About 20km east of Kathmandu, Bhaktapur was once a place of ramshackle enchantment with splendid temples guarded by wonderful stone creatures. These days, it has been impressively transformed and has become a sort of paradise regained that now outshines Kathmandu in terms of living heritage. Traffic isn’t allowed into the large old town, so you park and walk straight into the 16th century.
The tiny Chatur Varna monastery is officially a Buddhist establishment, yet both Hindus and Buddhists worship here and the eaves of its 14th-century courtyard are decorated with images of Ganesh and other Hindu gods. It is perhaps the most absorbing of all Bhaktapur’s sights.
Explore Bhaktapur’s Durbar Square, with its erotic carvings and its magnificent Palace of 55 Windows – newly restored after years of conservation work.
Don’t miss Taumadhi Square and its great five-storey pagoda temple.
A small Newari town set on the outer fringes of the Kathmandu Valley, Dhulikhel has extensive panoramas of snowy peaks. People come here to gaze, feasting on views of the Himalayan range a little west of Everest: Langtang, Dorje Lakpa, Gauri Shankar (one of Nepal’s three holy mountains) and much more.
A Buddhist shrine and monastery, which is swarming with cheerful Hindu and Buddhist pilgrims – a three-hour hike from Dhulkihel.
ANNAPURNA CIRCUIT TREK
Gentle is not an adjective you might readily apply to Nepal’s terrain, and the rocky if well-maintained paths of the Annapurna Circuit are often vertiginous. The rural scenes are as compelling as the snow-clad mountains. Lodge to lodge treks are increasingly popular in Nepal.
A big advantage of the lodge-to-lodge hikes is that you get away from the main trails, sharing quiet routes with farmers and the domestic traffic of locals and animals: women bearing huge bundles of aromatic plants, sturdy young men gently transporting enormous loads of eggs in baskets on their backs, mule caravans carrying grain in large jute sacks. The landscape of the terraced hills is ineffably beautiful, the details of daily life mesmerising. You gaze down on man and ox dexterously ploughing tiny fields, gaggles of children arriving at school, and millet being threshed by cows driven round a pole.