Exploring Kathmandu and Beyond
Few visitors to Nepal escape the seductive call of the Himalayas. The mountains offer a certain breed of clarity difficult to adopt elsewhere. But those spending an extended period of time in Kathmandu might be surprised to find that, both inside and just beyond this frenzied yet extraordinary metropolis, places of beauty, calm and serenity can also be found. The city’s lack of green spaces is generously compensated by the surrounding valley. Excursions to Shivapuri Nagarjun National park and Nagarjun Hill can be easily accomplished in one day and are an opportunity to breathe and reflect in the midst of a sprawl of natural beauty. City dwellers looking for a briefer reprieve from the bustling roar of Thamel can find peace at The Garden of Dreams.
Just beyond the World Heritage Site of Swayambhunath, more commonly known as “Monkey Temple”, Nagarjun Hill sits at a height of 2095 metres and is one of the last remaining areas of woodland in the valley. Many species of wildlife - including deer, monkeys and pheasants – have chosen to make this serene spot their home. Swayambhunath makes an ideal starting point for venturing up Nagarjun. The magnificent stupa is one of the city’s most popular attractions and its splendour is all the more appreciated after ascending the mammoth, imposing stairwell leading up to the compound. Early risers can witness morning rituals where devotees circumnavigate the stupa and light butter lamps.
Tucked Just beyond Monkey Temple, a short distance from Nagarjun Hill, three imposing statues of Sakyamuni Buddha, the four-armed Chenrezig and Guru Rinpoche dominate the Buddha Amideva Park. This is another site teeming with monkeys who will gladly steal food from tourists, despite any karmic repercussions for their next incarnations. From here, heading towards Trisuli Bazaar, you can find Nagarjun Hill. Admission to the reserve is 500rs, although there’s plenty of natural beauty to explore in the surrounding area without paying a fee. Steep, winding paths and roads through forested landscapes are punctuated by small villages and dramatic views of the region’s green, glowing terrain. The summit - a two-hour hike up the footpath leading directly up the hill - is a popular pilgrimage for Buddhists. In addition to a small shrine dedicated to Padmasamhava, panoramic views of the Annapurnas, to Langtang Lirung are a welcome reward for this short hike and are some of the best in the valley. Entrance to the reserve is at Phulbari, about 2km north of Balaju.
A more intrepid excursion is to the Shivapuri Nagarjun National Park, of which Nagarjun Hill is also connected. Reaching the entrance presents a moderate challenge, though, as the harsh, jagged roads leading up to the main gate are better suited to a jeep than the average city taxi. The best route of entry is by arriving at Budhanilkantha and walking the short distance to the park’s entrance. Budhanilkantha is a spiritual site standing uniquely separate from the rest, partly due to it being slightly off the beaten tourist track. Here, through the entrance gate, devotees are met by a powerful reclining statue of Vishnu as Narayan, the creator of all life, floating on a cosmic sea.
Entrance to the national park is NRs. 500rs, but solo trekkers will be asked to pay an extra NRs.800 for a guide as lone hiking is not permitted. The reserve is an excellent nature spotting location, and ascending to the 2725m Shivapuri Peak via Baghdwar – where the source of the holy Bagmati pours out of two stone tiger mouths – is an exhausting but hugely gratifying chance to drink in some of Nepal’s signature natural beauty.
Back in the labyrinthine hive of Kathmandu’s dusty core, beyond the frenzied scrabble of pedestrians, rickshaws, motorbikes and taxis making up Thamel, a shorter break from the city can be found at the Field marshal Kaiser Shamser’s Garden of Dreams. The Kaiser Shamser built the garden in the 1920s after visit to England, where he found himself enamoured by the many landscaped gardens. The garden is meticulously manicured and blends the East’s exoticism with the ornate grandeur of Edwardian English architecture. Several cafes mark the perimeter of this well-groomed idyll. There’s also a sweet and citric odor of romance pervading the area, as couples take advantage of this serene space to court one another. Entrance to the garden is NRs. 200 and for an extra NRs. 50 access to Wi-Fi is provided.