On a Sunday in late November, a throng of 40+ Nepali and international tourism-industry professionals undertook the new Sanga to Panauti Community Hike for the first time. This new ten kilometre route has been established by Royal Mountain Travel, CommunityHomestay.com and a global community of change-makers, Travel Social Good (TSG+) as a way of bringing visitors to this under-trekked area just outside the Kathmandu Valley, and to provide the local Tamang communities with another source of income.
The starting point, Sanga, is just outside the eastern edge of the Kathmandu Valley, and will be better known by most as the place with the tallest Shiva statue in the world. (Sanga can also be the end point, should hikers wish to start the walk at Panauti). After a steep ascent for about half an hour, the hike mostly flattens out, and takes walkers along ridgelines with steep drops below, views of rice fields and farmland, the town of Banepa and–on clear days–unobstructed views of the Himalayas. The paths we followed were mostly just local paths that the villagers of this area have always used. The curious faces with which we were met proved that these people weren’t used to outsiders passing through.
As the ‘test group’ of hikers, we stopped and were welcomed with beverages and freshly-prepared local food at a couple of small Tamang settlements. Royal Mountain Travel’s Managing Director (MD), Shiva Dhakal, told me that the intention is for these villagers to open up tea shops that can cater to hikers. It is intended that this route will become known as an environmentally friendly and plastic-free day hiking route.
The hike ended at Panauti, a beautiful Newari town surrounded by rice fields, and famed for being one of the best-preserved Newari settlements in the whole of Nepal. While anyone is free to make the hike from Sanga to Panauti (or vice versa) and sign boards have been put in place marking the beginnings and ends of the trail, it is hoped that guests of the Panauti Community Homestay will make use of it. This homestay initiative was established three years ago to empower local women. Rooms in local homes are opened up to tourists, who can get to know about typical Nepali life, and enjoy activities such as cooking classes, sightseeing around the town and now, this new hiking route.
It’s not an extremely strenuous hike, but ten kilometres through the hills of Nepal certainly feels like exercise by the end of the day. With a good pair of hiking shoes, plenty of water and a few snacks, almost anyone can enjoy this new trail–and support a socially responsible tourism initiative at the same time.