October 29-November 14, 2018





Our Nepal odyssey begins late this evening as we depart Los Angeles on a Cathay Pacific jet bound for Kathmandu via Hong Kong.




A day is lost crossing the International Date Line.




We arrive in Hong Kong early this morning, with rooms at an airport hotel until our evening flight to Kathmandu. Perhaps you just want to rest from the long flight, or maybe you want to hop on the train and explore Hong Kong on your own or with others in the group. Our hotel home for the next few days is situated inside the former private hunting grounds of the kings of Nepal, where deer and monkeys now wander freely.


Gokarna Forest Resort




The morning is at leisure to rest or explore the lovely grounds. This afternoon we visit Pashupatinath, site of Nepal’s most important Hindu temple, surrounded by a bustling market of religious stalls. Sadhus and devotees of Shiva flock to Pashupatinath, while many Nepalis choose to be cremated here at the open-air ghats on the banks of the sacred Bagmati River (Nepal’s equivalent of the Ganges in Varanasi). The enormous stupa at Boudhanath (Bodhnath) pulses with life as thousands of pilgrims gather daily to make a ritual circumnavigation of the dome, beneath the watchful eyes of the Buddha which gaze out from the gilded central tower. Nearby lanes are crammed with monasteries and workshops producing the paraphernalia essential for Buddhist life. We stay until late afternoon, when local Buddhists arrive to light butter lamps, spin prayer wheels, chant mantras, and perform their ritual clockwise circuit of the stupa.


Gokarna Forest Resort (BD)




Kathmandu’s Durbar Square was where the city’s kings were once crowned and legitimized, and from where they ruled (durbar means palace). As such, it remains the traditional heart of the old town and Kathmandu’s most spectacular legacy of traditional architecture. It was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1979. The area is actually made up of three loosely linked squares full of temples and souvenir stalls, fruit and vegetable hawkers, taxis and rickshaws. Inside a red brick, three-story building with intricately carved windows lives the Kumari, the girl selected to be the town’s living goddess until she reaches puberty and reverts to being a normal mortal. Sorry, no photographs of the goddess herself, though you can photograph the beautiful courtyard when she’s not present. We spend the morning exploring the Durbar area, return to the hotel for lunch and a rest, then it’s on to Sankhu later in the day. The red-brick town of Sankhu was once an important stop on the old trade route from Kathmandu to Lhasa (Tibet), and there are still signs of its former prosperity; the winding brick alleyways and old bazaar area are well worth exploring.


Gokarna Forest Resort (BD)




The third of the medieval city-states in the Kathmandu Valley, Bhaktapur (old name, Bhadgaon) is also the best preserved. The town has three major squares full of towering temples that comprise some of the finest religious architecture in the country. This grandeur is set against a surprisingly rural backdrop — many locals still make a living farming the fields around Bhaktapur and the streets are full of drying crops and farmers winnowing rice and wheat using wicker baskets and electric fans. Narrow cobblestone streets wind between the red-brick houses, joining a series of squares and courtyards peppered with temples, statues, cisterns, and wells, and the streets are blissfully traffic-free. Artisans weave cloth and chisel timber by the roadside, squares are filled with drying pots and open kilns, and locals gather in communal courtyards to bathe, collect water, and socialize. We spend the morning here, soaking in the atmosphere, then enjoy a tasty lunch in at Watsala Gardens in Durbar Square. The first major town we reach heading east out of the valley is Banepa, whose cobblestone backstreets we explore before continuing a bit farther to Dhulikhel, a quiet place to witness the stunning peaks of the Himalayas. Our lodge here consists of thatched cottages scattered over the hillside amid lovingly tended gardens, with uninterrupted views across the valley to the mountains.


Dhulikhel Mountain Resort (BLD)




The morning is at leisure to relax and enjoy the amazing view. This afternoon, en route back to Kathmandu, we visit Panauti, tucked away in a side valley at the sacred confluence of two rivers. Panauti was once a major trading center with its own royal palace, but today the village is a serene backwater. As well as fabulously ornate ancient temples, there are some strikingly restored Rana-era mansions.


Gokarna Forest Lodge (BD)




Early this morning we visit Swayambhunath, one of the definitive experiences of Kathmandu. Mobbed by monkeys and soaring above the city on a lofty hilltop, the “Monkey Temple” is a fascinating, chaotic jumble of Buddhist and Hindu iconography. The compound is centered around a gleaming white stupa topped by a gilded spire painted with the eyes of the Buddha. Ancient carvings are jammed into every spare inch of space and the smell of incense and butter lamps hangs heavy in the air. The mystical atmosphere is heightened in the morning and evening by local devotees who make a ritual circumnavigation of the stupa, spinning the prayer wheels set into it base. Afterward, we head west out of Kathmandu on the Prithvi Highway, turning left on the Tribhuwan Rajpath toward Daman. Perched 7,618 feet above sea level, with clear views to the north, east, and west, Daman boasts what is arguably THE most spectacular outlook on the Himalayas in the whole of Nepal — unimpeded views of the entire range from Dhaulagiri to Mount Everest.


Everest Panorama Resort (BLD)




Chitwan is one of the premier drawing cards in Nepal. The UNESCO World Heritage-listed reserve protects over 360 square miles of forest, marshland, and rippling grassland, and is home to sizeable wildlife populations. Meaning “Heart of the Jungle,” Chitwan is famous as one of the best wildlife-viewing national parks in Asia, where you have an excellent chance of spotting greater one-horned rhinos, deer, monkeys, and 583 species of birds. If you’re extremely lucky, you’ll see leopards, wild elephants, and sloth bears — and have a once-in-a-lifetime chance to spot a majestic royal Bengal tiger. Sadly, Chitwan lost many animals during the decade-long Maoist insurgency, when the army was preoccupied with the conflict and unable to provide adequate protection from poachers. However, the good news is that 2016 census figures showed rhino numbers substantially recovering (635 individuals) and tiger numbers steadily increasing (around 120 adults), as well as a rising number of critically endangered gharial crocodiles.


Our home for the next three nights is Barahi Jungle Lodge, luxury cottages set on the bank of the Rapti River near the small village of Tharus. Each room, opening onto a private balcony with a view of the jungle, features a décor blending contemporary and traditional Nepali furnishings with indigenous elements such as used wood, bamboo, elephant grass, and wildlife-inspired artifacts. Since the lodge is located near the river, it serves as a starting point for the various activities that make it unique. There are several ways to explore Chitwan’s wilderness: Jeep safaris, canoe/boat safaris, and escorted nature walks. An elephant-back safari is also available, though such safaris are no longer allowed in the park itself. Also, weather permitting, you can attend an elephant briefing (the lodge has four female elephants), help the mahouts prepare food for them, and participate in their baths at the river. Village visits on foot or by bullock cart provide a look at the cultural aspect of Chitwan. In the evening, colorfully dressed Tharu locals exhibit their culture through dance and music performances at the lodge. The schedule of our daily activities will be determined on arrival.


Barahi Jungle Lodge (BLD)




Continued activities from previous day.


Barahi Jungle Lodge (BLD)




Continued activities from previous day.


Barahi Jungle Lodge (BLD)




This morning we drive to Bandipur, a living museum of Newari culture, its winding lanes lined with tall Newari houses and the people seemingly centuries behind the rest of the country. With help from the owners of the adventure company Himalayan Encounters, derelict buildings have been reborn as cafes and lodges, and temples and civic buildings have been pulled back from the edge of ruin. Yet Bandipur remains very much a living community, full of farmers and traders going about their business. With its glorious 18th-century architecture and medieval ambience, all of Bandipur is a sight to behold — as is the view from Tundikhel at sunrise and sunset, when the clouds peel back to reveal a stunning panorama of Himalayan peaks.


The Old Inn (BD)




After photographing from Tundikhel at dawn, we head for Pokhara. Just a few miles short of the city, we stop at Begnas Tal and Rupa Tal, two gloriously serene lakes that reflect the mountains of the Annapurna Range in their rippling waters. We enjoy a short hike to Begnas Lake Resort for lunch, then continue to Pokhara and our lovely bungalows set amid lush tropical gardens on an island in Phewa Tal. Nowhere better exemplifies Pokhara’s amazing beauty and nature than the majestic Phewa Tal, Nepal’s second largest lake. On calm days, the mountains are perfectly mirrored in the water, which makes it the perfect spot to paddle around in a rowboat or kayak.


Fish Tail Lodge (BLD)




In reality, there are two Pokharas. First there’s Lakeside, settled beside the calm waters of stunning Phewa Tal, a perfect place to recharge, the touristy side of Pokhara with its restaurants, cafes, and souvenir shops. Then there’s Old Pokhara, with pockets of charming Newari architecture and a bustling Nepali vitality, the way life was before the hippie trail stumbled upon its pristine surrounds. This morning we see both Pokharas, then enjoy lunch at a Lakeside restaurant. Most of the Tibetan refugees who hawk souvenirs in Lakeside live in Tibetan refugee settlements outside the city, the largest of which is Tashi Palkhel. With prayer flags flapping in the breeze in the rocky valley, it genuinely feels like you’re in Tibet. The colorful Jangchub Choeling Gompa, in the middle of the village, is home to around 100 monks. This afternoon, we experience monks chanting and horns blowing during the prayer session, then drive to Sarangot, where the view of the Annapurna Himalayas is almost another religious experience. From here, we can see a panoramic sweep of peaks from Dhaulagiri in the west to the perfect pyramid that is Machhapucchare and the rounded peak of Annapurna II in the east. At dusk, the sun picks out the peaks, transforming them from a purple-pink to a celestial gold.


Fish Tail Lodge (BLD)




Balanced on a narrow ridge high above Phewa Tal, the brilliant white World Peace Pagoda was built by Buddhist monks from the Japanese Nipponzan Myohoji organization to promote world peace. Several small trails lead from the road to the school in Kalimati village and on to the entrance. After a visit to the Peace Pagoda and Devi’s Falls (which marks the point where the Pardi Khola stream vanishes underground), we head for Tashi Ling Tibetan Village, another of the refugee settlements in the area. A Buddha Air flight takes us back to Kathmandu and our hotel for a little relaxation before a late-afternoon walk to the nearby Shechen Monastery to photograph at sunset and witness the monks’ mesmerizing prayer ceremony.


Hyatt Regency (BD)




Today we visit Patan, once a fiercely independent city-state, now almost a suburb of Kathmandu, separated only by the murky Bagmati River. It has arguably the finest collection of temples and palaces in the whole of Nepal. Most of the famous sights are centered on Durbar Square, which forms the heart of Patan. As in Kathmandu, the ancient Royal Palace faces onto the square, its concentrated mass of temples a visually stunning display of Newari architecture. We enjoy lunch in Patan, then drive to the sleepy town of Kirtipur, which has a wonderful sense of faded grandeur thanks to the impressive medieval temples dotted around its backstreets. Many of the town’s inhabitants are weavers or farmers, so we may see dyed yarn drying from windows and hear the clatter of the town’s handlooms. We return to the hotel, with time to rest and finish packing before our farewell dinner and departure to the airport for a late-evening flight back to the U.S.


Hyatt Regency (BLD)




Sadly, our Nepal odyssey ends as we arrive in Los Angeles early this morning.



Note: Included meals are indicated by B, L, and D for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

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