Nepal: Intro

Draped along the spine of the Himalaya, Nepal is a land of sublime scenery, time-worn temples, and some of the best hiking trails on earth. It's a poor country, but it is rich in scenic splendour and cultural treasures. The kingdom has long exerted a pull on the Western imagination.

It's the kind of country that lingers in your dreams long after you leave it. This is why so many travellers are drawn back to Nepal, armed the second time round with a greater appreciation of its natural and cultural complexity, a stout pair of walking boots and a desire for sculpted calf muscles.

When To Go
Always consider the climate when you plan a trip to Nepal. Judge it wrong and you may never see the mountains. The best time to visit is probably the start of the dry season in October-November: the weather is balmy, the air is clean, visibility is perfect and the countryside is lush and green following the monsoon. However, roads and trails damaged during the monsoon may not be repaired until later in the year. There are some important and colourful festivals to enjoy too, though the Dasain festival in October can be disruptive if you are on a tight schedule.

February-April, the tail end of the dry season, is the second-best period: the weather is warm and many of Nepal's wonderful wild flowers are in bloom, but dust can reduce visibility (and the pleasure of travelling by road).

In December and January the skies are as clear as Swarovski crystal but it can be chilly: trekkers need to be well prepared for snow, and a warm sleeping bag is an asset in cheaper hotels, even in Kathmandu. On the other hand, sitting around an open fire wrapped in a yak wool blanket can be a very cosy experience.

The rest of the year is fairly unpleasant for travelling: May and early June are generally too hot and dusty for comfort, and the monsoon from mid-June to September obscures the mountains in cloud and turns trails and roads to mud. Flying is often the only way to reach outlying areas at this time of year, and the western border crossings to India are often impassable.

Weather Overview
Because of the varied topography, the weather in Nepal can vary wildly from one district to another. As a general rule, temperatures fall and rainfall decreases the higher up you go. In the high-altitude deserts of the Tibetan Plateau, temperatures hover just above freezing for most of the year and it almost never rains. From March to April and October to November - the best times to visit Nepal - days are generally warm with little rain, decent sunshine and temperatures in the 24-28°C (75-83°F) range. From November to March, night-time temperatures can drop close to freezing, and snow can block mountain passes, though Pokhara and Kathmandu rarely see more than a few flakes. May and early June are unbearably hot and sticky and rain buckets down most days from May to September. Kathmandu is generally drier than Pokhara at this time of year, while the Terai positively drowns.

Time Zone
GMT/UTC +5.75 ()

Nepal sits uneasily on the shoulder of the southern Himalaya, wedged between China to the north and India to the south. In length and breadth it's just another small country, but in height it's a world-beater. From the low-lying plains of the Terai, the landscape soars to the peaks of the Himalaya, including cloud-hugging Mt Everest. In fact, Nepal boasts eight of the world's 14 tallest mountains.

As well as being the tallest mountains in the world, the Himalaya are also some of the youngest - they first rose about 50 million years ago and they're still growing. Between the Terai and the Himalaya are the landslide-scarred gorges and lush green valleys of the Chure Hills and Mahabharat Range. The heavily cultivated land between the Mahabharat Range and the Indian border supports the bulk of the country's population - the only towns of any size in the hills are Kathmandu, Patan, Bhaktapur and Pokhara. Beyond the Himalaya are the high-altitude deserts of the Tibetan Plateau, one of the least populated areas on earth.