We take the scenic route the Nepalese hill station
I don’t climb mountains. I’d like to, but I haven’t made a serious attempt yet – I hear you need to stay disciplined, and that puts me off. However, there’s something about a holiday that always makes you do things you wouldn’t normally consider. ‘Eat that strange gloopy mess? Yeah, why not?’
‘Fancy walking up 600 steps to enter a building we don’t really want to see? Sure, let’s go!’ I’ll do it all, and almost anything else (within reason), because travelling is all about ‘the experience’.
Anyone who’s been to Kathmandu knows it’s a city of culture, chaos and charm. It’s one of those places where you can just turn up without a plan and manage just fine. It’s a city where guesthouses, on pretty much every street, will try to fleece you with a smile and garbled words, where the food often tastes miles better than it looks, where religion and spirituality create a wonderful aura of calm, and where the narrow streets magically defy science to hold all the cars, bikes and animals (four-legged and two-legged) that amble past.
I take it all in – from walking along the tourist-friendly Thamel and consuming platefuls of the ubiquitous thackali food platters to making a secret wish at the World Peace Pond and more. But I still feel as though my trip is incomplete; that is, until my guide tells me about Nagarkot.
Located in a district called Bhaktapur, which is about 30km east of Kathmandu, this hill station is best known for its jaw-dropping mountain views. The Himalayas and Mount Everest are visible on a good day, and the trip to the top (it’s at an altitude of about 2,000m) is a journey through lush greenery. If you’re looking to escape, it doesn’t get better than this… or so I’ve been told.
Who’d honestly pass up an opportunity to see something like that? A lot of people choose to stay the night at budget-friendly lodges around Nagarkot to catch the spectacular sunrise the next morning, before heading back to the city and the daily grind, but since I don’t have the luxury of time, I decide to make a day trip of it and at least catch the sunset.
On my second day in Kathmandu, after a hearty traditional lunch, I steel myself for what lies ahead. It’s not as arduous as I make it out to be – sure, I could have saddled on some trekking gear and headed to Nagarkot on my mountain bike, but have you seen the traffic trying to get around Kathmandu? Weaving around that is a death-trap, and besides, I can’t ride a mountain bike. So, like any other city girl, I book a taxi. It might sound incredibly lazy (I won’t deny it), but watching the scenery pass by as you’re being chauffered is just perfect.
Bhaktapur, also known as the City of Devotees or City of Culture, is one of three royal cities in the Kathmandu Valley (others are the capital Kathmandu and Patan). It’s best known for the Durbar (Royal) Square, which was added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1979. Drive a little further and you’ll see what else makes this place shine. It really feels like a terracotta haven, littered with carved wood columns, palaces with intricate decoration and religious shrines, and I really get a sense that little has changed over the decades (or centuries) – although the sight of a lost tourist is definitely more common these days.
Sometimes even the tiniest detail gets your mind racing, and when my tour guide tells me that Bhaktapur lay along the ancient trade route between India and Tibet, my mind conjures visions of people dressed in colourful attire holding spices and woven cloth. I’m aware that my imagination doesn’t paint the most accurate picture, but it keeps me entertained for the journey, which lasts more than an hour, as we drive up winding tracks with rolling hills in the distance.
I’ve seen scenes like this in Europe, yet to see a similar backdrop peppered with rugged Nepal scenery is something else. My reverie is broken by my guide. ‘Aap chai mangta hai?’ he questions, pointing to one of many quaint shack-like restaurants we pass on the hill. We order a cup of tea and walk up to the rooftop of the restaurant, where we sip the milky concoction in silence. When asked by my guide about the view, all I can bring myself to say is ‘beautifulbeautifulbeautiful’, like the wide-eyed tourist I am.
We walk along dirt roads, passing villages and farms with bright green grass and even brighter smiles. Local children dressed in colourful attire run towards us in excitement, but then seem endearingly shy. We eventually reach The Fort – a hotel that’s rustic, but offers breathtaking views of the Himalayas from its rooftop. I see lots more green around me, all blanketed by a feather-light mist that slides away as the sun touches the snow-peaked mountains in the distance. Everything is laid out in front of me and I realise this just might be the best sunset I’ll ever see.
Need to know
Getting there Fly direct to Kathmandu with Flydubai from Dhs1,300 return, including taxes (www.flydubai.com, 04 301 0800). Buses to Bhaktapur from major Kathmandu sites are available, but it’s advisable to go with a guide as the bus schedules and timings can be rather irregular. Hiring a one-way taxi to Nagarkot will cost about Dhs100 from Kathmandu and Dhs50 from Bhaktapur.
Where to stay End of the Universe You’ll feel right at home at this beautiful family-run hotel, where you’ll be treated to Nepali hospitality with a Western touch. From Dhs25 for a single room; breakfast is an additional Dhs8. www.endoftheuniverse.com.np (+977 1 622 6500).
The Fort Resort Considered by many to be the first resort in Nagarkot, The Fort features traditional Nepali architecture, with carved doors and windows. From Dhs200 for a single room; breakfast is an additional Dhs20. (+977 1 443 2960).
Tea House Inn This hotel is in the grounds of the Club Himalaya Resort, offering a budget-friendly stay with the chance to use the swimming pool and spa (at an extra charge). From Dhs75 for a single room with breakfast included. www.acehotelsnepal.com/teahouse (+977 1 668 0080).
Did You Know? • The best time to visit Nagarkot is from October to December, when the weather is calm and clear and you’re almost always guaranteed the best views of the Himalayas, including Mount Everest, as well as the Kathmandu Valley.
• During winter (October to February), temperatures can drop to 3°C at night; during the day, the maximum average temperature is only 12°C.
• Nepal has many varied ethnic groups, each with their own subculture, language and customs. According to the 2001 national census, at least 92 different languages are spoken in Nepal, though other studies suggest it’s closer to 120.
• The Newar people are considered to be the original inhabitants of the Kathmandu Valley. They speak Newari, an independent language with its own script and a rich literature.