Jan 1, 2017- The tourism industry was hit hard by the earthquakes and India’s trade embargo in 2015. Foreign tourist arrivals fell to a six-year low of 538,970 in the year, representing a sharp drop of 32 percent, compared to 2014 figures. The year 2016, however, had been better as foreign travellers started to make a comeback, and this helped boost occupancy in hotels and trekking trails across Nepal. Nepal even topped Lonely Planet’s “Best Value Destination” list for 2017 and ranked 5th on the “Top Ten Destinations Guidebook”. The industry also saw a positive change last year as domestic adventure seekers started travelling across the country in droves. According to a report published by the World Travel and Tourism Council entitled Travel and Tourism Economic Impact 2016, the total contribution of travel and tourism to the GDP was Rs173.7 billion (8.1 percent of GDP) in 2015, and is forecast to rise by 6.5 percent in 2016. Of the total contribution, domestic travel spending generated 57.5 percent of direct travel and tourism GDP in 2015. The government announced Ghumphir Barsha in a bid to revitalise the country’s flagging tourism industry. Based on the inquiry of Nepalis from different travel and trekking agencies and destinations featured by Nepal Tourism Board, we have listed 10 of the most life-defining destinations in Nepal for 2017.

Rara Lake, the country’s biggest and deepest freshwater lake in Mugu district, has also been attracting domestic visitors for the past few years. Until a few years ago, Rara used to receive only a few visitors, but it has been gradually gaining popularity among Nepalis. The easiest means to reach Rara is to take a flight from Nepalgunj to Mugu, from where the destination is four to five hours walk away. The best time to visit the park is autumn, spring and summer.

Nepalis have fallen in love with the famous Ghandruk-Ghorepani-Poon Hill trail which offers a short and scenic trek in the Annapurna area. Domestic tourist movement has been on a gradual rise at Poon Hill. The 3,210-metre-high vantage point is located between Mt Annapurna on the right and Mt Dhaulagiri on the left. There are more than 30 hotels and guesthouses in the area generating 700 room nights. Travel trade entrepreneurs say all the hotels are usually filled with visitors.

A sacred place for both Hindus and Buddhists, Muktinath is located in the Muktinath Valley at an altitude of 3,710 meters at the foot of the Thorong La mountain pass in Mustang. An increasing number of domestic visitors have been travelling to Muktinath. The favourable weather has also led to more people visiting Kagbeni and Muktinath by both road and air. Jomsom is a great place to start trekking. The diverse landscapes and cultures to be found along the trekking routes give marvellous insight into the way of life of rural Nepali people. A highlight is trekking through the gorge carved by the Kali Gandaki River, which originates in the Tibetan plateau to eventually flow into the Ganges.

The Khaptad National Park is a protected area in the Far-western Region. It stretches over four districts of Bajhang, Bajura, Achham and Doti and ranges in elevation from 1,400m to 3,300m. Spring (March-May) and autumn (October-November) are the best times to visit the park. There are no lodges or hotels in the park. Trekkers must be self-sufficient in tents, food and all other supplies. The Nepal Tourism Board, in association with travel trade entrepreneurs, has launched travel packages to the Khaptad region.

Koshi Tappu Wildlife Reserve is one of the best places to visit for novice birdwatchers. Koshi Tappu is a protected area in the Tarai of eastern Nepal covering 175sqkm of wetlands in Sunsari, Saptari and Udayapur districts. The last surviving population of wild buffalo is found here. The reserve is also home to many types of mammals such as hog deer, spotted deer, wild boar and blue bull. It comprises extensive mudflats, reed beds, and freshwater marshes in the floodplain of the Sapta Koshi River. Nepal Association of Tour and Travel Agents (NATTA), in association with NTB have launched Ghumphir 2073 Special Package for tour to Koshi zone.

A brisk walk in a tea garden, tranquil picnic and sightseeing stops, short treks along gentle slopes, or a trudge into the nearby woods-all this and more is offered by Ilam in the eastern hill district. The number of local tourists visiting the hill regions of Ilam district has swelled in recent years. There are more than a dozen hilltops in Ilam which have been gaining in popularity as tourist destinations. Antu Hill is the most popular destination for sightseers for its unmatched views of the sunrise. While the subtropical climate of Ilam ensures good weather throughout the year, the best time to visit Ilam is between October-December or from April-February.

Bardia National Park is one of the most undisturbed protected areas in the Tarai and is home to the endangered Royal Bengal tiger and Nepal’s famous one-horned rhinoceros. The park located in the far western district of Bardia, is bordered by River Karnali in the west, the Churia range in the north, while the River Babai flows right through. Several safari lodges in Bardia provide excellent accommodation and facilities for guests to enjoy wildlife activities. The best time to visit is autumn, winter and early summer when the weather is warm and dry. Bardia can be reached by road via Nepalgunj or by flight to Nepalgunj from where the park can be driven to.

Langtang is a region in the Langtang National Park. It is one of the most popular trekking regions for those planning a short trek from Kathmandu. The park contains a wide variety of climatic zones, from subtropical to alpine. Animal life includes Himalayan black bear, rhesus monkeys and red pandas. The park contains the Gosainkunda Lake. Tourists are gradually heading back to the Langtang region, which was completely devastated by last year’s earthquake. The entire Valley was swept away by an avalanche triggered by the April 25, 2015 quake.

Jungle lovers who want something different than the well-trodden safari circuits of Sauraha can set course for Nawalparasi in the western part of Chitwan National Park. Superb bird watching, boating and dinner against a backdrop of a glorious sunset awaits those who dare to get off the beaten track. As Sauraha is becoming quite densely populated, it is worth going to the Narayani River for a spectacular sunset, bird watching and wildlife safari. Bird watching can be arranged on the Narayani River and Sanischare Lake that stretches 2,500 m from Shiswar to Treveni. About 114 species of birds can be seen on the banks of the Narayani River. Bird watching is more interesting in the winter season when Siberian birds migrate to the Narayani River and its surroundings. Nearly a dozen of luxury resorts and homestays have been established in Nawalparasi.

Barpak is a village situated in the northern part of the Gorkha district. Barpak’s unique historic significance and natural beauty has drawn many people from around the world. The unique sloppy shape of the village with clustered stone tile-roofed houses believes to be the reason behind main attractions to the people wishing to visit Barpak. Barpak is one of the stopover village routes of trekking around Manaslu. Many homestays that were flattened by 2015 devastating earthquake at its epicentre, Barpak village in Gorkha district, have been rebuilt. Almost 95 percent of the houses in Barpak, a picturesque hilltop community situated at an elevation of 1,900 metres above sea level, were turned into rubble by the tremor.