Nepal | Illam

Community Homestay Circuit – East Nepal


Community Homestay Circuit – East Nepal


Trip Overview

Eastern Nepal is home to the popular routes to Makalu and Kanchenjunga, as well as an eastern route to Everest. The area boasts a cultural diversity like nowhere else and prosperous villages still largely untouched by tourism. 

Visiting some of the UNESCO World Heritage sites in Kathmandu and the Valley gives understanding of Nepal’s history whilst a night in a Buddhist monastery offers the chance to observe and experience the monastic life of the monks and come to a closer understanding of Buddhism.

Koshi Tappu Wildlife Reserve is home to vast flora and fauna and is a prime bird-watching destination. Tea estates, holy sites and an incredible natural landscape reveal an essence of Nepal that is well off the standard tourist circuit – complimented by the unique insights offered living with local families in community homestays.

Trip Highlights

  • Sightseeing: Kathmandu Durbar Square, Bhaktapur, Panauti, Janakpur, Pashupatinath and Boudhanath
  • Unique monastic experience
  • Namaste Jharana in Dharan and Budha Subba Temples


International Airport Arrival transfer in Kathmandu. Orientation walk around Kathmandu Durbar Square.

Namaste & Welcome to Kathmandu!!!

Depending on your travel history, your first impression of arriving at Tribhuvan International Airport may be an experience in and of itself. The time it takes will depend on whether you need to queue for a Visa-on-Arrival as well as immigration and customs. Luggage tags will be checked on exit so have your luggage receipt handy (usually attached to your boarding pass). Luggage trolleys are available and free to use. As you walk down the tunnel to the arrival lounge you will find many people showing placards and waving anxiously. Please walk slowly checking the placards and do not get anxious – our airport representative will be waiting to welcome you with your name written clearly on the placard. They will assist you to your correct vehicle. Depending upon the traffic the drive to your booked hotel can take 30 minutes or more.

You will have a Group Meeting with your fellow group members and tour leader at the hotel. Then take a guided walk around Kathmandu Durbar Square – a cluster of ancient temples, palaces, courtyards and streets that date back to the 12th and 18th centuries. The square is known to be the social, religious and urban focal point of the capital city and structures damaged by the 2015 earthquake are being rebuilt.

  • Accommodation: Kathmandu

Kathmandu to Pharping transfer for Monastic experience.

Less than an hour’s drive from Kathmandu, yet away from all the hustle and bustle of the city life is Pharping. Set amid farmland and lush green forest the monastery is a peaceful spot where you can join in meditation, study Buddhism or follow a day of the monastic life of the monks. The morning and evening prayers include the chants of Buddhist mantras that can rejuvenate your body and mind.

  • Accommodation: Pharping

Bhaktapur and Panauti Sightseeing.

Start the day with a visit to Bhaktapur, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Bhaktapur is a brilliant illustration of Newari architectural skills, a city of pagoda roofs and harmonious blend of wood, mudbrick and copper. Cultural life is proudly on display, and this is a perfect place to ‘get lost’ along narrow winding alleyways whilst witnessing arts, be it weaving cloth, carving timber or the well-preserved pottery. From the magnificent pagoda style architecture to shikhara-style temples grouped around a fifty-five windowed palace of brick and wood, the Durbar square has it all: the charm of the architectural ancient arts.

Panauti is a small, traditional agricultural town surrounded by sacred rivers and is birthplace of several legendary figures and to a traditional Newari confection (Yomari) produced only during harvest festival each year. Panauti is also famous for its many temples dedicated to various deities. 

Panauti Community Homestay was established by local women, the program is a paradigm of successful female empowerment/entrepreneurship in Nepal. You are also supporting and motivating local female entrepreneurs just by appreciating their local culture and tradition whilst gaining insight into local lives and enjoying warm hospitality.

  • Accommodation: Panauti Community Homestay

Panauti to Janakpur transfer. Sightseeing around Janakpur Temple.

Leaving the valley, drive east along a scenic route, eventually descending to the plains close to the Indian border and arriving at Janakpur. Janakpur is an important religious centre founded in the early 18th century, built on the ruins of the much earlier capital of the Videha dynasty that ruled Mithila region in the ancient times.

The temples are within walking distance of the centre. Mostimportant is Janaki Mandir, a Hindu temple dedicated to the goddess Sita. It is an example of Hindu-Koiri Nepali architecture built in bright white and constructed with a mix of Mughal and Koiri domes. It is a three-storied structure made entirely of stone and marble built in 1911. All its 60 rooms are decorated with the flag of Nepal, coloured glass, engravings, paintings, and with beautiful lattice windows and turrets

  • Accommodation: Janakpur
  • Distance: 258 km
  • Drive duration: 6 to 7 hours approx

Janakpur to Koshi Tappu Transfer. Excursion to wildlife reserve.

Experience the rich biodiversity of the flatlands of the terai as you drive through small towns and villages heading for Nepal’s largest wildlife reserve. Koshitappu Wildlife Reserve is Nepal’s finest wetland and simply one of the best spots in all Asia for birds. Almost all the country’s long list of wetlands birds live or pass through here, including Black-necked and Lesser Adjutant Storks, Black and Black-headed Ibises, Spot-billed and Falcated Ducks, Baer’s Pochard, the stunning Pied Harrier, Red-necked Falcon, Ruddy-breasted Crake and the rare Swamp Francolin. Handsome Black-bellied and River Terns fish the wide waters of the river, while the tree-lined bunds and swamps, choked with reed and water hyacinth, are full of exciting passerines like Verditer Flycatcher, Thick-billed, Dusky and Smoky Warblers, and the king-size Striated Grassbird.

  • Accommodation: Koshi Tappu Wildlife Reserve
  • Driving duration: 3.5 hours approx
  • Driving distance: 173 KM

Activities and exploration at Koshi Tappu.

It is quite possible to see well over 100 species each day as you explore the marshes on foot, reaching inaccessible sandbanks and islands by rubber-raft, and the more remote corners of the reserve by 4-wheel drive vehicle. 

Large mammals of note include wild Water Buffalo (one of the world’s most endangered large mammals), Golden Jackal, Jungle Cat and Nilgai; we might even spot the rare Ganges River Dolphin on our voyage downstream. As a prelude to all this, we may be woken in the morning by the maniacal cries of the Common Hawk Cuckoo. 

The Koshi barrage, just outside the reserve, has created a vast expanse of water, making this place by far the most important staging point for migrating birds and a year-round playground for residents.  Lesser-known reptiles, amphibians, fishes and arthropods also live here along with a wealth of flora and fauna.

On a clear day a glimpse of Makalu (8463 meters) , the world’s fifth mountain, enhances the beauty of the area.

  • Accommodation: Koshi Tappu Wildlife Reserve

Drive from Koshi Tappu to Namjethumki Community Homestay.

Dharan is a small hill station on your way to the homestay. In the past, it was merely a bus stop, but has grown into a town. A tower (named Charles Tower after Prince Charles) allows people to view the lush green landscapes, ‘Sapta Koshi’, the valley beneath and some mysteriously beautiful hills. There are also several ancient religious shrines.

The Namje Community Homestay is an idyllic rural retreat in an ethnic Magar community. Enjoy a range of cultural activities including an evening performance with local dances and costumes, and even have a turn dancing yourself. Travellers participating in the traditional customs and art forms of the Namje community is a renewed reason for the local youth to preserve and appreciate these activities. Some traditional folk songs and practices that would otherwise be at risk of fading away get a new lease on life, and the locals can feel proud that their culture is being celebrated. You can also walk up to Thumki Hill, which the local Magar people call the ‘place of spirits’. Animist traditions are still practiced here, and villagers go to the hill to worship their ancestors. There are also great sunset views from the Thumki Hill.

  • Accommodation: Namjethumki Community Homestay
  • Drive duration: 3 hours
  • Distance: 47 km

Excursion around Namaste waterfall and ancient temples. Dharan to Illam transfer. (Shree Antu Community Homestay)

Other nearby attractions and activities include the refreshing Namaste Falls and Rani Lake where you can spot beautiful birds. 

Leaving Namjethumki  drive through the terai with scenic views of flat agricultural land, brick factories , tiny villages and local life until you reach a small village of Budhabare where you begin to wind back into the hills. Pass a sacred Hindu temple called Pathivara and see tea gardens covering the entire hills. 

Shree Antu Community Homestays are located in a small village surrounded by tea fields, beautiful gardens and the third-highest mountain in the world, Kanchenjunga (8586 metres). The people living in this area are ethnic Limbu, Tamang, Rai, Lepcha, and Magar. During your stay at the Shree Antu Community Homestay learn about these Nepali cultural groups, some of whom are spread throughout the country, but Rai & Lepcha live mainly in the eastern regions of Nepal.

  • Accommodation: Shree Antu Community Homestay
  • Distance : 150 KM
  • Drive duration: 5 hours approx

Activities at Illam. Sunrise from Shree Antu, tea factory visit, tea picking.

Shree Antu is ideally situated for views of Mt. Kanchenjunga, the third-highest mountain in the world. If ever there was a good reason to get up before the crack of dawn, it’s to see the sun rise over one of the highest mountains in the world. Awake early (around 5am) and drive about 20 minutes then hike for a further 20 minutes to a view-point in time to see the sun rise over the beautiful mountainous landscape.

When you’re in the land of tea production, it’s almost obligatory to do some organic tea picking yourself. Spending time with the host family and picking the leaves is an entertaining way of spending your time.

This morning visit a local tea garden and delve deeper into the world of Nepali tea.

Visiting a local factory, the manager will walk you through all steps of production. While you may have never given much thought to how the green leaf in the field turns into the brown liquid in your cup, during the tour you will learn about each step in the process: plucking, withering, rolling, fermenting, drying, sorting, and packing. You’ll see the tea factory workers in action and get the chance to ask questions. Afterwards, taste a variety of different teas to learn about the distinct flavours of the different grades and how the various types are graded. (NB not available mid-November and mid-April).

  • Accommodation: Shree Antu Community Homestay

Drive to Mai Pokhari Deurali Community Homestay via botanical garden.

The village of Mai Pokhari has a very religious pond, also called Mai Pokhari which attracts a huge number of Hindu and Buddhist pilgrims. ‘Mai’ means Goddess and ‘Pokhari’ means a Pond. This pond is a 9-pointed star shape within a dark lush green forest; located within a vast botanical garden which is the habitat of many endangered species of plants and wildlife and is listed as wetlands of international significance.

The Mai Pokhari Community Homestay offers visitors a true rural experience. Each of the homes is surrounded by beautifully tended gardens, with forests and mountains beyond. There are mountain views from the village (when the weather is clear), and you can admire these and the surrounding countryside from the open-air terraces.

Like practically everywhere else in Nepal, at the Mai Pokhari Community Homestay you won’t be short of chances to eat delicious dal bhat tarkari. But you can also try other local specialties. A standout local dish is wachipa, chicken fried rice that includes the powder of burnt chicken feathers! Why? Because the locals believe this ingredient helps relieve aches and pains. Another local delicacy is chhurpi, a hard cheesy chew that is a popular snack in other parts of Nepal, too. There is also a local cheese factory, where you can visit and try the eastern Nepali variety.

  • Accommodation: Mai Pokhari Deurali Community Homestay
  • Drive duration: 3.5 hours
  • Distance: 30 KM

Excursion hike to Todke Falls and back to the Mai Pokhari Deurali Community Homestay.

Start with an early morning breakfast and head to Todke Falls, the attraction of the day. The hiking trail is downhill through an area pristine and untouched by modernization. On the way, you will see beautiful hills, plants grown by villagers and very few houses, but lots of greenery. The sound of this waterfall is magnificent and relaxing. It falls from the height of 1600m above sea level, and the reflection of the rainbow makes it look even more enchanting. Spend some time here and relax by the Mai river before returning to your homestay for more delicious meals.

  • Accommodation: Mai Pokhari Deurali Community Homestay

It is about 4 hours’ 30 minutes approx. drive this morning to Bhadrapur airport from where you will fly back to Kathmandu.

  • Accommodation: Kathmandu
  • Distance: 4-5 hours approx

Sightseeing of Pashupatinath and Bouddhanath.

A sightseeing day in Kathmandu visiting some of the major World Heritage sites of the valley. Pashupatinath Temple is a holy pilgrimage site dedicated to Hindu god Shiva, lord of the animals. Located on the bank of the holy Bagmati river is an important cremation site. There are many temples around the area with devotees and sadhus paying homage to the deities.
You will also visit Boudhanath stupa, a Buddhist pilgrimage site. You can take a walk around the area and feel the energy guiding you towards peace of mind, accompanied by the aromatic fragrance of incense. You can observe devotees making koras (circumambulations around a sacred site) any time of the day. Later in the evening, you can enjoy dinner with the group.

  • Accommodation: Kathmandu

International Airport departure transfer.

Check-in is 2.5 hours prior to departure, and it is best not to skimp on time as queues can be long and slow. Your booked airport transfer will be at your hotel ready to take you to the airport in time, allowing approximately 30mins driving time depending on time of day. At the airport security will check your flight ticket – either hard copy or on your mobile – along with your passport before you are allowed to enter the departure hall.

Services Included

  • Transport by air-conditioned vehicles throughout the trip.
  • Accommodation in Kathmandu and Janakpur including breakfast.
  • Accommodation in Namje Thumki Community Homestay with all meals included (breakfast, lunch and dinner).
  • Accommodation in Shree Antu Community Homestay with all meals included (breakfast, lunch and dinner)
  • Accommodation in Mai Pokhari Community Homestay with all meals included (breakfast, lunch and dinner).
  • Experienced professional English speaking local guides for sightseeing.
  • Sightseeing entry fees as per the itinerary
  • National Park fees

Services Excluded

  • Travel and medical insurance including evacuation and cancellation.
  • Expenses of personal nature including bar bills, laundry, telephone calls.
  • Tips and gratuities
  • Any item not specified as included
  • Expenses arising from unforeseen circumstances beyond the control of RMT

Impact Footprint

  • UNESCO World Heritage Site visits help fund reconstruction, restoration and maintenance
  • Experience the monastic life in the monastery for a day will contribute to the alms for the monks
  • Exploration of wildlife at Koshi Tappu wildlife reserve without causing any disturbance while safeguarding their habitat
  • The community homestays are run by women in Panauti, Dharan (Namjethumki) and Ilam (Sri Antu and Mai Pokhari Deurali)
  • You get to taste the food cooked with organic vegetables directly grown from local farms and drink the fresh tea plucked from their own tea estate in Ilam.
  • Mai Pokhari is a protected wetland area of religious significance. Your entry fees directly support conservation of the area.