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sunrise to sunset

With barely 24 hours at his disposal to see the Himalayas, D decided to go big before going home. There are two villages a couple hours’ drive from Kathmandu that offer excellent mountain views: Dulikhel and Nagarkot. D managed to hit both, getting up early to watch the sunrise light up the Himalayas before hiking 20 miles from Nagarkot to Dulikhel and back.

D had arrived in Nagarkot shortly before sunset the previous evening after spending several hours battling horrific traffic, and he hurried back to Kathmandu for his return flight home as soon as he stepped off the trail. The trip involved a lot of jostling on crowded, pot-holed roads to get out to the countryside and back, but it was eminently worth it. The short time D spent hiking beneath the Himalayas felt like pure magic.

Armed with an offline map app he had downloaded on the hotel’s spotty Wi-Fi, D hit the trail as soon as the sun had ascended high enough to chase the shadows from the smaller Himalayan peaks. At first, D hiked at a brisk clip, cognizant of the limited time at his disposal and the long distance that lay ahead. Nagarkot is located at 2,175 meters above sea level; Dulikhel is at 1,550 – about one mile high. In addition to the elevation change (more than 2,000 feet is nothing to sneeze at), the most direct route between the two was around eight miles – one way – and D did not take the shortest path.

Initially the trail followed a wide logging road through a strand of dense forest. After about 45 minutes of hiking, D spotted a small sign. To the left lay the road, which had been marked as the mountain biking way to Dulikhel. To the right, a narrow path plunged deep into the woods, promising a hiking trail to the same destination. The map app suggested D stick to the road. After weighing whether it was worth it to add several miles to what already promised to be a long hike, D turned off the road and headed into the woods.

D had come for the mountain views and fresh air, much needed after several days in Kathmandu. He was pleasantly surprised to find that the forest through which he hiked was also teeming with birdlife. Birding, which D loves, had not been on his radar for this trip, though it should have been, as Nepal is home to more than 900 different bird species. D slowed down his pace and tried to photograph as many of Nagarkot‘s winged denizens as he could. The blue-throated barbet and red-billed blue magpie were two particularly colorful favorites among the 20 or so birds D managed to photograph that were new to him.

Eventually the forest trail deposited D in a village a few kilometers off the direct path to Dulikhel. D checked the app, readjusted his trajectory, double-checked the route with a few locals and picked up his speed again. As all the hiking through the villages was downhill, it was relatively brisk going. Including all the birding photo stops, D reached Dulikhel in just under five hours, covering nearly 12 miles in the process. After a quick lunch on a hotel terrace offering magnificent Himalayan views, D picked up his backpack and prepared for the ascent back to Nagarkot.

Rather than retrace his steps, D opted for the most direct route his offline map suggested. It was a beautiful hike, but D began to doubt the wisdom of returning to Nagarkot by foot within an hour of setting foot back on the trail. Although the hike was at altitude, D’s lungs felt fine, as did his muscles. It was his knees that nearly proved D’s downfall, as they began to stiffen around mile 14.

A good part of the return path took D up a seemingly never-ending staircase built into a forested ridge; each step up the stairs sent a jolt of pain through D’s legs to remind him of his foolishness. The discomfort notwithstanding, D completed the return leg in four hours, arriving back at the hotel right after sunset.

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