Hiking around Kathmandu Valley
Below are route descriptions to the valley’s two highest peaks; Shivapuri, to the north, considered a hangout of Hindu deity Shiva, and Phulchowki, “Flower Fortress”; to the south with staggering views of the valley and Himalaya beyond. You can spend your short holiday by Hiking around Kathmandu Valley.
APPROACHING SHIVAPURI PEAK FROM BUDANILKANTA
Shivapuri Peak is the best route for hiking around Kathmandu Valley. To reach the gate of the Shivapuri National Park at Buddhanilkantha; find minivan transport along the road that fronts the Nepal Airlines Corporation building (formerly the Royal Nepal Airlines Corporation and still referred to as “RNAC”); near the gate to New Road where there are many street vendors. This minivan staging area lies to the west of Tundikhel Parade Ground. You will need to find the minivan to Budhanilkantha or Mohan Pokhari. The one that goes to Mohan Pokhari delivers passengers at the gate of the park itself. An onward van to Mohan Pokhari can also be transferred to from vans ending at Budhanilkantha.
Vehicles to Budhanilkantha reach a parking area 100 meters below the temple complex (1-hour ride from Tundikhel in central Kathmandu). From that drop-off point, head through an archway to the right of the taxi stand and up to a one-way road. The temple complex is 100 yards/meters up the road on the left side.
About 25 minutes up the road from the temple complex, reach the Shivapuri National Park payment counter (entry fee is 250 NRS for foreigners, 500 NRS for mountain bikers) and army check post (the Nepal Army is tasked with guarding Nepal’s National Parks). Across the road from the payment, the counter is Dharmasingha, a Buddhist meditation retreat center. A large golden stupa inside the compound was built to resemble Burma’s famous Schwedagon Pagoda.
Inside the park gate, the ticket will be registered in a log book and is good for one-entry up to seven days. Just beyond is a large signboard detailing paths to Shivapuri Peak. One way is to travel via Vishnudwara, considered the origin of the Vishnumati River that follows a stone staircase much of the way. Another option is by way of Nagi Gompa nunnery and Baghdwara, considered to be the source of the Bagmati River. A third option is to travel more directly bypassing Nagi Gompa. These three options are outlined below as well as a recommended optional start from Baudhnath and Kapan Monastery.
Option 1: SHIVAPURI PEAK BY WAY OF VISHNUDWARA
Shivapuri Peak summit via Vishnudwara is another alternative for hiking around Kathmandu Valley. Head left from the signboard area (the sign indicates that it is 6 km, or 3.7 mi, to Vishnudwara), cross a bridge, and follow a wide set of stone steps. After about one to one and a half hours reach a built-up tap marking the origin of the Vishnumati River. Unfortunately, the surrounding area is often littered with refuse from picnickers. 5 minutes beyond is a trail junction.
To the left is a trail that descends steeply towards a road that can be followed west to Kakani (5 to 6 hours away through a jungle without facilities). Follow the path to the right to ascend for 30-45 more minutes before the steps finally end and the single path track continues steeply. Eventually, pass below the remains of an old army post and hermitage of the late Shivapuri Baba and the summit beyond in 15 minutes from the end of the stone steps.
Option 2: SHIVAPURI PEAK BYPASSING NAGI GOMPA
From the signboard at the gate to the park, head right up to the dirt road. Follow this road, in 20-25 minutes a view of the valley opens up and just over five minutes beyond a set of stone stairs leads off to the left (north) before immediately ascending to the right (east) for a steep climb to the summit (5.5 km away according to a sign, about 3.4 mi). There is a roofed shelter a minute from leaving the road. In 30-35 minutes the stairs end and a single dirt trail begin. The trail ties in with the wider trail from Nagi Gompa in 15 to 20 more minutes. Head left and in less than 30 minutes reach Baghdwara (to continue from Baghdwara, and then see the section immediately below).
Option 3: SHIVAPURI PEAK BY WAY OF NAGI GOMPA
To travel by way of Nagi Gompa, rather than ascend the stone steps to the left of the road described immediately above, keep along the road and in 15 more minutes, ascend another set of stone steps that lead up to the left (the vehicle road continues to Sundarijal, about 9.5 km or 6 miles away). A lower shrine hall is reached in 10 minutes.
Nagi Gompa is a nunnery of the Kagyupa and Nyingmapa lineages of Tibetan Buddhism with some 100-110 residents, mostly Tamang, Tibetan and Newari. The convent has a small shop as well as six guest rooms should you need a stopover. The rooms are often booked by spiritual pilgrims, and more rooms are under construction. To the right of the upper shrine room and small clinic, pass through the compound’s gate and follow the prayer flag-lined trail as it climbs through the jungle on a single track. Stay on the widest path and reach Baghdwara in one and a half hours. Nearby are two cave shelters sometimes occupied by hermits. Baghdwara is considered to be the source of the sacred Bagmati River. There are three built up spouts and a nail pond with a seated Shiva holding a trident. Two chorten and several lingams have been put up in the area.
A couple of minutes more along the trail is the ashram of two yogis and small, usually unmanned gombaa. One of the yogis, Todke Baba, is from India and has been here for 19 years. The name Todke refers to a hallowed out at the base of a tree. This baba used to stay in such a place just above the way to the summit and hence the name. Another yogi goes by the name Pashupati Baba. He has been here for 8 years and hails from the Godawari area of Kathmandu Valley.
The path onward splits at the ashram. To the right bypasses Shivapuri Peak and heads to Chisapani, a village on the way to Helambu. The path to the left ascends to Shivapuri Peak and a nearby sign indicates that it is 1 km (0.6 miles). To continue to the summit, then follow the path up and in a minute it branches into three trails. Stay with the middle path that ascends steeply and in less than 10 minutes each 2 hermitages built into space the base of trees where Todke Baba ice stayed.
Continue on to the summit in about 10 minutes from the tree hermitages. To the west of the summit the remains of an old army post d hermitage of the late Shivapuri Baba. The army post was abandoned ring the 10-year civil war (1996-06) because of the threat of Maoist attack and lack of nearby water source. Shivpuri Baba stayed here for many years and passed away in 1963, reputedly at the age of 137.
ALTERNATE APPROACH (RECOMMENDED) BOUDHANATH STUPA/KOPAN GOMBA TO NAGI GOMPA
To begin from Boudhanath Stupa, then start from Ram Hiti Chowk (intersection) along the road 10 minutes north of the stupa. From this intersection, follow the road north for about 25 minutes to reach Kopan Chowk (also known as Krishna Chowk) near a small Krishna shrine. This intersection is just above Kopan Bus Park and below the Kopan Gomba monastery. From this intersection, follow the road to the right (northeast) passing a secondary school and below Kopan Gomba and Rigpe Dorje Gompa.
In 10 minutes, come to a junction of several roads near the gate of a police training center. Follow the road that leads to the northeast and after 100 yards/meters from the police gate and just beyond a building, head left along a single track that passes to the left (northwest) side below Pulahari Gomba. In 10 minutes reach a road near a secondary school of Jagadol Bhanjyang (to the right up this road leads to a gate to Pulahari Gomba).
Stay left and immediately turn left again away from the paved road along a dirt road and reach a pipal tree with a small shrine dedicated to Krishna at a junction. Do not follow the roads but ascend the pine tree-covered hill to the north (northeast). The first section is steep and crisscrossed with pasturing trails, the route then contours while gradually ascending along the ridge-line toward the north through a peaceful pine forest. Keep to the widest trail and enjoy sensational views along the way.
Reach a large open ground (5577 feet, 1700 m) within an hour with outstanding, open views of Kathmandu Valley to the south and southwest. Nagi Gomba can be seen above to the north and Tare Bhir Village to the northeast. Stay to the right of the ridge and continue on its east side and in 5 minutes, pass a large gate on the left and keep gradually ascending on the wide path and in less than 2 more minutes, branch sharply back to the left and ascend to a pair of houses (to the right continues to Tare Bhir Village) and continue to the right (north), climb steeply along the ridgeline.
Pass a small monastery affiliated with Nagi Gompa and just above reach a road in 15 minutes from the pair of houses. Head left, north, (to the right heads to an army guard post and Tare Bhir in 10 minutes). Contour along the road and in a few minutes it branches. Follow the road branching to the right up to Nagi Gomba (6528 feet, 1990 m) in 10 minutes.
PHULCHOWKI PEAK, Best Hiking around Kathmandu Valley
This route leads to the highest summit in the valley, Phulchowki meaning “Flower Fortress”. The peak is so named for the abundance of flowers that fill the ridge top near the army post in the summertime. The first section visits villages with sensational views of the mid-hills as well as Kathmandu Valley. Further along, the trail becomes isolated and passes through dense forest with few facilities, and although rare, attacks have been reported. Use caution and do not travel to this area alone. Group Hiking around Kathmandu Valley is highly recommended.
GETTING TO THE TRAILHEAD
The starting point of this hike is SURYA BINAYAK (a reference to the sun, Surya, and the Hindu god Ganesha, aka, Binayak) near Bhaktapur on the Arniko Highway. Buses to Bhaktapur leave from City Bus Park (also known as Old Bus Park and Ratna Bus Park) as well as nearby Bhaktapur Bus Park in central Kathmandu. You will need to reach Surya Binayak, the town adjacent to Bhaktapur along the Arinko Highway, the highway to the border with Tibet. Specifically, begin from Surya Binayak Chowk (intersection). At this intersection, follow the side road south away from the highway towards Surya Binayak Temple (also known as Ganeshtan), dedicated to the Hindu deity Ganesha. Reach the steps up to the temple within fifteen minutes. The main temple is a short climb from the gate and Aamaasthan (Mother’s Temple) is a few minutes higher.
From the main Ganesha Temple area, continue from the south gate to descend to a road in 2 minutes. Head right for a minute and then keep right again. In just over 5 more minutes, reach a small shrine at a branch of the road. Ascend to the right and the road branches again after about 35 more minutes. This time stay left (south) and within 10 more minutes, a road to the right branches to the first houses of Ghyampedada. It takes a little less than 10 minutes to pass through the hamlet with a splendid view of Kathmandu Valley to the west.
Continue heading south and within two minutes the wide trail branches. Stay left and within 2 to 3 more minutes avoid a trail that branches to head down to the east but stay on the main trail. Just beyond, take the trail up to the right (west) away from the main trail. Ascend steeply for several minutes to tie in with a road above and follow it left.
Reach Rankikot (6345 feet, 1934 m) in about 10 more minutes. Be advised that the route onward passes through an unpopulated area and theft has been reported. Do not travel alone. Stay to the right (west) for Lakuri Bhanjyang and the most direct route to Phulchowki. In a few minutes, the road ends at Bhag Bhairab, a rock shrine said to resemble a tiger. Take the upper of two trails to the left that pass below Bhag Bhairab and then follow along with the ridgeline with magnificent views of the Kathmandu Valley on the right side.
Reach a few houses in a little over 20 minutes and follow the wide trail to the right (north) that descends and stay left at a branch to a school and collection of shops and restaurants at Lakuri Bhanjyang in less than 10 minutes.
Lakuri Bhanjyang is at a crossroads. To the right (west) the road descends to buses at Lamatar about One and half hour (3.4 miles, 5.5 kin) below with bus service to Kathmandu. To the left (east), the road continues to Panauti, 9.6 miles (15.5 km) away.
LAKURI BHANJYANG TO PHULCHOWKI SUMMIT
To continue to the peak, head east for an about 100 meters/yards before ascending to the right (southwest) away from the main road along a wide track. Stick to the main trail and within 10 minutes pass a set of stairs branching to the right (the stairs ascend to a viewpoint 2 minutes above). In less than 5 more minutes, the trail branches. Stay right to ascend gradually and contour and descend to a school at a saddle (6890 feet, 2100 m) in 20-25 minutes. Find the fainter path on the southeast side of the saddle rather than the wider trail that ascends to the east, although both tie in beyond. Reach Champakharka (6844 feet, 2086 m) in just over 10 minutes. From here, cross to the southwest (the road to the right (west) descends to Godawari and the road to the left (southeast) heads into Nuwakot District).
From Chapakharkha to the peak the trail passes through dense forest with-out facilities. Ascend to the southwest and in 15 minutes avoid a trail heading down to the left (east). Within 10 more minutes the trail branches. Stay to the right and generally head south and stick to the main trail. In 20-25 more minutes, the trail branches again. Both branches head to the road above, whereas the left branch is the more direct, albeit steeper option. Reach the main roadway to the peak in less than 10 minutes. Head left and follow it to the summit, about One and a half hours or 2.8 miles (4.5 km) away. The summit (9039 feet, 2755 m) has an army post guarding signal towers as well as a small Hindu shrine, Phulchowki Mai. Views are somewhat acted by the towers, barracks, and boulders at the top.
Godawari lies below and to the north-west of the summit, and transport to Kathmandu can be found there. Follow the road from the top all the way down to the microbus stand just below Saint Xavier’s school. The journey of 8.7 miles (14 km) and takes nearly 3 hours with no facilities and few to no water sources along the way until the valley floor.
Just above St. Xavier’s and a bus staging area is the Hindu Nau Dhara Temple. To the east of the bus stand is a paved road to the National Botanical Gardens, a 10-minute walk away. The entry fee is 10 NRS for Nepalese, 25 for SAARC country members, and 100 NRS for Non-SAARC foreigners. Nearby the gardens are the Hindu shrine dedicated to Godawari Kunda. To the west of the bus stand area quarry and marble factory. To reach Kathmandu, you will likely have to transfer to two other minivans before reaching City Bus Park. (aka, Old Bus Park or Ratna Bus Park in central Kathmandu).