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A 2 day trekking trip from Kathmandu to Nagarkot

We were only in Nepal for a short time and so didn’t have option to do a typical 2-3 week trekking excursion. But we also didn’t want to miss out on getting a taste of the quintessential Nepal trekking experience and so we managed to find a 2 day trip from Kathmandu to the village of Nagarkot. Nagarkot is perched at an altitude of 2165 meters (the highest point on the valley rim) and is famous for having some of the most stunning sunrise / sunset views of the Himalayas, a 180 degree vista from Mt. Annapurna in the northwest to Mt. Everest in the extreme northeast. In fact, it is so stunning that the Rana Maharajas of Nepal built their summer palace in Nagarkot in order to enjoy the vista daily.

Nagarkot is only 20km from Kathmandu, but if you choose to trek, it is a 4-6 hour trekking journey (depending upon skill level). The trek actually starts at the temple of Changu Narayan in the Kathmandu Valley. The temple, a a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is one of the oldest Hindu temples in the valley, dating back to the 4th century. A stone slab discovered in the vicinity of the temple dates to the 5th century, and is the oldest such inscribed stone ever found in Nepal. Around the temple is a neighboring village where one begins to get a sense of Nepalese village life – children playing in the dusty lanes, women washing each other’s hair by the roadside, stray dogs milling about, enterprising vendors capitalizing on the tourist flow by selling all manner of trinkets.

Dipping off the side of one of the hills near Changu Narayan, the trek begins. At times it is quite level and easy, at other times the terrain gets a bit steep and challenging. As we go through the countryside, we see all manner of Nepalese village life – from single homes that are self sustaining with small gardens, chickens and goats to small communities sharing a well. It is clear this is not an easy life…women in their 80’s hoist baskets of firewood on their heads, mothers simultaneously grind grain in a mortar and pestle while breastfeeding a newborn, while the older children are feeding the (sometimes anemic looking) livestock. This “simple” life doesn’t look so simple. I start to wonder, where do they shop for the things they cannot make, like knives or tools or even some spices and other cooking supplies? Our guide tells us that periodically they do a multi-hour trek (one way) to a larger village to acquire what they can afford and can carry home, and in some cases for special items, multi-day trips on foot are required. More successful families, only a handful, may have a motorbike for the trip. Coming from the US where even poor families have TV’s, shop in supermarkets, go to quality public schools and have easy access to adequate medical care, it’s hard to imagine this kind of life. I feel indulgent with my North Face backpack, Columbia jacket, Armani sunglasses and department store sunscreen. I have seen the rural poor in SE Asia in places like Cambodia and Thailand, but somehow this affects me more…maybe it is the demanding terrain and harsh climate that clearly dominates the life here.  The juxtaposition of such poverty in the context of such abundant and stunning natural beauty is remarkable.

On the trek, we continue to wind through the hills and valleys of the area, stumbling across various curiosities like a girl trying to coax a goat off of a ledge or a man hiking home with freshly caught fish in hand (our guide tells us the nearest stream is over 2 hours away). We see amazing views that leave me at a loss for words and also distract me from the blister I can feel forming in my shoe. Eventually at the 5 hour mark my body starts to ache and I wonder how people who do the “real” treks manage 8 hours a day, every day, for multiple weeks. I am looking forward to getting to the hotel, ditching the backpack and stripping off my sweaty clothes. I realize this is an indulgence because most trekkers sleep in tents with sleeping bags. And then I also acknowledge, I am not a hard core trekker – I want a hot shower and a beer. Now.

We arrive in Nagarkot, whose name means “fort of the city.” Its position on the rim of valley was a strategic location in the ancient trade route from Tibet to Kathmandu. We are staying at Club Himalaya Resort, the best resort in the village. I believe it qualifies as a 4 star, but then things in Nepal are a bit off ranking wise. It is a solid 3 star in my book. But I couldn’t be happier – there is a spa with a sauna and whirlpool and massage is offered. I choose the 90 minute Ayurvedic massage (1800 rupees / $25 USD) – it is thorough and probably one of the best massages I have had in months. Later, I become convinced this, and the sauna, are why I am not sore the next day.

After the massage we take a short walk down to the Tea House Inn and sit on the terrace soaking up the amazing sunset view and sipping Nepalese milk tea and eating momos (Nepalese dumplings). On our walk back we discover a lovely little shop called the Dexo Souvenir Center – they have a small selection of handknit sweaters, pillow covers, jewelry, etc. But what is most notable is the abundant selection of Nepalese music. The owner is super helpful and lets us play any CD we like, and then offers recommendations on other similar options. This was definitely a highlight and in my opinion a must do if you like music and find yourself in Nagarkot. We stay at Dexo chatting with the owner, Jayandra, for well over an hour listening to music before the fatigue sets in and we head back to the hotel.

Club Himalaya affords a stunning view of the valley, thanks to its large glass windows dominating one whole side of the hotel. The buffet at dinner looks a little sad, so we choose to order from the menu offering Indian or Chinese (it’s owned by a Hong Kong group). The food is not particularly impressive, but then it’s not bad either. And really all that is standing between us and sleep is the meal. So we rush through it and are off to bed startlingly early at 9pm. Partly because we are tired from the trekking and partly because we will rise at 5:30 to see the sunrise. This is why people stay at Club Himalaya – it’s not the mediocre food or the fairly basic rooms, it’s the epic sunrise that brings people here.

And so it is at 5:30am the night sky begins to transform. Deep colors emerge and shift as I watch from my terrace, speechless and mesmerized. I have never seen a sunrise such as this. It’s the sort of spectacular natural beauty that leaves one simultaneously filled with wonder and then also feeling a bit small and insignificant when compared to the majestic power of nature. Around 6am we head up to the roof to enjoy the panoramic view from Annapurna to Everest. I don’t know if I will ever see a more beautiful sunrise in my lifetime and you know what? I don’t really care, because seeing Nepal transform under the rising sun was more beauty than I ever hoped to see. Still under the spell of the sunrise, we made our way downstairs and enjoyed a wordless breakfast before heading back to Kathmandu.

I travel a lot and so tragically I find the more I see, often the less affected I am. Things new and different are not so startling and impactful…and so with each trip, the more of the world I see, the less of a mark it leaves on my soul. This, however, was not the case for Nepal. From the raucous streets of Kathmandu to the sunrise of a lifetime in Nagarkot, I feel the deep imprint of a journey that challenged me and a place I will hold in my heart until I return.

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