Nagi Gomba

After a visit to the Jana Uddhar Secondary School, Susan and I decided to walk to nearby Nagi Gomba, a Buddhist monastery for nuns, with a residential primary school. It’s located within Shivapuri Nagarjun National Park.

Gaining access to the walking trail was more of an adventure than the walk itself. The road was rough, with occasional holes leading to underground piping. These were large enough to swallow any walker, a motorbike, or most of a taxi.

In the center of the first photo you may be able to see an Indian Crow. We decided to walk up the last mile or so, since that was faster than using a vehicle.

The road leads through the area north of Budhanilkantha, which is rapidly urbanizing. Farmers sell their land to developers who are building hotels, guest houses, and large private residences.

Before the walk itself, we stopped at the Budhanilkantha Trout Restaurant. They served absolutely fresh trout, netted as we watched from their tank. It was served either fried with very light batter, or cut up in “gravy,” a spicy, red sauce.

The path to the monastery was easy, but on much rougher ground than the photo suggests. However, the main challenge for those of us who live on flat land at sea level is that we started at 5000 feet and needed to walk up to over 7000 feet. That’s higher, by way of comparison, than any mountain in the Eastern US. The vertical climb for our day was well over 200 flights of stairs.

I must admit, however, that Nagi Gomba is considered just a start point for the climb to Shivapuri peak, and that peak is not even listed among real treks in Nepal.

Along the way, we saw an asami monkey, a pheasant, and as you can barely make out in the photo, scratch marks from a spotted leopard, establishing his new territory.

The first sign of the monastery, is a distressing one, the effect of the 2015 earthquake. So much was destroyed.

But much has also been rebuilt. Nagi Gomba is now home to 150 nuns, including many girls in the primary school.

Shivapuri peak

Asami monkey

Asami monkey

I recently “climbed” Shivapuri. I have to put that in quotes, because for Nepalis and serious trekkers, this is a “short and easy walk.” For this flatlander, however, it was a serious climb.

Most of the guides describe it as 3-4 hours up and 2-3 down, with extra time needed for photos, lunch, shrine visits, and such. So, it consumes much of one day. My fitbit got a workout, reporting 38,000 steps and 353 flights of stairs. To be fair to flatlanders, it’s not a negligible height–8,963 ft, easily higher than anything east of the Rockies in North America.

The park

Fauna of Shivapuri

Fauna of Shivapuri

The Shivapuri park is in a beautiful national park, just north of Kathmandu. It’s a destination for watchers of birds, plants, butterflies, Hindu shrines and Buddhist monasteries, and much more.

I learned that Mira Rai had been there the day before my walk, hosting a trail running event. The distances were 25 K, 50 K, and 80 K. I could still see many of the brightly colored ribbons marking the trails for the races. Perhaps you need to walk there to understand why an 80 K (50 mile) run up and down the hills would be a good workout. One man ran directly up and down to Shivapuri peak in one and a quarter hours. That’s a good marathon pace by itself, but on stairs at altitude it’s unbelievable.

Nagi Gomba

Nagi Gomba

Sights

At my more sensible pace, I had a chance to observe more of the natural beauty of Shivapuri. Starting at the Pani Muhan gate, I saw Asami monkeys, a type different from the rhesus monkeys one sees around temples in Kathmandu. There were loud calls from the many warblers in the park, as well as from blue magpies, Bonelli’s eagles, and great Himalayan barbets. I mostly just heard these, but did see kalij pheasants. Beautiful butterflies were everywhere, and mercifully, no annoying insects.

Water source and temple

Water source and temple

There are some magnificent pines at the lower elevation, then a dense forest of laurels, rhododendrons, and oaks heading up.

The first major stop is Nagi Gomba, a Buddhist monastery run by nuns. There’s a school for orphans. Although there is still much evidence of earthquake damage, fortunately, not al of the buildings were destroyed. You can also fill up your water bottle with clean mountain water. The photo of the main doorway shows the title in a Tibetan language, in Nepali, and in Tibetan with Roman script.

Signpost

Signpost

My guide

There are mostly helpful signposts marking the way. But they’re not necessary because of the mandatory guide. In one of the photos you can see Badi filling up his water bottle at a shrine. There, he also applied a tilak, along with the prayer – “May I remember the Lord. May this pious feeling pervade all my activities. May I be righteous in my deeds.”

At Shivapuri peak

At Shivapuri peak

Badi, by the way, was an excellent guide, helping to identify many of the unfamiliar natural phenomena. He was also very honest. When I said, “I need to get in better shape,” he replied, “yes, you do.” Seeking a little softer response, I added, “I need to lose some of this belly.” Perhaps I hoped he’d say that I wasn’t that bad for an old man, but instead, I got another, “yes, you do.”

Huge, old oaks

Huge, old oaks

So, I asked whether he’d guided anyone as old as I on this “climb.” He told me about a 65 year old German man. He was a pilot who had a terrible crash, breaking many bones. His doctor told him to take up walking and trekking. I knew what was coming: “He was in much better shape than you.”

The top

I struggled a bit near the top. I was probably dehydrated, getting a little dizzy. At one point the mica on the ground and in the rocks presented me with a beautiful kaleidoscope of flashing lights. I enjoyed that for a moment, until I remembered that I needed to be paying attention to the walking.

Many beautiful butterflies

Many beautiful butterflies

We managed to reach the summit and paused for a brief lunch. Unfortunately, there was cloud cover, so we didn’t get the view of the Himalayas that many people count on as their reward for the climb.

Also, I felt a little sick, which may have had something to do with the mica kaleidoscope. So I walked back down a short way to take care of business in the woods. When I came back up to the peak, I realized that I had technically ascended it twice in one day, something few people do. My pace was glacial and my form was embarrassing, but I made it, and twice!

Not a lonely park

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NagiGumba

The map/brochure for Shivapuri Nagarjun National Park describes it as

a lonely park to represent mid-hill ecosystem of Nepal. It is famous for globally threatened wildlife, birds, and butterflies.

I suspect a misprint, and that the text should read “a lovely park…”, which it certainly is.

There may well be lonely parts, since the park covers 159 sq km (61 sq mi), and most visitors follow one of the popular routes as I did yesterday in the Nagarjun portion of the park. What i’d say instead is that it offers a perfect blend of solitude and connection with nature interspersed with chances to interact with nice people.

(I can’t say whether people who go on these mini-treks are nicer to begin with, or just become so when they’re away from the stresses of city life, but either way they’re fun to visit with.)

Arjun and Vibatshu

Arjun and Vibatshu

Although I did see several people, especially at NagiGumba (Buddhist monastery), I was disappointed not to see any leopards, bears, thars, boars, deer, or monkeys, which reside there. I did see many birds and butterflies, mushrooms, and all sorts of subtropical  plant life. I even saw the Asian bittersweet that is so well loved on Cape Cod.

The walk up to NagiGumba is done by people of all ages, school groups, couples, and pilgrims. It’s an easy to follow trail, with steps for all the steep portions. Nevertheless, by the end of the day my knees were rubbery, my shirt was soaking wet. and I had resolved to get myself in better shape.

It was some consolation that my fitness tracker registered well over 200 floors (~3000 steps). The steps were good ones, too, with treads and risers that matched my legs. I wonder how some of the smaller children could manage it.

p1090535Along the way, I met a man who had been a mountain guide. He was walking with his 15 yo son. He gave me some good tips for hill walking. I talked with the military guards (the park is adjacent to a military camp), a couple of groups of schoolchildren, some “+2” students, and people at NagiGumba hanging prayer flags.

When I arrived at the top, I learned that there was some kind of ceremony about snakes (which I also failed to see on the trail). A monk served me slices of apples, oranges, and some pear-like fruit, which were hugely welcome after the climb.

Shivapuri Park is new (2002) and the Nagarjun portion was added just in 2009. It makes me happy to know that Nepal is able to establish these parks making possible mini-trekking in the urban area and preserving biodiversity.

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