Remember that overdue escapade you’d promised yourself? Enter Jamacho. This massive hill overlooking the valley from the west makes for the perfect hiking destination!

May 23, 2020

There is no sugarcoating this, so I’ll just break it to you: hiking to Jamacho peak involves an ascent of almost 5 km on steep steps – with no houses, shops or toilets along the way. Gaining some 800m in altitude through a dense jungle demands stepping out of your comfort zone and that – let me state the obvious – is the entire idea of being outdoors. So challenge yourself to this amazing retreat that’ll keep your mind off petty worries and eyes on your feet for leeches.

Just short of 2 km NW from Balaju, the starting point of the hike is Mulapani entrance of the army-protected Nagarjun forest, a part of Shivapuri sanctuary. The entry fee is Rs. 10 for Nepali nationals and Rs. 250 for foreigners. Don’t forget to take an ID along because you’ll be required to produce one at the ticket counter. They take security pretty seriously here and the look on the soldiers’ face says nothing differently. That means two things: i) a clean, well preserved trail, and ii) no scandalizing, shameless young couples – perfect thus for family outings.

Take the well-maintained stairway that diverges from the paved road into two hours of steep climb to the top. As you tread uphill, the deafening sounds of crickets instantly subdue roaring truck engines and howling dogs. Dust, smoke and dirt are replaced with a breath of fresh air – quite a rarity in our beloved city. Walking through the forest of moss-laden trees and a dense canopy overhead definitely adds an eerie yet serene feeling of being amidst nature.

Within the first half hour, you’ll reach an army checkpoint and find yourself being cross-questioned by a rather stern-looking, no-nonsense soldier. Be warned: your attempts to lighten up the mood with jokes will bear no fruit and won’t be too well received by a certain Private Gurung.

After being cleared for security, make your way up to soon find yourself welcomed by an open space of tall grass and rocks. Halfway to the top, this spot gives you perfect views of the valley beneath and the Jamacho Gompa above – quite a photo opportunity indeed. But it’s easy to get tempted here to exhaust your food supplies and take a nap. One word: verboten. Save both for the top.

After regaining your breath, continue along the trail that feels steeper on the second stretch. High altitude means thinner air pressure, and with that, your ears will pop and interestingly, the vegetation will change as bamboos become ubiquitous. The climb will cause sweat drops to roll incessantly down your face, washing away last remnants of beauty cream that promises a fairer complexion in seven weeks.

Rejoice at the first sighting of lungda (or Buddhist prayer flags) because this indicates you’re only minutes away from the top. As you climb the last steps, you see the rather archaic view tower and then finally, Jamacho Gompa itself. Rush to the veranda behind the small monastery and assume a position next to the Buddhist Wheel of Life guarded by a Ruru Deer missing its head. Without further ado, look straight ahead and brace to be stunned! Clouds float at your eye level and eagles soar effortlessly right below your nose. The bird’s eye view of valley south from here is nothing short of breathtaking and overwhelming, with giants like Phulchowki and Chandragiri emerge above the haze. On a clear day, enjoy the splendid views of Himalayas to the north. Feel the fresh gust of wind blowing across your face and in the sound of the fluttering Buddhist prayer flag, savor the moment standing still with otherworldly sights of the valley. The city appears so hopelessly tiny from up that the only landmark you’ll recognize from up here is probably Swayambhu.

Wandering about the Gompa will be a stoic caretaker who identifies himself as Jyapu, likely his nom de guerre. The middle-aged gentleman is a man of few words and your attempt to draw any information about the Gompa may prove futile.

After some stretches, a plentiful lunch and an elaborate photo session, pack up, say goodbye to Jamacho Gompa and retrace your steps back to Mulpani gate. After the easy and quick way down, it’s time to reward yourself for a job well done! Treat your sweaty, smelly self to cucumber and noonchhuk (chili paste) from a vendor right outside the Mulpani gate. Then walk back to Machapokhari, or if you’ve run out of juice, hitch a ride to the bus stop. Some five hours of exhausting and rewarding hiking comes to a full circle here.