Travel

Across three bridges, up and down a couple of valleys and into relative serenity, Balthali is Kathmandu’s unsung bolthole

- Thomas Heaton, Kathmandu

Apr 26, 2019-

Follow Panauti Road until it stops, strap on your hiking boots, then start walking—it’s the best and most practical way to get to Balthali. The road leading to this Kavre village practically turns to sludge on the outskirts of Khopasi, south-east of Kathmandu. Luckily, it gets muddy just in time to mount the first flag-lined bridge that leads there.

Suspended high above the flowing waters of the Roshi Khola and the lush surrounding forests, one must dodge weekend selfie-takers and commuting locals while bouncing along the bridge, before taking the short trail leading to this small village. It’s the first of two bridges on the way to Balthali, and the shop at the end of the first heralds the end of civilisation as Kathmandu knows it. Nature soon takes control of the senses.    

An easy walk down the other side of the hill follows the first bridge, over a leaf-and-needle covered road in the midst of construction. Houses pop up from behind the trees, as if out of thin air, without imposing on the area’s natural beauty. The lack of road standards is a blessing here, because unlike tourist-saturated Bhaktapur and the burgeoning attraction of Panauti—both worthy pit-stops—the hilltop village of Balthali seems relatively untouched.

Balthali awaits visitors six kilometres from the end of Panauti Road, where its surface turns muddy and its incline leaves it undriveable after rain. It sits on a hill, mid-way up Kathmandu Valley’s rises. Balthali is hidden from plain sight, even from as close as Khopasi. The small village lies on a flat spot in the hills, shrouded by forest and the surrounding climes, but a welcome sight to those willing to make the effort.

It’s a sleepy spot, where local chickens seem to cluck louder, people talk quieter and the river continuously babbles in the background. There are no Tuborg or Nepal Ice signs in sight, rather small houses and sheds sprout up from amongst plots of grain and vegetables, paddy and trees. More buildings creep up the hill towards two of the village resorts.

Despite being just a few kilometres from the nearest road, and only 40km from Kathmandu, the village seems cut-off from the outside world in more ways than one. The muddy roads and tin-roofed mud-and-brick houses make each step feel as though one is moving backwards in time. Despite being comfortable in another time, pretty well-signposted directions lead people to their desired place of stay, whether it is the Balthali Village Resort, Mountain Resort or Eco Hill Resort. Locals are eager and ready to point anyone in the right direction. They will point to the village resort, just a short walk up the hill, or gesture past that hill to the mountain resort, a little further away. Past the mountain resort, one will also stumble across the Tamang village of Dandagaun. One local woman even offers her home to travellers, called Balthali Homestay, for people to absorb and entrench themselves within village life. The Balthali Eco Hill Resort is another 30 minutes of trekking down another valley, across another bridge and up a steep hill.

All places of stay offer their own levels of seclusion and peace, with ample views of the surrounding area and cooler climes to get-away from the brazen heat of the valley. While the area requires a walk for the majority of the year, it is a place of relaxation once arrived. Taking in the views, enjoying endless cups of tea, and immersing oneself in books is the top priority for most, but for those who become a bit restless, there are short treks to, or through, adjacent villages. One of the more popular spots is the Ladkeshwor Mahadev Temple. It is at this Hindu cave temple, up to a 40-minute walk down the hill from the main village, where many make pilgrimages to worship Shiva and bask in the natural beauty surrounding it. Keep trekking from there, and one can reach Namobuddha following a day’s walk. Balthali is a destination rather than anything else, offering glimpses of the Himalayas and rural Nepal. Because it’s detached from the heaving roads of Nepal, ignored by guidebooks and relatively unknown to many, Balthali and its surrounding area are hidden gems worth seeking out, because it won’t stay that way for long.

Published: 26-04-2019 08:30

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