15 May 2017
7 min read
Just 30 minutes from Kathmandu lies Shivapuri Retreat. It's a charming little establishment located in the middle of Danda Gaon, a Tamang village inside the premises of the Shivapuri National Park.
Getting to the retreat is simple, but not really easy. You can either take a cab from Narayanthan, which will cost you around Rs 500, or you can hike up the trail leading to the national park, which will take you an hour. Because it was raining on the day my friend and I went, we had to choose the former. We drove for around 20 minutes on the uphill, winding roads that led to the national park, and once at a height of 5,823 feet (as was indicated by a green board that also said 'military area'), we got off the car to find a man, who introduced himself as Thakur, waiting with two umbrellas—one above his head and the other in his hand. He then escorted us along an unpaved path that deviated from the main road, and we were soon at the entrance to the retreat.
Upon entering through the little wrought-iron gate of the retreat's premises, we found ourselves in a garden with trimmed turf and a bijou one-storey cottage surrounded by different shades of green. Plum trees, bamboo and many exotic-looking flowers lined the periphery of the property, and in front of the cottage was a spacious lawn.
We entered the cottage. The lounge area, to our right, was furnished with wicker furniture with warm-coloured cushions, which lent a very homey atmosphere to the cottage. One of the owners of the retreat, Pratikshya Giri, soon joined us with a cup of tea. Soon after, we were told that lunch was ready. For lunch, we were served—by Thakur Dai—a Nepali thali, cooked with ingredients grown in the retreat's farm itself. Visitors also have the option to pluck fresh vegetables—cabbages, cauliflowers, spinach, carrots and beans, to name a few—and cook along with the staff in the kitchen. There are also a variety of fruits available in the farm—kiwis, pears, sweet lemons, oranges, plums and walnuts, among others. The retreat's menu features Nepali, Chinese and Continental food.
Our thali consisted of plain rice, dal, chicken curry, karelako achaar, golbhedako achaar, alu tarkari and some salad. We were just about to dig in when Thakur Dai returned with some melted ghee, and poured a generous amount of it onto the rice. After our second helping, Thakur Dai removed our now-empty plates and put before us a ceramic plate with dessert-juicy, diced apples, and something that looked like a malpua, even smelt like a malpua; apple fritters, he called it. The fritters' crispy crust tasted very similar to what a malpua tastes like, but it was the inside that impressed me. The apple slice inside had lost its crunch, leaving behind a mushy textured slice that was part sweet and part tarty—an unconventional but welcome ending to a hearty meal.
After the meal, we left the main cottage and were taken to our rooms. The retreat currently offers five rooms—two with attached bathrooms and three without—but more cottages are under construction. All the rooms are informed by very minimalistic design principles, and they all have a rustic, earthy feel to them. The bathrooms were surprisingly spacious, almost half the size of the rooms. Again, none of it felt very ostentatious, but the owners had made sure that you had everything you'd need to sleep and relax comfortably: spacious beds, conveniently placed cabinets, sufficient wall sockets, a Wi-Fi router right outside the room.
We left our belongings in the room and went up to the main cottage, where a guide was waiting to take us on a hike. Thankfully, the rain had stopped and not a single cloud remained in the sky. At around 3:30 pm, we left the retreat and headed up a trail, to get to a place called Bishnu Dwaar.
There are a number of hikes that you can go on from the retreat, depending on the amount of time you have and the level of difficulty you want. Short hikes are usually guided by helpers from the retreat, free of charge, and guides for longer hikes can also be arranged for by the retreat. Long hikes include five- to six-hour hikes to places such as Shivapuri Peak, Bagh Dwaar and Kakani. Shorter hikes include trails to Surya Chaur or Bishnu Dwaar, and you can obviously hike within the serene premises of the Shivapuri National Park too. Apart from hikes, visitors can also opt for mountain biking on the many cycling trails in the area, and bird-watching is a much-preferred activity too. Apparently, the retreat sees around 16 species of rare birds.
The Bishnu Dwaar hike is a fairly easy, two-hour hike. We walked under arches made of towering pine trees and on trails paved with wet, dead leaves, all the while taking in the petrichor lingering in the air. With hillsides to your left and dense forests to the right, you can't find a trace of civilisation along the trail—but the occasional panoramic views of Kathmandu Valley in its entirety from certain points of the hike remind you that you are going to have to travel for much more than just 30 minutes to escape from the capital.
At around 4 pm, we reached Bishnu Dwaar. Here, sunlight is unable to penetrate through the thick canopy above, and Buddhist prayer flags hang from the trees. But the main attraction here is the river that flows between the huge boulders that dot the entire area, creating mini waterfalls at irregular intervals. After a photo session at Bishnu Dwaar, we made our way back to the retreat.
By the time we returned to the retreat, it was around 5:30—just in time to catch the sunset. Sipping on some tea, we sat on the zinc-sheet roof of our cottage and watched the sun disappear between two hills. Night quickly fell. It was 6 pm, and we had a good two hours before dinner was to be served. Having done so much during the day, we thought it best to just recline in one of the hammocks on the lawn and take in the serenity of the place.
For dinner, we were back on the same table. We were served some delectable vegetable soup made from fresh ingredients from the farm, after which came the main course: chicken momos, cheese pasta and some good old fries. The momos were, honestly, noticeably bigger than what I'm usually served by other restaurants. The penne pasta was probably the best item on the plate. With a cheesy, tomato-flavoured gravy, garnished with carrots and green onions, and not to mention the extra grated-cheese, the pasta was just bursting with so many flavours. The meal ended with some classic vanilla ice cream topped with sliced apples. It was finally time to call it a day.
Next morning, after a breakfast of cornflakes, omelettes, fresh fruits, fried sausages and fluffy pancakes served with jam, we hiked our way down to Narayanthan and took a car back home.
Shivapuri Retreat is the perfect getaway for anybody who wants a quick retreat into the forests of the Shivapuri National Park. With elegant rooms, savoury food, family-like hospitality and views to die for, Shivapuri Retreat can be your home away from home.