Why you should consider coming to Nepal in the off-season
By: Elen Turner
The peak tourism seasons in Nepal are autumn (September-November) and spring (March-May) when the weather is warm, skies are generally clear, and conditions are at their best for outdoor activities. This means that the rest of the year is the off-season: the monsoon months (June-August) and the winter (December-February). However, just because there are fewer tourists at this time does not mean that there aren’t things to see and enjoy. In fact, you might be surprised by all the benefits of travel to Nepal at these times of year.
Winter trekking in Nepal
If you’re after spectacular mountain views, winter is a great time to trek in Nepal. It hardly ever rains and humidity is at its lowest, so you will be guaranteed spectacular views. It gets very cold at higher elevations, but come well prepared with layers, a good down coat and an extra sleeping bag and you will be comfortable. Sections of the Everest Base Camp trek and the Annapurna Sanctuary treks are still accessible in the winter, as well as many other routes (although it’s a good idea to check local conditions, as certain areas may be snow bound).
If you’re worried about the cold, you could always head to the plains, to the Chitwan area. Although most tourists come here to see elephants and rhinos in the National Park, there are also trekking options. Being at a lower elevation, Chitwan doesn’t get as cold as the mountains and hills of Nepal. There are still some good hiking spots, such as the Chitwan Hills Trail. This takes you up Siraichuli Hill (1945 metres), one of the highest hills in the Mahabharat range (1,945 meters). You can see the high Himalayas in the distance. If you’re still worried about the cold, consider visiting during the monsoon instead.
Monsoon trekking in Nepal
While it’s true that the monsoon isn’t the best time of year for spectacular mountain views (the clouds usually hang low), there are plenty of other reasons to go trekking: for the physical challenge, to walk among beautiful and varied landscapes, to experience local culture. All of these things can be achieved on a monsoon season trek. Nepal is also beautifully lush in the monsoon, with bright green fields, cleaner air and wildflowers. Evenduring monsoon, the rain doesn’t usually last all day. It may only rain for a couple of hours in the afternoon and evening, so if you make an early start you can avoid getting drenched.
What’s often forgotten is that there are large parts of the Nepal Himalayas that don’t experience the monsoon at all. The Mustang and Dolpo Districts lie on the ‘other side’ of the Himalayas, in the rain shadow. These are also high-altitude regions, so visiting in other seasons can be particularly cold. Summer is the perfect time to trek in Mustang and Dolpo. While Upper Mustang and Upper Dolpo require an expensive permit to visit, Lower Mustang and Lower Dolpo are more easily (and cheaply) accessible.
A benefit of travelling anywhere in the off-season is that there are fewer tourists, and the same applies to Nepal. Popular trekking trails will be emptier, meaning that you won’t have to jostle for unobstructed views. This is especially true on popular treks such as the Ghorepani-Poon Hill trek, where during peak season, the magic of getting up early to see the sun rise over the Annapurna Himalayas is somewhat tarnished by all the other tourists doing the same. The thinner crowds will also be noticeable in Kathmandu and Pokhara, cities in which there is plenty to see and do throughout the year. The beauty of Kathmandu’s cultural attractions are not season-dependent, and many of Pokhara’s adventure activities can be done year-round. However, unlike some touristed places that completely close in the off-season, most places in Nepal will still be operational--you won’t have any trouble booking a room or finding restaurants that are open.
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Jungle safaris in Nepal
While the jungle national parks of Chitwan and Bardia are stiflingly hot in the summer, they are pleasant in the winter for Jungle Safari in Nepal. The attraction of Chitwan is the rhinos: you’re practically guaranteed a sighting, as conservation efforts in the park have been extremely successful, and there are now more than 600 of the animals here. Other attractions include a variety of bird life, and the rare gharial crocodile. In Bardia, in far western Nepal, you are more likely to spot a Royal Bengal Tiger. Both parks are highly worth avisit, and will make you reevaluate your assumptions about Nepal.
While Nepal is always a budget-friendly destination, it becomes even budget friendlier in the off-season. Flights to the country are cheaper, and good hotels and hostels are unlikely to be full, meaning you will get better quality for your money.
Raft on the Trisuli River
Most of Nepal’s rivers are too cold to white-water raft or kayak in the winter, and too high in the monsoon (and immediately afterwards). However, the Trisuli River is the exception. Although the Trisuli’s water levels do rise during monsoon, it remains a safe river to paddle along, unlike others. The Trisuli conveniently runs parallel to the main Kathmandu-Pokhara highway, making it very accessible. A number of riverside resorts (of varying comfort levels) are located along the river, meaning you can make day trips or longer, multi-day trips if you like.
With a bit of advanced planning and knowledge of what is possible at different times of the year, you can visit Nepal in any season. There are many cultural and outdoor activities to enjoy, in winter and monsoon as well as spring and autumn.
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About: Elen Turner
Elen Turner is a writer and editor based in Kathmandu, Nepal, who specialises in writing about travel in South Asia. She can usually be found either half-way up a mountain, or on/beside one of Nepal's beautiful rivers. She blogs at www.wildernessmetropolis.com
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