I had two days, one night and a scooter. I also had a need to escape the dusty circus of Kathmandu, where I live and work, to breathe some clean air.
Raj, the manager of Shivapuri Retreat, said that all you have to do is drive about 30 minutes from Kathmandu to his place and you’re transported into another world. Hence, I was all in. I took my scooter north towards Shivapuri National Park in the early afternoon.
The roads became less congested and the elevation became higher. I started to emerge out of the hazy valley, and I started to breathe. I met Tendu Sherpa, a trekking guide who was also headed up to the retreat (and who had just climbed Everest for the first time this year!).
We drove together, and on the way we made one stop. Thendu bought two orange khatas, or scarves. Tendu asked me if I’d like to buy some. He said they were for Raj and his wife. I didn’t really understand why I’d need to buy them, as a result I declined.
After our shopping, we went higher, winding along the roads, past the military checkpoints, and all the way up to Danda Gaon village, the home of Shivapuri Retreat at 1750m.
There I met Raj’s wife and business partner, Pratikshya, who showed me around the grounds and my beautiful cottage. The accommodation had two bedrooms with attached baths each room with one double and one single bed. The duvets were fluffy, white and warm, and the traditional wool carpets under foot kept things cozy. In the morning I found out their window blinds do their job very well. Joining the rooms was a living room with sofas, similar carpets, and lots of magazines. It had a warm library feeling. A little later I fired up the gas heater and did a little work, using their strong wifi.
The best feature was the corner porch, constantly flooded with sunlight at one angle or another. I sat back on the wicker chairs and more or less inhaled a basked of hot popcorn and strong cup of tea. Apparently the drive and the fresh air revived the old appetite!
In the hazy distance far below was Kathmandu. It was so dusty down there that features of buildings were dulled. I felt relieved to be outside of that valley, looking down on it, and breathing in the sunshine. Raj was right, it really was a different world up here.
Before dinner I went next door to the Buddhist monk school. I took off my shoes and went upstairs and listened to the older students say their prayers and play their booming brass instruments. They pray twice a day, and guests are welcome to sit and listen. They’ll even give you tea.
When I came to dinner, Praticshy offered me to share a glass of wine with them. It turns out it was their second wedding anniversary- hence the khatas. I should’ve bought the scarves! The dinner was delicious. Some star anise magic had been worked onto the chicken curry. I had seconds. After dinner they asked me to join them and some friends who had also come up to help celebrate. We talked over homemade cake and Khukri Rum.
Raj and Pratikshya are a young couple. Many of their friends have gone abroad for work. But they, along with a few of their other young and ambitious family members, have decided to stick it out in Nepal and make Shivapuri Retreat a success. They’re only eight months in and so far so good.
Right now it’s possible to come out for just the day and do guided hikes from Gurje Bhanjyang, through the national park, spotting leopards, wild boar, barking deer, and over 300 species of birds. After lunch at Shivapuri Retreat, continue the hike to Nagi Gompa, a nunnery tucked in the forest.
There are also options to trek or bike longer along the ridge of the forest, going further to Kapon or Boudha, or getting even higher and hiking to Shivapuri Peak.
Raj and Pratikshya are hoping to expand the property, build more cottages, and continue to develop the adventure side. All over the area and into the national park are well-established mountain bike and trekking trails. There’s so much to do just a short ride up and out of Kathmandu.
The next morning there was early coffee on the sunny porch. I chatted with Raj before he went off to teach at a village school, another one of his many endeavors. Then I just sat and took time to relax into the quiet atmosphere. After a hearty breakfast (chapatti, eggs, and spicy potatoes) I took a walk around the surrounding Tamang village with Tendu. We could see snow capped mountains in the distance. I felt torn- do I run into them or rather return to life in Kathmandu?
Well, I had to go back to work in Kathmandu so I packed up my things and took as many deep breaths as I could. Even with just one night there, I felt revived.
I fired up the scooter, who was clearly irritated with me for driving her higher and farther than she’d been before. I think next time I’ll rather utilize the option of a pick-up from Kathmandu. There definitely will be a next time!
Top image: Robert Tyabji.