Nagarkot and Dhulikhel are small towns situated on the edge of the Kathmandu Valley in Nepal; they are popular weekend retreats for those living in the capital. Nepali people are drawn to these hilltop oases for their clean air and famed mountain vistas.
We’d already been to Dhulikhel on a previous visit to the country, hiking from there to Panauti via the Buddhist pilgrimage site of Namobuddha. On our most recent trip, we decided to return to Dhulikhel by hiking from Nagarkot, a journey that would turn out to be memorable in more ways than one.
Nagarkot (Elevation: 2175m)
Nagarkot lies 32km from Kathmandu and is renowned for its broad view of the Himalayan range, which is possible to see from many a hotel balcony. As a result of this claim to fame, hotels have proliferated in recent years, turning the small village into little more than a tourist town.
The result is that Nagarkot doesn’t feel authentic, a feeling that is only exacerbated by the numerous check-posts on the roads into/out of town where the compulsory admission fees are collected and checked.
There are two separate Rs 300 tickets, one for entry into Nagarkot itself and the other for Changu Narayan Temple, a site not even within the vicinity. No, it doesn’t make any sense and yes, it leaves a sour taste in your mouth but protesting paying will get you nowhere.
A stay of two nights is sufficient to explore the area in and around Nagarkot.
What to See and Do around Nagarkot
Buddha Peace Park
The Buddha Peace Park is a memorial garden with a large central golden statue of the Buddha mounted atop a terraced platform. With prayer flags fluttering in the breeze and panoramic valley views, the shrine is set in a peaceful location.
You can reach the site via a short scenic walk from Nagarkot that passes through local villages and some lovely countryside. Surrounded by terraced farmland and forest, the route is easy to follow. There are plans to build a monastery in the hills surrounding the site.
Nagarkot Nature Trail
A circular route taking around two hours, the Nagarkot Nature Trail takes you on a loop through the countryside around town. The trail passes through pine forest and terraced fields, continuing along a panoramic ridge with wide-reaching views.
Occasional rustic farmhouses appear, belonging to the Tamang and Gurung people, adding a human element to the otherwise wholly natural landscape. If the weather is on your side, you’ll be rewarded with Himalayan views from the ridge-top, the mountains stretching in an unbroken chain across the horizon.
Regardless of how good the mountain views are during the day, make sure you get up extra early at least once during your stay in Nagarkot to see sunrise. It’s possible to take in a panorama that stretches from Dhaulagiri in the west to Mt Everest and Kanchenjunga in the east. Some choose to enjoy the vista from their hotel balcony or rooftop whilst others head to one of the nearby viewpoints for a higher perspective.
The Mahakali Temple is, of the two main ones, closest to town, sitting on a small hilltop near Hotel at the End of the Universe. The popular Lookout Tower, meanwhile, is located 4km south of Nagarkot on a 2164m high ridge and offers 360-degree views. It’s around an hour’s walk from town otherwise, if you’re not up for a cold dark morning walk, any hotel or the tourist offices can arrange a taxi for the return trip.
Skies are clearest from October to March, though the mountains are notorious for disappearing behind cloud at any given time. It can also get very cold in Nagarkot, particularly in December and January, so bring warm clothes.
Nagarkot Accommodation and Transport
There are many hotels and guesthouses in Nagarkot, an overwhelming number in fact considering the size of the village. They mostly cater to domestic and Indian tourists so can get very busy and loud; standards are generally lower and prices much higher than in places popular with foreign travellers. Significant discounts are usually possible; check prices online or check a few hotels when you arrive and bargain a decent price.
We stayed in one of the non-descript budget options, after looking at a few, where the room was clean and comfortable enough and there was a rooftop in which to watch the sunrise on the north side of the ridge. Most hotels have their own restaurants but there are a couple of independent options along the main street; the local places offer reasonable food at cheaper prices.
To reach Nagarkot from Kathmandu, take a local bus to Bhaktapur and change there; buses leave Bhaktapur roughly every 30 minutes and take around one hour. Alternatively, you could hire a taxi in Kathmandu.
Hiking from Nagarkot to Dhulikhel
The trekking trail from Nagarkot to Dhulikhel is supposedly 20km and should take 6-7 hours. However, although it is signposted in places, there are some confusing sections so you’ll need to frequently ask local villagers for directions.
Due to a series of catastrophic errors, our hike turned into a two-day affair; the second day was wonderful but the first, at least the latter part of it, was nothing short of a disaster. Here’s what happened, as well as a few pointers so that you (hopefully) avoid our fate:
- To make it in one day, get an EARLY START, ideally no later than 8am. This will give you a time buffer before sunset in case you get lost. We made the HUGE mistake of starting our hike at 3pm! We’d spent the morning doing the Nagarkot Nature Trail and, after lunch, saw no reason to stick around. This was our first major error.
- The trail starts past Club Himalaya Resort, following the road past the army barracks; not far from here there’s a signposted turn-off for Dhulikhel. A little further along, it’s possible to make a detour to the Lookout Tower; having not yet seen it, we decided to stop by. The return trip turned out to be a long deviation and cost us at least an hour; unfortunately the views at the top weren’t worth it at that particular time.
- Back at the junction, we continued on our way, traversing a wide forest track with sweeping valley views on one side. There was another sign pointing the way to Dhulikhel, reassuring us that we were going in the right direction. However, shortly after this pointer, the route split into THREE WAYS, a narrow forest path that we quickly ruled out and two wider tracks like the one we’d been following. There was no indicator and nobody around to ask. Maps.me was also useless at this point.
- We took the fork that seemed the most logical; it continued on for a fair distance then abruptly RAN OUT. We were on a steep hillside with disused rice terraces beneath us and to our right. Heading onto the dry terraces, we began to search for a path down. The next hour was a frantic one; it was beginning to get dark, we were still miles from Dhulikhel and we were seemingly stuck on a hillside, with no obvious way down. What made the situation even more frustrating was that we could see a track far below and villages to our distant left and right, on neighbouring hillocks.
- EVENTUALLY, after much scrambling and Ollie taking a 6ft fall, we (literally) hit the track; by this time it was dusk and the light was fading fast.
- Beyond relieved to be back on an established route, we continued on by torchlight; we knew by this point that we needed to find somewhere to stay the night.
- In the pitch dark, all the more impenetrable in the middle of the countryside, we came across a single lonely house, whose owner directed us to a LODGE around the next bend. Unfortunately, the young boys manning the place seized the opportunity to exploit us; they offered us a dingy overpriced room and some Maggi noodles. It took a lot of bartering, verging on begging, to get the price down to something half palatable.
- We left at first light, the air fresh and the sun rising as we hiked. The second day was a glorious one; with a cloudless sky and beautiful countryside scenes, we were rewarded with some stunning vistas and insights into the local villages that we passed through. Stopping for a dal bhat breakfast at 9am, the simple restaurant had a prime location atop a mountain-facing ridge.
- The remainder of the hike was fairly straight-forward; the route was much clearer and there were many villagers to ask the way. Not far from Dhulikhel pass across a forested hillside, where lies the Chandeshwori View Tower with stone steps leading up to it. A wide track continues down to the Himalayan Horizon Hotel, from where you can pick up the highway for the final stretch to Dhulikhel.
Top Tips to Hike from Nagarkot to Dhulikhel
- Start EARLY from Nagarkot
- Plan to complete the hike in one day as accommodation on route is EXTREMELY LIMITED
- If you find yourself at the rice terraces, BACKTRACK and take the other fork. DO NOT attempt to scale them!
- Take PLENTY of snacks and water with you
- DO NOT rely on maps.me! It’s a great guide but is not always accurate!
- Wear COMFORTABLE FOOTWEAR and take WARM CLOTHING
- Bring a TORCH
- Get LOCAL ADVICE before you set off; parts of the route can change from time to time, especially during/after the monsoon rains
Dhulikhel (Elevation: 1550m)
Unlike Nagarkot, which exists purely for the views it offers tourists, Dhulikhel is a thriving Newari town with a bustling old town and temple-lined square. The soaring Himalayan peaks are also clearly visible from the town’s ridge, the panorama stretching from Langtang Lirung in the east to Numbur in the west.
From the rooftop of our guesthouse we were able to enjoy some stunning vistas, clearer in fact that those we had witnessed in Nagarkot. Many people come to Dhulikhel as the starting point for the hike to Panauti via Namobuddha; the town is, however, captivating enough to tempt a longer stay. It makes an easy and relaxing escape from Kathmandu, offering some great accommodation on the ridge above town, as well as a range of day hike options.
What to See and Do around Dhulikhel
About 2km from town, at the bottom of a shallow gorge, lies this pretty little Shiva temple; it enshrines a four-faced lingam and is topped by a metal dome with four serpents arching down from the pinnacle. The temple courtyard contains statues of a Malla royal family and an atmospheric stream trickles through the site.
Shanti Ban Buddha and Kali Temple
At the start of the hike to Namobuddha, Shanti Ban is a huge golden Buddha statue reached via a steep 30-minute climb up concrete steps. Continue going up to reach the hilltop Kali Temple, which offers stunning views over the whole area; the viewing tower was, however, closed at the time of our visit.
The area attracts many local sightseers and can take on a carnival-like atmosphere with groups of teens taking selfies and enjoying picnics. The statue and temple can be reached by road though the stairway offers a shorter and much more pleasant walking route; from the Kali Temple the route to Namobuddha continues by trekking trail.
Dhulikhel Old Town
Dhulikhel old town is a wonderful area to explore, full of traditional Newari houses and cobbled back-alleys and lanes; intriguing wayside shrines demand attention on route to their bigger brothers.
The main square is home to the triple-roofed Hari Siddhi Temple and the three-tiered Vishnu Temple, which is fronted by two Garudas in different styles and heights.
A short walk from the square you’ll find the modern Gita Temple and the Newari-style Bhagwati Shiva Temple; in the opposite direction there’s a Ganesh Temple with a triangular white roof, topped with a bell.
Day Hike to Banepa
For a pleasant day hike through pretty countryside and small villages head to Banepa, a town that sits on the Arniko Highway just 4.5km by road from Dhulikhel. The hiking route takes you beside rice fields, which when we visited, were a bright golden yellow.
Banepa is a traditional village with brick-paved back streets snaking north from the highway; there are numerous small temples and shrines hidden away within the labyrinthine lanes; most were built in the 14th and 16th Centuries. At this time Banepa was an important stop on the trade route to Tibet.
The Chandeshwari Temple is the largest; it has an enormous mural of Bhairab on one wall and is a popular pilgrimage spot where animals are sacrificed on feast days. A short walk away, on the approach road, you’ll see a smaller temple dedicated to the Mother of Chandeshwari.
Dhulikhel Accommodation and Transport
Dhulikhel is a place that caters to all budgets with everything from cheap guesthouses and homestays to upmarket hotels and resorts. We stayed at and would recommend Shiva Guest House, located along a short path just up from the Shiva Temple. The place is run by a friendly family; it has basic but clean rooms and a fantastic rooftop with 360-degree views; from here the mountain panorama is pretty special. Also, don’t miss the delicious home-cooked dal bhat; the vegetables come straight from the garden!
If you’re not reaching Dhulikhel on foot, it’s possible to arrive by bus from Kathmandu; buses leave regularly from Ratna Park bus station and take approximately two hours. The last bus back to the capital leaves at around 6:30pm.
Enjoyed Hiking from Nagarkot to Dhulikhel? Other Options Include:
- Nagarkot to Changu Narayan – 4.5 hours hiking
- Nagarkot to Sankhu – 2.5-4 hours hiking
- Nagarkot to Chisapani/Mulkarkha/Sundarijal – Two days hiking (first stage of the Helambu trek)
Dhulikhel to Panauti via Namobuddha
The hike from Dhulikhel to Panauti is a popular one, and for good reason. From the Kali Temple the trail passes through scenic countryside and forest to reach Namobuddha; the stupa here is one of the three most important Buddhist pilgrimage sites in Nepal, after Bodhnath and Swayambhunath.
Just up from the stupa lies the spectacular Thrangu Tashi Yangtse Monastery, a sprawling complex of Tibetan Buddhist temples and monasteries with shining golden roofs; its hilltop location offers stunning sunset/sunrise views.
It’s possible to stay overnight at the basic monastery guesthouse; meals can be purchased from the on-site Tibetan restaurant. If you’re not walking, it’s also possible to reach Namobuddha by bus from Banepa or Dhulikhel; buses leave from the bottom of the hill near the stupa.
From Namobuddha the trail continues to Panauti, winding past terraced fields and through the peaceful hamlet of Sunthan. It should take you around 2.5 hours to reach Panauti; as you approach the town cross the stream over a suspension bridge to the ghats, then follow the road as it curves round to the Indreshwar Mahadev Temple. The hike is well signed so you shouldn’t get lost!
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Looking to do a longer trek? Check out Your Ultimate Guide to the Langtang Valley and Gosainkunda Trek or Trekking in Nepal: Annapurna Base Camp and Mardi Himal.