With no lockdown, valley denizens find a new favourite activity—hikingThis rise in the popularity of hiking has served as a shot in the arm for small restaurants and shops located on the hiking trails.
For the last five years, Tashi Gurung has made it a point to hike from Jagdol to Tarebhir, a sleepy Tamang village that abuts the Shivapuri National Park, at least once a month.
“The first time I hiked to Tarebhir via Jagdol was back in 2015, and I immediately fell in love with the trail’s thick pine forest, grassy meadows, and the spectacular views of Kathmandu Valley,” said Gurung. “And the best part is that the hike’s starting point is just 10 minutes ride from Boudha, making it a very accessible hiking trail.”
Until early this year, the trail, says Gurung, was always secluded. “Except for villagers living in the trail’s periphery, I would hardly see other hikers on the trail. It was so quiet,” said Gurung. “But in early May, which was when I hiked the trail for the first time after the lockdown was imposed, I was surprised to see dozens of people on the trail. It was buzzing with hikers. A few days ago, on a weekday, I hiked the trail again and I saw dozens of hikers. Looks like everybody seems to be hiking to Tarebhir these days.”
But it’s not just the Traebhir hiking trail that has been seeing a surge in hikers. For the past few months, hiking trails across the Valley have seen an increase in hiker traffic. After the easing of the months of lockdown, which mandated that people stay indoors, many Valley denizens now seem to be embracing the outdoors more than ever, and hiking trails that once used to see only a handful of weekend hikers are now teeming with people even on weekdays.
And this rise in the popularity of hiking has served as a shot in the arm for small restaurants and shops located on the hiking trails.
Earlier this year, Dorje Lama opened Old Village Cottage, a small restaurant on the trail that leads to Tarebhir. If things had gone according to his plan, Dorje, a resident of Tarebhir, would have been attending a university in Australia. “After several attempts in getting a student visa failed, a year ago, I decided to open this restaurant,” said Dorje, who says that he couldn’t have started his business at a better time.
Before the lockdown, Dorje says that the trail used to see less than 1,500 people a week.
“But as the lockdown loosened, the number of hikers almost tripled. We now get an average of 4,000 people in a week. The surge in hikers has kept our restaurant very busy and our team working very hard,” says Dorje. “A few weeks ago, we built extra gazebos so we could accommodate the increasing number of guests.”
On the other side of the city, another hiking destination that has gained immense popularity is the Champadevi temple hike. “Champadevi hike has always been popular, but what has changed in the past few months is the kind of hikers the trail is seeing,” said Mahesh Lama, proprietor of White House View Point Resort, which lies in enroute to the temple. “Before the lockdown, it was mainly devotees who’d hike to temple, but after the pandemic hit, we have been seeing a lot of leisure hikers, and in fact their number now far outstrip the devotees. For the past few months, we have been getting an average of 3,000 hikers a week.”
It’s a great thing, says Gurung, that hiking has become a popular activity. “If you think about it Covid-19 has laid the perfect groundwork to make hiking popular. When you go hiking, not only do you get some physical activity, which is essential to keep your immunity strong, you also get to soak up some Vitamin D, which is crucial to boost your immunity,” said Gurung.
But the surging hiker traffic is not without its perils.
“The more hikers you have on the trail, the more litter you come across, and we have seen that happen here on the Tarebhir trail,” said Dorje. “To ensure that at least some section of the trail remains clean, once a week, my staff and I conduct a trail clean-up. We try to cover as much area as we can during the clean-up.”
Gurung agrees with Dorje that the increasing popularity of hiking has contributed to an increase in litter on trails.
“In June, we did a circuit hike from Jagdol to Chunikhel via Tarebhir, and what I saw on the trail left me appalled. I remember this one particular spot where there was a handsewn bamboo doko nailed to a tree. Beside it was a sign that said ‘Dustbin’. But the doko was only half full and the ground beneath it was strewn with water and beer bottles and plastics,” said Gurung. “For many of us, these hiking trails provide us with a much-needed mental respite in these testing times. We have to be more respectful of them, and I hope that as more and more learn to appreciate these trails, more of us will be more respectful towards them.”