Nepal’s highways get a lot of bad press, sometimes justifiably so. But beyond Kathmandu’s potholed roads and the permanently cratered Naubise section of the Prithvi Highway, the roads are pretty good (the 108 mile long highway connecting Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal, and Pokhara, a tourist city in the western part of the country). Nepal is better known for trekking, but driving holidays can be surprisingly pleasant, especially in the post-monsoon when the landslides have gone, the air is clear, the mountains are peeking out of clouds, and the golden fields are being harvested amidst festivals. Robin Marston has driven more than 200,000 km (about 120,000 miles) across Nepal in the last 15 years and takes us on a spin on this scenic and historic new route from Kathmandu to Pokhara via Nuwakot.
Since the Naubise road repairs will take another a few months, there is a way to bypass the jams and also take in the sights at Nuwakot. You leave Kathmandu keeping Nagarjun forest on the left. The road climbs to Kakani where you pass the British Embassy bungalow dating back to the 1860s. Stop at one of the rainbow trout farms for lunch while admiring a breathtaking vista of Ganesh Himal sparkling in the clear post monsoon air.
With stops, you reach the busy Trisuli Bajar in four hours. Cross the bridge, past the hydro project, and wind up in the old bazar which is a real country market with overhanging windows, gold, silver, tailors shops, pots and pans, and Chura (Nepali bengals) shops. A 20-minute climb above Trisuli is Nuwakot Darbar, perhaps the most impressive and well maintained of the old palace complexes outside the Valley. Built by Pritivi Narayan Shah as his forces laid siege to Kathmandu in the late 18th century, these elegantly proportioned brick buildings and temples sit sublimely above the Trisuli River.
Up the hill is The Famous Farmhouse, a great place to break your journey. The Farmhouse and its converted old buildings are family friendly, in residence is a fine turkey (get there before Christmas!) white rabbits, a rescued donkey, ducks, sheep, and chatty dogs. The gardens and bougainvillea intertwine, the furniture and fittings are an antique collector’s delight. There are also a number of modest, but good looking, small hotels on the main road in Bidur town.
Spend a night or two and return to Kathmandu as you came, or better, take the very attractive new road following the Trisuli river for an hour and a bit to Galchhi on the Prithvi Highway, well below all those horrid traffic jams. You could easily add in a couple of hours of white water rafting on the river, but try and get timings right for a lunch stop at River Side Springs Resort near the Manakamana cable car terminal. Good opportunity for a pilgrimage stop as well and if you want to break here for the night there is the secluded Brigand’s Bend across the Trisuli on a footbridge.
The Famous Farmhouse in Nuwakot
Himalayan Encounters, Kathmandu Guest House, (01)4700426, firstname.lastname@example.org
Brigand’s Bend, Khaireni, 01-4371397 (Nima)
A little west of Mugling, past the Marsyangdi hydro project, is the (optional) turn off at Khairini leading up to the historic town of Gorkha where it all started. Prithvi Narayan Shah set off from here on his conquests and this is where the famous Gurkha soldiers get their name. The original fort is a 300m steep climb up from town, but well worth the visit for its magnificent view of Himalchuli (Nepal’s second highest mountain).
Back down to the highway to continue on to Bandipur, which used to be a Newar trading town but has, in the last five years, been transformed into a popular hill station that has avoided so far being tempted by Thamel (another toursit destination near Kathmandu) tendencies. Some old houses have been renovated and converted into fine B&Bs, like The Old Inn which is reminiscent of black and white Tudor buildings in England. The cobblestoned, pedestrianized main street is elegant, and there is the breathtaking view of the Central Himalaya from Annapurna in the west to Langtang and beyond in the east. The Siddha caves are a short and scenic hike away. Bandipur now offers a good range of inns, guesthouses, and home-stays. Bandipur Mountain Resort located at the north side of the Tudhikhel is the oldest.
Bandipur Mountain Resort, (01)4220162, email@example.com
After a few days in Bandipur, you could drive on to Pokhara just 1.5 hours away, sample some of the new adventure sports on offer there, or stay at the new fine hotels that have sprung up.
View of the lake. Check. Peaceful environment. Check. Luxury guaranteed? Check. Waterfront Resort ticks all the right boxes and is the place to stay in the lake city. www.ktmgh.com/waterfront-resort-pokhara.html
Peace and quiet inside the bustling city of Pokhara. Aviation or spa, you name it and Grande will provide.www.pokharagrande.com
A 10 minute stroll from the bustling city centre, the resort is a quiet sanctuary; perfect for anyone looking for a relaxing stay. Only few months into operation, Atithi has managed to create a name for itself as being one of the best luxury hotels in town. www.atithiresort.com
The ultimate getaway in Pokhara, Fulbari is far from everything but at the centre of all that matters. Golf, anyone? www.fulbari.com
Temple Tree Resort
An oasis in the otherwise cacophonous Lakeside. Temple Tree Resort is an ideal getaway for couples, families looking for downtime and health and wellness enthusiasts. The resort fuses tradition, simplicity, and modern comfort with ease. www.templetreenepal.com