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A Hike into History

Three hours spent well amidst the maze-like streets and effusive charms of Kirtipur.

A stone’s throw away from Kathmandu and Patan, the impregnable Kirtipur feels a world away. The historic citadel that heroically warded off repeated sieges from Gorkha soldiers still stands proud in the winter sun, still largely resistant to the sea of change that has swept the valley that it overlooks. So much so, that a recent chance hike up to the town felt akin to a time warp; that too, merely a few kilometers away from my home in the heart of the bustling and dusty metropolis.
It was, at first, not my intention to hike uphill to Kirtipur. Yet in retrospect, I cannot comprehend why I would want it any other way. On a cold Saturday, I boarded a micro idling at the Old Bus Park pining to explore the ‘fourth kingdom’ on my own. 

The prospect of getting lost in the intricate network of gallis and back alleys, each overflowing with history, was positively tantalizing. Yet, all that excitement would soon go south as the exuberant young khalasi, sporting a disconcertingly bleached ‘K-Pop’ hairdo, continued to pile more passengers onto an already cramped vehicle. 

By the time we veered left from Balkhu onto the Dakshin Kali road, there were more than two dozen people in a micro designed to comfortably seat twelve. Here I decided to chance a hike through the TU grounds, instead of getting cozier with the bearded gentleman beside me who was already reeking of moonshine before midday. It proved to be a blessing in disguise.

I strolled up the paved road that meanders through the university, walking past buildings plastered with posters and painted with political signs, and past the cricket stadium where so many hopeful promises were made, only to be broken. 
At the top of the hill, the road forks. On the right are more university buildings, including the TU Central Library and the dilapidated, yet still enigmatic, CEDA building. Designed by Austrian architect Carl Pruscha, the building has been dubbed by many as one of Nepal’s first modern buildings – a worthy detour, for those with spare time. 

The road to the left winds up to the historic town of Kirtipur. Here from around a bend, the citadel suddenly emerges in its full grandeur.  With houses seemingly stacked on top of each other, it is easy to imagine why Kirtipur was so hard to penetrate for invading forces. At first sight, it could pass as the mythical Gondor of Tolkien’s imagination. 

At the foot of the hill a naya basti (new settlement) stands with a plethora of small eateries and photocopy and book stores catering to students of the university. Beyond it, several ancient stone staircases lead to the old town above. Once you start your climb upwards again, the landscape changes instantly; within minutes of leaving the concrete matchboxes of the naya basti, you find yourself in an old Newar community with narrow alleys and brick houses that have stood the test of time. 

Here old women bask in the sun weaving yarn and sifting through grains. The men huddle in satals (rest houses) spinning tales and watching passersby with curious eyes. 

After a short walk, the narrow road opens up into a sunlit chowk. Here a statue of Sankhadar Sakwa, credited for starting the Nepal Sambat calendar, watches over an ancient pond surrounded by beautiful houses with intricately carved windows. At the head of the chowk lies the entrance to the revered Bagh Bhairav Temple. Situated in a sprawling well-maintained courtyard, the Bagh Bhairav is the crown jewel of Kirtipur and its most easily recognizable building. 

The temple towers are four stories high and attract a steady stream of devotees and curious tourists. I entered the temple with intentions of lighting a butter lamp and sending abroad prayers and was taken aback by the splendor of the idol housed here. Dedicated to Bhairav’s manifestation as a tiger, the wrathful deity’s bejewel eyes themselves are enough to inspire awe and adoration. It was unlike any other handiwork that I have seen in the country. 

Upon exiting the temple, I spot several tourists pointing their gaze and cameras to the roof of the temple. The front façade of the third floor of the temple is lined with an assortment of swords and daggers. A septuagenarian, idling nearby, tells me that the weapons are remnants of the siege that the Gorkhali soldiers laid on Kirtipur. “If you look closely,” he tells me, pointing vaguely, “You will see the sword that killed Kaji Kalu Pandey.”
A few minutes uphill, is the equally revered Uma Maheshwor Temple. Standing proud at the highest point in Kirtipur, the temple offers not just beautiful stone and woodwork but also unmatched panoramic views of the valley below. 
Having reached there after a night of heavy winter rain, I saw the valley washed of the thick smog and glistening in the afternoon sun. From a rooftop restaurant nearby, I watched the vista open up. Just this view of the busy valley and the Himalayas beyond makes it worth the trip to this historic fourth kingdom. 

After spending, what seemed like hours, soaking in a beautiful bird’s eye view of Kathmandu, I descended downhill towards, the now famous, Newa Lahana. Run by Haku Patasi-clad local women, Newa Lahana is a Newari eatery that serves up a culinary storm. It has been dubbed as “everyone’s favorite bhatti,” and I find a crowd of urban hipsters from the valley below, wolfing down deliciously prepared Newari cuisine. 
Having found a seat on a straw mat that overlooks the towering Chandragiri range, I gulped down generous servings of rice beer to ready myself for the walk back to Kathmandu. All the while I was wondering, why I do not make this trip more often. 

After all, merely a stone’s throw away from the dusty metropolis, Kirtipur stands proud with open arms.