The Annapurna Circuit
The Annapurna Circuit is one of the most popular treks on the planet and thousands walk this ancient track every year. The traditional 300 km route is being eroded by so-called progress as roads encroach on the natural surrounding. Although it is increasingly difficult to avoid the jeeps on the tracks, the views remain as spectacular as ever.
It is impossible to walk the Annapurna Circuit without meeting local people. From those who work in the tourist industry to farmers in the fields, the local culture is varied and vibrant. If you take the time, the opportunity to learn is endless. From the sub-tropical start of the trek at Bhule Bhule to the high altitudes of Yak Kharka, Thorung La and Muktinath, the people are as diverse as they are friendly. You may be surprised to discover what you learn about yourself as well.
The ancient Newari city of Bhaktapur is filled with temples, culture and history. The city is home to traditional art and architecture, historical monuments, pottery and weaving industries and steeped in local customs. Bhaktapur remains largely untouched and well preserved. It is a world of its own to explore. It lay on the trade route between Tibet, China and India, making the town prosperous. There are a number of lodging opportunities in Bhaktapur and it is well worth a few days to explore the city and immerse yourself in its culture.
Royal Chitwan National Park
Nepal is perhaps the most bio-diverse country on the planet. Mount Everest, at 8850m, is the highest place on earth. When people think of Nepal, they think of mountains. However, the mountains drop more than 8000m over a short distance to the lowland region of Royal Chitwan National Park, near the Indian border. This region, a mere 450m above sea level, is a refuge for over 450 species of birds and 43 species of mammal, including tigers and the one-horned rhinoceros. The Tharu people also call this region home and they live in relative harmony amongst elephant, tiger and rhinoceros populations.
Bodnath, Boudhanath or Baudnath, is one of the most holy Buddhist sites in Kathmandu. Located on the northeast outskirts of the city, the massive stupa dominates the skyline. It is one of the largest of its type in the world. The large population of Tibetan refugees has lead to the construction of over 50 Gompas (Monasteries) around Bodnath. The stupa is on the ancient trade route from Tibet and Tibetan merchants have rested and prayed here for centuries. The stupa is said to entomb the remains of the venerable sage Kasyapa. In the 1950s, the situation with China worsened and then dissolved. Many refugees chose to live around Bodnath and there are numerous Tibetan shops and restaurants surrounding the area.
The Masks of Kagbeni Gompa
In Tibetan Buddhism, as well as other religions, the confluence of two rivers is always a sacred place. Kagbeni Gompa rests at the confluence of the Kali Gandaki and Jhong rivers in the Mustang region, a few hundred km from the border with Tibet. The temple is over 550 years old. The wall paintings and ritual masks have been professionally restored. The ritual masks are particularly interesting as they date to the earliest period of the spread of Buddhism to this region. These are "The Masks of Kagbeni Gompa."