Nagarkot – mountains, eagles and magic moments

Viewpoint-in-opposite-direction-to-Himalayas

I did not find a huge amount about Nagarkot online and most blogs contained similar and limited information, as mine will too because there’s not a lot to do there, so questions and answers seem the best format and I will answer my own questions, first with a brief answer and then with what end up being very long answers.

1. What’s in Nagarkot?

Mountains, woodland, views of the Himalayas, including Everest, cleaner air than Kathmandu.

2. What were the circumstances of your trip to Nagarkot?

A day trip from a five-night stay in Kathmandu.

3. When did you go?

December.

4. What was the weather like?

Blue sky and warm but clouds and fog moving in.

5. Did you actually see the Himalayas and Everest?

Himalayas, yes, Everest, not sure.

6. What did you do when you got to Nagarkot?

Walked, sat in the sun, admired views from a tiny temple, ate.

7. Were there toilets?

None that I saw, other than in hotels and restaurants.

8. What did you eat?

Doughnutty pretzels from a street vendor and buffalo dumplings in a hut restaurant.

9. Is Nagarkot worth visiting?

Yes, if the weather is clear. No, if it isn’t.

10. Would you go again?

Probably not, but not because I didn’t enjoy it.

11. How did you get there?

Taxi.

12. What was the drive like?

A bumpy, scenic adventure with the occasional uncharacteristic hint of motion sickness.

13. Any suggestions or recommendations for someone planning to visit?

Yes, quite a few, but you’ll have to read the longer answers below to find them out.

1. What’s in Nagarkot?

A bit of research reveals it’s a mountain village resort at a height of 2,175 m (for perspective, Ben Nevis is 1,345 m, the world’s highest city, La Paz, is 3,640 m, Mount Fuji is 3,776 m and Mount Everest is 8,848 m) and is probably visited mainly for the views across the Himalayas and Everest, especially at sunset and sunrise.

2. What were the circumstances of your trip to Nagarkot?

Unconventional, but I was in Nepal due to an unexpected week off between two jobs in Delhi. I chose Kathmandu as my home for five nights as I have a friend who knows Kathmandu well and I wanted a research-free mini break. I had no plans or expectations regarding Nepal. I had asked my friend where to go for a day of respite from the busyness and pollution of Kathmandu and she suggested Nagarkot as it’s a mountainous area not far from Kathmandu. I took up her suggestion the night before and went there the next morning with no real expectations.

3. When did you go?

To be precise, Sunday, 9th December 2018. I left Kathmandu at 7.45 am in a taxi and arrived at my first stop, Nagarkot View Tower, at 9.45 am.

4. What was the weather like?

Warm. When I arrived, the sky was blue but there was a hazy foggy mist below the Himalayan peaks. The hazy foggy mist (there’s probably a meteorological term but those three words describe it well) slowly rose up the Himalayas and the blue sky around Nagarkot correspondingly became a bit cloudy and was pretty much obscured by that same hazy foggy mist by the time I left at around 1 pm.

5. Did you actually see the Himalayas and Everest?

The Himalayas, yes from Nagarkot View Tower. Also, yes from Nagarkot, though not as far-reaching as from the viewpoint.

As for Everest, to be honest, I’m not even sure if one of the peaks I saw was Everest. I don’t mean to sound blasé but that kind of didn’t matter because I could see a lot of formidable snowy mountains. I know that Everest can only be seen when it’s really clear; I thought it was only quite clear. From pictures of the view where Everest is indicated, it does not look like the tallest mountain so my not being sure about seeing it is not as preposterous as it might sound.

If you can bear with me, the rest of this answer is very long and allows me to attempt to relive one of the most memorable views and experiences of my entire life.

Not only did I see the Himalayas, I had the first of an unprecedented THREE magic moments, all in Nagarkot, when I first saw the mountains. I don’t usually get even one magic moment a year – my definition of “magic moment” is of the jaw dropping/tears welling/repeated “This. Is as good as it gets” variety; I have plenty of amazing moments in my life but the magic ones are the – well, they’re magic and rare.

Magic Moment 1. My taxi driver stopped just off the road by the food stalls at the bottom of a small mound which has steps through the trees to the Nagarkot View Tower (it’s on Google Maps). He just told me to go up there as I’d get a good view. I reiterate that I had virtually zero expectations about Nagarkot and knew nothing about a viewing area, etc. I got out the taxi and admired the blue sky through the trees and inhaled the air, thinking how lovely the warmth of the sun and the freshness of the air was (I’d been struggling in polluted Kathmandu for four days and polluted Delhi for the previous five days). I started walking up the steps but, as they are through trees, I had no real idea of what I would see or even how far I’d need to walk. I remember imagining an “oh, is that it” kind of picnic area off the side of a main road and thinking I’d rather just get to Nagarkot and enjoy sitting somewhere with a nice view, enjoying being somewhere quiet, the village of Nagarkot being what I thought I’d see from the viewpoint.

Not many steps later I could see the tree tops and, to my right, a patch of grass on which some locals were clearing rubbish … while some birds swooped around them … surely. Not. Eagles? I actually got really excited, there were tens of them circling, swooping – I don’t know, there is something remarkably magnificent about birds of prey, and eagles, to me, are extra special. I could see a few tourists were on the fairly small plateau of the viewing point but why was no one standing next to this patch of grass watching these amazing birds? I was mesmerised for at least ten minutes. A small group of tourists then came down the steps and I decided to go to the top. I walked up and faced a viewing structure with a metal ladder. I have vertigo and immediately ascertained there was no need for me to climb up it, especially as it’s only a few meters high and would only really get you above a few more trees. I looked straight ahead in the direction of the viewing tower and, yes, lovely, mountains, blue sky. Yes, yes, all very nice.

Viewpoint-in-opposite-direction-to-Himalayas
Nagarkot-VP-road

View point view in opposite direction to Himalayas and blue sky

I slowly turned clockwise back towards the slightly lower grassy area I had just come from. Hand straight to mouth in astonishment and awe and, I promise, tears in my eyes. There, majestic, magnificent, serene – sod the appropriate but overused adjectives, it was absolutely bloody stunning: the Himalayas; snow-covered mountains rising from the hazy foggy mist with blue sky beyond and above. And, to top it off, steppe eagles were circling in front of me with those mountains behind them and I could feel the warm sun on my face. I mean, seriously, the unexpectedness of it, the eagles swooping and the enormity of the mountain ranges and the snow and the Everest-ness; for the first time in my life I suddenly “got” why people want to climb mountains and why they feel it appropriate to say they have “conquered” a mountain. The Himalayas are around 90 miles away but the distance makes it even more amazing because the mountains are so obviously enormous and truly breathtaking. As for the photos, I’m not even sure I’ll post one, you need to see it for yourself; the photos do it absolutely no justice. The warm sun, a fresh breeze and the sight and sound of eagles flying was also part of the wonder and magic of the scene before me. I didn’t realise how lucky I was to see quite a lot as I have subsequently read quite a few other blogs where people have reported the Himalayas being obscured by fog and clouds. Take any opportunity you can where good/clear weather is concerned, no matter how tired or not in the mood you are, to make the effort to get to a viewing point. It’s magic moment stuff that I defy anyone not to be awestruck by.

But that wasn’t the end of MM1. When I finally felt ready to head back down and on to Nagarkot, I found my driver happily chatting to local stall holders, having purchased some fresh vegetables and eating a pretzel-esque-circle thing with great enthusiasm. He didn’t speak much English but he encouraged me to try one of the pretzel-ring things. I am so, so, so, so glad I did. It cost around 40p (70 NPR).

The pretzel-ring is called a sel-roti. The ring is deep fried (by the roadside, freshly cooked) and is kind of the texture of a ring donut with a thin crispy coating and a soft, fluffy yet grainy inside. It is only slightly sweet and is perfect for a mid-morning snack after seeing a stunning view, it turns out. I found it only slightly sweet but I have looked at recipes and perhaps to some people, there being a fair bit of sugar in them, they are a bit more than “slightly” sweet. Oh well. The main ingredient is rice, which isn’t ground quite as far as flour, it’s kept gritty. There is also sugar, cinnamon, cardamom (winning combination), baking powder and butter. I asked for a black coffee, expecting a Nescafe in a plastic cup, and got a fresh brewed ground coffee in a chunky glass mug, also around 40p. I finished off my sel-roti and black coffee as I sat on a plastic chair by the side of the road in a patch of sunlight with trees around me, a few eagles in sight and knowing that beyond the trees behind me were the Himalayas, there for eternity.

6. What did you do when you got to Nagarkot?
House-at-start-of-Eco-Trail –
K-with-Himalayan-white-blur-behind –
Main-road-through-Nagarkot –
temple-above-the-End-of-the-Universe –

Had a walk along a wooded path (magic moment 2), through the village, up to a small temple and ate lunch (magic moment 3).

7. Were there toilets (I know, who asks that, but it’s a good question and useful to know)?

No, not that I could find. However, I did make use of an easily accessible toilet in what I think is Hotel Nagarkot Holiday Inn (or a hotel next to it) about five metres through the entrance and dining area and off to the right. You need to have a stash of tissues or loo roll to get the job done properly.

8. What did you eat?

Apart from the sel-roti by the road, I had momo at a small restaurant whose name is written in Nepalese, next to Gantabya Restaurant (which isn’t on Google Maps but is around where Nagarkot Khaja Ghar and MoMo Centre is – maybe what the Nepalese name of “my” restaurant translates to).

,But as this lunch was part of magic moment 3, here is the long answer. I looked in the hotel restaurants and a few places I had seen on my walk but nothing inspired me, even the restaurants with a view. There was something about the little blue and yellow restauran that appealed even though it didn’t overlook a Himalayas view and was the only restaurant in that area with no other customers (there were between one and maybe six people in others so it wasn’t exactly a busy lunch time). There was no menu outside and no sign of cooking but as I walked to the entrance, a friendly man came out and I asked for “momo, buff”, two of the only “Nepalese” words I’d worked out and fortunately meaning buffalo dumplings, which was exactly what I wanted to eat. He indicated for me to go inside. I loved it, a real “I am not in the UK” moment. It felt comfortable and the kind of place I could have sat in for ages. I think the restaurant was on stilts at the back and I sat by the window between Che Guevara and Eric Clapton and looked out across trees. The man who’d welcomed me in was most likely the owner and chef. He had turned on the gas outside. I had a brief moment of contemplating a few health and safety concerns but they passed. A woman I assume to be his wife came out and was busy in the kitchen area indoors. Maybe 15 minutes later, a simple metal plate of 10 piping hot buffalo momo was presented before me with a fork and some mildly spicy dipping sauce. As I waited for them to cool a bit, I looked toward the front of the restaurant and saw the chef absentmindedly yet methodically rolling momo dough in his hands, sitting in the sun outside. I realised that my dumplings had been assembled and cooked as I waited. Maybe it was because of the beautiful day I’d had so far, the friendly couple at the restaurant, the charming and unusual setting I found myself in and the dumplings tasting exactly how I wished they’d taste, but there it was again, that eyes-welling, life is perfect kind of feeling. And it really was a most perfect lunch, the taste, the view, the birds and the trees, the closeness of mountainous wonder, being in a brick and tin hut overlooking trees and even down to the table with its old Coca Cola advert and the wall paintings of Eric Clapton, identifiable only by his name written next to his picture, and Che Guevara.

So what is Magic Moment 2 then?

If you look on Google Maps you can see a green dotted line for Nagarkot Eco Trail. About 20 minutes along the path is the site of MM2. I kind of went to Nagarkot for some fresh air, to be in the mountains and to “have a walk”. As I walked up through the wooded main road towards most of the hotels, corrugated tin houses dotted amidst the trees, I saw a sign to the left indicating a forest walk. Perfect, I thought. I wanted to walk but I also had visions of sitting somewhere like the earlier viewpoint and just enjoying being high in the mountains and woods. I was not going hiking, I had no intention of going for a long walk and I had no interest in knowing exactly where I was. It’s not an idyllic path in that at least for the first 20 minutes or so it’s “just” a bit of uppy downy woody path, over a few roots, down and up a few makeshift steps, trees all around, not much of a view other than trees and a suggestion of more tree-covered mountains around. But then I found the spot, a large patch of sunlight highlighting the edge of the path with a slight view of trees. I laid my jacket down to sit on. I could hear a lot of birds, some buzzy things (not in a threatening waspy way), some running water from the (otherwise uninspiring) stream below and a breeze making its way through the trees. The more I looked, the more different varieties of tree I realised there were. Not one single person passed by. It was December and I was sitting up a mountain in a t-shirt, almost all I could hear were natural and gentle sounds and the young tree opposite me was hypnotic as it swayed in the breeze. For the second time that day, I had that magic moment feeling and, essentially, all I was doing was sitting on my jacket by the side of a woodland path.

9. Is Nagarkot worth visiting?

Yes and no, depending on what you want. With my three magic moments, I would say go, go, go. But maybe they wouldn’t be magic moments for you, maybe you wouldn’t see the Himalayas through the cloud, maybe buffalo momo aren’t your thing, maybe there would be no sun. Had it not been the weather it was and had I not been craving buffalo momo all day, Nagarkot would overall, to be blunt, have been a little bit disappointing.

I was dropped off around what was probably the main drop-off and pick -up point, very close to the bus station and kind of opposite the Eric Clapton restaurant. In winter at least, it is not a hub of activity, it’s a bit “oh”. There is an obvious road to explore up, off which is the Eco Trail. As you walk up, it’s quite rundown and not what I would imagine a resort to look like. The Himalayas are on the right at the start of the road, with a few budget hotels and restaurants, most of which have “Everest view” or similar in their name, unsurprisingly. It has character, it just wasn’t what I was expecting. It is very obvious that this area was very badly affected by the earthquake in April 2015. As a result, and maybe also because it gets very busy in peak season so there is demand for more hotels, there is a lot of construction work, the roads are dirty, dumper trucks drive up and down spraying up lots of dust and construction debris (the roads are not much less polluted than in Kathmandu once a few trucks have passed – sadly, I’m not exaggerating), there is a lot of construction noise echoing around the mountains and valleys and it is not peaceful, at least during the day time when I visited.

Truck-dust-1

Dust from a just-passed truck

It is not a stunningly beautiful mountain village, indeed many of the village areas on the drive up to Nagarkot were more appealing (though very, very few places to stay), but it has potential for dramatic, awe-inspiring and exceptional views and is situated atop a fairly wooded mountain. There is not a lot to do beyond walking and admiring the views though. There are plenty of places to eat, all that I saw being fairly basic (but I am not dismissing them, the best food I had in Nepal was from family-run, cooked to order places like that, including in particular the site of my third magic moment). There are not many shops in that it is not somewhere to go on a shopping trip. From looking online, it seems that there are quite a few places to go for yoga and relaxation. I only walked up the village to The Hotel at the End of the Universe (which looked really cool and Hobbity – but read reviews and be aware that a lot of hotels don’t have heating and it does get chilly at night) and to the small temple above it. I will try to make a few suggestions later as to where to choose to stay, but in terms of yoga and relaxation (as the hotels going further and higher up that road are more in the open and out of the trees, I expect that’s where most meditation goes on) I felt really disappointed to hear so much construction noise. I feel so mean and heartless saying that because it was clearly very, very badly affected up there and I am genuinely happy that people are able to build up their lives and livelihoods again, I’m just pointing out that during the day it’s not the peaceful, quiet spot I expected and neither is the air as clean as you might expect (it was the heavy trucks carrying debris on the unpaved roads and construction work that caused most pollution).

10. Would you go again?

I had three particularly amazing moments there, so in a way I wouldn’t go back as I want to remember it just like that. However, that aside, if I knew the weather was going to be amazing I would stay there and choose a hotel with a room overlooking the Himalayas and stay there to see the sunset and sunrise. As for a day trip, I would rather go somewhere different. Nagarkot is one of the best villages to cater for tourists because it is a resort in the hotels and restaurants sense. A lot of other villages don’t have restaurants but apparently you can eat with families (I would assume if you had a guide or driver with you, I don’t know) or of course take your own food. Knowing what to expect, I’d go somewhere else in the mountains rather than Nagarkot probably or I’d go on a trip (I will detail the information I got about one below) where you are dropped off with a guide and walk around three hours parallel to the Himalayas and end up at Nagarkot, where you’re picked up and driven back to Kathmandu after sunset (but going down those roads at night, hmm).

As for recommending a trip there, I’m more inclined to say to go but really only if the weather looks good. Don’t for a minute think I didn’t enjoy the non-magic bits, but if you take away those magic bits the only thing that makes Nagarkot special, and admittedly it’s a big “only”, is its location and what you can see. On a clear day. As with everywhere else I visited in Nepal, the people are warm and friendly, the food is great and it’s a lovely place, but don’t expect the village to be beautiful (it is very nice in places and the huts are colourful and dotted between trees and small clearings), the roads to merely be traversed by walkers and the odd car or moped, a collection of charming handicraft shops (there are some attached to people’s homes) and whatever fancy amenities you might expect from a resort village (there are places that offer organised hikes, flights, paragliding etc).

11. How did you get there?

By taxi, my friend’s father-in-law’s friend being the driver, who spoke very little English but enough for important meet-up info (and via mobile to my friend for full confirmation of where I wanted to go, etc). I have seen blogs saying tourists paid between 2,000 and 3,000 each way. I paid 7,000 for a day, as long as I wanted, going from Thamel (where I stayed) to Nagarkot and Nagarkot to Bhaktapur (with a few hours there – wow) and Bhaktapur to my hotel. He was great at stopping when I was clearly entranced by what I saw from the taxi. I got out the taxi to admire views, look around and take photos quite a few times on the way down.

I travelled on my own and I only wanted to go for a day. Taxi was the right move for me. I know there are buses which are significantly cheaper and which would have made it a different experience, but the taxi was right for me. I didn’t get a taxi bargain but I felt comfortable with the price and appreciated a decent car, a careful driver, his connection to my friend (yes, I know, lucky) and the flexibility of waiting times, etc. If you opt for a taxi, agree the price, a timescale, where you want to be dropped off and feel confident about the state of the car, including whether it has seat belts that work, and the driver and bear in mind that a driver may not necessarily speak English. Trust your instincts, it’s your money and your day. If you don’t feel the car, the driver and/or the price are right, there are plenty of other taxis to negotiate with.

12. What was the drive like?

An adventure. The roads were fine until past Bhaktapur, where we took a right (the road straight looked fine and my map made it look the more obvious route but I wasn’t driving). From then on, starting off VERY slowly on a particularly dreadful rubble track, the road was more track than road, full of potholes, rubble, drops and some atrocious driving by other drivers. I’ve had far worse driving experiences and because my driver was careful I wasn’t too worried but it is a bumpy and dangerous journey.

However, I loved seeing the farming communities, small villages, views down into smoggy Kathmandu, flowers, crops and countryside. I was, however, shocked by how much earthquake damage was still apparent and how dreadful the condition of the roads was. It is also obvious that these are poor communities but I wasn’t as shocked by that as I might have been because I have spent a lot of time in India over the past few years.

13. Any suggestions or recommendations for someone planning to visit?

From reading other people’s blogs, there appears to be one ATM of questionable reliability in Nagarkot. I had plenty of cash with me so didn’t need to look for an ATM but don’t assume a fairly large resort area will have easy access to cash.

That said, there aren’t many places to spend your money, at least not that I saw. I didn’t see any supermarkets (just small huts selling basic provisions, probably geared to locals) and there are only a few houses with makeshift annexes for selling some handmade items, including knitted jumpers and accessories as well as obvious tourist items.

Hobbit-hut-at-End-of-Universe

Hobbit home at Hotel at the End of the Universe

13. Any suggestions or recommendations for someone planning to visit?

From reading other people’s blogs, there appears to be one ATM of questionable reliability in Nagarkot. I had plenty of cash with me so didn’t need to look for an ATM but don’t assume a fairly large resort area will have easy access to cash.

That said, there aren’t many places to spend your money, at least not that I saw. I didn’t see any supermarkets (just small huts selling basic provisions, probably geared to locals) and there are only a few houses with makeshift annexes for selling some handmade items, including knitted jumpers and accessories as well as obvious tourist items.

Think again about going if the weather is forecast to be bad or even just cloudy. Maybe use your day going somewhere that views are not on the agenda, such as Bhaktapur, about which a separate post will be forthcoming because it’s wonderful.

It wasn’t cold in the day time with the sun but I can imagine in winter it would be quite cold at night. I reiterate what I said above, that if you are someone who feels the cold look out for hotels that do have heating in rooms, it would appear that most don’t.

If you hire a taxi for the day or you are thinking of walking along roads into/out of Nagarkot, bear in mind there are tourist taxes/tickets to pay. I have read that they are apparently technically illegal but, sorry, as far as I see it, you need to accept it and pay unless you can sneak past undetected. I can’t think if I had to pay two or three times but you are given an official ticket, which you need to keep hold of for either showing or re-entering. Very unhelpfully, I have forgotten how much they cost (around 350 NRP, from memory, each one).

I wanted to visit Bhaktapur so had decided before I’d even set off that I would stop on the way back to Kathmandu. With hindsight, Bhaktapur is not that far or that difficult to get to from Kathmandu and it is absolutely amazing and I could easily have spent all day there. Plus, I enjoyed Nagarkot and all my magic moments so much that I almost didn’t stop in Bhaktapur on the way down, thinking it would be an anti-climax to my day. It wasn’t, it just made the day even better than I could possibly have foreseen, but it would have been good to have just gone to Nagarkot (sat longer in the sun, walked further along the forest path, sat longer in the momo café or even just gone straight “home” to Thamel) and spent a whole day in Bhaktapur another day, thus two extra special days rather than one overwhelmingly amazing day.

Nagarkot is only about 20 miles away from Garden of Dreams (where I arranged for my taxi driver to meet me as Thamel, where my hotel was, is largely car-free). Google Maps will tell you it takes about 1 hour 40 to get there. You may start off making good progress through Kathmandu (if it isn’t too rush hour-y) and wonder how on earth it can take that long, but once you leave the city, even though it’s still in the flat valley, driving speed decreases dramatically, and more so once you start climbing up the side of the bowl and over the rim, as it were, to get to Nagarkot. You can’t see Kathmandu or the Kathmandu Valley from Nagarkot.

As I mentioned earlier, make sure you have cash with you. I suspect there are very, very few, if any, places that would take cards and you really should carry cash with you if you plan a long walk in case you need to pass through any of the entry fee areas or feel a need for some gorgeous fresh momo.

While in Kathmandu, I was given the following information about Nagarkot from one of the many tourist excursion centres, based on just me travelling and including pick-up from the Thamel area:

Taxi/driver and guide included, walking between Sankhu and Nagarkot , views along the Himalayas, a c3-hour not particularly strenuous walk, leaving Thamel at 8am, departing Nagarkot after sunset to arrive back around 6pm. 17,000 NRP plus entry fees on top (maybe the same for two, three or four people).

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