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TRAVEL WATCH: NOVEMBER 8, 1999 VOL. 154 NO. 18

Cushy Nepal Adventures
By DAFFYD RODERICK


Illustration for TIME by Carol Morley

For some travelers, the only way to experience the Himalayas is the hard way: trekking uphill through forests full of leeches and mosquitoes, camping in the mud and surviving on freeze-dried food before returning home with indelible memories--and perhaps a case of malaria. But for the rest of us, there is a more luxurious option, with gently sloping paths, well-appointed tents and friendly staff who prepare delicious, fresh-cooked meals. Glorious memories--and no malaria.

Perched at a spot where Asian and Indo-European cultures converge, Nepal is home both to paddy fields on the Terai plains and to the roof of the world: 8,848-m-tall Mount Everest. Such diversity makes it perfect for trekkers of all ages and abilities. Tour operator Tiger Mountain, (977-1) 411-225, was among the pioneers of Himalayan travel and can create a trip to match your desires. Its 10-day West Nepal Adventure is an excellent introduction to the country. Visitors fly to Pokhara, a trekking center at the foot of the Annapurna Range, and set off on the four-day Royal Trek, named to commemorate a visit by Prince Charles.

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This is a good option for hikers with children, as the trek doesn't involve great elevations or particularly long days. And you can count on stunning views of the range. Trekkers sleep in comfy, canvas A-frames and dine on hot meals in a designated mess tent. The journey ends at the Tiger Mountain Pokhara Lodge, where each room has a private veranda and guests can soak their weary bones in a hot tub and slake their thirst at the bar. Many subsequently fly to Surkhet, where they can set off on rafts down the Bheri River to Royal Bardia National Park. Karnali Camp and Lodge, while not as luxurious as the Pokhara Lodge, offers comfortable surroundings and a well-stocked bar. Fewer than 2,000 visitors a year make the journey to Bardia, far less than the 100,000 who visit Nepal's other great wildlife preserve, Royal Chitwan. Exploring Bardia on elephant-back, visitors see varied fauna: rhinoceroses, leopards, wild boar and the king of cats, the Royal Bengal tiger. From here, it's back to civilization.

If you'd like to sweeten the adventure with a taste of Katmandu, London-based Western & Oriental, (44-171) 313-6601, offers two-week trips that include a few days in the Nepali capital. After exploring the ancient city's temples, visitors fly to Pokhara for a four-day trek that promises amazing views of the Dhaulagiri Range. Then it's off to Royal Chitwan for three days of game-watching by jeep and elephant. Travelers stay at the luxurious jungle lodge. The trip costs $2,850 a person.

If this still sounds like too much work, other options provide the great views without all the walking. Royal Nepal Air takes passengers to the top of Everest the easy way: on an early morning sightseeing flight, which costs $95 a passenger. Balloon Sunrise Nepal, (977-1) 424-131, offers more romance: a one-hour, hot-air balloon trip ($195 per person) over the rice fields and temples of the Kathmandu Valley. On a clear day you can glimpse eight of the 10 tallest mountains in the world, before touching down in the old city of Bhaktapur.

So let the hard-cores grapple with the leeches, mosquitoes and freeze-dried food. You can get many of the same stunning views without risking your tastebuds or spinal cord.

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