Monday, April 4, 2011

Hiking Shivapuri

Yesterday Brian and I hiked to the summit of Shivapuri National Park. At 2,732 meters (8,963 feet), Shivapuri is the second highest peak in the Kathmandu Valley after Phulchowki. Before Brian joined me in Nepal, I had already checked off hikes to Champa Devi and Nagarjun, which, along with Shivapuri and Phulchowki, round out the big four summits of the Valley.

Although these peaks may seem like ant hills in comparison to the BIG mountains, like the Annapurna range to the west and the Everest range to the east, the Kathmandu Valley peaks are mountains in their own right, and it is great to have them in our backyard. Here is a view of Shivapuri on a clear day from Patan -- it is the highest green peak sandwiched between the great white Himalayas in the distance.

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Shivapuri is accessible by microbuses. We set out from our house in Patan at 8am and took a microbus from Jawalakhel to Ratna Park in Kathmandu. Because it was yet another holiday in Nepal, the streets were rather empty of vehicles but still full of people, as we discovered when our microbus re-routed on account of this scene.

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Because of the rainbow flags, we wondered if the march was Kathmandu's very own Pride parade and reminisced about the Pride celebration that took over our own neighborhood in Chicago every June.

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Yeah, probably not the same thing as Miss Foozie.

Fortunately, the parade did not disrupt microbus routes heading north from Ratna Park to the entrance of Shivapuri, and we squeezed into our connecting bus, the #5 -- known for its Carolina blue color, low roof, hard bench seats, and metal bars that dig into the middle of your back. It is really a great way to kick off the hike because you find yourself so grateful to emerge from that bus that the steep trail seems like a welcome gift.

At first. Unlike the trails leading up to Champa Devi and Nagarjun, which had short, intermittent flat stretches that allow you to catch your breath and rest your quads, Shivapuri offered no rest for the weary. Upon the suggestion of someone in my hiking group, we opted for the stone staircase trail that winds its way up the left side of the mountain. (Note to self: "more direct" is really just a euphemism for "more painful.").

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We were rewarded with some nice glimpses of the Kathmandu Valley along the way, and we used these views as an excuse to take a couple short breaks as we headed up the trail.

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After a little over an hour into the hike, the Stairway to Hell turned into a dirt trail that was at once better and worse than the stone steps. Better in the sense that the trail forced us to slow down because it required more careful footing and maneuvering; worse in the way that it tortured us psychologically because every five minutes it tricked us into thinking we had neared the summit. We cursed. We nearly cried. But we kept on going.

Finally -- FINALLY -- we reached the top of Shivapuri, which rewarded us with expansive views of the mountains to the north.

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We sat on a ledge and ate our packed lunch (there is no food or water available in the park, so make sure to bring your own) while we took in the views and gratefully rested our legs.

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After such a steep ascent, we were happy for the downhill.

At first. We soon learned that the steep stairs torture just as much -- if not more -- on the way down. It took us almost two hours, with only two short breaks, to finally reach the stream at the base of the park.

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Like the stream, we descended into the Valley, resting our quivering legs on a claustrophobic nightmare of a minibus. A return to the dust and bustle of the city presented a sharp contrast to our quiet moment on top of the world. Some summits are worth climbing toward.

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