Asia Through the Back Door: Nepal
In 1986, Rick Steves and Bob Effertz wrote the first edition of Asia Through the Back Door. This book covered all of the necessary skills to keep the reader footloose and fancy free while traveling throughout Asia. Chapters covered everything from how to communicate without speaking the language to eating and sleeping cheap and from understanding the local religions to staying healthy. All royalties from the book were donated to Asian relief and development organizations. Here are Rick's takes on certain aspects of Nepal:
Kathmandu is a living museum, a cultural circus, a story that needs no plot. Don't try to understand every shrine or mystery. Just put your guidebook away and immerse yourself in this city of pagodas, sleeping dogs, beggars, holy men, and trouserless small kids in raggy-baggy shirts. Kathmandu offers enough in the ways of temples, back streets, food, shopping, and interesting people to keep you from the surrounding mountains for a while. Every land has its own special rhythm, and the only way to really get inside is to get in step with that rhythm. Kathmandu has a very special rhythm: gentle natured people, cowpies in front of luxury hotels, stone images of gods with six arms wearing wreaths of human skulls, fruit yogurt shakes, and chocolate "space cakes."
An unobstructed view of 200 miles of the snowcapped Himalayas is worth a one-hour drive. Especially since it's from a small ridge top town with cobbled streets, interesting old buildings and temples, and friendly locals. Dhulikhel is known for these attributes and by the foreigners living in Kathmandu as a place just to get away from the city and relax. Fortunately, not many tourists know about it. It's a convenient place to experience life in a small Nepalese town and take a variety of walks in the countryside. The town sits on a ridge top at 5,100 feet. The one main street in town has a few old temples and worn brick buildings on the west end and wonderful Himalayan views on the east. Foreigners aren't a novelty, neither are they abundant, so the people are still gracious. You can wander and observe life without feeling you are intruding. The town is also the district headquarters and has a number of administrative offices. Walking through town in the evening, you'll probably meet a young man assigned to work here who is eager to practice his English or just find out about you. If you don't have time or energy in Nepal to go on a longer trek in the mountains, at least get out of Kathmandu to Dhulikhel for a mini-trek with maxi views.
Trekking is not just an exotic way of saying hiking. There is a fundamental difference. A hike is "a long, vigorous walk." A trek is a "journey," with a journey being "passage from one experience to another." Thus, in the ROcky Mountains, you might hike the trails and look at nature. When you trek in Nepal, you walk, have chiyaa at tea shops, huddle with Sherpas in smoky one-room houses, and get chased off the trail by stubborn yaks. Trekking in Nepal isn't typically a wilderness experience. There are some isolated areas, but the mountains are dotted with small villages until you reach the very high altitudes. While the lofty peaks are awesome, a great part of the experience is the interaction with a different culture. You'll get insights into a slower, ancient, and in many ways more satisfying lifestyle. Settling into the different pace, observing different customs and attitudes, you start to examine and question your own patterns and values.