Nepal - At The Top Of The World
There are some destinations that come with a magical allure, a mystical heritage and an attraction that doesn’t just captivate the visitor for a week or two, it can be life-changing. We meet two women for whom Nepal did just that…
Amongst its myriad charms, the most common remark from visitors to Nepal inevitably focuses on the people of this mountain kingdom. Setting that aside for a moment though, this most significant of Buddhist lands is also famed for towering Himalayan peaks, snowy crags and low-lying plains, national parks famed for their rare species, winged-roof temples and flag-draped shrines.
Karen Bidois set-up Bikram Solo Travels (BST) last year after visiting Nepal to participate in a project designed to help local communities.
“I’d wanted to visit for a long time, but I also wanted to find a way of seeing the real, natural Nepal and not the tourist one,” says Karen, who runs BST with her daughter Charlie and whose career has been spent as a counsellor and adult coach working across mental health, abuse and addiction.
It was during the visit Karen met local tour guide Biki and the idea of starting a company was hatched. The objective was to afford people opportunities to travel beyond the ‘greatest hits’ while at the same time enabling them to give something back by supporting local guest houses, mountain families and Tibetan refugees.
BST runs nine-day tours designed for those wanting to discover Nepal’s raw beauty and offering an alternative to the many trek-focused trips. It also removes the guesswork that can accompany holidays to more remote, less developed destinations and, interestingly, the trips have been specifically-designed for solo travellers.
“There are so many more single people these days and not simply because they’re not in a relationship. There are couples with different interests or conflicting careers so, while the market is growing, it’s one that’s still not adequately catered for,” explains Karen.
Rachel Russell had worked in the travel sector for many years until redundancy gave her the chance to sit back and evaluate what she wanted from life.
After studying to become a TEFL (teaching English as a foreign language) teacher – and with career-instilled passion for visiting new places – she found herself (in 2009) working as a volunteer in Ghalel, a small village in the Himalayan foothills two hours by jeep from Pokhara, Nepal’s second largest city.
“The village and school were enormously welcoming, and I taught English for six weeks,” says Rachel. “I lived with a family who provided my meals and a room. It was quite basic with no hot water or phone signal. The children were so much fun to teach, and I guess I fell instantly in love with the country.
“I returned to Nepal many times to teach and catch up with friends. After the earthquakes in 2015 people asked me how they could make donations to help the thousands who had lost their homes. With the help of a friend we set up a crowd fundraiser and, with a trusted Nepali team on the ground, began to send money to help those in desperate need,” explains Rachel.
“When our work was completed it seemed the most obvious step was to set up a charity to continue helping Nepal’s villagers and, a year later, the Marigold Chain was born. We assist villagers in the Lwang Ghalel region, helping the schools, children and assisting small business start-ups for young people.”
And, of the country that is now so much a part of her life, Rachel says: “Nepal is a wonderful land and host to such friendly faces, delicious food and of course the Himalayas – there’s nothing quite as spectacular as the highest mountain range in the world. Every glimpse of these vast beauties steals your breath away and stops your heart. They’re amazing, awesome and spectacular, and all around you is that most heart-warming and humbling of welcomes.”
A nation like no other
It’s a view echoed by Karen Bidois, who developed the nine-day tours her company offers in close conjunction with local tour guide Biki. They cater for just 10 passengers per departure to ensure the most authentic experience.
“Trekking is probably one of the first things that comes to mind when people think about a visit to Nepal but it is not for everyone,” Karen says, adding that it is the people who invariably provide the most enduring of memories. There’s a real vibe to Nepal rooted in the depth of its culture and stunning natural beauty but, above all, in its people. It sounds like a terrible travel cliche, but they really are so friendly and helpful and, despite the hardships of the past few years, you’ll find them only too keen to welcome you into their homes.
“There’s a quote that says, ‘You can take my body out of Nepal but you can never take my heart and soul from it’. You’ll get no argument from me there!”
Pettitts Travel (pettitts.co.uk) offers a 15-day tour taking in Nepal’s nature and wildlife. Using Kathmandu as a base it features two full days at the Koshi Tappu Wildlife Reserve before exploring the world-renowned Chitwan National Park with its resident tiger, rhinoceros and elephant populations. The journey ends in remote Bardia National Park, home to numerous endangered animals and more than 400 recorded species of bird. From £4,690 pp including flights.
A 16-day tailor-made trip from TransIndus (transindus.co.uk) covers all the major sights, including the Valley of Kathmandu (home to the ancient capitals of Nepal and some stunning temples), the national park of Chitwan with its one-horned rhino, and the tranquil valley of Pokhara with its breathtaking views. In addition, you’ll get to see some lesser visited areas of the country. From £2,630 pp including flights.
Beginning in Kathmandu, Selective Asia’s (selectiveasia.com) 10-day Simply Nepal explores the city’s significant sacred sites before moving on to Chitwan National Park, which is home to rare wildlife and indigenous tribespeople. From the lowlands to the highlands, the next stop is picturesque Pokhara, which sits at the foot of the mighty Annapurnas. From £1,550 pp excluding flights.
One of its signature National Geographic tours, G Adventures (gadventures.co.uk) has a 10-day Himalayan Highlights trip starting from and finishing in Kathmandu. You’ll venture into the lively streets of the capital, spend a night at a Buddhist monastery guesthouse and take in astounding views of the Himalayas in Pokhara before going in search of the famous rhinos and Bengal tigers of Chitwan National Park and on to explore the ancient temples of the Kathmandu Valley. From £1,199 pp excluding flights.
In The Know
• Bikramsolotravels.com has forthcoming departures for its nine-day tours starting on 1st August and 1st November with further dates to be announced. In addition, the company will be also be launching health and wellbeing retreats. The cost is £1,875 per person based on a single room or a twin if travelling with a companion. The price excludes flights.
Prices and tour details correct at time of going to print.
Image licensed by Ingram Image © Galyna Andrushko