Nepal holds a very special place in my heart. For such a small country it packs in some of the most diverse geographic variations. In a matter of hours you can go from searching for tigers in the dense jungle, to the desolate moonscape plains of the Mustang region. Nepal has the greatest altitude change of any location on Earth with 8 out of the 10 tallest mountains and some of the last rhinos and tigers around.
The good news for travellers is that Air Asia is now flying there for just over $100 from KL… that’s madness. With numbers set to rise you’d think the people of Nepal would be seeing the benefits, but unfortunately the nature of travellers that go there are the ones that spend little money. Can you believe the average amount spent by travellers in Nepal is only $30 a day? Compare this to their Bhutanese neighbors whose tourist visa requires people to spend a minimum of USD$200/day, you can start to grasp the incredible difference a good tourism strategy can have.
Lack of infrastructure, roads, transport and traffic problems are letting Nepal down. When I was there they were widening the roads in KTM by 3-5 meter to try and deal with this traffic congestion but I’m not sure the repercussions were worth it with the tampered building now more vulnerable to earthquakes. People were given 1 month notice to move their buildings back or face destruction. Driving through KTM was crazy, there was construction and dust everywhere. There are of course good sides to Kathmandu as well, but my advice would be to get out of there as soon as possible unless your staying in the sanctuary of one of the flash hotels complete with pools and greenery. The Shankar is pretty funny- kind of like faulty towers but has nice rooms, good breakfast and a pool. If you’re after something a little more budget the Himalayan Guest House is in the heart of Thamel (tourist hippy area) and right near heaps of cafes and the mighty ‘Himalayan Book shop’.
I’ve been to Nepal many times and even though it has only really been offering the same spots for the past 50 years (KTM, Chitwan, Pokhara and Everest) I still haven’t been to all of them. Weather and infrastructure makes it hard and you don’t really want to be rushing around the country too much. My main pick would be Pokhara and the Annapurna region though. I have hiked it and motorbiked it which were both incredibly. If you are time poor or a bit more of an adrenaline junkie I’d definitely go for the motorbiking option. When I was in KTM another Australian, Calum Foulner, who has started up his own amazing non-for-profit working in partnership with villages to develop community-owned agriculture businesses across Nepal. The best part is that the profits from the businesses are used to fund schools and health posts now and long into the future http://www.upsidenepal.org/ They also have a section called One Degree that run a eco-tourism trips. http://www.onedegreeinternational.com/adventures/about-nepal
You can hire a motorbike in Pokhara for around $10-$30 a day depending on what bike you want. I got a Pulsar 150CC for $10/ day and my 2 friends who were sharing a bike ended up with a 300CC sexy ass Enfield for $30/ day. They initially got a dirt bike but something broke in the first 20 minutes and they had to swap it. I wouldn’t recommend a dirt bike as they are imported and the costs for fixing them are a lot higher than for the other bikes.
We did a 5 day trip up to the border of Mustang which was da bomb. I have only ridden a couple of times before (definitely recommend more experience than that), and even though I felt like I was going to die 50% of the time, it was definitely worth it. We did it in early Feb so it was pretty chilly (sometimes riding over black ice), but we hired some warm clothes and sleeping bags in Pokhara for like $3/day- so cheap. No wonder people only spend $30 a day.
Anyway each day we would set off after a massive breaky and then wouldn’t get in until dark each night. It was probably about 6-8 hours of riding but with momos and chai stops along the way it’s fine. The scenery is just nuts… although so is the edge, so you really have to concentrate not to accelerate when you were meant to brake like I did once. I was lucky that my friend was really experienced as anytime there was some really dodgy bits/ bridges/ avalanches, he would take both the bikes over.
Our route was Pokhara- Tatopani- Kragbeni (2 nights)- Tatopani- Pokhara.
Tatopani is a beautiful little town with hot springs right on the river. We went down at 5am in the total darkness to try and spot shooting stars- did.not.see.any. But was still fun because we had the whole place to ourselves. They serve drinks and food down there as well which is a bonus. The pools are quite clean as everyone that comes in to them has a shower in the offshoots beforehand which is good because there lots of stinky hikers around.
Kragbeni is the border of the Mustang region where you need a permit to go any further. It’s a strange old drive there depending on the time of year you go but it was really abandoned when we were there because the apple growing season was over, it really does feel like the edge of the earth. You go through Jomsom which is where lots of the trekkers fly in and out of but doesn’t really have much charachter. Kragbeni down the road is way better. We stayed 2 nights there so we could do a day trip up to Muktinath. This is where we got into the snow and total eye boggling, mind blowing scenery that you keep having to pinch yourself to believe its real.