A place that most American travelers think of more as a fantasy than a destination is becoming reality.
I’m talking about the fabulous country (and state of mind) of Nepal—yes, the home of the storied Mt. Everest. But we’re not just talking mountains any more. In fact, the Nepalese government is making a major push to bring in tourists—currently only 1.5 million a year—with a program called “Visit Nepal 2020.”
Only a few thousand tourists to Nepal actually ascend mountains. Viewing films and slides at a government-sponsored event, I was surprised to see the beautiful valleys and Oz-like cities, not to mention colorful festivals that abound. And talking to travel experts of the area opened my eyes to a colorful and beautiful experience.
“There are trekking trips, visits to villages, golf. We even have safaris on elephants,” says the Nepalese Consul General in New York, Pushpa Raj Bhattarai. “On these safaris you can see the beautiful tigers.”
Catherine Heald, a tour operator specializing in high-end Asian travel– (remotelands.com)—is quite practical about traveling in Nepal.
“There are many World Heritage sites,” she explains. “When you’re trekking, it’s not luxury, but there are so many things to do. Eight of the 10 highest mountains are in Nepal. Many people take helicopters to base camps and trek down, or vice versa.”
But she adds that Khatmandu, the capital, has a luxury hotel as does the Khatmandu valley. There is also a national park.
“So many little villages and tribes and sub-cultures,” Ms. Heald explains. “The mountains kept people apart and so they developed differently.” For further information, you can reach her at 646 415-8092.
Meanwhile, I met a real-life guide. Most Westerners would be surprised to learn that a Sherpa is not necessarily a synonym for guide. The Sherpas are a distinct ethnic group from the area, and many of them are guides. Also, “Sherpa” is a family name as well.
So I had lunch with Serap Jangbu Sherpa. He’s the managing director of a group called K2 Summit Trek & Expedition Ltd. (k2summittrek.com). He has climbed Everest and all the others.
“We’ve made trekking accessible for all people, even those in wheelchairs,” he said.
I realized that was true when I saw film of tourists in wheelchairs actually rolling across a specially created road.
And if you’d like some of the comforts of home—well, Kathmandu actually has what could be termed a luxury hotel. In fact, there are half a dozen of them. But If you’d rather not be at the city’s 4,500-foot elevation—actually, lower than Denver’s—then you’ll find the Kathmandu valley also boasts a high-end place to stay.
And if you’ve never climbed a mountain—or tried to get into an SUV taxi in Manhattan—but have a sense of adventure, there are treks for the inexperienced. One of them even goes to 18,000 feet, a base camp for Everest—no experience necessary (just follow your guide).
You can even get up to Everest’s peak without doing a stitch of work—for about $200 there are one-hour flights, says Sherpa, that will bring you close to the mountain, near the top of the world.