Southern foothills

Text by Anuj D. Adhikari / Photo: Anuj D. Adhikary

In the most underrated of hikes, we set out to climb White House Daanda along Kathmandu’s southern rim in this physically and emotionally rejuvenating adventure

We kiss our comfort zones goodbye and hop on a bus from Nakkhu to Kirtipur where faded Dashain decorations and election flags still dangle overhead, fluttering in the morning breeze. Newari architecture dominates Kirtipur’s skyline as Bagh Bhairab prominently overlooks this ancient city. We take a left from the bus stop and head straight for the first fifteen minutes, passing marble, glass and cable stores until we get to Shiva Chautari.

Turning left from Shiva Chautari along a graveled road into Kirtipur’s farms, we begin our journey towards the foothills of Chandragiri. A shortcut through aalis (farm trails) takes us along mushroom farms, smelly chicken coops, giant haystacks and a mossy pond that doubles as a septic tank for a makeshift toilet with an old Coca Cola banner for walls. The houses here are neatly festooned with pumpkin vines and flower pots while children play cricket and marbles on the lawn. Upon reaching a small bridge, we find ourselves on the edge of Chandragiri as we pass Paanch Dhara. These water sprouts serve as a community bath and laundry.

Sigh and take a deep breath as the path from the sprouts slowly starts to ascend and the settlement starts to get thinner. For the next couple of kilometers, the trail is unforgivingly steep and runs through desolate parts of the jungle. Besides a couple of women effortlessly carrying firewood twice their weight, do not expect to see a soul along this stretch. We stop at a Tamang village after half an hour and enjoy the fantastic view of the valley below, including Phulchowki and Taudaha Lake. Look up to see the elusive White House Danda directly above us; we are only halfway there. We continue on the trail that spirals upwards on the hillock’s northern edge and finally reach the white-washed house on the top.

On the southern side are the verdant forests of Chandragiri’s smallest peak called Tauko Khane Daanda (the highest point being Champadevi). Towards the east, the neighboring villages of Bosan and Chalnakhel can be seen in full mustard bloom, creating a beautiful spectrum of yellow flowers and green fields accented further by the colorful prayer flags of a monastery. Look on towards the city horizon to find the impeccable beauty of Bosan pale in comparison with the imposing sight of Phulchowki. Before we continue on to the higher vantage point just a few hundred feet away, rest for a while at White House and adore the eastern front of the city.

Through broken beer bottles, playing cards and feathers of plucked chicken next to the remnants of bonfires, we navigate to the reservoir - the topmost part of the hillock. Graphic messages of love and lust written crudely with coal adorn the reservoir wall. Cautiously maneuvering along the bushes towards the edge of the hillock, get ready for the awesomeness that is Kathmandu.

Lo and behold the panorama! An unobstructed and utterly awe-inspiring spectacle, one that’d put the likes of Swayambhu to shame. From Kathmandu under a blanket of thick brown smog to Lele Valley’s fresh morning mist. From Annapurna’s indomitable massif to the flickering streak of Gokyo shrouded by haze. The highest peaks of Kathmandu - Jamacho, Shivapuri, Nagarkot and Phulchowki - dwarfed by the Himalayan grandeur hovering in the horizon.

Savor the moment of absolute calm with vibes almost meditative. Greenery is aplenty and the fresh air breathes life in you the way nothing in the madness of Kathmandu ever could. As mystical and bewitching as it may be, we still have to head back to Kirtipur before the sun scorches.

We retrace our steps to the bottom of the hill and deviate along a mix of narrow trails down to Panga, and then on wider jeep tracks to Kirtipur where celebration awaits! Take stairways up through the cobbled alleys of this ancient Newari town that boasts a perfectly preserved culture, architecture and lifestyle. Once we reach Kirtipur Heights, we pay homage to Bagh Bhairab and make our way to the community-run rustic Lahana Restaurant.

The tempting list of dishes in the menu knows no end. Avert a choice paralysis by settling for Samaybaji - an assortment of beaten rice, eggs, potato pickle, greens, buffalo meat and so on. If you feel bold, satiate your appetite with dishes hard to pronounce and spirits harder to resist. Choela and sapumhichha are scientifically documented to replenish the protein you expend during the hike, while chhyang and aayila are spiritually documented to cleanse your soul. It bears pointing out that Newari food in general is super hot, so ask the ladies to tone down the spices.

Following an exquisite meal, descend a flight of stairs behind Bagh Bhairab to get to the bus stop near Kirtipur’s market. Five exhilarating hours of adventure along the laps of Chandaragiri, extraordinary perspectives of the mountains and a feast fit for kings concludes with a pocketful of memories to cherish and a bumpy bus ride back to the city.