Hike for Good Health

We don’t give much thought to the hills around Kathmandu but they provide endless possibilities when it comes to hiking. It is heartening to see more people on the trails, working up a sweat and getting some good exercise. It’s one of the healthiest pastimes and hopefully more and more people will get off their butts and head up some obscure trail that leads to fresh mountain air and spectacular views. Yes, just getting out of the polluted city is a healthy thing to do but add to that the natural exercise you get and it goes without saying, you will also be leaving your troubles behind. My own pastime is turning into a passion and I’m happy every time someone writes to me saying that they’ve been inspired by my accounts of the numerous hikes I’ve done around and beyond Kathmandu valley; they too are out there walking.

My first hike was way back in the 80s when I read about Namobuddha and thought I should pay a visit. Starting from Dhulikhel, I followed the motor road all the way, as back then motor vehicles were a rarity in these parts. Nor did I meet another soul during the hike until I reached my destination. A large snake crossing my path is all I can recall from that hike. It was an easy walk but I hadn’t given much thought to the return journey and it seemed like I wouldn’t make it back in daylight. Luckily a Swiss aid truck miraculously appeared out of nowhere; it was on its way back after dropping off food packages at a nearby village, and I was gratefully able to hitch a ride. More than thirty years later I was once again hiking from Dhulikhel but this time there were many others on the trail, all heading for Namobuddha. The return journey was via Panauti which is a bustling little Newar town surrounded by remarkable greenery and beautiful old temples that have been restored to their former glory. This town by itself is worth a visit and the normal route is via Banepa where you have to make a right turn.

One of the easiest, yet rewarding hikes starts from the heart of Thankot. Going downhill towards the right (north), you soon reach the bottom where a tiny stream flows and you start the uphill climb. It’s always good to take a diversion and heading left towards the small forest near Bhanjyang means great views of the mountains (Ganesh Himal and more) and the grassy slope just invites you to rest a while. A climb up from the forest leads to Kalu Panday’s (one of Prithvi Narayan Shah’s great generals who was killed in battle) tomb on the hilltop, which is surprisingly well kept while at the same time very unusual since Hindus don’t have tombs. The hill is known as Dahachok and it was once an important source of drinking water. A large water tank further up is surrounded by shrines and people come here to swim and pray. Walking towards Ramkot one also comes across a memorial for the unfortunate victims of a plane crash that once made headline news. From a distance it looks rather strange as each victim is represented by a bust painted striking white. From here several good trails lead to Ramkot, Sitapaila and back to the city via Swoyambhu.  Before descending towards Ramkot, you will come across what is known as Switzerland Park but the story behind the name is quite disappointing; it once snowed on this hilltop and that was it. They subsequently named it Switzerland Park, but all you’ll find here is a picnic spot (as of my last visit). The name has resonated though and quite a few people come looking for it.

A recent hike which was rewarding, exhausting as well as interesting started from Budanilkantha. A friend and I bought tickets at the gate of the Shivapuri National Park and started walking at a reasonably good pace. Our first stop was Nagi Gumba (also written Gompa) which is run by Buddhist nuns and is quite well known. From there a trail leads up to Baghdwar which is the source of the holy Bagmati. It is always fascinating to see how trickles of water coming down from the mountain top collect in a pool and flow downstream, mixing with other bodies of water to finally form a big river (which is also why I keep insisting we should tap this source that surrounds the valley, given the fact that even the water from Melamchi will not be adequate for this ever growing population).

Not wanting to trace our steps back to Nagi Gumba, we looked for small tracks that would lead us down to Taaray Bhir. A little guess work and judging from the direction the short cuts were taking, we managed to climb straight down a hill that was close to our destination. Walking further down to the main village we treated ourselves to some sweet chyang enjoying views of the valley below. The old lady who was minding the eatery took her time and we found ourselves behind schedule; we knew we wouldn’t make it back to Budanilkantha before dark.  Taking the shortest route down we headed back and had to rely on our mobile torch to see the trail which was quite smooth thankfully. It was a long nine hour hike starting and ending in Budanilkantha but we were both happy we did it, and ended the day with momos at Momo Magic.

The most amazing views can be had by hiking past Dakshinkali and climbing up toward Chaukoti Devi. Being a ridge walk there are fascinating views on both sides. In winter, much of the hills on the left are half covered in mist and smog giving them a mysterious appeal while on the right are rice terraces shimmering in the clear mountain air; the contrast is striking. The views from the hilltops are spectacular as this is way beyond the Kathmandu valley and the sweeping panorama takes in the valleys that lie outside the surrounding hills of the city. The trail goes along the ridge all the way, making it a very special hike.

There is no limit to the hikes one can do around this gorgeous valley. Go up Sundarijal all the way to Chisopani to enjoy great views of the Himalaya, hike from Sankhu up past Bajrajogini and into the Shivapuri National Park to take a splash in the pristine pool at Manichur, visit the source of the Bishnumati River by climbing up from Budanilkantha, do the Hatiban to Champa Devi, hike from Chobar to Khokana, then walk down to the Bagmati, cross the suspension bridge and visit the first hydro-power station of Nepal. These are some of the interesting hikes I would recommend.

Looking back I’m beginning to believe that it is my walking that has kept me healthy despite a history of ill health since my childhood. Through my twenties I fought numerous serious illnesses including a scary, irregular heart beat resulting from sleep deprivation. But walking regularly and playing football most of my life seems to have paid off.  “You’re fine!” is what my doctor told me on my last check up. So if you haven’t already bought one, get a good, strong pair of hiking boots and hit the road; you’ll never regret it.