Nepal is well known as one of the best destinations in the world for enjoying the real beauty of nature through trekking. The trail into the interior parts of the country follows ancient foot-trails which meander through scenic river-banks, intricately terraced fields and the forested ridges connecting picturesque hamlets and mountain villages. Trekkers can walk along the rough but beautiful trails or virgin tracks in the lap of green and friendly looking hills.
The rhododendron-filled, green, dark and deep forests with different seasonal flowers blossoming can catch anyone's eye as can the scattered residential cottages, domestic and forest animals, variety of birds, both Hindus and Buddhist temples, mountains, breath-taking landscape, and above all warm greeting from smiling local people. The highly developed and well-defined trails have been used for centuries. Trekking in Nepal is an all season activity. It is possible at any time of the year depending on where one wishes to go. However, the most popular season are spring (February - May ) and autumn (September-November). Even during the monsoon season (June- August), you can trek in the rain- shadow areas north of the Himalaya like Mustang, Upper Manang and Dolpo.
Cows, considered sacred in Nepal , are neither slaughtered now used as beasts of burden. Instead, they bear calves and provide milk. Even their dung is used for a variety of purposes. The streets of Kathmandu are filled with wandering cows, set loose by pious Hindus. Bulls too, are considered holy, as Shiva's steed was a bull, and Pashupatinath is a major Shaivite temple. They are not used to draw ploughs. In the lowlands, the beasts of burden are castrated bulls or oxen.
Water buffaloes, many of which are descendants of the aggressive and dangerous buffaloes in the eastern Terai, are used as beasts of burden and are butchered. Their creamy milk is used to make yoghurt.
Longhaired yaks, which once roamed free in the wilds of Nepal no longer do so. Temperamental like water buffaloes, they are now used for stud services, so the yaks one sees in Nepal are usually hybrids. The female yak or nak is generally crossbred with cattle to produce a more docile creature that can carry loads. The male is locally known as dzopkyo or zopkiok, while the female is known as dzum or zhum. The dzum lactates well and produces a better quality of milk than the nak. The second generation of these hybrids is sterile.
Gaily adorned donkeys and mules are used as beasts of burden in the Kali Gandaki and the southern approaches to the Everest region. In the autumn, during the prime festival season, herds of goats and sheep are driven into Nepal from Tibet for ritual slaughter and the numerous feasts.
The Terai, widely considered the rice bowl of Nepal, turns a rich, vibrant green during the monsoon. Rice is also cultivated in the western parts of the country, above 2,000 metres, but the Terai has larger areas devoted solely to the crop. It is planted just before the monsoon, transplanted soon after, and harvested during autumn.
Wherever possible, wheat is planted in the cleared rice fields and harvested in spring. Mustard and corn are also planted during spring, particularly on the hillsides. Millet is cultivated above the rice zone. Barley and buckwheat are sowed in the higher altitudes. Potatoes, believed to have been introduced in Nepal from Darjeeling in the mid-19 th century, are cultivated by the Sherpas up to a height of 4,000 metres. In addition to providing an important food staple, trading potatoes helped the Sherpas attain a measure of prosperity. This in turn allowed them to build more gompas (monasteries) and let their culture flourish.
Other crops such as soya beans, lentils, sesame and chilli peppers are grown on the berms dividing the plots. Amaranths, considered an important food and medicinal plant among the Aztecs and Incas, are also grown, their bright red and yellow plants contrasting vividly with the green around them.
To protect their crops from animal predators, Nepalis use natural barriers of spiny or unpalatable plants such as prickly pear cactus, agave, and euphorbias such as red-flowering crowns of thorns, spurge and physic-nut.
Kitchen gardens with greens, beans, turnips, radish, pumpkins, cucumber, taro and squash, are a common feature in the villages. The bauhinia is grown for two reasons – its leaves make fodder, and its orchid-like flowers may be cooked or pickled. Tobacco and cannabis (grown for hemp) are commonly seen in the west. Stinging nettles are eaten as greens after boiling to remove every trace of their bite.
Fodder such as rice stalks and corn sheaves is often dried and stored in trees. Seed corn, on the other hand, is stored under the eaves of houses.
The areas surrounding villages and fields are filled with trees that fulfil various purposes – fruit, fodder, shade or medicine. The cultivation of bananas, mangoes, papaya, citrus fruits, peaches and apples has contributed to raising the income of communities in remote hill areas. Fig, banyan and pipal trees, often planted over a stone dais designed to accommodate a porter's load, provide shade for weary travellers and pilgrims. The banyan, with its hanging aerial roots and leathery elliptical leaves, is revered by the Hindus as an embodiment of Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth. The pipal tree is considered auspicious, as Lord Buddha is believed to have attained enlightenment under it. It is also considered the embodiment of Narayan (Vishnu).
The bamboo plant, which grows under a variety of conditions, is found throughout Nepal . Giant bamboo is common in the tropics, while the temperate regions have the dwarf variety. The bamboo is a popular choice for regenerating forests where they have been depleted, particularly in the east. It also has functional and financial value. It is used in basketry, and the Rais incorporate it in just about everything from water vessels to entire houses.
Eupatorium or ban mara (death of forest), a red-stemmed daisy with heart-shaped leaves was introduced into the Himalayas from Latin America in the 19 th century. Today, it covers widespread parts of deforested hillsides in the subtropical and temperate zones. It is unpalatable even for sheep and goats and is a prime indicator of environmental degradation.
Tourism plays an important role in Nepal 's economy. Tens of thousands of visitors travel to Nepal every year, so the potential for damage to the environment is tremendous. However, the solution to the problems posed by tourism does not lie in stopping it altogether. Quite to the contrary, Nepal needs all the foreign exchange it earns through this lucrative area. It lies in eco-tourism, one of the buzzwords of this generation.
Eco-tourism is all about minimizing the negative impact of tourism on the environment. It's about being aware of the potentially damaging effects of one's activities in a fragile and precious ecosystem. As Nepal has a large number of tourists, travellers themselves can make a difference by ensuring that their activities have a minimal impact on the environment. The Traveller's Information Center in Thamel, Kathmandu provides information on how to minimize the negative impact and maximize the positive impact of tourism. None of the guidelines take much effort to follow, but their impact can be enormous.