Monsoon Hiking: Nagarkot to Dhulikhel
The weekend weather report showed constant dark clouds with yellow lightening bolts piercing them. I immediately thought of leeches having a circus in my socks and I got a little weak-kneed. But my friend Annabel, with her strong British accent (which Americans like me find soothing and trustworthy), stated with conviction, “Well, that’s what waterproofs are for!”
So we went for it. We planned ourselves a monsoonal weekend mini break. We’d be surrounded by hidden Himalayan views and fresh air. We also wanted to tire out Annabel’s incredibly energetic pooch, and clock some steps ourselves.
The night before departure from Kathmandu, there was a thundering downpour that lasted for hours. Thankfully, the sky got it all out of its system by morning, and it was clear. I double-packed everything in plastic inside my backpack though, just in case.
Annabel’s driver picked us up in his little red Maruti Gypsy and assured us it would make it up to Nagarkot. Our plan was to drive from Kathmandu to Nagarkot, hike that area for several hours on the first day, then trek 19k from Nagarkot to Dhulikel the following day.
We made it to Nagarkot in under two hours, over bumpy roads up into the damp but fresh pine forests. Once we determined it was safe, we took gulpfuls of invigorating air. It was refreshing! Aadi, the 10-month-old rescue streetdog, got so excited! She was gleefully peeing on everything and making fast friends with dogs twice her size.
Annabel and I split a ridiculously large pot of coffee. Revived, we packed up water, mobiles, and waterproofs, fastened the dog lead to Annabel’s waist, and took off on a walk.
We followed a combination of Google Maps, pre-marked signs, and occasionally asked for directions. After an hour on the well-marked Nature Walk pathway, we were in Kattike, where we decided it was dal bhat/beer o’clock. We found a tiny family run place, complete with a chicken on a leash for Aadi to taunt, and sat outside in the faint sun and the quiet. The sky was mostly covered with clouds. It is a shame because we knew that there would be massive mountain views presenting themselves in about a month. But hey, with Annabel’s Peak Finder App, we could find out what mountains were there right behind the clouds, and imagine them.
We decided we were winning. We were outside the city, breathing clean air, and exercising. The beer was cold, the dal baht tasted brilliant, and it wasn’t raining. Six points for us.
We trekked on further through the small towns of Danda Gaon and Gajri Gaon, met some goats, chickens, and a couple of spiders. Annabel lost the grippy rubber sole of one of her well-worn Keen trekking boots while shooing away a very verbal local dog. That was the most stressful part of our day hike, really. The rest was just a good muscle-working walk with gradual ups and downs. We were back early evening for hot showers, G&Ts, a vegetarian feast and a deep sleep.
I woke up in the middle of the night to strong rain. It was soothing though. I’d run out of phone credit and juice, so there was no pull to check a thing. I just shut my eyes and fell back into a deep sleep. I think this was one of the highlights of the weekend: the unplugged calm, the lack of responsibility to social media or the insane events happening in the world right now.
(The following morning North Korea set off another nuclear missile test, which we found out while walking. But being in the hills outside Dhulikel seemed a far removed place and time from all of that. It was nice to feel that separation, even if only for one afternoon.)
Sunday morning was misty with poor visibility, but dry. We were out the door by a reasonable 9:30am, equipped with potato parathas and honeyed Tibetan bread for energy boosts. There were beat up signs pointing to Dhulikel along the way, but they were a bit questionable. The GPS on Annabel’s mobile set us on the best course. A lot of the paths were choked and overgrown, almost like lost trails of ancient times. But they inevitably led us in the right direction. The Google Maps route was very well marked for the most part.
The entire trail from Nagarkot to Dhulikel was mostly down, but there were a few serious ups thrown in. After about 4.5 hours, I was starting to feel it. I had worn old running shoes, which was not the best decision. I should have respected the route a little more. Annabel ended up losing her other boot sole along the way. It was actually a good thing, because this was a test run to see if she could take those boots to the Annapurnas in October. Losing soles up in the mountains would be a lot worse than just outside Dhulikel. We added this loss to the ‘winning’ list, in the end.
By the time we got to Dhulikel, we were daydreaming of lakes and crisp white wine, but we settled on the first hotel we came across, which had a courtyard and allowed the dog. They organized a private car back to Kathmandu for us for Rs 3000, which was ready for us just after we finished lemon sodas and split a victory beer.
Overall, we had a fab result for our monsoon trekking gamble. It didn’t rain more than a few drops on us during the day and there was nary a leech in sight. We clocked over 50,000 steps and 25 miles, which ain’t bad for us working city girls. Aadi the pup was wiped out–so much so that she stayed chilled out through to the next day.
Don’t fear monsoon treks! That’s what waterproofs are for, and you might not even have to use them.
Top image: Ananta Bhadra Lamichchane/Flickr