A multi-day, low-altitude trek in the Kathmandu Valley is a great way to experience a less arduous and time-consuming Himalayan adventure. Read the experiences of Mariellen Ward during her 3-day trek in the Kathmandu Valley.
If trekking in Nepal is on your radar, but images of hikers sweating their way up steep ascents on their way to Everest Base Camp puts you off, there is an answer. There are much easier treks, at lower altitudes and with cushier accommodation, available throughout Nepal that still offer stunning views of the white-capped Himalayas.
Trek in the Kathmandu Valley
Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal, is where most foreign travellers land. It’s in a valley ringed by mountains, the foothills of the Himalayas. I opted to spend a few days trekking in the Kathmandu Valley itself. This is a great route if you only have a few days or you don’t want to spend long hours bumping along Nepal’s famously bad roads.
I met my guide Chuda Mainari and our porter Rupesh Lama and together we took a bus from the Kathmandu central bus stand. We could have taken a taxi, but to save money, experience local life, and reduce our consumption, we decided on the bus.
We left Kathmandu at about 9 am and were well out of the city by 10:30 am. After passing a few large towns, we changed buses at Panauti, where we felt we had left the city far behind. We noticed the air was noticeably fresher – a bit cooler and a lot cleaner – and the pace of life seemed to slow down, while the vistas opened up. From the bus, we could see the white peaks of the Langtang range silhouetted against the bright blue sky.
After bumping along a dirt road for about 20 minutes, we got off the bus at Kopasi and started walking. We crossed a pedestrian suspension bridge and immediately entered a pine forest. For the next hour or two, we walked alongside farmer’s fields and up mountain tracks until we reached the village of Balthali.
Village life in the Kathmandu Valley
It was not a particularly arduous trek: just enough to be interesting and to make us feel we really were walking among the lower Himalayas in Nepal. And of course, the further up we went, the more stunning the views became.
Like most Nepali villages, the people of Balthali subsist largely on agriculture. We saw people working in potato, mustard, and rice fields around the village, and saw how they live closely with their animals – chickens, cows, goats, and buffalo. Balthali was hit by the April 2015 earthquake, and many homes were damaged, but luckily no one was killed. We saw several new houses, in various stages of completion – and the new houses are a lot bigger and more modern than those they replaced.
From the village, we continued walking up a hill to Balthali Village Resort, which is located right on the top with panoramic views in every direction. The resort is about 20 years old, and there are a few new room blocks, like the one I was in, with incredible views.
Balthali Village Resort caters to families and trekking groups, and offers lots of outdoor dining options, a fire pit, swings, and benches in well-chosen locations. It’s a place to relax after a day of walking.
Joy of life
After a buffet dinner that included fresh, organic vegetables from the market – the mustard greens I saw a villager delivering earlier in the day had been sautéed – I stood on the edge of the property and peered into the darkness. I saw scattered lights glittering across the mountains around me, and stars above glittering in the pitch-black sky. The boundary between heaven and earth seemed to dissolve for a moment and I felt a flickering of joy inside. It was the joy of the moment, the joy of existence. No need for anything else.
In that moment, the magic of the Himalayan foothills shone down on me, and I realized life is made up of these significant moments, eternity in the flicker of a star.
As I wrote this in bed in Balthali, I could hear the strains of local music coming up from the village below. Plaintive voices singing to melodies that sounded a bit Indian to my untrained ear. A flute traced ornate oriental patterns in the air, and the female voice was high-pitched and sweet. Maybe Krishna and Radha were singing love songs to each other.
Stunning Himalaya views in the Kathmandu Valley
The next morning, the sun came up to the right of my panoramic view, and the white peaks appeared like ghosts lined up against the horizon. They didn’t seem real, they seemed more like apparitions floating across the skyline, presiding over the villages splashed across the face of the foothills. It was an enthralling site to wake up to, completely mesmerizing. I kept looking away and looking back, surprised they were still there as the sun made its ascent.
After a hearty breakfast, which we ate outdoors as the sun warmed the air, we left at 9 am for our trek to Namo Buddha. This was a more difficult trek than the one from Kopasi to Balthali. It was more than twice as long, at four hours, and required two very steep ascents up sizable hills, plus a hot and very dusty walk along a dirt road.
Staying at a Buddhist Monastery in Namo Buddha
As we got closer, we could see the prayer flags of Namo Buddha covering the hill just below the monastery. I kept those prayer flags in site as I huffed and puffed my way up the steep hill. Finally, we reached the top where a large and elaborate Tibetan Buddhist monastery, Thrangu Tashi Yangtse Monastery, is located. The monastery also has a guest house for visitors, and many trekkers stay there. The rooms are simple but comfortable, and the bathroom is shared. You can eat a simple meal with the monks (momos and Tibetan tea) or buy meals at a café near the guest house.
The views from Namo Buddha, which is at a higher elevation than Balthali (1,800 metres), are stunning. When we arrived, we could see a long range of white-capped Himalayas, before the afternoon haze set in. The air here was a bit cooler too, and a fresh breeze kept the many prayer flags briskly flapping. Along with the experience of visiting the Tibetan Buddhist monastery, I really did feel I was in the Himalayas.
My last day in the pristine Kathmandu Valley
On our last morning, I woke just before dawn to take photos of the sunrise from the rooftop of the guest house, and to take in deep draughts of the fresh, clean, mountain air. It’s absolutely pristine, and just as valuable as the billion-rupee view. While my intake of fresh air was voracious, I was much more careful about my use of water as the monastery is having a severe water shortage. The 2015 earthquake damaged the water table and they now have to truck in water.
As always, I was careful to refill my Dopper reusable bottle too, rather than buy a new plastic bottle of water. Many places now offer filtered water “fueling stations,” and most of the time, I could get a refill.
So, with my Dopper bottle full, we began to walk down the road from the monastery to the village below. We walked for about 30 minutes along a new road that’s in the process of being built until we flagged down a local bus. We jammed ourselves in, standing with others in the centre aisle, as we careened down a winding mountain road. A bus change at Dhulikhel and we were on our way back to Kathmandu.
The entire trip back to bustling Kathmandu took just over two hours, which isn’t long at all, but it seemed like a different world. The peace and beauty of rural Nepal is a treasure, and you don’t have to travel far to find it. A multi-day, low altitude trek in the Kathmandu Valley is a great option for those with time constraints or who want a less arduous Himalayan trekking experience.
Mariellen Ward is a Canadian travel writer and expert on travelling in India. She is an outspoken advocate for female solo travel. Her website Breathedreamgo is an award-winning travel site dedicated to transformative travel – the kind of travel that changes you, and has a positive impact on local communities and environments.