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Chanting monks. Singing bowls. Prayer flags fluttering in the wind. Snowy Himalayan peaks in the distance. Put on some music to help set the mood, close your eyes, and imagine that your Himalayan Airways flight has just touched down in the small (very, very small) Kathmandu Airport.
Sorry to interrupt, but a quick interjection to fuel your imagination: you know how you’re picturing like, a regular airport for a major Asian metropolis? It’s … a lot smaller than that. Like, there is only ONE runway, and you have to walk across the tarmac to deplane in Kathmandu’s hot, dusty air. But, good news: although long considered one of the worst airports in the world, this year the airport has gotten a makeover!
Anyway: here you are, in this tiny airport in an exciting new city in one of the most beautiful countries in the world!
You don’t have any luggage – because this is a virtual trip and that means we get to take some liberties, one of which is that you don’t have to haul any luggage around – so you head straight through the airport to flag down a taxi.
Your taxi driver is bumpin’ this jam which only slightly helps your anxiety as you careen through the chaotic streets of Kathmandu. The sprawling city flies by as your driver does some Fast and the Furious-style evasion moves to dodge oncoming trucks, motorbikes, people, and – is that a cow?!?!
You have arrived. Welcome to Nepal.
Psst: Planning an actual trip to Nepal, or just craving more vicarious travel? Check out these other blog posts:
About Your Virtual Nepal Trip
Namaste! (Ahem: That’s the typical greeting in Nepal – I swear I’m not THAT much of a travel blogger stereotype. …Yet.) I’m your tour guide, Lia.
I’ll be pretty behind-the-scenes during your Virtual Vacation, but before we begin, I’d love to show you a quick video from my own amazing trip to Nepal! I drew on a lot of the experiences from my trip, plus experiences I’m dying to have on my next trip, to create this Virtual Nepal tour.
OK, back to your adventures! On today’s virtual trip to Nepal, we’ll be guiding you through a visit to the best places in Nepal. We’ll explore the back alleys of Kathmandu, cross iridescent green lakes in Pokhara, dive deep into the jungles of Chitwan in search of tigers, and even trek into the snowy Himalayas to Nepal’s crown jewel, Mount Everest.
But unlike a real trip to Nepal to summit Mount Everest, you won’t have to spend thousands of dollars, train for years, spend months acclimating to the high altitude before your summit attempt, or worry about the grisly details surrounding some of Everest’s most famous landmarks, like Green Boots. Because virtual vacations are both risk-free and cost-free! That’s like, 2 of my favorite kinds of free.
This Virtual Nepal tour incorporates photos, videos, music, and a slightly fantastical storyline to guide your trip. There’s only, like, a little bit of time travel. The more you suspend your disbelief and follow along, the more enjoyable your virtual trip will be!
We also have a few tips to make your virtual vacation as immersive as possible, starting with this music that should now be playing (turn it on now if you haven’t yet)!
To help set the scene, we also recommend lighting some incense to activate your smell triggers, and opening this page on the biggest screen you have!
And to really maximize your experience, go ahead and place an order now for a plate of Dhal Bat and some Momos from your local Nepalese restaurant (search for “Himalayan restaurant” to find Nepalese food near you). If you don’t have a Nepalese restaurant nearby, both Tibet and even India have comparable cuisine.
Now settle in and relax as we take you on a journey into beautiful Nepal. If you watch all of the videos we included in this post, your virtual Nepal vacation will take a few hours to enjoy.
- Technical Note: Some of the videos don’t have a title image and will show up as a black square or a weird gray cassette tape, but they should all work just fine when you click play!
So, where were we? Oh right… in a taxi on your way to your hotel in Kathmandu.
Your taxi heads straight into the heart of Kathmandu’s touristic neighborhood, Thamel. The streets close in on either side as you pass by shops selling colorful fabric, backpacking gear, singing bowls, and colorful trinkets.
You arrive at your hotel, exhausted.
You gratefully accept a plate of sweet, sticky fried jeri and a steaming mug of chai tea from your gracious, welcoming hosts, and take a wonderful little nap in the A/C of your modest hotel room.
When you wake up, you’re feeling invigorated and ready to explore! You head out into the waning light of Thamel for an evening stroll and walk through its busy streets.
For dinner, you stop at a tiny restaurant and order whatever everyone else is having. Your server brings you a plate of fluffy little dumplings with a tangy dipping sauce, and tells you they’re called Momos. They taste like China and India had a delicious dumpling baby, and you hope you’ll be able to get these again during your Virtual Nepal trip!
You stroll back to your hotel room through the buzzing streets and fall asleep watching the lights of Kathmandu flicker outside of your window.
The next morning, you wake up bright and early – literally at the crack of dawn – because you booked an unusual food tour: a backstreet alleys breakfast tour!
Your tour takes you through a very different Kathmandu than the one you experienced the night before. As the sun rises and tourists are still asleep, Kathmandu’s morning markets are in full swing.
You try not to lose your tour guide in the crowd, but every time you stop to look at the heaping piles of Himalayan rock salt – oh my god, is it really THAT cheap?! Your grocery store has been ripping you OFF – you fall behind!
You finally catch up with your group, and follow your tour guide through tiny alleys, through ancient hidden doorways and into secret courtyards, where friendly locals serve you fried rice-flour donuts and hot milk tea and curried potatoes with flatbread and a delicious jeri swari haluwa, which tastes like stuffed funnel cake heaven.
- Psst: it’s your Virtual Vacation tour guide Lia here – want to see the exact breakfast tour and momo cooking classes I did during my trip to Kathmandu? See if you can spot me in the background of the video below!
Between each stop, your tour guide explains more about Kathmandu’s Newari culture, pointing out beautiful, intricate carved wooden details on buildings throughout the city.
You learn that the Indigenous Newari people are the native residents of the Kathmandu Valley and comprise about half of the population of Kathmandu. Newari people are considered their own ethnicity and speak Newari as their first language, rather than Nepalese. They have their own festivals, spiritual customs, and even calendar.
You learn that Newari culture is entirely separate from Nepali culture, but also deeply intertwined with Kathmandu. Newari people have lived in here for thousands of years, well before the city of Kathmandu sprung up around them.
As you explore the city, you spot the mixture of traditional Newari architecture and temples alongside Buddhist Stupas and Hindu statues, combining together to create a beautiful and unique cultural melting pot.
Kathmandu is filled with temples! You have a few you’d like to see, starting with the Golden Monkey Temple just outside of the city. You are pleased to see that there are, in fact, monkeys – and absolutely stunning views of the Kathmandu Vally! The temple is a wonderful reprieve from the hustle and bustle of the city.
For your next temple visit, you’ll be heading back to Kathmandu – and back in time. Virtual Vacations are a little timey-wimey, wibbly-wobbly, but don’t worry – all you’re doing is taking a peek at Durbur Square. You probably won’t prevent yourself from being born. We can’t promise anything, though.
You hop in a little time machine and head back to just before the devastating earthquake in 2015. Sadly, the earthquake destroyed some of the historic Newari architecture in this temple complex.
You catch a glimpse of a Kumari Devi, a “living Goddess.” It turns out that a festival is taking place today, but you’re not sure how you feel about a tradition that worships prepubescent girls, so you skip this one.
The wind produced by pigeons taking flight is considered auspicious in Newari culture, so once your sight-seeing is finished, you run at a crowd of pigeons and allow yourself to be transported back to the present-day by their wings!
For your final temple visit of the day, you head to the Boudhanath Stupa, the largest Buddhist temple in the world. As you approach the Stupa, peeking over the rooftops you spot its golden spires, fluttering rows of Prayer Flags, and the ubiquitous Wisdom Eyes looking out from the top of the Stupa in all directions to symbolize the all-seeing nature of Buddha.
Around the base of the enormous Stupa is a crowd of people circling clockwise. You approach a friendly Monk, who lets you know that today, you must circle around the Stupa 13 times to set an intention. However, depending on the month, the position of the moon or a religious event that’s taking place, you sometimes have to walk a different amount of times.
You thank the Monk and join the massive circling crowd, moving like a river around the base of the Stupa.
You fall into a meditative rhythm, past ringing bells and circling prayer wheels, past trays laden with flickering butter candles, past chanting monks, past worshippers stopping every few feet for prostrations.
The deep spirituality of the place is intoxicating, and once you’ve finished your circumambulation, you feel centered and at peace. You remove yourself from the always-moving crowd and head up a set of stairs into an intricately carved doorway, where you find a Monastery.
You pass by a Monk taking a picture of the Stupa shining in the golden light with his cell phone. You realize that you did not actually know Monks could have cell phones, and then it dawns on that you actually don’t know anything about Monks!
The Monk catches you gawking at him, and beckons you over for a chat.
You learn that this Monk joined his Monastery at age 15, just as his father did before him. You learn that he has traveled all over the world with his Monastery, and yes, that he has a cell phone!
Feeling inquisitive yet respectful, you ask him if it’s difficult to be a monk. He says it is. You ask him if he has ever wanted to stop being a monk. He says that yes, he thinks every day about not being a monk. He’s only human, after all. But every day, he says, he meditates, prays, and chooses to continue his practice.
He invites you to join his Monastery in a meditation. You feel special, and then he explains that these free guided meditations are actually open to anyone who wishes to join. Still, though! You accept, and he leads you inside.
You realize that again, your assumptions about Buddhist Monks were totally inaccurate – you expected the meditation to be… quieter? But their prayer was loud, discordant, and joyful.
Feeling inspired and humbled, you decide to learn more about Buddhism. After some quick Google research and a read-through of this article, you look at a map and realize the birthplace of the Buddha himself, the founder of Buddhism, is right here in Nepal!
You pack your bags and hop in a van, heading for Lumbini.
Lumbini, Birthplace of the Buddha
You arrive in Lumbini and are surprised to find that the actual home of Siddartha Gautauma, as he was known before obtaining Enlightenment, is not the main or only attraction. Lumbini is a large complex filled with intricate, ornate temples created by every Buddhist country in the world.
You remove your shoes at the entrance and start to wander through the enormous temple complex. As you explore, you can feel the deep reverence from the visitors who have made a pilgrimage to Lumbini.
The home of the Buddha is a humble palace with a pool that is said to be the “birthing pool” of Siddhartha’s mother. It has been well preserved over the centuries and millennia since Buddha’s birth in 650 BC, and as visitors pass through and touch the original stone walls that once housed the Buddha himself, many are moved to tears.
You try to imagine Siddartha at age 29, rebelliously striking out to explore beyond the confines of his opulent life. It was on this trip that he encountered suffering for the very first time, and was so struck by it that he began to study spiritual paths. Spending many fruitless years trying to seek the Truth, he eventually sat down under a tree and told everyone traveling with him that he wasn’t getting up until he figured out The Truth.
They left. But he stayed, and sat, and meditated for 49 days straight, until he reached Enlightenment.
From then on, he was known as the Buddha and spent the remaining years of his life traveling far and wide, teaching the “dharma” and the virtues of wisdom, kindness, patience, generosity and compassion.
You reflect on how traveling outside the confines of your own life has allowed you to challenge your existing perceptions, to learn and grow and become a better and more empathetic person.
You might not have achieved Enlightenment, but traveling has certainly made you more enlightened.
Feeling as though you’ve gotten what you needed from following the footsteps of the Buddha, you flag down a van to head to your next destination.
Chitwan National Park
You bump your way down unpaved roads and past small villages until you finally arrive at Barahi Jungle Lodge, a sustainable eco-lodge on a quiet river, directly across the water from the thick jungle that marks entrance of the park.
As your van pulls in, you see your hosts dancing and singing and chanting, welcoming you to your stay, and someone hands you an ice-cold glass of lemonade. Nepal is so welcoming!
You remember that tourism is one of the most important industries in Nepal, and that by staying at an eco-friendly lodge that employs locals from the nearby villages, you are helping to contribute to economic stability and growth within one of the poorest nations in the world.
You sip your lemonade in front of the pool and feel at peace.
The lodge is luxurious, and you are offered a ride to your bungalow in a golf cart even though it’s only like, a 5 minute walk.
Your bungalow is made from natural materials, and is nice and cool – a welcome reprieve from the hot, sticky air of the jungle outside. You relax in your room and look out your window across the savannah, over the window, and into the thick, dense jungle that seems tantalizingly close.
As you watch, to your amazement a family of rhinoceroses swims lazily by!
It’s almost dinnertime, so you head to the shared lodge for a delicious Nepali meal. Your hosts serve you a plate of Dhal Bat: there’s rice, chapati, stewed eggplant, paneer curry, cauliflower and potatoes, some pickled things you can’t identify, and lentil soup. It is as delicious as it is filling!
After dinner, your hosts invite you to watch a performance by Tharu dancers, one of Nepal’s many Indigenous communities.
You dance and chant and laugh long into the night, and finally make your way back to your bungalow to fall gratefully asleep.
But not for long – you have an exciting adventure awaiting you at dawn!
With the sun rising overhead in brilliant peaches and pinks, you climb aboard a canoe to take a Boat Safari! You’ll be heading downriver to observe animals during their most active period of the day.
To your amazement, you paddle directly past another herd of Rhinoceroses bathing in the dawn light. You hold your breath, trying to keep as quiet as possible to avoid alarming or disturbing these majestic, enormous creatures.
Wow, are these things huge. They look a lot bigger up close than they did last night from the safety of your bungalow…
The rhinoceroses don’t seem at all bothered by your silent passage, which is a huge relief. You allow yourself to relax and immerse yourself in the moment.
You see fish swimming underneath you in the crystal clear river water below, shorebirds taking off in flight, a peacock running alongside your boat on the riverbank. You listen to the lapping of the water against the side of your boat and the loud buzzing of insects from within the jungle on the other side of the river.
Your boat safari ends, but your jungle safari adventures have only just started. You disembark your boat on the other side of the river – the jungle side – and quietly, carefully walk through the tall grass towering overhead towards the dark, dense forest.
Your guide helpfully informs you that this is the most dangerous part of the entire experience. Tigers hiding in the tall grass, he says, will see you 25 times before you even see them once.
You suddenly feel very exposed.
Thankfully, you soon reach the edge of the jungle, and head deep inside. Jungle safaris for tourists can be done by foot or by jeep, although locals and the army typically ride domesticated elephants through the jungle, a traditional practice that has been done for thousands of years. You have a lot of concerns about the ethics of elephant riding, so you bookmark this post to read up on after your Virtual Vacation is over.
Each day during the course your stay at Barahi Jungle Lodge, you head out on more jungle excursions: morning boat safaris, jeep safaris, safaris in foot. You pass by army checkpoints where armed guards ride domestic elephants, protecting wild elephants from poachers.
On your adventures in the jungle you see peacocks, monkeys, spotted deer, wild boars, sloth bears (literally Balloo from The Jungle Book), water buffalo, parakeets, and many more rhinoceroses.
But it isn’t until your last day. that you finally see the most elusive wild creature in Chitwan National Park: a Bengal Tiger! Like… you want to run but also you want to put a laser on the ground and see if it will chase it.
Now that you’ve seen a tiger, you feel ready for your time in Chitwan to come to an end. You’re sad to leave Chitwan, but it’s time for your next stop. You can hear the Himalayas calling you on the other side of Nepal, faraway from the heat of the jungles …
Your gracious hosts call you a car, and you bump your way back along Nepal’s not-always-paved roads, admiring the lush, green scenery passing by your window as the mountains grow ever closer.
On the shores of Phewa Lake at the foot of the mighty Annapurna mountain range lies Pokhara, Nepal. Long known as the gateway to the Annapurnas, Pokhara is a backpacker hub and the second-largest city in Nepal.
But while Nepal’s largest city, Kathmandu, is bustling and chaotic, Pokhara is peaceful, calm, quiet, and lush with greenery.
You stop by your hotel to eat a plate of Momos and take a quick swim, admiring the view of the mountains from your hotel room.
After a refreshing swim and a snack, you head out to explore the streets of Pokhara, ducking into markets to explore artisan wares that you’ve heard are some of the best in Nepal.
Between two shops you spot a small path that appears to lead into a garden. You take the path, and to your surprise, it continues through the garden and drops you directly on the shores of Phewa Lake!
You follow the path along the lake, taking as many other walking paths in Pokhara as you can.
Finally, after exploring the city, you decide to cool off on the lake. You find a spot along the lake where colorful boats are parked at a dock, gently bobbing up and down in the water.
You flag down one of the boatmen and ask for a ride on the lake. He offers to take you to a hidden jungle trek that will lead to a tucked-away jewel: the World Peace Pagoda.
You climb into his boat, and set off across the peaceful, quiet waters of Fewa Lake, admiring the views all around you and the majestic mountain peaks off in the distance.
Across the water, you disembark and find a staircase leading up into the dense forest. You begin your climb.
A few hours of climbing through the forest later, you finally arrive at the World Peace Pagoda!
You take in the scenic mountain views and begin the hike back down – taking the shortcut this way back to town.
Pokhara isn’t just a lakeside retreat, it’s also an adventure town! You decide to see Pokhara from above on a paragliding tour.
You’re ready to see the next adventure that Nepal has in store for you, so you head directly towards the mountains that have been calling you all this time: The Annapurnas, and the rest of the mighty Himalaya.
The majesty of the Himalayas is both overwhelming and inspiring. You can’t wai to get out and explore on foot, but you aren’t quite sure where to begin. Criss-crossing the many thousands of ancient paths throughout these majestic mountains could take a lifetime!
But you’re on a Virtual Vacation: you have no time limits and no physical limitations. What’s stopping you from taking as many treks as you feel like?
You begin your trekking adventure with a quick, 3-day hike on the Mardi Himal Trail.
You hike to the Annapurna Base Camp.
You complete the Manaslu Circuit Trek.
At last, with several hikes under your belt, you finally feel ready to tackle the ultimate adventure: Mount Everest.
You make your way to the Khombu Region of Nepal, home of the Indigenous Sherpa people and the mystical religious ascetics, the Naga Babas.
And, at long last, after all your hiking and training, you take a deep breath and begin the long journey to the Everest Base Camp.
At Base Camp, you spend several days acclimating to the shockingly thin air. The shadow of the summit looms overhead as you prepare yourself mentally and physically for the journey to come, challenging you to conquer it, to stand atop the world.
Finally, the weather is just right. Your time as come.
You begin the arduous ascent to the summit of Mount Everest.
You made it! For one, glorious, shining moment – that you kinda don’t really remember because honestly, you were pretty out of it at that point – you were the highest human being on the entire PLANET. You did it. You PROVED yourself!
Satisfied, happy, and exhausted, you make your way back down the mountain, flag down a passing helicopter, and begin the trip back to the city where you started your Virtual Vacation: Kathmandu.
The Journey Home
You’ve flown all over Nepal and seen only a fraction of what this incredible country has to offer. As you board your plane at the tiny Kathmandu Airport to return back to reality, you reflect on what will stick with you from your virtual Nepal trip.
Perhaps you’ll dream of tattered prayer flags fluttering in the breeze at Everest Base Camp; the hot, sticky jungles of Chitwan National Park; the shimmering green waters of Fewa Lake; the clicking of prayer wheels at Boudhanath Stupa; or the bustling back alleys of Kathmandu.
I can tell you what stuck with me after visiting Nepal: the joy, happiness, and dancing (SO much dancing!) of the incredibly diverse Nepali and Indigenous peoples. The privilege of experiencing and witnessing traditions I did not understand and hearing ancient languages I did not speak. And above all, being invited to learn about Nepal’s many deep, complex, and ancient cultures.
Nepal has called me back ever since. And I cannot wait to visit again.
Namaste, beautiful Nepal.
How did you enjoy your virtual Nepal trip? We’d love to hear your feedback – drop us a comment below!
Psst: Still needing a virtual vacation? Check out some of our other posts like this one!
Not quite ready to leave Nepal? Check out these other posts:
Disclaimer: Most of the photos in this post were taken during my trip to Nepal as one of the hosted delegates of the Himalayan Travel Mart in partnership with Impact Travel Alliance and the Pacific Asia Travel Association. All opinions, insinuations that climbing Mount Everest is insane, and imaginary time travel loopholes are 100% my own and absolutely nobody else’s fault.