Nepal

No matter how far you have to travel, Nepal is worth it.  The landscape is spectacular.  The people optimize hospitality.  The food is spicy & delicious.  The beers are…well…big.   I spent nearly three weeks in Nepal in the fall of 2012 building a house in partnership with Habitat for Humanity.  It was an honor and a privilege to lead a wonderful team of volunteers on an adventure of a lifetime.  That’s what Global Village is.  Whether you’re going to Nepal for work, pleasure or both, these are some of my highlights.

KATHMANDU

Kathmandu is bustling and you can expect lots of traffic, vehicles, pedestrians AND bovine.  If you’ve never been to a big capital city in a poor country, hang on to your hat and prepare for sensory overload at its finest!  I didn’t spend much time there, but stayed in a great hotel that is worth mentioning, Hotel Holy Himalaya.  Located in the heart of Thamel, on a quiet street, it is central to a lot of attractions within walking distance.  The hotel is very well priced, has WiFi and two desktop computers with Internet access available for guest use.  I recommend taking the morning yoga, but be sure to let them know the night before that you’d like to take the class. 

If you are hungry for some of the best pizza you’ll ever eat, walk the short distance to Fire and Ice Pizzeria.  You can’t go wrong!  If you’re jonesing for some green space, also close by, check out the Garden of Dreams.  Also, hire a guide to take you around Patan.  You can go it alone, but you’ll get much more out of it if you go with someone who can take you places you wouldn’t find on your own, speak the language, answer your questions and help you understand what you’re experiencing.  My only regret about Kathmandu is that I can’t say more about it!

One more thing.  If you don’t fancy yourself a mountain climber, there is a way to get closer to Everest than you may have dreamed – on an airplane.  Buddha Air offers an Everest Experience flight.  If the weather pendulum swings in your direction, you’ll take an early morning departure, the time you are most likely to get a clear view of the range.  Less than 10 minutes after takeoff, you’ll see the snow-capped Himalayan peaks.   Passengers are even invited, one by one, up to the cockpit for a pilot’s view!  And everyone has a window seat.

POKHARA

The second largest metropolis in Nepal, Pokhara is perhaps best known for trekking the Annapurna Circuit.  A short 30 minute flight from Kathmandu, Pokhara feels very much like a quaint lakeside town, every bit as laid back as it is picturesque.  On any given day you can begin your morning with a thick frothy latte while enjoying free WiFi to post to Facebook.  Spend the afternoon boating on Phewa Lake, paragliding or hiking to the World Peace Pagoda to take in the stunning view.  Lunch could be anything from dal bhat to pizza and French fries.  Shop, nap, then head to happy hour at one of the many restaurants with a lakeside view.  Dance the night away before peacefully slumbering into the next day.  For many travelers, this is the happy life of Pokhara.

I was in Pokhara because I was volunteering with Habitat for Humanity’s Global Village Program.  Most of my time was spent on a worksite.  I found that after a few days of hard work, the journey back to the Hotel Middle Path, where our team stayed, felt very much like coming home.  The staff at the hotel make every effort to make you feel welcome and to look after you.  They are truly wonderful!  From the roof (or maybe your room) the view of the town on the lake safely nestled in the valley surrounded by huge snow-capped mountains was the stuff of movies.  You won’t want to miss seeing a sunrise at Sarankot, where you will enjoy one of the best views of the Annapurna Range.

There are a lot of really good and hip restaurants in Pokhara.  You are bound to find something you like on the menu, wherever you eat.  If you want really good Nepalese food, go to Thakali Bhanchha.  Two of my favorite places to hang out, whether it is to surf the web, have a drink or eat great food are Olive Cafe and Moondance Restaurant and Bar.  You can beat the atmosphere or the food.  Byanjan has a great outdoor seating (if it isn’t raining) and good wood over fired pizza.  The only truly disappointing dining experience was at Maya Pub and Restaurant.  The service was terrible and food mediocre.  With so many other fine options, I wouldn’t go back.  Think twice about ordering steak anywhere in Nepal.  Number one, Hindus worship cows not eat them.  Number two, because of number one, your beef is bound to be three or four times the price of anything else on the menu. 

If you are looking for beautiful quality, handmade gifts at a fair price, look no further than Chetana.  Started by a Nepalese woman, Chetana is a registered non-profit organization that trains and employs underprivileged women to gain the skills they need to make a living.  Chetana sells well-made, colorful handbags of all shapes and sizes, wallets, passport holders, cosmetic bags, and other unique items all woven from clothe made by the women.  Buying their products means you’ll be supporting a good cause and getting a gorgeous handcrafted product at a fair and fixed price.  If you give them a few days notice, you can even pick your fabric and trimmings to create a unique piece, made to order.

If you want to buy a pashmina (they are available on every street corner) go see Dinesh at the Casmere Hub.  Tell him Naran sent you.

CHITWAN

For a change of scenery, head south to the Chitwan National Forest, one of the few remaining undisturbed regions of Nepal’s subtropical Terai Zone and a World Heritage Site.  Chitwan means “Heart of the Jungle” and as such it’s one of the few places you can spot the famous yet illusive (and endangered) tiger. 

Another quick 30 minute flight from Thibuvan to Bharatpur, our host picked us up at the airport and we drove about 45 minutes to Tigerland Safari Resort.  Tigerland is a new resort operating on the Park border (since 2012 the government has not renewed permits for resorts located inside the Park) and a wonderful place to spend a few nights.  The itinerary we received from our highly recommended tour operator, Raya Tours, said we could expect an “Elephant Ride with Natural Animal View.”  Believe me, sitting atop the elephant definitely defines the view!  Of all the amazing exeriences we enjoyed – bird watching, hiking, a sunset canoe ride, visiting a traditional Tharu Village and even traditional tribal dancing – the elephant bath alone was bucket-list worthy.

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