Shivapuri is the perfect antidote to Kathmandu. In place of blaring horns, choking fumes, and concrete structures you get soothing bird songs, clean air smelling of earth and plants, and you’re surrounded by greenery. It is a place where life has a rhythm, not just speed. A visit there rejuvenates jaded senses.
Shivapuri National Park is where Kathmandu’s former greenery survives in exile. One of the most conspicuous things when looking at the city from Shivapuri’s height is the lack of greenery. The park is a reminder of what the city is missing and the wonders that we have deprived ourselves of.
Walking in the shady parts of the park’s graveled road feels like walking in a natural tunnel. At any time, but especially early in the mornings, you will find the forest abuzz with bird songs. Some birds of Shivapuri delight with their colorful plumage and melodious songs. But others can startle you. The sudden sound of a Khalij pheasant scuttling on brittle leaves amplifies in the silence to give you a scare. That is part of the fun of being in a place like Shivapuri. If you’re lucky, such heart-pounding moments will be offset by a sight of a deer as it browses on the grass growing on the road’s edges.
The Nagi Gompa, with its prayer flag-swathed tree, little gardens and silence (or the low hum of nuns reciting prayers), is a favorite with visitors. Large eagles circle overhead, occasionally swooping down to pick up leftovers. In the season of clear weather (October-March), the additional three-hour climb to Shivapuri Peak from the gompa gives you a great return for all the sweat and pain. From there you get what is perhaps the best view of mountains from anywhere in the Valley.
But one of the more memorable views from Shivapuri is likely to be that of the Kathmandu Valley. It is a sight of growth. But it also reveals how much the city has lost in terms of greenery. A visit to this ancient forest can truly be complete only when we return from it with a determination to give back Kathmandu some of its lost green glory.
Walking its steep trails is a great workout. Combined with the physical side of walks is the excitement of not knowing what you’ll see around the next turn—a rare bird, a leopard, or a group of teenaged boys – British Gorkha hopefuls – running uphill carrying baskets filled with stones. There are lots of destinations within the park for walks. For the occasional hiker, Nagi Gompa, which is 3km from the park entrance, is best. Shivapuri Peak, at 2732m is the highest point in the park. It is a strenuous walk, and takes even longer for those who do not hike frequently.
Shivapuri is ideal for cyclists starting out on off-road adventures. It is also a popular route for the hardy cyclists. The simplest route is to cycle up from the city, via Budhanilkantha, to the Nagi Gompa. There are longer routes that pass through the park. One goes from the park’s main entrance at Pani Muhan, passing mostly through the forest before emerging at Kakani, 23 kms northwest of Kathmandu. The other goes from Pani Muhan to Chisapani, approximately 20 kms to the northeast.
If Shivapuri’s stillness evoked a desire for a longer retreat, the Nepal Vipassana Center, a residential retreat center next to the park’s main entrance, could be for you. For more information see www.dhamma.org.np
Budding photographers, especially those with an interest in wildlife photography, have in Shivapuri one of the best learning grounds. The odds of capturing something special are high: the park has 19 species of mammals, 102 species of butterflies, and over a dozen prominent mountains are visible from Shivapuri Peak.
Shivapuri National Park is an excursion for body and mind. Whether you love to saunter or sweat it out, walk or cycle, desire a glimpse of birds and animals or like to gaze at mountains, Shivapuri is ideal for a day out.
Shivapuri has 318 species of birds, which include Hill Partridge, Wedge-tailed Green Pigeon, Red-tailed Minla, Asian Paradise-flycatcher, and Mountain Scops Owl, to name a few. The Spiny Babbler, Nepal’s only endemic bird, is also found here.
The supine statue of Vishnu at the Budhanilkantha Temple is one of the finest stone sculptures in the Kathmandu Valley. It awes with its size (5 meters long) and the skill of its makers (it was fashioned from a single stone block). The uniqueness of the statue, if not its sanctity, makes the temple a must see.
The dense canopy in Shivapuri and its location means that it gets dark there earlier than in other parts of Kathmandu. This often leads to a miscalculation to the amount of daylight remaining, with the result that you have to walk back in darkness. Carrying a good flashlight (not a cell-phone with that function) is a must. A first-aid kit is also a good idea. There are no shops inside the park (although Nagi Gompa has a small canteen), so carry ample drinking water and snacks. The walk to the monastery will probably leave your shirt drenched in sweat. Take extra clothes if you’re visiting in the cold months.
Special Things to Remember
Shivapuri is a 159 sq. km. expanse of forest. Although the Nepal Army is stationed in the park, their presence is limited. Follow the rules and regulations of the park. If you intend to camp in the park (it is allowed with the payment of a fee) or to exit from another point, declare it when you provide your details at the entrance. Do not take short cuts. Doing so may be fun but you can easily lose your way. Know your walking abilities: you don’t want to go to a point and then not be able to return in daylight. Littering is a major problem already in the park. Carry something to bring back your garbage. Whether you’re cycling, hiking, or going on a motorbike or car, it’s best to go in a group. A guide is indispensable for cyclists and hikers who do not know the place.
To Get There
Microbuses leave frequently from Narayan Gopal Chowk for Pani Muhan. Pani Muhan is 8km from Narayan Gopal Chowk. Head north (straight) from the chowk. As you near the Budhanilkantha Temple, you need to turn left (that’s the only option in fact, as the road going straight is a one-way), then skirt it, keeping it on the right. From there it is a ten-minute drive to the park entrance at Pani Muhan.
Departure time and fare
Buses and microbuses leave for Narayan Gopal Chowk from Ratna Park all day. The cost ranges between 20-25 rupees, depending on the type of the vehicle (micro fares are usually a bit higher). The fare is almost the same from the chowk to Pani Muhan, although the micros plying this route are not as frequent.
Thamel is the place with the most cycle stores in the city. Stores rent out cycles for upwards of Rs.600 a day. Better cycles can cost over Rs.1000. Remember to ask for a helmet, spare tube, air pump and, if possible, a tool kit. These are included in the price, but you need to ask for them.
Where to Eat
There are a few garden restaurants on the way after Budhanilkantha. Almost all of them have trout as their specialty. There are occasional small teashops, especially along the trail that parallels the road up to the park entrance. These are worth a stop for nothing other than their milk tea, which, because it’s made from fresh cow’s milk, tastes wonderful. There are more options near the temple. Vegetarians will be delighted to find a chain of eateries offering vegetarian dishes and other snacks like sel and sweets like jeri. Meat-lovers need not be disappointed. There are plenty of Newari eateries selling a multitude of meat dishes.
For detailed itineraries, routes, maps and information on the hiking and cycling routes in and around Shivapuri see www.netif-nepal.org