For an Indian, the first place that comes to mind when thinking of traveling abroad is Nepal (usually followed by Bhutan, Sri Lanka and Thailand). I was no exception and being a mountain lover, I always wanted to visit this beautiful country to explore the Himalayan villages and to witness the Buddhist culture that exists there. When I finally got the opportunity to travel to Nepal, I had a completely different objective – I wanted to spend time with those who had lost their parents during the massive earthquake of 2015, and thus, I decided to volunteer at an orphanage in Kathmandu.

Little did I know then that this would be one of the most memorable journeys of my life!

I did some research before planning my trip, and read about volunteering programs offered by various organizations in Nepal. My aim was to work with children, and I finally found the program that perfectly suited my interests. And so, in August 2016, I traveled to Kathmandu to volunteer at an orphanage for a week. Here are 7 things that anyone traveling to this wonderful place can comfortably do in that time span.

1) Volunteer for a cause, and redefine your travel experience

From my personal experience, I can assure you that volunteering in Nepal is something that will add meaning to your life. You’ll get closer to the locals, learning their stories in the sort of depth of detail that no book can ever describe. There are various organizations providing a wide range of affordable projects in Nepal, so why not get looking; because while a vacation is always nice, a volunteer vacation redefines the entire experience.

2) Explore the birthplace of Buddha

Enhance your knowledge of Buddhism and explore the place where this great soul took birth – the place itself provides a deep sense of peace and tranquility, just as the teachings of Buddha do. Lumbini is located at the foothills of the Himalayas and numerous pilgrims flock there from dawn to dusk. Various archaeological excavations and projects are ongoing, and it is considered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

3) Go for a hike in the Himalayas

A week might seem too short a timespan for this – but who’s saying you have to climb Everest?! You can always go for a day’s hiking in the Himalayas, and breathe in the freshness that will rejuvenate all your senses. Enjoy the beauty of the mountain peaks and the surrounding mountain range by doing a short hike either at Annapurna Sanctuary or somewhere close to Pokhara.

(Another perk of volunteering – since I was there with a reputed organization, my country coordinator helped me plan my day trek.)

4) Enjoy the local food at Thamel

Colloquially known as ‘Traveler’s Ghetto’, Thamel is a commercial neighborhood in Kathmandu where you can witness the hippie culture of Nepal. Considered to be the tourists’ paradise, Thamel is distinguished by the narrow alleys with crowded shops and local restaurants where you can savor the amazing flavors of Nepalese delicacies. Also, while on a volunteer trip, you will get ample scope to try the local food like momos, daal-bhaat, and of course, butter tea!

5) Try out adventure sports and push away your fears

Nepal is one of the best destinations to try out adventure sports like bungee jumping, paragliding and river rafting. Paragliding at Pokhara was an incredible experience, and I could see the entire lakeside from above! The flights take off from Sarangkot, which is at a height of 5,223 ft above sea level. White water rafting at Bhote Koshi is another popular adventure sport, and many of my fellow volunteer-mates went for that. We all need a little adrenaline rush to push our fears aside sometimes, and trust me, it’s totally worth it!

6) See nature unfolding its colors at Nagarkot

A tiny hamlet near Kathmandu, Nagarkot is a paradise for nature lovers and the colors that you can see here might defy a painter’s palette! The sunrise at Nagarkot is something that I can still visualize when I close my eyes, and the view of the entire Kathmandu valley from Nagarkot is absolutely breathtaking.

7) Bargain shopping experience in Kathmandu

While the memories of a journey stay with one forever, sometimes one still needs to buy knick knacks and souvenirs for friends and family – and the Kathmandu market is the perfect place for bargain shopping. Here you can pick up a range of lovely gift items, from Nepali shawls to Thangka paintings and Tibetan crafts. 

If you’re tired of the city, venture out in the countryside; here lies quite a different Nepal, where traditional mountain life continues quietly, at a much slower pace. People here are generous with their smiles, behaving as if they have known you for years – and this warmth will comfort you in the otherwise cold climate.

There are only a few countries in the world that are absolutely perfect for independent travelers, and Nepal is certainly one of them. Wandering around the little markets, bakeries and pizzerias of Pokhara and gazing at the splendid sunrise at Nagarkot, it’s easy to feel that you have somehow landed in a kind of backpacker’s paradise.

Trust me when I say this: you’ll never return empty-handed from Nepal. It has so much to offer to every visitor.

This is a guest post by Riyanka Roy.

Riyanka Roy is a traveler who is keen on exploring different parts of the world. She’s an Indian who did her Masters in International Relations and then taught in rural tribal schools for a considerable period. Currently, she’s focusing on volunteer tourism and freelance blogging. You can read about her journeys on her blog Words Weave Stories, and you can also follow her on Instagram.