Nepal, officially the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal, is a country in South Asia. It is located mainly in the Himalayas, but also includes parts of the Indo-Gangetic Plain. It is the 49th largest country by population and 93rd largest country by area. It is landlocked, and borders China in the north and India in the south, east and west, while Bangladesh is located within only 27 km of its southeastern tip and Bhutan is separated from it by the Indian state of Sikkim. Nepal has a diverse geography, including fertile plains, subalpine forested hills, and eight of the world’s ten tallest mountains, including Mount Everest, the highest point on Earth. Kathmandu is the capital and the largest city. Nepal is a multiethnic country with Nepali as the official language.
The name “Nepal” is first recorded in texts from the Vedic period of the Indian subcontinent, the era in ancient India when Hinduism was founded and the predominant religion of the country. In the middle of the first millennium BCE, Gautama Buddha, the founder of Buddhism, was born in Lumbini in southern Nepal. Parts of northern Nepal were intertwined with the culture of Tibet. The centrally located Kathmandu Valley is intertwined with the culture of Indo-Aryans, and was the seat of the prosperous Newar confederacy known as Nepal Mandala. The Himalayan branch of the ancient Silk Road was dominated by the valley’s traders. The cosmopolitan region developed distinct traditional art and architecture. By the 18th century, the Gorkha Kingdom achieved the unification of Nepal. The Shah dynasty established the Kingdom of Nepal and later formed an alliance with the British Empire, under its Rana dynasty of premiers. The country was never colonized but served as a buffer state between Imperial China and British India. Parliamentary democracy was introduced in 1951, but was twice suspended by Nepalese monarchs, in 1960 and 2005. The Nepalese Civil War in the 1990s and early 2000s resulted in the establishment of a secular republic in 2008, ending the world’s last Hindu monarchy.
The Constitution of Nepal, adopted in 2015, affirms Nepal as a secular federal parliamentary republic divided into seven provinces. Nepal was admitted to the United Nations in 1955, and friendship treaties were signed with India in 1950 and the People’s Republic of China in 1960. Nepal hosts the permanent secretariat of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), of which it is a founding member. Nepal is also a member of the Non-Aligned Movement and the Bay of Bengal Initiative. The military of Nepal is the fifth largest in South Asia; it is notable for its Gurkha history, particularly during the world wars, and has been a significant contributor to United Nations peacekeeping operations.
How to go
- Delhi to Kathmandu: If you want to fly (and get some incredible Himalayan views), Delhi to Kathmandu is the least expensive, least time-consuming route by air to Nepal (under two hours). Otherwise, the best option is to take a train to Gorakhpur and then a bus. Taking the bus all the way has become slightly more appealing since the Delhi Transport Corporation launched a direct service to Kathmandu. However, it’s still a long 25-hour haul!
- Varanasi to Kathmandu: Many people travel overland from Varanasi to Kathmandu, either by bus, or train and bus combination. It takes less time than overland from Delhi (around 15 hours). It’s also possible to fly. However, it’s much costlier than from Delhi and there are very few direct flights.
- Kolkata to Kathmandu: Nepal-based Buddha Air operates three direct flights a week from Kolkata to Kathmandu: on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. The flights depart at 9.05 a.m. and the flight time is about 90 minutes. Expect to pay about 20,000 rupees one way. Air India also operates direct flights for a slightly cheaper cost, starting at 15,000 rupees. Alternatively, you can go by land via the Raxaul or Panitanki borders.
- Via the Sunauli Border Crossing: Most people going overland from north India to Nepal pass through the Sunauli border to Bhairahawa in central Nepal, accessible from rather unappealing Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh (although, pleasingly, Gorakhpur has become a lot cleaner in recent years). This is the biggest and busiest India-Nepal border crossing. There are frequent connections to Kathmandu, Pokhara, and Lumbini from there.
- Via the Raxaul Border Crossing: The Raxaul border crossing to Birganj in southern-central Nepal is accessible from Patna in Bihar. It’s most convenient for anyone traveling from Bodh Gaya or Kolkata. There are direct trains from Kolkata to Raxaul (16 hours). From Bodh Gaya, it’s quicker to take a bus or car and travel by road as opposed to train (13 hours). From the border, buses take six to seven hours to reach Kathmandu and eight hours to Pokhara. Shared jeeps to Kathmandu are a quicker option and only take four to five hours.
- Via the Panitanki Border Crossing: The Panitanki border crossing, to Kakarbhitta in far eastern Nepal, is accessible from Siliguri in West Bengal. It’s most utilized by people traveling from Darjeeling, Kolkata, Sikkim and the rest of northeast India. Buses, taxis and shared jeeps run to the border from Siliguri, Kalimpong, and Gangtok in Sikkim. Siliguri to Panitanki (for those going from Darjeeling) takes approximately 45 minutes to an hour. Though the border crossing is open 24 hours, the Indian and Nepali immigration offices close are only open from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. so foreigners should ensure that they arrive within this timeframe. There are regular buses to Kathmandu (14 to 16 hours) and Pokhara (15 hours) from Kakarbhitta. It’s worth stopping at Chitwan National Park on the way to break the journey. Get off the bus at Sauraha (nine hours from Kakarbhitta), which is the closest town and travel hub to the park.
- Kathmandu: Kathmandu, the capital and largest city in Nepal, is like no other city in the world. The decaying buildings in the heart of the city are a stark contrast to the lively atmosphere that permeates the streets. The smell of incense wafts from stores while street sellers push their goods, and people go about their daily lives, all against a backdrop of historic temples and carved statues. For several hundred years, Kathmandu was one of three rival royal cities, along with Bhaktapur and Patan. Situated in close proximity to each other, today these three almost run together. The highlight of Kathmandu has long been Durbar Square, the largest of the palace squares in the three royal cities and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Temples and monuments of varying shapes, sizes, styles, and faiths can be found here. Kathmandu’s Durbar Square was severely damaged in the 2015 earthquake, with many buildings destroyed beyond repair, but it still remains a special place to visit.
- Bhaktapur: Bhaktapur, the third of the “Royal Cities,” lies on the old trade route to Tibet, just outside of Kathmandu. For Bhaktapur, the trade route was both an arterial link and major source of wealth. Its relative remoteness at the time allowed the city to develop independently and in ways which distinguish it from the other two cities. In contrast to Patan and Kathmandu, the population of Bhaktapur is primarily Hindu. The best place from which to begin a tour of the city is Durbar Square, where in addition to the royal palace, several temples are also situated. The whole area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
- Boudhanath Stupa: The Boudhanath Stupa, just outside Kathmandu, is one of the largest stupas of its kind in the world and dates to sometime around the 6th century, possibly even earlier. Like Bhaktapur, it lies on the old trade route to Tibet and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The stupa itself is a symbol of enlightenment but at Boudhanath the symbolism is particularly clear. Each different shape represents one of the five elements, earth, water, fire, air, and sphere, which are also the attributes of the five Buddhas. Brought together in the form of the stupa, their unity reflects in abstract fashion the structure of the universe itself. The stupa sustained minor damage during the 2015 earthquake and is now fully repaired.
- Pokhara: Set at the base of the foothills and surrounded by some of the highest mountains in the world – Dhaulagiri, Manaslu, and Annapurna I – Pokhara is one of Nepal’s most scenic cities. For trekkers, Pokhara is the gateway to the Himalayas and the starting point for treks to Jomsom and the Annapurna region. It’s also a wonderful spot to relax for a bit, either before or after a hiking trip. By population, it is the second largest city in Nepal after Kathmandu but still does not feel like a big city. As you travel from Kathmandu, 200 kilometers to the east, you’ll notice the much cleaner air and pleasant climate almost immediately. Lake Phewa, with its cluster of lakeside hotels, restaurants, and shops, is ideal for those looking for a little relaxation.
- Swayambhunath: Set on a hilltop to the west of Kathmandu, Swayambhunath is the second most important shrine in the Kathmandu Valley after Boudhanath. Due to the resident monkeys that inhabit parts of the temple, it is more affectionately known as the Monkey Temple. The Swayambhu Stupa, painted with the eyes of the omnipresent god, forms the centerpiece of the temple complex. It was originally a prehistoric cult site, but the temple complex dates to the 5th century. Swayambhu plays a major part in the lives of the Vajrayana Buddhists of Northern Nepal and Tibet, but especially of the Newari Buddhists of the Kathmandu Valley.
Why visit Nepal?
- Nepal is a country of contrasts. Spectacular natural riches combine with a vibrant culture and sense of history. Home to ten of the world’s 14 highest mountains, the country offers a magnificent setting for hiking and mountaineering, as well as some of the world’s best white water rafting.
- With its vast range of altitudes, Nepal is also home to an incredible variety of plant and animal species, including more than 300 species of orchid. With over 800 bird varieties, it accounts for almost 10% of the world’s avian species.
- The diverse national parks of Chitwan and Bardia encompass lowland tropical jungles and grasslands and Nepal shelters a rich variety of wildlife. The Bengal tiger, rare snow leopard, one-horned rhino and the Himalayan black bear can be seen in the remote national parks.
- The ancient culture and traditional architecture of Kathmandu means that the city boasts no less than seven World Heritage Sites, while Nepal is famous for its scenic monasteries as well as being home to Lumbini, the birthplace of the Lord Buddha.
A wide variety of accommodation can be found, however, what we recommend and use is the award-winning property mostly in the five-star category. It is strongly recommended that you reserve all your accommodation as far in advance as possible, especially if you want to travel during their festival period.
Nepal is a wonderful, family-friendly destination, offering a range of activities for children such as tailored wildlife safaris, rafting, nature hikes and cultural excursions. So what are you waiting for? Pack your bags and set out to Nepal!