Home to eight of the highest mountains of the world, Nepal is the birthplace of the revered Lord Buddha, the founder of Buddhism. In addition to breathtaking natural wonders, Nepal also boasts of a myriad of awe-inspiring temples, mosques, monasteries and churches. The religious diversity in this country is palpable, as people of different and diverse faiths continue to live in peace and harmony. Since 2011 has been marked as the Nepal Tourism Year, the Government of Nepal has taken serious measures to ensure that the country remains tourist friendly.

PIA offers a direct flight to Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal, from Karachi and Islamabad. Visas for Nepal can be obtained at the Embassy of Nepal in Islamabad, and the Honorary Consulate General of Nepal in Karachi. As a special incentive for Pakistanis, the Nepali Embassy and Consulate are offering gratis visas, which can also be obtained on arrival at the Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu.

There is plenty of accommodation available in Nepal from budget to high end, the common factor being quality, hospitality and service.  One of Nepal’s most outstanding tourist attractions, of course, are its breathtaking mountains. Mount Everest, the tallest mountain in the world is located on the Nepali-Tibetan border.

Trekking and mountain climbing expeditions here are well organised and accommodation is also available. However, the Everest region is not the only prime area for trekking in Nepal; the Annapurna and the Langtang areas are also ideal destinations for the adventurous.

The cities of Kathmandu and Pokhara offer challenging rafting trips, varying in expertise level. Nepal’s rivers fed by the glaciers of the snow-capped Himalayas, are clean, pristine, surrounded by lush green valleys inhabited by a variety of exotic birds and animals. Popular rivers for rafting in Nepal include Trishuli (which is easily accessible from Kathmandu and Pokhara), Kali Gandaki, Marsyandgdi, and Seti. One to three-day trips can be arranged easily once you get there.

Another exciting sport that you can take part in is mountain biking. Popular routes in Nepal include those located in Kathmandu; the Scar Road which begins in Balaju and ends in Northern Kathmandu, in an area called Budhanilkantha in northern Kathmandu. Another mountain biking destination is The Back Door which begins in Panauti and ends in Patan. Mountain bikes can be rented easily at any popular spot, and are not very expensive.Trainers can also be hired.

The Chitwan National Park is another one of Nepal’s popular tourist destinations. Established in 1973, the Chitwan National Park is now listed as a World Heritage site by Unesco. Plenty of game can be seen at the Park, including rare and exotic birds, as well as countless bears, crocodiles, elephants, monkeys, rhinos and tigers. The Park also offers several other activities including elephant rides and jungle canoeing.

Steeped in history and culture, memories of ancient civilisations remain alive in Nepal through well preserved temples, stupas and statues including the life-sized statue of the famous King Jaya Verma and the mesmerising Pashupatinath Temple, which dates back to the Christian era in Nepal. Both are located in Kathmandu.

The Changu Narayan Temple Located in the Kathmandu Valley atop a hill, dates back to the Lichchhavi period, in the 4th century. The temple named after Lord Vishnu who was also known as Changu Narayan has been cited as a World Heritage Site by Unesco, in recognition of its beauty and preservation.

But perhaps the most popular and essential site to visit in Nepal is one of Lumbini, the birthplace of Lord Buddha, in the foothills of the Himalayas, in District Rupandehi, near the Indian-Nepali border.

The surrounding areas of Lumbini are restricted to monasteries; no commercial activity takes place here due to respect and reverence to Lord Buddha. The holy site, which was the actual birthplace of Lord Buddha, is surrounded by the ruins of monasteries, a temple, a pond and a Bodhi tree — all of which date back centuries. The chanting of monks can be heard from dawn to dusk, lending a surreal feel to the entire area.

For those who like to shop for things out of the ordinary, some of the most popular items that are available in Nepal include silk-soft Pashmina shawls; Paubha and Mithila paintings which depict revered deities, wooden carpets that have been hand knotted; and countless fabrics, spices, musical instruments, wood carvings, exotic masks and colourful jewellery.

All in all, with something for everyone — be they dare devils, culture and history enthusiasts, or just shopaholics, Nepal clearly is the must-visit destination this year.