Gorkha is situated in the Middle Hills countryside, just 24 kilometers from the Prithvi Highway connecting Kathmandu and Pokhara. If you don’t want to rush through the historic villages and ancient temples of this region, you may choose a one day stopover, change buses at Abu Khaireni and head north towards one of the most famous palaces in Nepal – the Gorkha Durbar.
The complex of Gorka Durbar is situated on a hilltop, high above the main part of the town. It is comprised of a fort, a palace, and a temple, all surrounded by an enclosure of fortified walls. Prithvi Narayan Shah, who unified the rival kingdoms of Nepal, was born here, and Newars consider the Shahs to be the reincarnation of Vishnu.
To reach the complex of Gorkha Durbar, you can take a taxi from the center of the town and ask the driver to leave you as close as possible to the former palace. Or you can do a walking loop as I did: climb for one or two hours along the main pilgrims’ stairway, and come back along one of the many footpaths that meander among traditional households towards the center of the town.
From the main bus stand near Radna Temple, I followed the street that goes up to the square where the Bhimsen Temple and the Gorkha Museum are. From there, I walked a bit further, and at the first crossroads, in Tindhara neighborhood, I turned left and started the hike along the Pilgrims’ Walkway. I followed the main stairway with stone steps (almost 1500 steps up to the Durbar), and from time to time I stopped to look at the small shops with religious items that were dotted along the route. I knew I was getting close to my final destination when I saw the first eateries and I smelled the goat barbecues being prepared by the pilgrims.
Close to the fort walls, several pilgrims passed me while they pushed or pulled goats up to the temple. When I stopped in front of the western gate, I looked at two Nepalis who had a goat with them, and asked curiously: “Are you going to sacrifice it?” They confirmed, and advised me to take off my shoes before entering the religious complex. I walked barefooted and went upstairs in front of Kalika Temple. There, pilgrims waited in a line next to their goats, or were performing their religious rituals. I had to take care not to step in the drops of sacrificial goat blood as the animals were carried to the barbecue places in big bags.
On another terrace of the fort, around the Mausoleum of Guru Gorkhanath, a sadhu dressed in orange blessed the pilgrims and made a red tikka on their foreheads. I watched pilgrims coming in and out of the northern gate, and then I went down to the main parking place filled up with religious stalls. From there I walked up to the lookout, close to the Hanuman statue carved in a huge rock. The place is recommended for its views of the Himalayan peaks, as well as of the Trisuli Valley and the Gorkha Durbar.
To walk back to the center of the town I passed the junction where the Pilgrims’ Walkway reaches the fort, then passed the western gate of the Gorkha Durbar and followed the less popular stairway that led me to a few small shrines at the west of the Durbar. Traditional households were scattered in the rural landscape, and I continued among them. I eyed the Gorkha Museum far down in the middle of the town, and always chose the path that went in that direction. In less than half an hour, I was back in the square in front of the museum, thus ending the loop.
The walk up to Gorkha Durbar is demanding and unexpected at the same time, because one would normally expect to find the royal palace in the center of the town in Nepal. However, that’s what makes Gorkha so special, and a unique destination for keen travelers. Following the pilgrims’ route is an authentic way to experience the religious ritual, but it might require you to be bold and step barefooted among the bloody scene!
Top image by Graham Duggan.