Nepal is sometimes referred to as the world’s roof, a result of the number of tall peaks within its borders. Eight of the ten highest peaks in the world are in Nepal including the world’s tallest – Mount Everest. Close to 250 peaks in the country exceed 6000 meters. Yet, whereas seeing or climbing these stratospheric mountains is the biggest reason thousands of tourists make their way to Nepal, some are surprised to learn just how geographically and climatically diverse this landlocked country is.
While the mountains dominate its north, the south of the country is of much lower altitude being on the fringes of the Indus-Ganges river plains. Elevations are mostly below 1000 meters. Few countries can purport to have 5 seasons – spring, summer, monsoon, autumn and winter. Similarly, Nepal has 5 climate zones corresponding to the different altitudes – tropical, temperate, cold, subarctic and arctic.
Still, the mountains continue to attract the largest proportion of visitors to the country. It also follows that mountain hiking is the most popular tourist activity. Given the sheer enormity of the mountains and the land area they cover, not all peaks are equally popular. For instance in 2007, out of the more than 100,000 mountain trekkers that arrived in Nepal, 26.5 per cent went to the Everest region while approximately 60 per cent made their way to the less challenging but visually spectacular Annapurna range.
If you are someone who does not regularly go mountain hiking, doing the ‘Tea House’ Trek is probably the best way to go. It is called the Tea House Trek because of the number of full-service lodges that have sprung up along the trail reducing the need for support.
Festivals in Nepal
There are numerous festivals to enjoy, a highlight for many people and worth witnessing if you have the chance. Every temple has its special festivals. Some, like Pashupatinath in the Kathmandu Valley, have festivals that draw Hindus from all over Nepal and India. Others are village and family events. At festival times, you can see villagers walking in small groups, brightly dressed and often highly spirited. Two solar calendars, the Nepalese and Gregorian, are in common use, but there are three lunar calendars: Nepalese, Newari and Tibetan. Exact dates of festivals change annually and are calculated by astrologers. The Department of Tourism in Kathmandu publishes an annual brochure. The Nepali New Year is in mid-April and the two most important festivals are Dasain and Tihar in September/October (Nepali months are in brackets).
Magha Sankranti marks the transition from winter to spring. Tribeni Mela, on the new moon, is held on the banks of the Narayani river. Basanta Panchami celebrates the start of the spring season. Ceremonies at Kathmandu’s Hanuman Dhoka Palace, street parades by children and dedications at temples characterize this festival. Magha Purnima is celebrated on the last day of Magha, when bathers walk from the Bagmati river ghats to various temples and take a ritual bath in the Salindi river.