Given the country's primitive transport network, most travellers stick to a well-worn circuit, with the result that certain sights and trekking routes have become rather commercialized. Don't be put off. The beaten track is remarkably thin and easy to escape in Nepal - and this guide is intended, first and foremost, to give you the confidence to do just that. It's the out-of-the-way places, the ones not written up in any book, that you'll remember most fondly on your return.
Everyone touches down in Kathmandu at some point, but for all its exotic bustle, the capital is rather rough going these days - logistically it makes a good base, but you won't want to spend lots of time there. Hindu temples, Buddhist stupas, rolling countryside and huddled brick villages provide incentives for touring the prosperous Kathmandu Valley , as do the historically independent city-states of Patan and Bhaktapur . The surrounding central hills are surprisingly undeveloped, apart from a couple of mountain view points, yet a few lesser routes, such as the road to the Tibet border and especially the Tribhuwan Rajpath , make for adventurous travel - especially by mountain bike or motorcycle.
The views get more dramatic, or at least more accessible, in the western hills . Pokhara , set beside a lake under a looming wall of peaks, is the closest thing you'll find to a resort in Nepal. Other hill towns - notably Gorkha and its impressive fortress, Manakamana with its wish-fulfilling temple, and laid-back Tansen - offer scenery with history or culture to boot.
It's in the teeming jungle and ethnic villages of the Tarai that Nepal's diversity really becomes apparent. Most travellers venture no further than Chitwan National Park , where endangered Asian one-horned rhinos are easily viewable, but Bardia National Park and two other rarely visited wildlife reserves are out there for the more adventurous. Lumbini , Buddha's birthplace in the western Tarai, is a world-class pilgrimage site, as is Janakpur , a Hindu holy city in the east. Rolling tea plantations, weekly markets and a rich cultural mix figure prominently in the spectacular and little-visited eastern hills , most easily reached from the Tarai.
And of course Nepal is probably the most famous destination in the world for a growing range of outdoor activities. Trekking from village to village through the hills and up into high Himalayan valleys is an experience not to be missed. The scenery varies from cultivated terraces to lush rhododendron forests to glacier-capped peaks, but the cultural interactions are often, in retrospect, the most rewarding part of a trek. Nepal's rivers, meanwhile, are the liquid counterparts to its mountains, and rafting offers not only adventure but also a different perspective on the countryside and wildlife. Yet another alternative means of locomotion, mountain-biking , brings you in contact with the land and its people at your own pace.