Authentic Nepal - 14-day Cultural and Activity Tour

With two weeks in Nepal, there is plenty of time to experience a wide range of cultural attractions. Culture is not just confined to what you find in a museum; it extends to the hills and into the homes of the people of Nepal.

Highlights

  • Tour the beautiful medieval palaces and temples of Kathmandu
  • Experience warm Nepali hospitality at a homestay in Panauti
  • Hike through tribal villages in the Annapurna region
  • Learn about Patan’s rich tradition of craftsmanship
  • Visit the once-thriving Newari town of Bandipur, now a peaceful retreat

Day 1: Arrive Kathmandu

Kathmandu
Views over the Kathmandu Valley

You’ll be picked up at the airport and taken to your hotel where you can drop off your bags and get settled. Depending on when you arrive in Kathmandu, there may be time for sightseeing before heading to one of our recommended restaurants for your first meal in Nepal.

Day 2: Sightseeing around Kathmandu

Swayambhunath
The temple complex around Swayambhunath Stupa

Start the day with a walk to Swayambhunath, which takes around half an hour from the popular tourist district of Thamel (or a short taxi ride from elsewhere in Kathmandu). Swayambhunath offers great views across the city, and is a particularly holy place for Nepal’s Tantric Buddhists. You’ll soon discover why the place is nicknamed the ‘monkey temple’, as the little creatures are as much of an attraction as the beautiful structures.

Return to central Kathmandu by taxi, and after lunch around Thamel, head to the Kathmandu Durbar Square. This public space houses an eclectic mix of architectural styles, from the sixteenth-century pagoda temples to the early twentieth-century neo-classical Gadi Durbar Palace. It’s particularly atmospheric in the evenings, when locals come to worship at the temples.

Day 3: Homestay Panauti

Panauti
Newari architecture in the small town of Panauti, just outside of Kathmandu

This morning, drive to Panauti (1-2 hours), a small town just outside the Kathmandu Valley. Panauti is inhabited mainly by the Newar people, who are the original settlers of the Kathmandu Valley. The center of town contains some of the best-preserved Newari architecture in the whole of Nepal. Panauti is also said to be particularly safe in the event of an earthquake, as it was built on one single piece of rock.

At Panauti there are a network of homestays run by local women. Visitors stay in a well-equipped guest bedroom, and get to learn about typical daily life. Your hostess will take you for a tour around the town, and will give you a Nepali cooking class in her own kitchen.

Day 4: Panauti and Namo Buddha

Namo Buddha
Namo Buddha, one of the holiest Tibetan Buddhist sites in Nepal

Today, explore the area around Panauti by driving up to Namo Buddha, a small town in the hills near Panauti. Namo Buddha is one of the holiest Tibetan Buddhist sites in Nepal, and while the stupa there is small compared to what you’ll find in parts of Kathmandu, the golden Tibetan Buddhist monastery is impressive--as are the views of the Himalayas on a clear day. Stop at the Namo Buddha Resort for lunch. This place has its own organic kitchen garden, and is famous for its amazing vegetarian food.

Day 5: Morning tour of Bhaktapur, afternoon fly to Pokhara

Bhaktapur
Durbar square in Bhaktapur

Leave your homestay in Panauti after breakfast and drive to Bhaktapur (about an hour). Although the town was extensively damaged in the 2015 earthquake, most of the impressive religious buildings—including the tallest temple in the Kathmandu Valley, the five-storey Nyatapola Temple—remain standing, so there is much to see here. Make sure to visit the large squares in which traditional clay pots are placed out in the sun to dry, and dry some juju dhau (king curd), a creamy yoghurt that is said to be the best in the country.

Leave Bhaktapur after lunch for your flight to Pokhara. It’s a short but very scenic flight. Ask for a seat on the left-hand side of the plane.

After settling into your hotel, enjoy a lake-side dinner and drinks, with the perfect fish-tail peak of Machapuchare looming on one side.

Day 6: Adventure around Pokhara

Phewa lake
Take a boat tour on beautiful Phewa Lake, Pokhara

Spend today enjoying the calmer pursuits of Pokhara: paddling on the serene Phewa lake in a small boat, having a massage at one of the town’s many spas catering to all budgets, taking a yoga class or swimming in a hotel pool.

Day 7: Trek to Bhumdi (1520 meters)

World Peace Pagoda
The World Peace Pagoda, just outside of Pokhara

Start the day by taking a boat to the other side of Phewa lake, and hiking up to the World Peace Pagoda. From here you have beautiful views across the Annapurna Himalaya and down to Pokhara.

After descending from the pagoda, the rest of the trek to the village of Bumdi will be gently up and down. The overnight stay at Bumdi will allow you to learn about the local Magar and Brahmin people, and understand village and mountain life in Nepal.

Day 8: Bumdi to Panchase Bhanjyang (2065 meters), drive to Pokhara

Today’s hike will take you through forests with a rich variety of trees and birdlife. In the spring you will likely see the pink, red and purple blooms of rhododendron flowers, Nepal’s national flower. The Annapurna range will be visible through clearings in the forest, including three of the highest mountains in the world: Annapurna I, Dhaulagiri, and Manaslu.

After arriving in the village of Panchase Bhanjyang, a car will take you back to Pokhara.

Day 9: Drive to Bandipur, stay Bandipur

Bandipur is about three hours’ drive east of Pokhara. It is a small town perched high on a ridge, at 1030 meters. As the center of the town is pedestrianized, you can walk among the red-brick temples and traditional old homes without the same stress of traffic as in Kathmandu. Bandipur used to be an important center of garment manufacturing, and was a trading stop along the India-Tibet route. Stay at The Old Inn Bandipur, a renovated red-brick Newari town house with lots of little homely touches.

Day 10: Around Bandipur

Bandipur is a lovely place to relax on a sunny terrace with mountain views and read a book. But if you’re up for something a bit more active, there are some short walks you can take near the town. You can even visit the Siddha Gufa Caves, by following a forest track. Just make sure to take your own flashlight.

Day 11: Visit Manakamana by cable car, onwards to Patan

Today’s drive back to Kathmandu will follow the Prithvi Highway, the main road connecting the country in an east-west direction. The road runs parallel to the Trisuli River for much of the way, and offers impressive views upwards, from the bottom of the valley.

En route, stop at the town of Kurintar and take the cable car up to the town of Manakamana, with its famous temple. Although the Manakamana temple itself is being rebuilt after destruction in the 2015 earthquake, it still attracts many pilgrims from around India and Nepal, who visit because they believe that wishes made here will certainly be granted. The cable car ride is very scenic, dangling above the river and rice fields terraced onto the hillsides. On a good day you can see the Annapurna Himalaya from the town.

In the early evening, arrive in Patan, in the south of the Kathmandu Valley. Stay at one of its high-quality boutique hotels located in renovated old buildings, such as The Inn Patan.

Day 12: Patan craft tour

Patan is one of the three major ancient cities of the Kathmandu Valley (Bhaktapur and Kathmandu being the other two), and as such, houses a wealth of cultural and craft traditions. Taking a craft-focused tour of Patan will allow you to visit the workshops of wood carvers, metal workers and painters, and learn about these traditions that are not only surviving in twenty-first century Nepal but actually flourishing. As part of the tour, visit the superb Patan Museum, which is housed in a wing of the renovated palace in the Patan Durbar Square. The collection houses numerous sacred artefacts and informative displays on Nepali art and architecture.

Day 13: The major religious traditions of Nepal: Hinduism and Buddhism

Today you will be introduced to the two major religions of Nepal—Hinduism and Buddhism—through two iconic sites. While the majority of Nepalis are Hindu, Buddhism also plays a large part in Nepali culture, and many people follow aspects of both religions.

In the morning, visit the Boudhanath Stupa. This is considered the holiest Tibetan Buddhist site outside of Tibet, and the surrounding area is a hub of Tibetan life and culture in Nepal. The enormous white dome is topped with a gleaming golden top (rebuilt after being damaged during the 2015 earthquake), adorned with the piercing eyes of the Buddha.

After lunch overlooking the stupa, head to nearby Pashupatinath Temple. This is the most sacred Hindu site in Nepal, and is a riverside complex of temples, cremation ghats (steps) and the occasional eccentric sadhu (Hindu holy man). Pashupatinath leaves a deep impression on visitors due to its somber yet celebratory atmosphere, and exquisite architecture.

Day 14: Depart Kathmandu

Depending on when you depart, you may have some time for an early morning breakfast and some last-minute shopping or sightseeing around Kathmandu before being drive to the airport.