Legend has it that the Kathmandu valley was once a gigantic lake called Nagadaha inhabited by innumerable snakes (nagas). How did it come to be a valley fit to be lived in by humans? Well, according to the most popular myth, there was once a revered Buddhist sage called Bodhisatva Manjushree who came upon the giant lake during one of his travels. He decided to make it inhabitable for humans, and with a single massive stroke of his so-called ‘Sword of Wisdom’ sliced out an enormous gorge in a place called Chobar in Kirtipur, that’s some six kilometers southwest of Kathmandu. Water immediately began to gush out of the huge lake, and in due time, it was drained completely.
This gorge is one of the places that you will come across when visiting Kirtipur during your hike in and around Kathmandu Valley. Beside its fabled history, there is something else that should be of interest. There’s a suspension bridge spanning the gorge that was made in Scotland (Aberdeen) in 1903 and carried into the valley, a part at a time, since there was no road to speak of then connecting with the outside world. A herculean feat, no less! You’ll also find numerous caves in the cliffs around the gorge. Nearby is the Taudaha Lake, a natural lake that’s a wetland site for quite a few bird species.
Kirtipur, a short distance away, is an ancient Newari town with a fascinating history. During the time when King Prithvi Narayan Shah (1723-1775) was on his mission to unify the many states of the country into a unified Nepal, he attacked Kirtipur twice, and was soundly repelled both times. The third time around, he managed to do so, but that was due to a huge stroke of good luck. The story goes that during the battle, a Kirtipur soldier had the king at his mercy, and was on the verge of chopping off the royal head. However, a rock stood in the way between the king’s head and the soldier’s khukuri, and so the king escaped certain death. Apparently, even today, people spit on that very same rock as they pass it by, and so they should, considering what happened after Kirtipur’s fall. The enraged king ordered the noses and lips of all local males to be cut off, and these cut off parts weighed 80 pounds at the end of the bloody frenzy! So, keep an eye out for this infamous rock during your hike.
About 15 km away from this historic town is a very famous temple of the valley, that is, Dakshinkali Temple. Dedicated to Goddess Kali, the rituals here are tantric in nature, with animal sacrifices conducted on Saturdays, as also during festivals like Dashain. Your hike to these places begins from the ring road and takes you across the sprawling grounds of Nepal’s premier university, Tribhuvan University, on a well-maintained road that gradually goes up. All in all, it’s a most pleasant hiking experience. Another hike you will like is the one that takes you to the villages of Bungamati and Khokana.
Bungamati is a Newari village in the traditional mold that dates back to the 16th century and is located about 10 km south of Kathmandu. Full of brick houses and flagstone-paved lanes, it is famous for two things: first, as the winter residence of Rato Matsyendranath, in whose honor a major month-long festival is held every year in Patan (Lalitpur), and second, as the village with the best woodcarvers in the valley, perhaps in the country. Speaking about the first, the sandalwood idol of Rato Matsyendranath is kept here in a temple for six months, and some weeks prior to the beginning of the festival, it is taken to Lagankhel (in Patan), where it is given a holy bath followed by certain rituals, such as repainting of its face.
After taking the one-hour drive from Kathmandu to Bungamati, you begin your explorations on foot, and start exploring the quaint village at your leisure. When doing so, you’ll observe quite a few woodcarvers busily carving objects such as wooden windows, doors, and so forth; veritable objects de’ art, you’ll agree on looking at the end results. Indeed, such are their skills that Bungamati’s woodcarvers are much sought after in many handicraft industries around the valley. From this village of Rato Matsyendranath and skilled woodcarvers, you next walk to another classical one that’s quite close by, walking through lovely scenery and in pretty good weather, especially in the October-December season.
The village you’ll be hiking to is called Khokana, and it, too, is inhabited by Newars. However, this village is famous for a completely different thing, and that is, the production of mustard oil. Well, what’s so great about mustard oil? You may well be asking. Right, but Khokana’s mustard oil is the kind that you might not get anywhere else but here, made as it is using methods that are as ancient as is the valley’s history. You’ll understand this when you come across oil-pressing mills around the village with their ancient-looking implements, and when you see how the oil is pressed. Khokana’s mustard oil is in high demand throughout the valley, and while walking around Kathmandu’s bazaars, if you see men with weathered faces shouldering heavy tin cans hanging on both sides from a bamboo staff, chances are good that they have come to sell mustard oil from Khokana.
Well, now you know why these hikes are highly recommended when visiting Nepal. You’ll get a pretty good experience of life as it has been for centuries. A far cry from what you are used to, surely. You’ll probably be amazed at how laidback the lifestyle is in areas around Kathmandu city, despite being in such close proximity with the capital’s hustle and bustle. What’s more, you can even spend a night or two, if so inclined, at a homestay in Bungamati, where living with a local family allows you to absorb more of this blessed lifestyle.