Small Groups: Never more than 10-16 travelers—guaranteed!
Travel to Nepal with OAT and discover the mighty Himalayas, whose snowcapped peaks are the very rooftop of the world. Sinuous green terraces wind as far as the eye can see along mountain valleys. Prayer flags adorn lively temples that reveal ancient scrolls and exquisite carvings. This is Nepal. With OAT, you’ll trek on stone paths threading pristine hillsides and sweeping valleys … float on a river raft through untouched forest … and ride by elephantback through lush jungle.
You depart the U.S. for your flight to Dubai.
Stay overnight in Dubai before flying on to Kathmandu, Nepal tomorrow.
Travelers on the pre-trip extension to Bhutan: The Last Shangri-La join the main adventure today. This afternoon, we fly to Nepal’s capital, Kathmandu. When we arrive at our hotel, we meet our Trip Leader, a Nepali, whose mission is to share the cities, land, people, and language of his or her homeland with us.
Tonight’s Welcome Dinner at a local restaurant is a great chance for you to mingle with your fellow travelers.
Eager to introduce us to the captivating hub of activity that is Kathmandu, our Trip Leader will lead us on a walking tour of the city this morning.
Kathmandu (4,265 feet) is the capital and largest city of Nepal. It is a bustling epicenter filled with spice sellers and artisans, rickshaws and sacred cows. Pilgrims make their way to local shrines as merchants sell their brightly colored and fragrant wares. Artisans gifted in their ancient techniques display woven fabrics and ceramic bowls made for temple offerings. The "old" city is filled with Buddhist and Hindu temples dating back to the 17th century; these shrines are well-worn by time while still vibrant in energy and spirit.
We make the short drive to Patan (4,429 feet), which sits across the Bagmati River from Kathmandu. Patan was developed on relatively thin layers of deposited clay and gravel in the central part of a dried ancient lake known as Nagdaha. The city was designed in the shape of the Buddhist Dharma-Chakra (Wheel of Righteousness). The four thurs, or mounds, located on the perimeter of Patan are known as the Ashoka Stupas, named for Emperor Ashoka, who visited Kathmandu with his daughter, Charumati, in 250 BC and erected the five stupas. These mounds are joined by more than 1,200 Buddhist and Hindu monuments of various shapes and sizes located throughout the city. Patan is known for its art and artisans—the region has produced the most artists and finest craftsmen in Nepali history, and their devotional artwork gives us stunning displays of Nepal's fused cultures.
We explore Patan Durbar Square, one of the seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Nepal that are preserved within a protected Monument Zone. This square is reputedly the most picturesque of all the ancient Malla cities with its intricately carved architecture, delicate wind chimes, and ornate fountains.
We then explore the holiest temple in Nepal, the Boudhanath Stupa. Like Mecca is to Muslims, Boudhanath Stupa, standing 36 meters high, is the main pilgrimage site for Tibetan Buddhists. Tens of thousands of pilgrims make the journey each year. The temple’s hemispherical dome represents the emptiness from which everything begins; rising above the dome, the harmika shines the Buddha’s eyes in four directions that symbolize his total awareness. When Tibetan refugees entered Nepal, they settled around the Boudhanath Stupa, creating a small village that elicits the holy atmosphere of Tibet’s sacred city, Lhasa.
Tonight, our group will share a Home-Hosted Dinner with members of a Nepali family, affording us an opportunity to experience local cuisine and learn about everyday life here in the Himalayas.
At dawn, you may elect to enjoy an optional flight to Everest (weather permitting). This iconic mountain is known in Tibet as Chomolungma, which means “Mother of the Universe” or “Goddess Mother of the Earth.” The Nepali name is Sagarmatha, or “Goddess of the Sky.” Avid climbers call this mountain “the ultimate climb,” and with its astounding summit height of 29,029 feet above sea level, Mount Everest earns the title of the tallest peak on Earth. Rising majestically out of the Himalayan range, its snowy peak and intricate geography offer us breathtaking views from the air.
Your afternoon is free to explore more of Kathmandu on your own, or you may join us for an optional excursion to Bhaktapur (Bhagdaon). The “City of Devotees,” Bhaktapur is a UNESCO World Heritage Site spanning four square miles. With its historic Durbar Square, ancient courtyards, and holy temples, the city was the crown jewel of the Malla Empire 700 years ago. Lunch is included in this optional tour.
Dinner is on your own this evening.
This morning, we fly to Pokhara (3,080 feet), a vital city along the ancient trade route from Tibet to India built around Lake Phewa. From our plane, we may see panoramic views of impressive canyons carved out by the Seti River and defined by the fast rise of the Annapurna mountain range. Pokhara boasts a number of natural phenomena such as a waterfall that plunges and disappears into a hole and a stretch of the Seti River that disappears into a small opening in the canyon wall.
Before our journey begins, we meet our trek guide for a briefing. Then we begin our trek amidst terraced farmland and wooded hillsides. Walking downhill as we follow the lower foothills of the Annapurnas, intoxicating views of the Pokhara Valley surround us. As we enter the Modi River Valley, we hear the rush of flowing river and may find many colorful birds and butterflies fluttering on the riverbanks.
After approximately an hour of walking with our light daypacks, we stop for a packed lunch along the route. After lunch, we continue to follow the Modi River until we approach Sanctuary Lodge (3,362 feet). Sanctuary Lodge, with its beautiful gardens and peaceful atmosphere, offers views of Macchapuchare, or Fishtail Mountain, a sacred peak that has never been summitted. While this famous peak is less than 7,000 meters high, it is known for its twin peaks and its startling beauty.
The balance of the afternoon is yours to simply relax and enjoy the view. Later we'll have afternoon tea and a roundtable discussion on life in Nepal. We dine this evening on the simple, traditional fare of the Modi River Valley at our lodge.
As the sun rises at our lodge, mountain silhouettes transform into dramatic snowy peaks against a crystal blue sky. Join us for tea and coffee as we take in the unfolding of the landscape before us. Then, after breakfast, we begin our morning trek to the village of Birethanti (3,382 feet) passing through hamlets and forests. The houses of Birethanti seem to naturally rise out of the hillside, in perfect time and meter with the terraced rice fields. These velvety green “steps” that cascade down the hillside are a testament to the care and hard work of the people that live and work on the land. Upon entering this ancient village, and due to our small group size, we have the chance to interact with the villagers as they move through their day of feeding the animals, farming and caring for their children.
We return to the lodge for lunch and then you are free to explore the riverbanks and surrounding land at your own pace.
We dine at the lodge before retiring for the evening.
This morning, we embark on A Day in the Life of a Nepali village, a day of discovery during which we'll learn firsthand what it’s like to live in the shadow of the Annapurnas. First, we’ll enjoy a chance to meet local children in their school (when in session) which is supported in part by Grand Circle Foundation. Though formal education has existed in Nepal for 150 years, for the first century it was only available to members of the royal family. It has only been the last five decades that ordinary Nepali children were able to enjoy schooling as a result of the popular democratic uprising that ended the rule of the royal family. Today, five million students fill more than 20,000 schools (from elementary schools to universities). You’ll get to know a few of these promising young people when we visit.
Then we depart for nearby Tomejhong village, where we'll explore and spend time with the hospitable people who live here. A Gorkha family will join us for lunch to share insight into their traditions and daily life. The Gorkha people arrived in western Nepal from India centuries ago, and trace their roots to the Rajput clan—part of the Kshatriya, or warrior class—from classic Hindu tradition. Known for their military prowess, courage, and loyalty, many Gorkhas were recruited by the British Army during their occupation in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Their culture is a fascinating blend of their Hindu roots and local traditions like shamanism and Tibetan Buddhism, as we'll learn during this exclusive opportunity for real cultural exchange.
Back at the lodge, we’ll enjoy leisure time in the late afternoon, then come together for dinner.
After enjoying breakfast, we begin our transfer back to Pokhara with a stop at a beautiful waterfall. Set in a valley where Asia’s ancient civilizations crept down from the highlands of Tibet and the Indo-Gangetic Plain, Pokhara marks an important stop along an age-old trade route. The mountains around this serene tropical valley shoot up starkly toward the sky, leaping upwards of 26,000 feet and disappearing into the misty shroud that drapes about their shoulders. As lofty symbols of man’s highest hopes and the source of eternal inspiration, these peaks are considered sacred to Buddhists, Hindus, Jains, Sikhs, and followers of Tibet’s indigenous Bon traditions alike. Machupachare, the fishtail crown at the center of the Annapurnas, is off-limits to climbers because of its association with the high god Shiva, who is said to live high on its slopes with his consort, Pavarti, legs crossed in meditation upon a bed of glacial stillness.
We arrive in Pokhara and stroll through a local market before lunch at our hotel. This afternoon is free for you to browse among the lakeside shops of Pokhara or relax in the lodge gardens before dinner at a local restaurant.
We enjoy breakfast at our lodge this morning, then we visit the International Mountain Museum (IMM). The IMM is the gateway for climbers and mountain enthusiasts, and the organization is working to support the people of the Himalayas while also bringing the majesty of this towering and expansive range to the international community. The IMM comprises four galleries, a research center, events, educational activities and climbing opportunities and will provide us with comprehensive information about the Himalayan range.
After lunch together at a local restaurant, the balance of the day, including dinner, is on your own.
Today we begin our rafting journey along the Seti River (2,500 feet). This animated river runs through Pokhara and displays some visually amazing feats—at one point it appears to be only two meters wide, while its massive volume of water continues to flow, hidden by incredible depths. We drive to our rafting launch site after breakfast and receive information and instructions from our river guides.
Then we board our American-made raft and let our experienced crew navigate the three-hour ride. As there is no road access to this area, the views of plant and wildlife are truly untouched and thrilling. Along its banks, women wash clothes, men fish with sticks and cloth nets, and children swim and play.
We face a few sections of Class II rapids, where there may be some rough water with waves up to 3 or 4 feet, and perhaps some rocks and drops that require maneuvering by our expert guides. After a picnic lunch on the Seti’s shores, our afternoon rafting follows smooth, easy waters. We land on the banks of the river to settle into our safari-style camp surrounded by luscious forest. Dinner tonight is followed by a campfire beneath an endless starry sky.
After breakfast this morning, our guides lead us on a trek to a remote village where we'll walk through a bird-filled jungle (2,000 feet).
We return to camp for lunch, and the afternoon is ours to relax in the camp’s gardens and hammocks or to walk the bird-filled bank of the Seti looking for white rumped vultures and purple swamp-hens. Or, take a refreshing dip in the warm Seti River. You may also ask your Trip Leader for suggestions on local hikes.
We begin our final rafting leg this morning. Savor the images of clear, rushing water, lush jungle foliage and villagers waving from the banks. We raft for about two hours, observing riverside villages and plentiful birdlife. Our rafts and experienced Nepalese crew expertly navigate five sections of Class II rapids and one patch of Class III rapids (especially after monsoon season) as we travel to our end point. After bidding farewell to our faithful rafting guides, we set off overland to Chitwan and enjoy lunch at our lodge.
The next chapter of our adventure begins when the Sal forest of the Chitwan jungle meets the wide and beautiful valley of the Rapti River. Broad grasslands sweep north to the Mahabharata range and virgin jungle extends south to the Churia hills. For centuries, the dense jungle covering the foothills of the Himalayas formed an impenetrable barrier for Nepal, keeping it a hidden and mysterious land. The indigenous Tharu people, however, have spent generations living off this fertile land. Following lunch, we board ox carts and take in our lush surroundings as we make our way to a Tharu village. Tharu women are adept at transforming the exterior walls of buildings into vibrant works of art; as we observe their skill, we are greeted by the villagers and given glimpses into their lives and homes before we return to our lodge.
When travelers began to explore Nepal, Royal Chitwan National Park (1,000 feet) was established to help the jungle remain protected, pristine and full of adventure. We spend our early evening in a discussion with a naturalist who outlines the history and features of the park we will be experience tomorrow. Tonight we share dinner and reflect on our remarkable day.
Today we begin our exploration of the Royal Chitwan National Park (1,000 feet), the oldest national park in Nepal. The park lies in the subtropical inner Terai lowlands of South-Central Nepal. Designated as a World Heritage Site in 1984, the park covers a pristine area with a unique ecosystem of significant value to the world. It contains the Churiya hills, ox-bow lakes and flood plains of Rapti, Reu, and Narayani rivers. Formerly, the Chitwan Valley was well known for big-game hunting and until 1950 was exclusively managed as a hunting reserve for the Rana Prime Ministers and their guests. In 1963, the area south of the Rapti River was demarcated as a rhinoceros sanctuary. In 1970, His late Majesty King Mahendra approved, in principle, the creation of Royal Chitwan National Park.
Our morning begins with a walk and canoe ride through the jungle. Our accompanying naturalist points out the flora and fauna thriving here in Chitwan as we search for endangered birds, such as the Bengal florican and the Black stork.
We return to the lodge for lunch and early afternoon relaxation before we embark on an exploration of the park from an entirely different perspective. A perch on the back of an elephant affords us the perfect vantage point to view all that this park has to offer. Elephants move fluently through the jungle with its thick tree cover and tall elephant grass. There are more than 43 species of mammals, more than 450 species of birds, and more than 45 species of amphibians and reptiles in the park. After our elephant trek, we return to the lodge for a traditional Tharu dance and dinner.
After breakfast, we enjoy a discussion with our naturalist about local elephants and learn about regional efforts to protect this beloved and valuable animal.
Following this discussion, we drive to the airport and fly back to the bustling city of Kathmandu (4,265 feet) via Bharatpur where we'll stop for lunch. Our Trip Leader accompanies us to our hotel as our small group readjusts to city life after days surrounded by the quiet of the Himalayas, the rush of the Seti River and the cacophony of animal calls in the jungle of Chitwan. Next, we’ll discover Pashupatinath, the most sacred temple of the Hindu god, Shiva, who is also known as Pashupati. This pagoda-style temple boasts gold-robed copper rooftops and silver-crowned doorways. Pashupatinath is considered so venerable that the chief priest is subject to no one’s discipline but the King of Nepal himself, and the King periodically receives reports directly from the chief priest.
This evening we toast the memories of our journey during a special Farewell Dinner at a local restaurant.
This morning we fly from Kathmandu to Dubai, where, after midnight, you'll board your return flight to the U.S.
If you are taking the post-trip extension, Tibet: Return to an Ancient Path, you fly from Kathmandu to Lhasa today.
Please note: If you took our pre-trip to Bhutan and are not taking the post-trip, you will fly from Kathmandu to Delhi, where you will overnight at the Red Fox Hotel and fly to the US on Day 17.
Just after midnight, board your flight from Dubai to the U.S.