Sandwiched between the Gangetic plains and Tibetan plateau, Nepal encompasses an extraordinary spectrum of landscapes, ranging from the terai grasslands and sal forests of its southern border with India to the vast wall of ice peaks marching along the Chinese frontier to the north – the legendary Himalaya, or ‘Abode of Snows’. Between these two extremes is cradled a lush, fertile valley that has been a centre of sophisticated urban civilization for more than 2,500 years, and where an unparalleled wealth of medieval palaces, Buddhist monasteries and Hindu temples survive intact, along with the traditional religious cultures that gave rise to them.

To walk through the Durbar Squares of the Kathmandu Valley, flanked by their distinctive skyline of tiered pagodas and golden-spired, whitewashed stupas, is to experience a world as unique as it is exotic to foreign eyes. Until the 1950s, Nepal lay resolutely off-limits to outsiders. Only a handful of honoured dignitaries and mountaineers were permitted to set eyes on its ancient treasures, ensuring this most refined of mountain societies thrived in glorious isolation.

Driven by the needs of a rapidly growing, and grindingly poor, rural population – as well as four decades of mass tourism– development has preceded apace since then. However, enough of the country’s heritage endures to make any journey through this magical former kingdom an enticing prospect. The architecture is irresistibly exotic, the many and varied cultures of its people compelling and the Himalayas, whether glimpsed from the comfort of a palace hotel window or through the flap of a tent on a week-long hill trek, are quite simply breathtaking.

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