Kathmandu Valley’s Best Walking Tour
If you thought that the only way to glimpse Nepal’s spectacular Himalayan peaks was by tackling an arduous mountain trek, this three-day wander out of Kathmandu is going to surprise you!
Not only does it deliver jaw-dropping mountain panoramas that stretch from the Annapurnas all the way east to Mt Everest, it also links the Kathmandu Valley’s most beguiling sacred sites and old walled cities, its high altitude villages and little-visited temples.
This is a route for everyone, and it begins with a short taxi ride out of Thamel before continuing on foot, returning you to the city three days later.
Escape from Kathmandu
On the outskirts of Kathmandu, forested ridges rise in sweeping arcs, wrapping protective arms around Nepal’s enduring historical centre.
Carved with verdant rice terraces and studded with ancient glided stupas and thriving monasteries, they elevate mountain dreamers to grand Himalayan viewpoints and promise respite in droves, far from the noise and riot and chaos of the city.
Shouldering our backpacks we head for the hills, negotiating a taxi ride out of Thamel to the very outskirts of Kathmandu for 1000 rupees and bouncing and bumping along dusty, potholed tracks until we reach Sankhu where we continue on foot.
Guided by Maps.Me and some local directions, we follow the only road pushing uphill, swinging our five-year-old between us over wet season puddles.
Sharing the trail is my sister who is visiting Nepal for a week, so we chat and sing our way uphill towards Nagarkot, a lofty hill station with a reputation for providing the best Himalayan views in the Kathmandu Valley.
The mountains are reputedly so close that you can see them from your bed and that’s all the motivation we need.
The Walk to Nagarkot
The road climbs gently past farmhouses and garden plots lush with vegetables before diving into thick forest and emerging to stellar viewpoints back down the valley.
After a few easy hours we rest with cold lemonades and epic mountain views at Kattike, where the trail leaves the road to disappear along quiet forest trails that switchback slowly to Nagarkot.
We leap over streams and marvel at a mammoth, multicoloured slug, and nibble sugary Nepali biscuits all the way to the top, reaching Nagarkot after a total of four hours on our feet.
From this exceptional hilltop station, snow-capped mountains stud the horizon in every direction.
There is no shortage of accommodation, but one important snag: in the midst of monsoon season, most hotels are closed and the ones that are open are musty and unstaffed.
After checking out far too many mouldy rooms, we downsize our expectations, throw back some icy Gorkha beers and turn our faces towards the sun to watch it slip slowly through the clouds at our feet.
The shower in one room is broken, the lights in the other are out, so we split the difference and use them both: bathing by candlelight in one and bedding down in the other.
We push the saggy beds together, order hearty vegetarian fare and try to ignore the hotel boy who keeps sniggering at my sister and me, because in his eyes, we are the two white ‘wives’.
On Top of the World: Mahakali Temple
Our mould-scented night ends in spectacular style at dawn when we climb to the nearby Mahakali Temple to watch the clouds lift on a jaw-dropping Himalayan vista from the Annapurnas to Mount Everest: past Macchapurchare and Manaslu (8156m), revealing oh-so-close Ganesh Himal (7406m) and Langtang Lirung (7246m), and turning our heads east to the tip of Mount Everest’s 8848 metre-high, snow-capped summit.
With some local help we name every peak in what is quite simply the most perfect mountain panorama I’ve ever laid eyes upon, and that includes views from Poon Hill and Everest Base Camp too!
Hours later our rumbling tummies send us rambling back down the hill to order an embarrassingly large spread of pancakes and chapattis and just-brewed coffee, and kick-starting one of our best days in Nepal.
This mountain high endures as we bound along Nagarkot’s skinny, ridge-top settlement to hitch a bus ride to Telkot.
We are en route to Changu Narayan, the oldest living Hindu temple in the Kathmandu Valley and surely its most picturesque UNESCO site.
By the time the bus horn blows, bodies and luggage are piled together in a difficult-to-bear, sweaty crush. Halfway down the mountain we escape, pushing against a surge of bodies intent on claiming our now vacant seats.
My too-polite sister struggles to make headway, so we grab her backpack straps as the bus threatens to pull away and yank her out the door. Not for the first time on this trip, she is laughing hysterically.
Above this tiny 5-shop settlement, we climb a foot trail into Telkot Forest, traversing a skinny ridge lined with pine trees that blisses us out for two hours, all the way to Changu Narayan.
The quiet, sunny walk is effortless and apart from a few locals working the forests, we have it all to ourselves. Only Changu Narayan impresses us more.
Perched on the end of a knife-edge ridgeline, the location of this remarkable world heritage site couldn’t be more mind-blowing.
Climbing long stone staircases through the town, we are thrilled to discover that monuments toppled by 2015’s catastrophic earthquake have been painstakingly restored, artefacts rescued and that a band of thankful tourists has returned.
To sate our hearty appetites, a local noodle shop owner conjures up big bowls of vegetable soup, which we devour in the back of his tiny rammed-earth shop.
Afterwards, we ponder the long downhill hike to the ancient kingdom of Bhaktapur but jump aboard a bus instead to ensure we arrive in time to watch the sun set over the ancient kingdom.
In Kathmandu on the morning of 25th April 2015, a violent earthquake shattered the city, killing more than 8500 people and levelling homes and historic sites, triggering landslides and avalanches as far away as Everest base camp, and rendering thousands upon thousands of Nepali people homeless.
The aftermath was dire and terrifying aftershocks stifled recovery efforts and terrorised survivors for weeks.
In Bhaktapur, a revered UNESCO site and the most atmospheric of the Kathmandu Valley’s three ancient kingdoms, the earthquake killed hundreds, destroyed entire streets of irreplaceable, traditional homes, and shook some of the city’s ancient temples to breaking point.
The earthquake grounded Nepal’s tourism sector too, and incomes and jobs evaporated overnight.
By the time we reach Bhaktapur, 16 months on, an influx of aid dollars has fast-tracked repairs and the town is bustling with tour groups and travellers exploring Bhaktapur’s baffling sea of 15th century temples, stupas and palaces.
Over steaming mugs of Himalayan-grown coffee we try to plan a route through it all, but pocket our iPhones instead and wing it, losing ourselves in backstreets where handcrafted clay pots dry en masse in the sun, and stopping to feed hungry carp in a 17th century water pond.
In tiny, hidden courtyards we watch women drawing water from a communal well and sit in the city’s sunniest square cooling our tastebuds on frozen sticks of delicious, creamy curd.
Much to our surprise, we stumble upon the famous 600-year-old Peacock Window that adorns an old Hindu priest house and rates as the Kathmandu Valley’s finest, and return to Kathmandu exhilarated and exhausted!
In just three days we’ve enjoyed quiet forest hikes, mesmerising mountain views, explored World Heritage-listed temples and experienced a rare slice of local Nepali life that can’t be beaten….no mountain flight or hectic tour group required!
We thoroughly enjoyed our off-season ramble, but ideally there are two seasons to explore Nepal: February to May & September to November.
Outside these periods you’ll either encounter lots of rain or freezing temperatures, but lower prices and fewer travellers on the trail.
Nagarkot offers rooms with a view, while spending a night inside Bhaktapur’s old walled city is well worth paying extra for. To find out more, visit www.welcomenepal.com