So where do you spend your weekends? We don’t have beaches to go to nor do we have a ski slope to come down from or ice skating rinks (somebody did try to make one a long time ago, but apparently failed in his endevor). All we have are resorts or eateries where an event might attract us; we seem to have limited choices when it comes to recreation and a rejuvenating break from the daily grind. The Kathmandu Fun Valley of Palanse on the way to Banepa is not for everyone and from my observances while heading for Dhulikhel, gets too crowded during weekends anyway. On the other hand, Woopee Land Amusement and Water Park in Chovar has not aroused much interest among the valley dwellers. Kathmandu definitely needs more and better recreation centers, period. Regardless of where it is located, people will find their way there, provided it offers something special.
As I walk around the outskirts of the city, I see crowds wherever there is provision for people to enjoy their spare time. These makeshift recreation centers with spinning wheels and various kinds of contraptions are meant for the less affluent and target children where obviously the parents have to go along too. As for the middle class, how long are they going to spend time eating and drinking in restaurants, bars and cafes? Of course, there are the discotheques and night clubs, but these are crowded, noisy places not suitable for a family outing. Is that all there is to life in the Kathmandu valley? There will come a time when you tire of meeting and eating in restaurants and cafes and holidaying in resorts. Or maybe Kathmanduites are already resigned to the fact that their choices are limited.
The Chandragiri Hills resort gives families somewhere to go and spend the day relaxing and enjoying spectacular views when the mist lifts up; the views alone make the place worth a visit. The cable car ride however is the real attraction, but then there are plenty of places to spend time once you reach the Chandragiri Hills, like the Himalayan Java coffee shop at the lower station with an airy deck outside overlooking the valley below. You can even get a large flex print made out of your family photo here. On the hilltop above is the ______________temple which is yet another attraction for devotees as it is supposedly the spot where the grieving Shiva passed through, carrying the dead body of his wife Sita. This pilgrimage site is said to be the spot where her forehead fell off.
Across the temple are the eateries in a large circular building: a food court, a coffee shop and a high end restaurant. This large spacious building that dominates has restaurants occupying two floors while the top is a viewing tower with 360 degree views of the valleys and the Himalaya. Food choices look impressive as the menus are all encompassing. You can take your pick from an extensive menu that includes pizzas, grilled fish, stuffed chicken, momos, burgers, buffet lunch, sweets, ice cream and what have you. The souvenir shops both on the hilltop as well as at the station below sell toys, Chandragiri Hills T-shirts and more. Friday was crowded so you can expect Saturdays to get worse, but that’s expected due to the dearth of exciting places around Kathmandu.
The Chandragiri Hills enterprise has not only given people somewhere to go but has also created jobs for a large number of people and given an opportunity for other entrepreneurs to set up shop in the vicinity. Who would have thought just a few years ago that some fancy hotels would spring up in a place like Godam, a name most people probably haven’t even heard. Yes, Godam above Thankot is where the lower station of the cable car lies but locals around here have already distorted geographic locations and are calling it Chandragiri. With crowds coming down from the cable car ride, the local buses fill up instantly and beside the road below, a row of cheap eateries have come up catering to people with limited budgets. The cable car has also benefitted Chitlang in the valley below as more people are venturing there after the cable ride and where there were once just five homestays and a resort, now there are about a dozen including tented camps. The walk down to Chitlang from the top of Chandragiri is only 1 ½ hours and the cable car does away with the challenging uphill hike from Thankot.
As I sit on the deck of Himalayan Java enjoying a good, strong cup of Americano, I can’t help thinking of the Panchayat era viewing tower in Nagarkot. Pardon me if I’ve written too many lines on this tower alone; I may be wrong about when this badly designed tower was built but it is definitely from a bygone era. So here I am visualizing the hilltop in Nagarkot with an architecturally beautiful three-storey building full of eateries and a coffee shop and a modern viewing tower. Wouldn’t people spend half a day idling away their time there? And they wouldn’t have to queue up to go up to the tower either. Besides the resorts, where else can one go in Nagarkot and Dhulikhel? As for Kakani, besides the restaurant, there’s absolutely nothing to keep you there unless you want to eat fish in one of the eateries below. Rather disappointing after a long drive!
The Department of Tourism apparently does nothing to make tourist destinations more than just a place to go. Is there even a Tourist Information Center about town? I’ve been acting as a guide every time I come across tourists at Ratna Park. The bus drivers and conductors struggle to understand the tourists’ heavy accents, so on many occasions I have butted in to tell them where to catch a bus to their various destinations. They are often given so many wrong instructions that they are exasperated. One couple whom I directed towards Jamal had already given up and said, “Everybody points in a different direction, so I think we’ll take a taxi.” A Chinese couple had ‘Badgang’ written on a text on their cell phone and the drivers were perplexed, not knowing what it meant. Of course it was a misspelling of Bhadgaon which is Bhaktapur’s old name. Don’t many of us Nepalis travel on our own when we go abroad? We might take a few guided tours but it’s always more fun exploring places at your own pace and choosing your own destinations.
Most places I’ve traveled to have had Tourist Information Centers where you get directions as well as a map of the city free of cost. In Kailuwa, Hawaii, I found a seventy-year-old man doing voluntary work at the Tourist Center and we had a wonderful chat while he told me where to go and how to get there. Isn’t that genius? They need not pay him and he in turn, has found a useful way to spend his retired life helping tourists get around town.
China has been leading the way in promoting tourism by building incredible infrastructure, many of them solely to attract tourists, like the glass bridge. We are lucky that more and more Chinese tourists are visiting Nepal and reports suggest tourist arrivals from India also seem to be growing. We can thank National Geographic, Lonely Planet and many others for constantly promoting Nepal, putting the Everest Base Camp among the Top Ten Destinations in the world. And who can forget that video on youtube of the now famous ‘Lukla Flight’!
The growing number of tourists would definitely enjoy more and spend more if they found recreation centers with quality food and drinks wherever they went. That goes for us ‘destination hungry’ Nepalis as well. Up in the Chandragiri Hills there were quite a few tourists besides the hordes of Nepalis. But the spacious eateries have no problem accommodating large crowds with ease. If there were similar places to spend our free time at other destinations, not only will we have more choices when deciding how to spend the weekend, but it would also help the economy. I had always walked to Chitlang before, but this time I spent Rs 700 on a return ticket, had two coffees and a Black Forest at Chandragiri. I spent about two hours in Chandrgiri while previously I would just stop for a cup of tea that cost ten rupees at the pass and head on down to my beloved valley.
- The Chandragiri Hills enterprise has not only given people somewhere to go but has also created jobs for a large number of people and given an opportunity for other entrepreneurs to set up shop in the vicinity.
- So here I am visualizing the hilltop in Nagarkot with an architecturally beautiful three-storey building full of eateries and a coffee shop and a modern viewing tower.