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Seven travel destinations: Off the beaten path

Seven travel destinations: Off the beaten path
Nepal has the world’s tallest mountains, thick jungles, vast grasslands and mighty rivers. The country is equally diverse when it comes to religion, culture and languages. Kathmandu, Everest Base Camp trek, Pokhara and Bandipur are some big-ticket attractions. But away from the tourist hordes, you can discover lesser-known gems like Bardia National Park, Gorkha and Tsum Valley. Enjoy the wilderness of Nepal that is not in many tourist guides and get to know the fascinating culture and traditions of villages that have remained practically unchanged for centuries. Bardia National Park 

Home to big cats like tigers and leopards, the beautiful and remote Bardia National Park is a less commercial version of the popular Chitwan National Park. Try rafting in Karnali River that runs through the park, cycle past villages, and go on guided jungle walks. You can also spot rhinoceros, elephants, swamp deer, Gangetic dolphins and endangered birds like Bengal florican and Silver-eared mesia. See crocodiles, gharials and turtles at the Crocodile Breeding Centre. The indigenous nature-worshiping Dangaura Tharu people who live around the park have a distinct culture and language. Another ethnic minority group, the Sonaha, is intimately linked with the riverine delta. 

Barun Valley Situated at the base of Mount Makalu, Barun Valley is part of the Makalu Barun National Park. The valley is known for its stunning landscape—difficult-to-navigate rocks, impressive waterfalls, deep gorges, thick forests and snowy peaks. Barun Valley is still not on the trekking map of Nepal, and you’re unlikely to bump into other trekkers for days. The valley is home to rare plants and animals like the snow leopard, gray wolf and red panda. Besides trekking, bird watching and animal spotting are recommended activities here. The main ethnic communities in the valley are the Rai, Sherpa and Bhotia, and you can experience life in their villages.  Guerilla Trail The civil war in Nepal that ended in 2006 killed an estimated 17,000 people. The unusual ‘Guerilla Trail’ is a low-altitude trekking route that passes through the erstwhile heartland of the Maoist insurgency in Myagdi, Rukum and Rolpa. Besides learning about the region’s fraught history, you can interact with locals who were caught in the conflict and discover the indigenous culture of the Thakali, Chhetri, Tibetan and Magar ethnic groups. The trail is scenic at various parts and passes lush rhododendron, fir and pine forests.  Other attractions on the route include waterfalls, caves, lakes such as Kamala Daha and Sun Daha, and farmlands.   Ilam Ilam is a peaceful mountain town in the far east of Nepal known for its tea gardens. Compared to the major trekking routes in Nepal, Ilam and its surrounding hills offer short hikes, gentler trails and pleasant walks through woods. Notice the town’s wooden buildings with their balconies jutting out. Climb up Ilam View Tower for excellent views of the bazaar and valleys. Among the main ethnic groups living in and around Ilam are the Limbus. Their weddings feature a lot of dancing and drinking the traditional millet-based beer called Tongba. The most important Limbu festival is Chasok Tangnam, where the first winter harvest is symbolically offered to Goddess Yuma Sammang. Gorkha Prithvi Narayan Shah, who founded the modern state of Nepal in the 18th century, was born in Gorkha in western Nepal. The Newar community regards the Shahs as living incarnations of the Hindu god Vishnu, and Gorkha is a pilgrimage site. Gorkha’s top sight is the 16th-century Gorkha Durbar, a fort-palace known for its fine Newari architecture. The festival of Dashain is the most auspicious time of the year in Gorkha. The 15-day festival begins in late September. Also, check out the Gorkha Museum, housed in a 19th-century palace; the miniature temple built in honor of the God Bhimsen; and Manakamana Temple, dedicated to the Goddess Durga. Dolpa The Dolpa district, situated in an isolated corner of Nepal between the Dhaulagiri ranges and the Tibetan plateau, offers a uniquely rewarding trekking experience. Here you’ll find ancient Buddhist sites such as Shey Gompa, an 800-year-old monastery, and remote villages where centuries-old Tibetan culture is preserved. The landscape varies, from arid plateaus and snow-covered peaks to the beautiful blue waters of Phoksundo Lake. Tourism infrastructure is practically non-existent because it’s not frequented by foreign visitors. The area’s national park is home to endangered species like snow leopards and blue sheep. In Upper Dolpo, the mainly Buddhist people also follow animistic beliefs. The population is more mixed in Lower Dolpo. Tsum Valley Tsum Valley in northern Gorkha was out of bounds for travelers till 2008. It is still one of the least visited parts of Nepal. The trek route passes through rhododendron forests and rivers, offering superb views of mountain peaks like Ganesh Himal and Himal Chuli. The local people follow a form of Tibetan Buddhism, and the valley is dotted with sacred caves and ancient Buddhist monasteries like Gompa Lungdang and Mu Gompa. The valley’s main festivals are Lhosar (or the Tibetan New Year) in January or February; the Saka Dawa in May/June, one of the holiest days of the Tibetan calendar; and Dhachyang, a winter festival featuring decorated horses and races.  If you’re willing to experiment and move beyond the tourist circuit, Nepal offers extraordinary trekking opportunities and cultural experiences. Discover the culture and traditions unchanged for centuries in the remotest parts of this amazing country. These offbeat places lack tourist infrastructure but allow you to explore the raw, untamed and magical side of Nepal.

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