A rule of Nepal is that if a Nepali says you have an hour left to walk, double it. A three hour hike? It’ll take you at least five. And so it went during my Sunday hike up Shivapuri. Four-five hours? Make that a twelve-hour day out! When I and a group of friends set off towards Budhanilkantha and the Shivapuri -Nagarjun National Park early on Sunday morning, I knew we could be in for a long day. We were. But it was worth it to get away from the noise and pollution of Kathmandu.
The Shivapuri-Nagarjun National Park is on the northern edge of the Kathmandu Valley, and is an important area for many reasons: it is where much of Kathmandu’s water starts from, including the Bagmati River. The Bagmati as it runs through the centre of Kathmandu is a thick, sludgy, toxic mess, so it’s difficult to believe that it comes out of the hills in Shivapuri pure and clean and drinkable. It acquires its toxicity in a few short kilometres, which really is an indictment on Kathmandu’s management of its water supplies. But if you want to catch it pure and clean, Shivapuri’s the place.
Starting from Patan at 8, we got the regular Lalitpur Yatayat to the microbus stand outside the Kathmandu Mall (regular, that is, if you live in or around Patan Dhoka and frequently head to Thamel). We had clear instructions how to get to Budhanilkantha, at the foot of the Shivapuri-Nagarjun National Park, but were thwarted by a driver who was either stupid or just wanted our fare money. We got on the wrong micro, so had to get down and change at Lainchaur. We had it on good authority that there are direct micros from the Kathmandu Mall to Narayanthan/Budhanilkantha, eight kilometres away. Depending on the time of day and the traffic, the trip should take less than half an hour, but it’s a good idea to get started early on the hike, which means coinciding the transport with rush-hour.
Budhanilkantha, as well as being one of the gateways to the Shivapuri-Nagarjun National Park, is also home to a very unusual temple, featuring a five-metre long sleeping Vishnu in a pond, within the coils of a snake.
The reclining statue is said to date from the 7th century, and to have been lost and buried for centuries until it was uncovered by farmers.
The entrance to the Shivapuri-Nagarjun National Park is a two-kilometre uphill walk from where the bus drops off (the Vishnu temple is about a third of the way). We stopped for boiled eggs for those in my group who thought it’d be a good idea to come out for a day trek without having breakfast at home first (not naming names, you know who you are!) so we by the time we embarked on the hike, it was a decidedly un-early 10am.
The park is big and there are several options for day hikes. We opted for the route up to Baghdwar.
Entrance to the park is Rs 50 for Nepalis and a rather steep Rs 500 for foreigners (plus tax). Hopefully that money really does go towards conservation efforts. The park is quite the wildlife refuge, famously sheltering numerous leopards. Although you’re unlikely to see them in the day, my friend who led us on this hike lives at the foot of the park, and recently a leopard entered his garden and attacked his dog!
Once you’ve entered the park, the first hour of any route is along a dusty road. Then, you branch up the steep stone steps towards Nagi Gomba, a Tibetan nunnery. The grounds flutter with primary-coloured prayer flags and the odd monkey, and the nuns sitting around cooking and chatting don’t seem to mind hikers ambling through. There should be excellent views from Nagi Gomba, as there are unobstructed spots looking out over the Valley. But, as usual, yesterday was too hazy to see very much, even with the sun shining.
To get to Baghdwar or the Shivapuri summit, the correct route is to follow the stone steps out the back of the monastery and to the left. There are a lot of steps–at least two hours’ worth, depending on your pace–so the walk is quite a workout.
As you get higher, the vegetation becomes mossier, damper, greener. Not quite fast enough to keep pace with the guys at the front, and not slow enough to want to linger with the girls at the back, I walked alone along much of this trail. It felt good to get lungfuls of clean air and to hear nothing but the chirping of birds. Silence and cleanliness are in short supply in Kathmandu.
We reached Baghdwar at about 3 o’clock, so there wasn’t time to push on another hour to the Shivapuri summit and make it down again before dark. Baghdwar is where the Bagmati leaves the mountainside and begins is death towards Kathmandu. There is a small, green, stagnant pond there with a statue of Shiva sitting in the middle, as well as a few Shiva-linga and yoni, naga serpents, Buddha statues and even a couple of hermit caves (at least, that’s what we decided they were). Like almost everywhere in Nepal, there is a mixture of Hindu and Buddhist elements at this site of worship.
The air at Baghdwar was very cold as the area is shaded, so once we’d cooled off from walking, we felt quite chilled. As well as the tank, there are just a few stone statues at Baghdwar, and my Nepali and Indian friends weren’t particularly impressed. But I thought it was atmospheric and beautiful. I still don’t understand Hinduism or Buddhism well enough to look unquestioningly upon sites such as Baghdwar, so I thought it was interesting.
The walk back down the hill was quicker, about two and a half hours, and the sun was setting as we reached the exist gates.
Hungry and deserving beer, we chose to eat at a place advertising local trout. I’d usually steer clear of anything in Kathmandu that included the words ‘local’ and ‘fish’, but we could see the pond that they were farmed in, and did actually see the guy fish a few out especially for us. At Rs 1000 per kilo (US$10), this trout was pricey by Nepali standards, and as it was served cut up and deep-fried, it’s not something you’d necessarily want as a meal in itself for one person. But as a bar snack shared among several people, it was tasty.
Celebrating and reinvigorating food and drink partaken, it was completely dark and there was no chance of getting a micro back into town. We walked back to the bottom of the hill to catch a taxi. Even with my Nepali friend’s native bargaining skills (and the gora [white folk] hiding in the background), the fare to Patan set us back Rs 2000, but shared among five people that was manageable, and really the only option if you linger after dark.
Today, my calf muscles are sore, so I know I’ve done myself some good. Next time: Shivapuri summit! And an earlier start.
(All costs were paid by me, and all opinions are my own. All links included in this post are for informational purposes only).