Standing on the top of the flat roof of the hotel with my hands firmly in my pockets with my collar pulled up and a scarf wrapped around my face my eyes firmly fixed on one of the most famous horizons in the world, I am transfixed.
As the sun peeked above the Nepalese horizon the sky lightened slightly and from the darkness emerged Manaslu Peak, one of the 14 mountains in the world over 8000m, its snow covered peak suffused in the soft pink glow of the rising sun.
As we watch in awe, another range emerges – the Ganeshes – the holy mountains of Nepal. Slowly the light increases and we can see mountains all the way around the horizon from the peaks of Annapurna to the distant majesty of the Everest and Lhotse Ranges all greeting the morning in a finery of fiery reds and oranges.
This awe-inspring experience at the roof of the world was our reward for rising early in our hotel in the tiny settlement of Nagarkot where we had ended a full day’s hike the night before. It was also a fine start to another day of hiking through what the Nepalese refer to as “hills” despite the fact that the myriad ranges are higher than 2300m above sea level.
Sunrises were was an important part of each day’s activities during our four day adventure, hiking part of a route through the hills that encircle the Kathmandu valley. We didn’t mind (too much) because each dawn presaged another day enjoying the local culture and the beautiful scenery.
The hikes ranged from 12 to 20km as well as a 20km mountain bike ride and took in villages, wild forest, steep mountain slopes dotted with tiny subsistence farms and religious sites including the revered Namo Buddha pilgrimage site and monastery. Nagarkot, where the hike ended on the first day, is a small settlement perched on the sides of the hills, largely made up of hotels catering to those wanting to revel in the stunning views of the mountains. The second and third nights were spent in Dhulikel, a small city where the trade between Nepal and Tibet occurs.
The second day’s hike between Nagarkot and Dhulikel meant a descent and ascent of around 1000 stairs, into and out of a rich, farming valley. The reward was lunch at the “Sunrise Hotel” a tiny, one room hut perched on a mountain top, from which the hills and mountains rolled out in green waves before the peaks of the Everest Range in the far distance. The day was unusually clear, and as we silently soaked up the view sipping chai tea under a prayer flag flapping umbrella, it was almost a spiritual experience.
Meals were provided along the way by farmers and villagers and all were a variation of Nepal’s ubiquitous national food, dhal bhat, a delicious combination of dhal and rice, served with pickles and seasonal greens, which is eaten twice a day, every day, by locals.
The last day of our hilly adventure was by mountain bike. Much of the fast ride was downhill bouncing and jouncing on the teeth jarring pitted dirt roads, but one section was along Nepal’s one super highway – a two lane sealed road put in with foreign aid that links Kathmandu with Tibet. The Nepalese version of the road train might only be a public bus, but it was enough to have us keeping a wary eye on the traffic as we sped along.
The hike began and ended in the ancient city of Bhaktapur, an hour’s drive from Kathmandu and while we were there we checked out the old town which was once the capital of Nepal and is now considered one of the living museums of the world.
The hike was just one of the experiences on our packed itinerary during a three week trip to Nepal, organised by Hari Sharan Bhuju of Bhaktapur based Nepal Trek Ways. We had originally purchased a ten day tour package which incorporated a four day hike and a cultural component, with the idea of making our own arrangements for sightseeing and adventure when we’d finished the organised tour. However, when we completed our first ten days we were so impressed we asked Hari to organise the second half of our holiday as well.
Our Nepalese adventure had began with a day in Kathmandu; a city that seems to have inspired Terry Pratchett in his depiction of the Discworld capital Ank Morpohk. Along little laneways and walkways, buildings tilt and lean in all directions with electrical wires and prayer flags intermingling overhead. The traditional three story Nepalese houses are dark and ill-lit but they are beautifully adorned by highly detailed wood carvings which attest to a culture steeped in the stories of the Hindu religion.
The centre of Kathmandu, Thamel, is a shopper’s paradise. Small stalls line the dusty roads and vendors offer a huge variety of hand made goods. Just poring over the silk rugs from Kashmir; yak and goat wool carpets woven by Tibetan refugees and locally produced hook work embroidered rugs is worth a day’s outing. Alongside the craft shops are hiking shops selling everything needed to be warm, safe and comfortable on the mountains or the hills.
Nepali salespeople will tell you, while you try on your new gear, that hiking is in the hills and trekking occurs in the mountains – thank goodness we were there in the winter and the high passes were closed.
Though we visited Nepal in the off-season, it was a considered choice as we wanted to go somewhere in January to escape the West Australian summer. Undeterred by the idea of freezing in the highest country in the world we packed lots of woolly clothes and on arrival were pleasantly surprised that winter in Nepal is not a lot different to down south in July!
Our guides confided that they didn’t understand how the ‘high’ season in Nepal had evolved as the winter time is the best time to see the mountains and the scenery as the fog lifts and it doesn’t rain as much as at other times.
The one drawback I could find was that the famous rhododendron forests were not in flower: the potential beauty was easy to see as the deep green trees were heavy with buds. Blossoming begins in late March and in April the forests turn to pink.
Having established that a three week visit just touches the surface of this wonderful, quirky country, and that the cold is nothing that a good woolly jumper couldn’t fix, a return visit is in order.