There is no sugarcoating this, so I’ll just break it to you: hiking to Jamacho peak involves an ascent of almost 5 km on steep steps – with no houses, shops or toilets along the way. Gaining some 800m in altitude through a dense jungle demands stepping out of your comfort zone and that – let me state the obvious – is the entire idea of being outdoors. So challenge yourself to this amazing retreat that will keep your mind off petty woes and eyes on your feet for leeches.
Just short of 2 km from Balaju, the starting point of the hike is Mulpani entrance of the army-protected Nagarjun forest. Carry an ID along because you’ll be required to produce one at the ticket counter.
Take the well-maintained stairway that diverges from the paved road into two hours of steep climb to the top. As you tread uphill, the deafening sounds of crickets instantly subdue roaring truck engines and howling dogs. Dust, smoke and dirt are replaced with a breath of fresh air – quite a rarity in our beloved city. Walking through the forest of moss-laden trees and a dense canopy overhead definitely adds an eerie yet serene feeling of being amidst nature.
Within the first half hour, you’ll reach an army checkpoint and find yourself being cross-questioned by a rather stern-looking, no-nonsense soldier. Be warned: your attempts to lighten up the mood with jokes will bear no fruit and won’t be too well received by a certain Private Gurung.
After being cleared for security, make your way up to soon find yourself welcomed by an open space of tall grass and rocks halfway to the top. It’s easy to get tempted here to exhaust your food supplies and take a nap. One word: verboten. Save both for the top.
After regaining your breath, continue along the trail that feels steeper on the second stretch. Eventually, you will rejoice at the first sighting of lungda (or Buddhist prayer flags) because this indicates you’re only minutes away from the top. As you climb the last steps, you see the rather archaic view tower and then finally, Jamacho Gompa itself. Rush to the veranda behind the small monastery. Look straight ahead and brace to be stunned!
Clouds float at your eye level and eagles soar effortlessly right below your nose. The breathtaking bird’s eye view of valley south from here will instil a sense of calm in your mind marooned in the sight of Phulchowki and Chandragiri in the horizon. Feel the fresh gust of wind blowing across your face, and in the sound of the fluttering Buddhist prayer flags, savor the moment standing still with otherworldly sights before your eyes.
After some stretches, a plentiful lunch and an elaborate photo session, pack up, say goodbye to Jamacho Gompa and retrace your steps back to Mulpani gate. After the easy and quick way down, walk back to Machapokhari, or if you’ve run out of juice, hitch a ride to the bus stop. Some five hours of exhausting and rewarding hiking comes to a full circle here.
Weekly Group Hike
Always take a group if you’re doing a jungle hike like this one. Better safe than sorry! Jamacho is the signature hike of Seven Summit Women, a team of women mountaineers on a mission to scale highest peaks of all continents. They organize a hike to Jamacho every Saturday, so if you’re interested to join the group, call them up at 4002080. A minimal charge of Rs. 375 for Nepalese and Rs. 750 (USD 8) for foreigners will cover homemade packed lunch, snacks and entry fee, and it also goes to fund the team’s training for three remaining peaks.
Unless you’re Bear Grylls, always bring along a rich consignment of food – to this hike or any. There are no shops inside the sanctuary so it’s a good idea to hoard energy bars, dry nuts, peanut butter cookies and water. You don’t want to risk burning out on the uphill.
The need-to-know index
Time taken to reach starting point of the hike
Take a bus to Machapokhari, located between Balaju and Gongabu Bus Park, and walk for a kilometer on what has been famed as the Trout Highway to reach Mulpani army gate.
Entry fee for Nagarjun forest is Rs10 for Nepalese and Rs. 250 for foreigners.
Have all loo essentials handy because all rituals will take place outdoors. Take note that the toilet at the starting checkpost doesn’t have a latch inside, and the one at the gompa is falling apart.