it fell into decay; it was recently rebuilt with the old Newari-style architecture. No cars are allowed in the main streets, so it’s a pleasure to explore on foot, and there are several charming hotels, good mountain views on clear days, villagers on the streets playing their version of Parchesi, and interesting walks to neighboring villages. A few days here to rest, look out at the mountains, explore villages, and just chill out is well worthwhile.
Best for thrill-seekers
Paragliding in Pokhara is one of my favorite activities, particularly on a good day. To leap off the hill and float through the air over Phewa Tal Lake, with incredible views of the Annapurna range staring down at you, just can’t be beat! My family and I fly with Team 5 Nepal Paragliding, the first paragliding company owned by pilots.
Nepal, like Bhutan, is the same latitude as Florida, but it rises from the Terai, at about 100 feet above sea level, to Mount Everest, at 29,029 feet, in less than 100 miles. The best time to go often depends on what you want to do and where you want to go.
Spring and fall are the driest seasons and generally provide the best weather for trekking, biking, and touring. In spring, the hills are covered with rhododendrons and magnolias, and in fall, the air is crisp and clear, without the pre-monsoon dust. Food is plentiful as the harvests are in. Mountain views are best in fall.
Winter months are good for visiting the Terai, jungle areas, and other lower-elevation towns, including the lake town of Pokhara.
Summer, although not the optimal time for most of Nepal, is a great season to visit Upper Mustang, as it is located across the Himalayas on the Tibetan Plateau. Flowers are out, there are festivals, and it is just beautiful. Early summer is often a good time to head to Dolpo in the far west, as the rains come later—in August and September—than in the rest of Nepal.
Except for Mustang and perhaps Dolpo, the summer months of July, August, and September are the worst. For trekkers, the paths are muddy and slippery and filled with leeches hiding in wait to pounce on their next dinner. On the other hand, there are few tourists!
Not paying attention to altitude gain when trekking! People like to believe they are immortal and want to rush up mountains, but they need to study the rules for altitude acclimatization and follow them carefully. Altitude sickness is no joke.
Another mistake: Thinking that if you go to the jungle in Nepal, you will see the same quantities of animals as one does in Africa. No, no, no! This is a tropical dry forest, and generally the animals hide and are fewer in number than in Africa. You may see a few rhinos, wild elephants, deer, or monkeys, but only very rarely will you see a tiger or a leopard or another major cat. That said, wandering around on elephant-back, bathing an elephant, visiting the baby elephant or crocodile breeding centers, and visiting the villages in the area is a lot of fun, particularly for children.
Finally, never give candies, pencils, or money to children who ask, no matter how charming they are or what story they tell. Tourists create beggars, so this is an absolute no-no.
If you are not staying in a guesthouse and have a whole crew, you will need to put aside enough money for the porters, cooks, trail boys, and the crew leader. If you’re staying in lodges, you’ll likely have only your guide and possibly a porter to tip. Here are a few tipping suggestions, but know that amounts are extremely subjective. Generally, for guides, whether trekking or touring, we recommend $10–$15 per person per day and $8–$10 for drivers. If there is a cook on the trek, we suggest $10–$12 per person per day; $5–$8 for trail boys and porters. When dining in restaurants, most places include a service charge, so any additional tipping is optional. Often, if the service has been good, I will hand the waiter some extra rupees just to say thank you.
The airport can get a bit hectic. It’s hard to say if getting your visa in advance or on arrival is better, as you never know which line will be longer. If you do get your visa on arrival, fill out the application before you land in Nepal, as doing it in the airport is complicated and rushed.
At the moment, the government has instituted a new departure tax of 1,000 rupees, payable at the ticket counter when departing. Be sure to save money for this.
Extra batteries are a must. Yes, you can get them in Nepal, but one does not know how old they are. If you use rechargeable batteries, bring several, as you never know about electricity and power outages.
Extra passport photos: You’ll need them for visas and for trekking permits. Bring at least four.
Let us arrange a private interview with the Kumari—a young virgin goddess—and her family; or a special celebration, such as a wedding; or a dinner at a private home with key figures in the arts, education, medicine, or other segments of Nepali society. Our extraordinary connection and bond with Nepal allows us to do this and more.
A singing bowl (a type of bell) from the craftsman behind the Golden Temple in Patan, who is one of the best bowl makers in Nepal. These bowls can be used for healing, meditation, and decoration, and he will show you how to use them—even conducting a bowl healing session in your hotel.