Most Westerners think of Nepal as a Himalayan paradise, home to Sagarmatha (okay, we know it as Mt. Everest) and sure-footed Sherpas. Do we consider the country a refuge of freaky hippies or a haven for budget-travelers? How about as place to go to cleanse the soul?

Nepal is all of those things, but it’s also a linguistically and ethnically complicated nation, undergoing historic political change while facing the challenge of substantial poverty. It’s also a deeply spiritual land — both the birthplace of Buddha and the only officially Hindu nation in the world…at least until 2006 when, facing political pressure, the country formally became secular. In 2008 after more than a decade of Maoist rebellion and massive popular protests, King Gyanendra abdicated, ending 240 years of Nepalese monarchy. Despite this turmoil, mountain climbers, hippies and the spiritual travelers from all over the world still come. Many — Western visitors and Nepalese alike, no matter what its earthly problems, will continue to consider Nepal as paradise on earth.

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