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In the Land of Mountains

By: Panu Konenen

The world is full of beautiful landscapes, but there is only one Nepal. Welcome to the cultural trail of Kathmandu Valley.

Expats who have lived for a longer time in Kathmandu know that one has to get out of the city every once in a while. Polluted air in the city takes literally your breath away. Fresh air can be found from the rims of the valley, and after concrete jungle you will find yourself in the midst of really beautiful nature. And what’s best, it is less than hour’s drive away.

Nepal is famous for its Mt. Everest and other snow-capped peaks. The country is full of awesome trekking trails. Unfortunately, from the point of view of Kathmandu, most of them are far away, not easily accessible and time consuming, especially if one wants to trek in high altitude; lots of time will be needed to acclimatize.

So to speak, for a Kathmandu dweller a 15-day trek is not feasible. Fortunately, there are other options for outdoor-enthusiastic in the capital: The Kathmandu Valley Cultural Trail.

Only 30-minute drive from the busy streets of Kathmandu lays Sundarijal, water shed, where Kathmandu gets its drinking water. Sundarijal means pure, holy water, and although the water in the stream looks drinkable, it is not. Local’s bellies can take anything, but westerner will find himself from the hospital.

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Vuorien maassa

Maailma on täynnä kauniita luontokohteita, mutta on vain yksi Nepal.

Tervetuloa kulttuurivaellukselle vuorien maahan.

Nepal on tunnettu Himalajan upeista maisemista ja tietysti Mount Everestistä. Maa on täynnä vaellusreittejä, jotka vievät vaeltajat kilometrien korkeuksiin. Päivien nousut kruunaa yleensä lumihuiput värittävä auringonlasku, jonka vangitseminen pokkarikameralla on tuskallinen kokemus.

Valitettavasti parhaat tai ainakin tunnetuimmat reitit ovat useiden päivämatkojen päässä Katmandusta. Ne ovat lisäksi vaativia ja akklimatisoitumiseen, vuoristoilmaan tottumiseen, on syytä varata reilusti aikaa.

Aikaa saa kulumaan myös reitillä, sillä vasta viikon vaelluksen jälkeen aletaan olla maisemissa ja korkeuksissa, joissa muistot eivät tarvitse enää kultareunuksia – ja sitten pitää kävellä vielä takaisin.

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Sundarijal is the starting point for the 80-kilometer and 5-day trek, which takes travelers through some of the best natural and cultural tourist destinations of Kathmandu valley. The trail is not very well known, but with the help of villagers’ advices and a decent map, it’s easily managed without a guide. Although a good guide can give your trip some added value. Whether you choose to take a guided trek or not, the most important thing is that you should never trek alone.

What is nice about the Kathmandu Valley Cultural Trail is that you don’t need to take all your trekking gears with you, because along the trail there are lots of cheap lodges and restaurants. Good pair of shoes, extra clothes, first aid kit, sleeping pack, flashlight and your personal staff, like mobile phone, medicines and money, are only needed.

Stone steps lead trekkers from Sundarijal to Shivapuri National Park. Shivapuri is one of the nine national parks in Nepal founded in 2002 to protect valley’s water resources. Park is also home for 177 species of birds, orchids, and even leopards and bears. The entrance fee for foreigners is 250 Rupees and 10 Rupees for Nepalese.

One of the biggest difference between Nepalese national parks and their equivalents, let’s say, in most of the Western countries, is that in Nepal you will find more life from the parks – and it is not only wildlife. From Nepalese national park you’ll find villages, businesses, restaurants and lodges.

People living in a conservation area are not necessary a bad think, although the damages are easily seen: littering and illegal forestry. First of all, it is fascinating to see the life of villagers. Chickens are running around, traditionally dressed women are washing laundry and young girls are carrying water jars or sticks on their back. It feels like someone has turned the clock hundred years back; then suddenly a porter shows up with a big television on his back. The basic facilities of modern era are slowly finding their way to the rural Nepal.

Secondly, when trekking in a dwelled national park, one doesn’t need to carry a huge backpack with tent and everything. Inexpensive lodges and restaurants will keep the trekker on the trail.

The first village on the trail is Mulkharka. The village spreads alongside the trail and it is build traditionally: The walls are made of stones and mud, and roofs are thatched; quite idyllic actually. Some of the houses have a small attached kiosk, where you can buy soft drinks and snacks – also hard drinks are available, which is one of those special features of Nepalese national parks.

There is also one restaurant in Mulkharka. Menu is somewhat small – similar with other village restaurants in rural Nepal – you can choose between daal baath (rice, lentils, fried veggies and egg) and chew mein (fried noodles). These dishes are vegetarian. If you are a meat-lover you can get a whole chicken for only 400 Rupees, but prepare to wait for an hour or so, because the chef has to fleece the chicken first.

The food served in village restaurants is usually fresh, since there are no refrigerators. It still wise to remember the old colonial saying: If you can boil it, peal it or fry it, it is safe to eat.

The highest spot on the trail, Borlang Bhangjang (2420 m), is also in the Shivapuri National Park. The starting point in Sundarijal is in the 1460 m, so during the first hours of the trek one has to climb almost one kilometer. The first trekking day ends in Chisapani after 16-kilometer walk. The trail branches out from here to Helambu trekking area and Nagarkot. On a clear day the landscape is awesome: on the left hand side you’ll see the Annapurna massive, on the right hand side dozens of other Himalayan peaks.

Chisapani is also a great place for mountain watching even outside the season (the best time to see the mountains is from October to November), because it rains a lot there. Usually the rain, on its way to Kathmandu, comes down in Chisapani, and next morning the snow-caps are visible from your hotel room’s window. It’s an incredible vow-effect.

Chisapani offers few small lodges, which are all similar, clean, simple and inexpensive. You can get a room for 300 Rupees and down stair restaurants have amazingly vast menu – Including pizzas, pastas and burgers – especially when you take into consideration that kitchens are not equipped with ovens and refrigerators and the nearest supermarket is kilometers away.

During the last few years many rural paths have been remodeled into motorable dirt roads. The most famous case is from the Annapurna Circuit, where the final 5-day part of the trail, from Jomson back to Pokhara, was turned into a motorable road. Because of that many trekkers have chosen to flight from Jomson back to Kathmandu: Trekking with vehicles, although only little in number is not what nature lovers are looking for.
However, motorable dirt roads bring rest of the world closer to villagers. Visitor should place themselves in the position of villagers: Would you be ready to walk for hours and hours to visit your relatives in the city?

The second day’s route, 24-kilometer trail from Chisapani to Nagarkot, is mostly motorable dirt road. For the first few hours it doesn’t bother, because there is no traffic in the national park and lush jungle and snow capped Himalayas will keep your senses occupied. Nevertheless, after Shivapuri the trail takes you to Chauki Bhanjyang, where few motorbikes and local buses are little bit distracting.

There is a good place to have a lunch in the village. Buddha Hotel has also few rooms, where you can rest while waiting for your daal baaht to be ready.

Water is a question of conscience when trekking in a developing country. Bottled water is safe, but after you have squelched your thirst you will end up with an empty, environmentally unfriendly piece of plastic waste. Using purifying tablets to treat your drinking water is recommended, but at the same time many will find the use of tablets inconvenient. On the Kathmandu Valley Cultural Trail you will find both fountains and kiosks where you can refill.

Nagarkot is a good place to finish the second day. Nagarkot is a touristy hill station in 2175 m. Nagarkot is considered to be the best place in Kathmandu valley for mountain watching. The best season for that purpose is from October to March. During the monsoon season, from June to September, one will need a Christmas miracle to see even a glimpse of the mountains.

In Nagarkot you can choose your accommodation from cheap guest houses to affordable 5-star hotel.

Nagarkot is a one-night stand. Near the village centre there is a military camp, which has resulted in Nagarkot to never become a traditional town: Hotels are scattered around the main road. If you still have urge for hiking after the long day of walking, around four kilometer from the village lays a view point, which offers a nice 360° view to the Himalayas. The view point is easy to find, just follow the paved main road to the top of the hill.

If you want to stay another night in Nagarkot, there are nice day-walks to nearby destinations, for example to the beautiful temple of Changu Narayan.

The next morning offers around 25-kilometer walk from hill to hill. This day’s destination is Dhulikhel, an authentic Newari town and the next best place for mountain watching in the valley. Newaries are the biggest tribe of Kathmandu valley. These excellent merchants and farmers form almost half of the 2-million population of the valley. Newari language is one of the world’s most difficult languages. It is tonal language and it varies totally from Nepalese and Hindi. The valley’s three UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Kathmandu’s, Patan’s and Bhaktapur’s durbar squares are all built by Newari people.

The trail from Nagarkot to Dhulikhel is yet to be established, so you need to be careful not to choose the wrong trail and ask help as often you can. From Nagarkot there are also trails to Nala, Banepa and, even, Kathmandu. The trail to Dhulikhel starts after Club Himalaya hotel. For the first 2 kilometers it is a small path, which joins the main tail in Baluwa Pati, nearby the village of Rohini Bhanjyang.

In Rohini Bhanjyang you choose the trail on the left hand side. After one kilometer walk, on the right hand side, there is a small path, which takes you through the jungle and the village of Kankre to Tanchok. Check from all the by-passers that you are still in direction. The path descends heavily here, so leaving your best hiking boots home will make you curse the decision here.

From Tanchok the trail continues to Opi. Alongside the trail there are several farm houses, which offer you a change to see how centuries old farming methods are still in use. From Opi there is still a 5-kilometer walk trough terrace fields and jungles to Dhulikhel. The path ends near the Himalayan Horizon hotel, 500 meters from the Dhulikhel bus park.

There are many hotels and resorts in Dhulikhel – the price range is wide, from killing cheap to affordable luxury. One of the most interesting resorts in the area is Dhulikhel Mountain Resort, 4 kilometers north from the town centre, which has been a pioneer in sustainable tourism in Nepal since 1981. Traditionally built resort has, for instance, a cultural show for its visitors, performed by underprivileged dalit caste youth from nearby village. The caste is still an issue in Nepal, so conscience visitor should support businesses that have a clear policy to develop the position of underprivileged castes.

If you don’t want to continue on trekking, Dhulikhel is also a great place for white water rafting. One of the best rafting rivers in Asia, Bhote Kosi, is only hour’s drive away. Contact your hotel for more information.

The fourth day is nice and easy 12-kilometer trek from Dhulikhel via Namobuddha to Balthali. Namobuddha is a popular destination for Tibetan pilgrims, because, according to the legend, Buddha saw a starving tiger family there and in his compassion offered himself for them to be consumed. A stupa, a Buddhist sanctuary, was built to mark the legend.

Around the stupa you can find small shops, which all are offering the same basic lunch, daal bhaat. A steep 10-minute walk from the stupa takes you to the Buddhist monastery of Tangho.

(Here: Something about Phaltali!)
The ending point of the trail is in Panauti. The town is in short of accommodation, but there is plenty to see. Panauti has one of the oldest temples in Nepal, Indreshwor Mahadev from the end of the 13th century. It has been rebuilt twice, on 15th century and 1990’s after devastating earthquake in 1989.

One can overnight in Panauti, but the accommodation options are few and town itself is dirty and somewhat dull, so it is recommended to take a public bus back to Kathmandu. The drive is short unless the traffic jams nearby the Tribuvan International Airport. If that happens prepare to wait an hour or so and stay cool – you are on holiday, remember?


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