Monday, July 23, 2012

Shivapuri hike - The best hiking in Kathmandu

Shivapuri is my all time favorite place to hike / trek around Kathmandu. It is the second highest hill around Kathmandu with its peak reaching to 2,730m. Unlike other suburbs of Kathmandu, Shivapuri has remained untouched because of its religious significance and importance as a watershed supplying water to Kathmandu. In 1975, conservation work was started with its proclamation as Shivapuri watershed and wildlife reserve. In 2002, it was given the status of Shivapuri National Park and in 2009, it expanded, covering 159sq km with the addition of Nagarjun forest reserve. A size it still presently holds.
Ganesh Himal as seen from the shivapuri hill north of Kathmandu.
Ganesh Himal seen for the 2,730 m Shivapuri Hill north of Kathmandu
William and Maria looked sporty and fit to do the trek. Before our meeting at ‘Hotel Yak and Yeti’ we exchanged over a dozen emails grading Shivapuri hike and judging their stamina.  William had specially asked if there were steep, narrow pathways with shear straight drop-offs, as Maria was nervous of heights.

It was a fine morning in February (2012) with light haze surrounding Kathmandu. I checked my hiking kits and went to Thamel, where I had to pick up the pack lunch. Within an hour, we were driving north towards Budanilkantha, at the base of Shivapuri. Budanilkantha is one of the famous pilgrimage sites for both Hindus and Buddhists, another example of religious harmony typical to Kathmandu, Nepal. For a student of culture, the monolithic, over 1,000 years old, 16 ft tall sleeping ‘Bishnu’ arises several curiosities. The marvelous statue of Hindu god Bishnu is said to resemble the face of Buddha. After a quick tour of Budanilkantha, we drove towards Shivapuri National Park entrance at ‘Mulpani’. After paying the entrance fee of Rs 250 each for William and Maria and Rs 10 for me, we walked into the woods dotted with military huts, to come to the dirt road. Following the grove lined with Elder and Oak trees, we arrived at the base of well made cement steps leading to Nagi Gompa. The steps led us around a well-maintained garden and residences of nuns. All overseen by a woman in billowing saffron roves. Nagi Gompa is a nunnery and retreat center, accommodating 108 Buddhist nuns. From the clearings of the monastery, the sweeping view of Kathmandu valley appears amazing.
Nagi Gompa in Shivapuri national park
Nagi Gompa perched high on the emerald green slopes of Kathmandu
The trail further climbs steeply for 1 & ½ hrs to the ridge with scant ground. By now we have come deep into the Shivapuri National Park. The grassy ridge provided a nice break; however, was surrounded by thick forests preventing sight at a distance. I was expecting to see some wildlife but have no luck, apart from the famous Rhesus monkeys. Several surveys have recorded the existence of Indian Leopards, Himalayan Black bears, deer, wild boar and many other precious animals in the park. Shivapuri is also one of the famous bird watching sites around Kathmandu valley, which records over 170 species of birds.  

Bagdwar is the origin of Bagmati River in Kathmandu
The trail further climbs gradually and winds along the mountainside to Bagdwar, the holy site for being origin of Bagmati River. Bagdwar has got few meditation caves, chhaitye (religious object) and sunken water spout with tap designed as a tiger’s head. A hike to Bagdwar is done during the Nepalese New year (April first week) as a celebration. Again, the site is revered by both Hindus and Buddhists. There are couple of hermitage on the ridge just above Bagdwar lived by sages. From here, we follow the steep trail towards east climbing for about ½ hr to the top. We could still see snow patches along the trail.
Jugal Himal range seen from Shivapuri hill north of Kathmandu
Jugal Himal range seen from the top of Shivapuri Hill

From the top the view is rewarding. We were looking at Ganesh Himal Range, Langtang and Jugal Himal towards direct north. Manaslu (8,163m / 8th highest in the world) was sticking out of the extensive Himalayan peaks towards south. The fresh air and scrumptious lunch rejuvenated us. After the climb of 4 hrs / 1,000m from the entrance of National Park at ‘Mulpani Gate’, we arrived to the top of Shivapuri.
Winter days are short and it was a serious hike. We still had to climb down for three hrs. Even though I was bit worried at first about their performance, everything went fine and they really enjoyed the hike. Exchange of good information, good planning and preparation is must for any hike and trek in the Himalayas.
Write me if you need more info regarding hiking / trekking around Kathmandu.