If You're Not Cut Out for Everest, Try This Kathmandu Valley Hike Instead
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because the world’s highest peaks aren’t the only hiking game in Nepal.
By Stephen Starr
Hiking in the Alps or the Rockies is a dream for many of us weekend warriors. But taking on Mount Everest, with its death zone and crowds? Perhaps not. Hiking fans may think that to come to Nepal and fail to take on Everest or the well-trodden Annapurna Circuit means that on some level, they’ve failed, that they’ve chickened out.
Fear not. The 4.3-mile hike from Telkot to Nagarkot east of Kathmandu is safer than Everest and offers a better insight into day-to-day life in rural Nepal than the sparsely populated upper reaches of the Himalayas. Plus the views are more idyllic and the hike itself is certainly more appealing to quiet-loving nature lovers.
The urge to get out of Kathmandu, one of the world’s most polluted capital cities, is one that sets in quick. And while there are numerous tour companies to help with the Telkot-Nagarkot hike, it’s doable without any professional assistance. Simply source a taxi in Kathmandu (many drivers speak English), ask to be driven an hour east to Telkot, and explain where you want to be dropped off and then picked up later in the day.
The hike may be short in distance but with a 1,500-foot incline at an altitude of over 7,100 feet, it’s challenging.
When you get to Telkot, an otherwise nondescript dusty village, be sure to first climb the hundreds of steps up to the Hindu Jalapadevi Temple, which offers some of the best vistas of Kathmandu’s sprawling eastern suburbs, rice paddies and colorful corn fields. On a clear day, you may see planes negotiating the mountains surrounding the valley before touching down at the city airport. From the temple, you can either continue hiking west before joining the noisy F028 road, or do as I did, and walk back down the steps to the Telkot-Nagarkot road where you’re much less likely to encounter cars and motorbikes.
It’s not long before a calm, rustic silence takes over, and the only audible sound is your feet trudging ever upward and onward along the gravel road. Now and again, hamlets of small homes come into view. At one, youths while away the afternoon playing pool; in another, a mother feeds her baby.
“The Telkot-Nagarkot hike is a quieter trek,” agrees Kumar Dahal, of Nepal Tour Guide Team, which organizes hikes on this trail and around the country. “There are different local ethnic groups like Tamang (indigenous to Nepal), Brahmins and Newar villages on the route.” (For a rundown of the complex and sometimes bitter histories that have colored life for these groups over the centuries — and particularly since the unification of Nepal in 1768 — check out the writings of Kamal P. Malla.) Farther up the trail, peace is broken by the sound of children singing from inside a tin-hut school. Then thunder and a passing afternoon storm move in. It’s an opportunity to find a tree to stand under and wait it out. Observe the drenched fields, valleys and tin-roofed homes, the only audible sound being the patter of rain hitting the gravel track. Here, time stands still.
The hike may be short in distance but with a 1,500-foot incline at an altitude of over 7,100 feet, it’s challenging, and it means you’ll sweat buckets — bringing ample water is essential. Google Maps says the hike takes about two hours to complete (they must’ve taken the downhill route) but give yourself at least twice as long to fully enjoy the scenery.
Don’t expect to see many other hikers on this trek — which can be either blissful or a little unsettling. If solitude is what you’re after and the occasional deafening clap of thunder doesn’t put you off, then hiking the trail alone may be right up your alley. If not, hiring a tour guide may be a better option.
The SASANE Sisterhood Trekking and Travel group, staffed by victims of human trafficking, is a good place to start. “We appeal to travelers looking for a cultural immersion experience as well as female trekkers who often feel safer trekking with female guides,” says Shyam Pokharel, the group’s director.
Some of the best Himalayan views can be seen outside Nagarkot — off the trail at the nearby hill station or from the cafes and hotels a short drive north of the village. Peaks and ranges such as Langtang, Shishapangma and Mount Everest are most easily seen in March and April and between September and December. Visiting during these months has the added advantage of avoiding the daily monsoon rain.
Recent deaths have damaged Mount Everest’s standing, but as this Kathmandu Valley hike shows, it’s thankfully not the only game in town.
Go There: TELKOT TO NAGARKOT KATHMANDU VALLEY HIKE
- What: A moderate 4.3-mile hike in Nepal that ditches ice and danger for Zen and local culture.
- Where: The hike starts in Telkot, 15 miles east of Nepal’s capital, Kathmandu. Taxi drivers charge about $30 to drive to Telkot, wait in Nagarkot and bring you back the same day.
- Pro tip: Be prepared to get soaked if hiking in summer. While sections of the trail are lined with trees, few stand up to the monsoon downpours that end just as quick as they start.
- Stephen Starr Contact Stephen Starr