Spectacular mountain scenery, snow, wildlife, and a quaint village. If these are the things you want in a destination, then Kalinchowk is ideal. And you can choose to go there on foot (recommended), cycle, motorcycle, or four-wheelers. Here are bits from and tips on how to get the best out of your trip.
The buses to Charikot are punctual. Anywhere else in Nepal, that is delightful news. But it is meant as a warning for those of you who are used to buses leaving anywhere between half an hour to an hour later than scheduled. Or buses waiting until all their passengers have arrived. So if you assume that the bus will be late and time your arrival at the Old Bus Park in Kathmandu based on this assumption, you will miss the vehicle and be left to rue the demise of the Nepal where nothing happened on time.
Punctuality is, however, no guarantee of comfort on this bus obsessed with time. Another warning: relieve yourself before you board. The Super Express rolls as much to get somewhere as to live up to its name. Demands, requests, pleas to stop will be met with the dry motto: “We can’t, this is Super.” If a bus can be authoritarian (and brutal), in many ways Super Express, which runs from Kathmandu to Charikot in Dolakha district, is one. It is also unapologetically and unbelievably efficient.
In five hours, stopping once to allow the passengers (hostages?) to relieve themselves, the Super Express drops you off at Charikot. The trek to the famed Kalinchowk Bhagwati’s shrine begins from here. Seasoned trekkers, those who can walk for hours on end and with the single mindedness to get there, can eat lunch, depart, and arrive in Kalinchowk before nightfall or shortly afterward. But if you have time and want above anything else not to punish yourself, it’s best to spend the night in Charikot. There is also a recently built road going up to Kuri, the village from which the walk to the shrine begins.
You feel the crispness of the air on your face and the sharpness of the climb on your calves the next morning. Mere minutes after climbing out of town you arrive in a picturesque milieu worthy of your Facebook profile picture. In the background is the Gauri Shankar range, an array of jagged peaks. It is a memorable sight to witness the ephemeral moment when the rising sun turns these peaks from black walls into white pyramids with gilded tips.
Like banners proclaiming the household’s source of living, corn are slung across balconies. But these houses are few and far in between. Perhaps the only village that makes you want to stop and admire its beauty is Sushpa. With its neatly furrowed fields, the dark ploughed soil contrasting wonderfully with the piercing white of the mountains, snug houses and a monastery, Sushpa has the appearance of a landscape painting brought to life. After Sushpa the trail enters dense forest and becomes steep. The only man-made structure in this dense forest, and the only marker for direction other than the well-worn trail, are electric pylons.
If you’ve set out early in the morning from Charikot, you’re likely to emerge from the forest and arrive at the last ridge before Kuri just in time to catch the sun’s last rays on the mountains. At the summit of the hill across the valley, standing out like a small crown, will be the Kalinchowk Bhagwati’s shrine. Laid out across the valley floor will be Kuri, a strip of wooden houses emitting smoke plumes.
Evenings in Kuri will be spent, depending on your lodge owner’s taste and means, either listening to folk songs, drab news, or uplifting government messages on a radio, watching TV shoulder to shoulder with half of the village or, my favorite, a local tell you about the days when all these did not exist and he and his friends drove up their yaks here during spring, sleeping under cliffs, and when leopards carried away their animals.
It is a punishing climb – a gain of 600 meters – to the shrine from Kuri. But as you ascend, your eyes will meet the furthermost peaks of the arc that goes from north to south. Kalinchowk Bhagwati’s shrine is a simple collection of rusting tridents (offered by devotees), bells, and vermilion-smeared stone images. Standing at the shrine, surrounded by the mighty Himalayas, and the village a tiny speck below, you feel you have risen a little above the mundane concerns of life. Locals say that on clear days Dharahara (Bhimsen Tower) is visible from the shrine. But with increasing air pollution, Kathmandu’s landmark is rarely seen from the shrine now.
There is one view, however, that has remained unchanged. That view is of the sunrise from the top of the hill to the east of the village. It is worth braving the freezing morning temperatures. One by one the peaks are gilded by the rising sun, as though someone were pouring molten gold over them.
The newly built road to Kuri winds up to this hill before snaking on to other villages. Seekers of solitude will rejoice in walking this road down into the forests. Only an occasional (abandoned except during the wet season, when the cattle are driven up to Kuri) shepherd’s herd in a clearing breaks the dominance of giant pines. The hills forming the southeastern wall of the valley of Kuri have several cairns and memorial stupas, built by the villagers to honor their ancestors.
Keeping warm is a struggle in Kuri, even with double quilts and jackets, especially after the fire is put out in the kitchen hearth and the tongba (fermented millet beverage) has run out. Kuri takes you back to a time of simple pleasures. The most appealing place in the village may be the one with the lowest priced rooms or the one with an indoor bathroom. But the places you are likely to remember most are the ones with an outdoor toilet, due to which you came out at night and stood under a sky covered with stars. That probably will be the only time you will forget the cold in Kuri.
Kalinchowk is one of the most tranquil locations for a weekend trip. Lovers of snow and snowy landscapes will also enjoy it. For those who are not too keen on trekking, Kalinchowk is also accessible by – although it is a bumpy and difficult ride – motorbike or jeep. For cyclists, it is the perfect combination of climbs, descents, forest and mountain trails.
4 Quick Things to Remember
Kalinchowk, even in peak summer, is very cold, so carry warm clothes.
The buses to Charikot are punctual.
Although the trail to Kuri is prominent, it can be confusing in some places. To avoid losing your way, stay close to the electric pylons that go all the way to Kuri. It is best to do the Kuri trek in groups.
There are bears and leopards in the forests around Kuri. Seek the company of local when out on walks in these areas. If you do go on walks alone, do not wander off too far from the trails.
Though, just showing up in Kalinchowk will be rewarding enough, you can get more out of the trip, and protect yourself from the elements, with certain must-have items
Sunscreen to fight the high-altitude sun,
The rich birdlife in the area makes binoculars an essential item.
Gloves and down jacket for the early morning waits on mountaintops for the sunrise,
Sleeping bags are a bonus.
Where to Eat?
For a taste of Charikot’s local cuisine, the Thakali Bhancha Ghar & Sekuwa Corner is highly recommended (049-421777). In Kuri, Hotel Tashi Dele has wonderful tongba and they usually serve mushrooms gathered from the nearby forests. If you’re passing by shepherds’ huts, ask for churpi, or dried yak milk butter.
How To Get There?
Buses leave daily for Charikot from the Old Bus Park in Kathmandu. The buses are usually crowded so it’s best to buy your ticket a day before departure. The ticket counter for Super Express is in the north-western corner of the bus park. There are also daily buses going to Kuri from Charikot. It is, however, advisable not to take this for granted; inquiries about availability of buses and departure timings should be made from the local bus park. There is no bus service during the monsoons.