For the average traveller, this could prove difficult at first glance. Where to start looking? Where to start trekking? Where does it end? Will I find food and drinks? What about commodities, and transportation, just in case? See? Definitely not easy!
As stated in our previous article about Nepal, kindness and warmth are widespread amongst the locals. Tourism is a well oiled industry, so in addition to the usual rafting and Bungee jumping, every single small shop offers trekking tours for 2 to 15 days.
The rates go for 15 to 25€ (yes, they DO tell you the price in actual Euros) per day per person. Often that does not include accommodations. Without delving too much into controversy, I must say that spending actual money on a walk really feels like a tourist trap.
To be fair, they also offer carrier services, around 5 to 11€ per day per person (the rates here seem more reasonable). Then again, some might argue that part of the trekking adventure is preparation: packing your bag efficiently to avoid overburdening yourself, and actually carry the bag afterwards.
Leaving on your own is often discouraged
Indeed, there are rules to follow, areas where to have to have an official guide, and also the entrance fees for a few natural parks that you have to deal with. The tickets for the parks are sold at the tourist office, who will be eager to sell you the whole package (tickets+guide+carrier), evasively mentioning the difficulty of the trek.
Be warned though, for experienced trekkers willing to ascend to the summits, or try their skills in dangerous areas, hiring a guide is heavily advised.
For the average traveller, without any gear trekking even in safe places on your own could prove difficult at first glance. Where to start looking? Where to start trekking? Where does it end? Will I find food and drinks? What about commodities, and transportation, just in case? See? Definitely not easy!
It was luck and placing our trust in the right people that lead us to discover the two treks we will cover in this article: a one day trek, quite easy, and a 3 day one, also easy and maybe more importantly not requiring special gear (except your trusty legs?)
If you visit Nepal, visiting the big Phewa lake of Pokhara may be on your to-do list. Well good choice there, since it’s also the start of this trek. For the record, we did this at the end of March, so pre-summer.
A beautiful walk on paths leading through remote villages, with a gorgeous view on the Phewa lake.
The path is clearly visible, you even get to trek alongside field culture terraces, before reaching the road for the last 45 minutes.
When reaching the summit, expect a 150Rs (1,4€) passage fee. A platform serves as belvedere, with a 360° view at the centre of the mountain range surrounding the valley.
A breathtaking experience, in more ways than one!
It is possible afterwards to enjoy a breakfast or just a quick snack on one of the terrace with a view, right at the foot of the belvedere.
Friendly tip: the farther from the belvedere, the quieter it gets.
If you want to avoid leaving at 1 on the morning, in complete darkness, on an unknown path in the mountains, you can book a taxi (talk to the driver directly) the day before for 1000Rs (9€). You can then enjoy the trekking part on your way back on foot by day.
Another viable option is to just rent a room or a guesthouse for a night at the summit. But since this is a guide about trekking...
Stage 1: Dulikhel
Ok what’s on the menu for this trek you may ask? Well, spending a night in a monastery standing atop of a mountain, and why not witness the daily prayer during an evening, followed by a meal with the monks. All this and more: enjoy the fresh air and discover the landscape around you, one stroll at a time.
If you’re coming from Kathmandu, the bus station is your gateway to this adventure. The ticket costs 55Rs/person (0,5€) for a 1h15 ride.
It is worth mentioning you will find a place to stay with relative ease, even if you haven’t booked anything beforehand and reach your destination before noon. There are several (somewhat) luxurious hotels if you so desire, some of them still undergoing construction.
If you want a more authentic experience, and wish to experience the famed Nepalese kindness and human warmth, we can’t recommend the Nawaranga guesthouse enough, sometimes overlooked by tourist guides.
You will want to choose your room though, some are a bit humid. They are however clean, the beds are firm and last but not least, there is WiFi.
As vegans, we really enjoyed the soup and the banana pancakes.
Despite knowing the grief of having lost most of his family during the civil wars, the old owner keeps and amazingly positive outlook on life. His voice is solemn, but without sadness nor regret.
If you so desire, you can visit Dulikhel and its old town, learn to dodge the children playing football in their improvised fields, and enjoy a walk next to the field culture terraces.
You may visit the surrounding of the old city center ofDulikhel.
Streets are friendly, you get to meet warm and true people
All varieties of seeds are (blé, pomme de terre, etc)
During the afternoon, it is possible to climb the stairs up to the sacred terrace -after a 45 minutes walk, of course (!)- of the Bhagwati (Kali) temple...
...and from there stand in awe at the sunset over the Himalayian summits.
Stage 2: Onward to the Namo Buddha monastery via Shanti Ban
Leaving Dulikhel before noon is more than enough. Follow the road to Shanti Ban Stupa for 40 minutes (do not hesitate to ask the locals for direction, they will happily oblige) to visit the huge gilded -yes actual gold foil- Buddha, next to a great sightseeing spot.
One mountain after another, keep following the graveled roads nearly devoid of vehicles.
The signs will show the way.
You pass through villages where the contact with the local is easy. You should be able to find light snacks on the way.
Once you reach the village of Namo Buddha, you are nearly at the end of your destination. The village itself revolves around a big central plaza with a white stupa and a place of prayers surrounded by local shops.
Keep climbing up to the big stair (still undergoing construction as of March 2015).
the last steps will bring you to the monastery, right at the summit.
A peaceful atmosphere, the delicate architecture, meticulously painted friezes, beautiful sculptures, the view overlooking the hills around, the calm monks, everything will reward you for having chosen that path.
If you are lucky to reach the monastery before 17h, you might be able to sit in for the evening prayer, separately from the monks, and the end of the big sacred chamber. Entering this room is an impressive experience, and we still have no idea if we were granted special treatment or not, the opportunity seemed to present itself naturally. We left our shoes at the bottom of the stairs leading to the sacred chamber, where cameras are forbidden.
Photograph of the reception hall
There, for about an hour, you will be soothed by Buddhist songs, gongs and dungchens (literally: "trumpets of dharma")
We ate at the refectory, sited in the guest section again. There we ate a meal with rice as the main ingredient, a bit tasteless, but filling still (and of course vegan).
We were able to book the night for 800Rs/person (7,5€), directly at the monastery, no third party involved. If you wish to sleep elsewhere, head for the hostel/shop at the base of the edifice, where we payed 1300Rs for 3 people, for a night (King size bed + single bed)
Last stage: Panauti
The last stage is a leisurely walk, heading back down, lasting for 3 to 4 hours. Again, we passed by a lot of small villages, mingled with the Nepalese who seemed to enjoy our company.
There, the day to day life of the Nepalese is in full view: the locals are sitting on their balconies and terraces. Some women are sorting rice grains, whilst men are weaving reeds...
Whenever you feel tired, just hail them with a smile, and come sit at their side. Sometimes they will offer a glass of water, or a snack. There, you can rest in shared silence, knowing smiles and depart 10 minutes after, on a polite nod.
Panauti (पनौती) is a town where 30 000 Nepalese live, but still retains the looks and atmosphere of a big village. Panauti’s origins date back between 1200 and 1300 B.C, and yet it feels timeless. Centuries old brick buildings fill the maze of streets, with Hindu and Buddhist temples occupying the central town square.
Location was everything for Panauti. Surrounded -and thus protected- by mountain range, the town lies at the heart of a fertile valley, irrigated by no less than 2 major rivers: the Rosi and the Punyamati. It is said that a third river exists, "Lilawati", only visible by the enlightened ones. The sacred junction of the three rivers is named "Trivadi".
Upon arrival, one can only marvel at the ingenuity and cleverness of old, giving the place a sacred aura, and the distinct feel of a place where time has no power. During our visit, the strong impression of visiting a big village never left us, impression reinforced by empty areas filled with fine architecture.
Finding the bus station was child’s play. Just follow any sign of effervescence in the town, always leading to the beating heart of Panauti, where sit stores and means of transportation.
Heading back to Kathmandu by bus -fast and direct- costs 60Rs/person.
As far as we are concerned, these two treks were the most memorable experiences in Nepal. Granted, the shared moment in the Guillingche kitchens is close behind, as well as our meeting at 5 a.m with a donuts vendor, in order to discover the local street-food (Soon on Tatup!)...
Nepal was a great adventure for us globally to be fair. This was the first time we arrived in a country without any kind of plan whatsoever, and everything seemed to flow and unfold perfectly!
During our trek from Dulikhel to Panauti, we had the pleasure of enjoying Asaf’s company, our friend we met at the Nawaranga hostel. Half Israeli, half Polish, he is a yoga teacher.
This very pleasant encounter ended our trip on a beautiful note.
Although this article is full of photographs, they’re far away to spoil the walk itself!