East of Kathmandu, there are some medieval Newar towns full of narrow alleys, old brick houses and plenty of folklore. But as you climb up, the view to the north on a clear day is one to die for. With a regular influx of tourists, Nagarkot and Dhulikhel both known for spectacular views are not only popular destinations but are full of upscale resorts, hotels and all manner of eateries. On the other hand, Panauti attracts a different set of visitors; those with an interest in architecture, culture and history.
Let’s start with the most popular hill station on the outskirts of Kathmandu Valley. 32 Km east of the Capital city, Nagarkot (2,175m) undoubtedly is the first choice for most people, locals and foreigners alike, if they want to escape the smoke and dust besides the overcrowded streets and the chaotic traffic of Kathmandu. Spend a night here to enjoy a spectacular sunrise, which is what Nagarkot is famous for, besides the sweeping views of the Himalayan chain of mountains. Yes, the panoramic view is stunning and the air, refreshing. The sight of the Annapurnas, Hiunchuli, Ganesh and Langtang Himals along with lesser peaks is enchanting and on a very clear day, even Everest is visible in the east. The viewing tower which is about an hour’s hike up from the center of Nagarkot, has the best views, but can get crowded. However, there are plenty of alternative view- points.
This peaceful getaway is also the ideal place for short hikes as there are many hiking trails in and around Nagarkot that lead to interesting places in the vicinity. You can hike to Sundarijal via Chisapani and enter the Shivapuri National Park or opt to go down south to Dhulikhel, the other popular tourist destination and enjoy spectacular views along the way. The trails around the area will also take you through pristine forests, opening up to villages that are home to mostly Tamang people.
Mountain biking trails around Nagarkot are very popular among bikers who crave that adrenaline rush as they navigate the rough terrain up and down the hillsides. Then there are folks who come for family picnics, office day trips or a lively gathering of friends.
From Nagarkot, drive down or hike to Changu Narayan, one of the oldest temples in Nepal built during the Lichavi period, and from this hilltop temple, Bhaktapur seems like the obvious place to go next; an ancient, charming city that’s only a 20-minute drive away.
Dhulikhel (1550m) is one of the easiest getaways to reach by road as it lies close to the Arniko Highway, 30 km southeast of Kathmandu. Also known for spectacular panoramic views of snow covered mountains; Langtang Lirung (7,227m) in the west, through Dorje Lakpa (6,966m) to the huge bulk of Gauri Shankar (7,134m) and nearby Melungtse (7,181m), and as far as Numbur (5,945m) in the east are all visible from here. But unlike Nagarkot, Dhulikhel is a Newar town where traditional Newari art and architecture are still well preserved, mostly showcased in the temples, wood-carved windows and doors.
Early risers can enjoy the most memorable sight of the sun coming over the mountains, coloring the snowy peaks in changing colors of red, orange and yellow. Yes, join the famous Sunrise Hike and walk through town, then climb up a long flight of stairs to reach the Kali Temple on the summit. The viewing tower here is damaged but you still get a fascinating sunrise over the row of mountain peaks from nearby view-points. The sleepy Dhulikhel town below is a wonderful sight.
Once an important trading center along the ancient India-Tibet trade route, Dhulikhel still lies beside the highway to Tibet and anyone going to Khasa has to drive past the little town. But today, Dhulikhel is more famous as a destination for tourists to gaze in awe at the mountains from this vantage point. Spread in and around the town are a large number of resorts and up market hotels that cater to all the needs of the visitors. An hour’s drive from Kathmandu, Dhulikhel has many temples of interest and a laid back, tranquil atmosphere for tourists to enjoy.
From Dhulikhel, a day trip to Namobuddha (either by car or a pleasant hike), a popular Buddhist pilgrimage site is worth the trouble. Its claim to fame is that once upon a time, a highly regarded Boddhisatva is said to have offered his own flesh to a starving tiger and on that very spot, the stupa was built. After visiting the revered stupa and nearby monasteries, one can return to Kathmandu via the old Newar towns of Panauti and Banepa. The Arniko Highway has become busier since the opening of the B.P. Highway which veers off to the right just before reaching Dhulikhel.
Panauti is an ancient town 32 Km southeast of Kathmandu. When King Yakshya Malla, the 15th Century ruler of Kathmandu valley decided to divide his kingdom among his children, Kathmandu, Bhaktapur and Patan (Lalitpur) were handed over to his sons while his only daughter was given Panauti. Situated between the confluence of two rivers – Roshi and Punyamati, this old town is known to have been founded long before by Ananda Deva, who united several scattered villages in 1006 AD. One of the interesting facts about this town is that since it is believed to rest on one solid rock, earthquake impact is far less than in other areas that were severely damaged during the tremor of 2015.
Time seems to have stood still here in Panauti as life in this little town has changed little for its simple folks. Take a tour of the town, and you will notice the slow pace and medieval ways of the locals. There are many temples to explore and admire such as the Unmat Bhairab with wood carved windows and tiled roofs. The stone sculptures remind you of the ancient art world of stone carvings that once dominated the field of architecture. Panauti’s Indreshwar Mahadev temple dedicated to Shiva and built in 1294, is the oldest standing pagoda in Nepal.
7 km south of Banepa, Panauti boasts a rich history and the town’s culture has been well preserved. After enjoying the peaceful ambience and admiring the craftsmanship of its wood and stone carvers, you can head out in the direction of Namobuddha or Dhulikhel, walking through verdant rice fields. They are both good hikes. Or you can go via Banepa and drive back to Kathmandu along the Arniko Highway.