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Nepal

My good friend Tomer is from Israel. I’ve always admired the way he travels and his desire to travel to places off the beaten track. He recently returned from a trip to Nepal. I’m super jealous because even though I’m Indian, I haven’t really ventured outside of India to Nepal and the other surrounding countries. After reading his post on Nepal, I can’t wait to start planning my hiking trip to Nepal.
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Landlocked between the two Asian giants, the mountainous kingdom of Nepal is all but a story of success. 82% of the mostly rural residents of the country live on less than $1 per day and literacy rates hardly reach 45% among men and 28% among women. This was initially the result of thinly veiled lack of care on the part of the institutions of the monarchy and later, when genuine attempts to develop the country were made, due to a sudden rapid and sharp increase in population (currently approaching 25 million, after numbering only 8.5 million in the early 50s, the average age in the country is currently 20) which turned Nepal from a food exporter into a food importer. A laughably unstable political system, with prime ministers changing almost by the day, a violent Maoist underground, frustrated with the fruits of democracy but otherwise rather unclear as to what it wants, and daily strikes that hinder any attempt to conduct a normal routine help to understand why Nepal is one of the few countries where a communist party emerged victor from a free election process, only a few years after Nepal was probably the only place in the world where democracy outvoted itself 55% to 45% in a referendum on proposed democratic reforms that would take power away from the monarchy. Apart from its reckless beauty, on which a successful tourist industry is based, the country has really little to offer and, however, the beauty of the country is reckless.

Landing in the Kathmandu airport is an interesting experience even for those who have some experience in traveling through “third world countries” – an experience that, first and foremost, goes to show how ridiculous and misleading is the “third world” definition, which puts under one category rapidly developing countries such as Thailand and ever declining countries such as Nepal. The messy airport is a good introduction to Kathmandu, which is likely to be the messiest city you ever visited. Narrow, loud and hectic streets, full of walkers who wear an expression of anxiety and defeat, grabbing each others’ shoulders and with cars, mostly from the 50s, trying to make their way through the apathetic crowd. A western traveler may find it hard to walk more than one or two steps without being offered treks to everywhere in the world, all sorts of illegal substances and plenty of opportunities to give money to the many beggars. A guesthouse should be picked carefully as many are not terribly hygienic (others are though). Other challenges include frequent cuts of power supply and streets which become rather unpleasant at night. And yet, but for all its shortcomings, the city does have some charm, very limited though.

But it is not Kathmandu that should bring you to Nepal. Rather, rumors of unsuppressed beauty in the country side should appeal to the traveler much more than the country’s nothing-to-write-home-about big cities. While there is a wealth of travel attractions in Nepal, trekking is by far the most appealing of all.

Some of the more popular treks, including the renowned Anapurna Trek, leave from the cute town of Pokhara, approximately 8 hours by bus from Kathmandu. Those who wish to have a slightly more authentic experience may opt for the treks north of Kathmandu, on the Tibetan-Nepalese border. In particular, the trek to the Frozen Lakes and the LangTang Trek (which can be attempted separately in 7-8 days each or combined in 10-11 days) offer the opportunity to walk through small, picterous villages, with the Tibetan Plateau on your left and the Nepalese Himalaya on your right. Other, slightly less popular but by no means less attractive opportunities are in the rural villages in the west side of the country.

Trekking in Nepal is ridiculously cheap (approximately $20-$30 per day) and while it will be wrong to expect the treks to be your Sunday walk in the park, they are comparatively physically manageable. While porters are easy and cheap to hire, they may not be necessary at all as sleeping facilities, (good!) food and showers are available in the villages throughout the treks. Treks can be arranged through the many agencies in Tamel Street in Kathmandu or through the agencies in Pokhara. One agency that comes highly recommended is called “Swissa” and locals will be happy to direct you there upon request.

The best times to go are September through November and March through May, when the weather is almost perfect. Traveling to Nepal between Mid-June and the end of August, during the Monsoon season, is not a great idea.

So if you’re up for skies of colors you have never seen before, charming and welcoming people who live life the way it should be, mighty mountains and powerful rivers, Nepal is a must on your traveling list.

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