Latest news from the Himalaya and Karakoram

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Walking up Shivapuri Peak in the Kathmandu valley during Holi festival

Photo: park gates of Shivapuri Nagarjun National Park at Budhanilkantha
Yesterday the Holi festival was celebrated in Nepal and as this is a national holiday I decided to take a day off work and walk up Shivapuri peak (2,732m) the second highest peak in the hills around Kathmandu valley. This is a really good hike and would certainly be worth considering if you have a spare day in Kathmandu. Shivapuri peak is located in Shivapuri Nagarjun National Park, this place is popular among Nepalis and expats as a place to escape from the busy and polluted Kathmandu valley.

Photo: view from trail to Kathmandu valley
I took the number five tuk-tuk out of Kathmandu down along Lazimpat and across the Ring road then walked the rest of the way to Buddhanilkanta. Being Holi festival there was much excitement and celebrations with water bombs (in Nepali “lola”) and coloured powder being thrown around, by the time I arrived to the Shivapuri Nagarjun park gates I had been well and truled Holi’ed!

Photo: Holi'ed!!
I have visited Shivapuri Nagarjun National Park only once before when I walked from Sundarijal to Langtang however this trail is further to the east so this was my first time through the Park gates near Budhanilkantha. I had spoken to several people who frequently visit this area of the Park and they recommended I take the more direct and steep trail up to Shivapuri summit and then descend on the longer path back down via Nagi gompa. Take the trail to the left just after passing through the Army check post signposted to Bishnudwara and Tokha. This means one can do a circuit up to Shivapuri summit and then ending up back at the Park gates near Budhanilkantha.

As I started up the stone steps I could hear the sound of Holi festivities echoing across the Kathmandu valley below with lots of shouting and laughter then later on as I gained height the hubbub from the valley was replaced by the quiet of the forest. Being March this is the season for rhodendrons to flower and I soon came across the red, white and pinks flowers of laliguras which is the national flower of Nepal.

Photo: rhododendrons (laliguras) in flower in Shivapuri
Walking up the stone steps is certainly a good work out as the trail continues relentlessly up through the forest and then after a few hours walking the path steepens for the final ascent to Shivapuri peak. The summit is a flat grassy area and being Spring there was no view as it is often hazy at this time of year however on a clear day it would be possible to see Himalayan peaks such as Ganesh Himal, Langtang-Lirung and Dorji Lhakpa. I met several others groups on the summit, there were some Nepali friends who had also taken advantage of their day off work for Holi holiday and also several Saddhus (holymen) laying down in the sun.

Photo:stone steps to Shivapuri peak
Photo: summit of Shivapuri Peak at 2,732m
From the summit the path descends on more stone steps down through the forest then after half an hour or so I arrived to Baghdwar, this is a very important place as it is where the holy Bagmati river originates. The temple of Pashupatinath is located further downstream on Bagmati river. From Baghdar the trail is lovely as it passes through a forest with oak, bamboo and more flowering laliguras. After another hour I got to Nagi Gompa, a nunnery and retreat centre, where I stopped for a water break and I could hear the chanting of prayers from the main temple complex.

Photo: Nagi gompa
From Nagi Gompa the trail descends further and then joins a dusty road for the walk back down to the Park gates. On the road I passed several family groups who were out enjoying their Holi festival carrying big bunches of red rhodendron flowers, they were all singing and having a good time together. 

Photo: locals celebrating Holi festival
On getting back to Kathmandu I had a look online for more information on Shivapuri Nagarjun National Park. They key facts are this park was established as wildlife reserve in 1976 and was upgraded to National Park status in 2002. The Park covers an area of 159 km2 from Kakani in the west to Sundarijal in the east. There is a wide range of animals including leopard, Himalayan black bear, wild boar, rhesus monkey (I saw some of these near Shivapuri peak) and Himalayan pika. There are also lots of birds with ornithologists recording 318 species.

Photo: map of Shivapuri Nagarjun National Park
Please get in touch with us at The Mountain Company if you would like any further information about trekking and expeditions in Nepal and cultural tours of Nepal

Happy Holi!!

Roland Hunter

Friday, 22 March 2013

Hindu festival of Holi celebrated in Nepal and India

Photo: enjoying Holi festival on Annapurna Circuit trek
Following my earlier post about Shivaratri festival in Kathmandu the next important one is Holi or commonly known as Festival of Colours. Holi is celebrated by Hindus in Nepal and India to mark the end of winter and to celebrate the start of of Spring. This festival is held on the last full moon of the lunar month of Phalguna and this year in the western calendar it is on March 26th.

Holi is celebrated with fun and joy where revellers normally hold a bonfire, throw coloured powder at each other and celebrate wildly. The reason for using coloured powder is to take away sorrow and sadness and literally bring colour into everyone’s lives. People sometimes throw water balloons from roof tops of buildings so be aware if you are walking in the streets below! It is certainly a good idea to wear old clothes ones you do not mind being covered in coloured powder and getting wet.

It is quite common for revellers to mix bhang (marijuana) in their food and drinks also like at Shivaratri festival held earlier in the year. Marijuana is linked with Lord Shiva as at one point he rested under the shade of a cannabis plant on a hot day and in gratitude he gave this plan to mankind.

In Nepal, Holi is also called "Fagu" and is a national holiday, it is celebrated by everyone irrespective of religion, caste or age. During this day everyone rich and poor will join in to celebrate this joyous festival which is as important as Dashain and Tihar in Autumn season.

If you are planning to visit Nepal in Spring then I recommend you consider making the dates of your trip coincide with the festival of Holi. At The Mountain Company we organise cultural tours throughout Nepal with our Classic, Highlights and Luxury tour itineraries or we can arrange a private bespoke tour designed especially for you. Please get in touch with us if you would like any further information about our Cultural Tours of Nepal.

Roland Hunter

Hindu festival of Shivaratri celebrated in Kathmandu

Photo: Saddhu holy man at Shivaratri festival in Kathmandu
I arrived to Kathmandu for our Spring trekking season on March 10th and when being driven out of the airport I noticed the usual road to the centre of Kathmandu was closed and there were many people around. The reason for the large crowds was that I had arrived to Kathmandu during the Shivaratri festival.

The Shivaratri festival is celebrated every year in Kathmandu in reverence of Lord Shiva with offerings of Bel leaves and fasting for the day and night during a long vigil. This festival is centred on the Pashupati Temple complex located on the Bagmati river not far away from the international airport. This area is crowded with pilgrims from Nepal and India as well as many holy men (or saddhus) who walk around naked with their bodies smeared with ash. A ritual among Saddhus is to smoke marijuana in worship of Lord Shiva and certainly lots of this drug is smoked during Shivaratri.

During Shivaratri the area around Pashupati complex has many food stalls and across the river in the forest there are lots of temporary shelters and campfires. At midnight the festival starts when the priests start to make offerings to Lord Shiva and throughout the night the pilgrims and saddhus enter the main temple with milk, flowers, coins and rice placed near the Lingam of Lord Shiva.

Lord Shiva is a Hindu deity known as the “Destroyer “or “Transformer” and is regarded as one of the five primary forms of God. Lord Shiva lived on Mount Kailash in Tibet as well as a householder with his wife Parvati and two sons and daughter. Lord Shiva can be easily identified as he always carries a trident and has five serpents as ornaments.

If you are interested in visiting Shivaratri festival then the timing varies in the western calendar as is celebrated each year on 13th and 14th night of Maagha or Phalguna month of the Hindu calendar. Please get in touch with us we will let you know the dates of this festival for next year and if you like we can organise a visit with one of our sightseeing guides.

Roland Hunter

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

TMC treks guaranteed to run for Summer and Autumn 2013

We already have a number of groups forming for our Summer and Autumn treks in Nepal, Pakistan and Bhutan. Please take a look at these trips listed below, all of these are now guaranteed to run and there is currently availability:

K2 & Gondogoro La in Pakistan (August 3rd to 25th 2013)
K2 Base Camp and Concordia in Pakistan (August 30th to September 22nd 2013)
Lunana Snowman in Bhutan (September 21st to October 26th 2013)
Kanchenjunga to Makalu GHT (October 5th to November 4th 2013)
Kanchenjunga to Tumlingtar GHT (October 5th to November 15th 2013)
Everest High Passes in Nepal (October 4th to 25th 2013)
Luxury Everest Base Camp in Nepal (October 8th to 26th 2013)
Kanchenjunga Circuit in Nepal (October 30th to November 24th 2013)
Mera Peak Expedition in Nepal (November 3rd to 24th 2013)
Everest Base Camp in Nepal (November 3rd to November 21st 2013)
Everest Luxury Lodges in Nepal (November 18th to December 3rd 2013)

We also have several departures that are getting close to becoming guaranteed to run, they are as follows:

Dhaulagiri Circuit in Nepal (October 6th to 25th 2013)
Everest Base Camp in Nepal (November 13th to December 1st 2013)
Upper Dolpo to Jomsom GHT in Nepal (May 3rd to June 1st 2014)
Makalu to Everest GHT in Nepal (April 14th to May 12th 2014)

Please get in touch with us soon if you would like to join any of these groups, by the way there are currently some good deals on flights to Kathmandu in Autumn for latest prices check out SkyScanner

Roland Hunter

The Mountain Company