Chitlang on my Mind

Text by Dinesh Rai

We have heard stories of how in the early days, up to sixty porters would carry a motor vehicle to Thankot over the Chandragiri pass, starting their arduous journey from Bhimphedi. The road they travelled passed through the beautiful valley of Chitlang which was also where most travelers including royalty, stopped for the night. Before the first highway to Kathmandu came into being, everyone and everything passed through Chitlang, but today it has lost its significance and few people travel this way except for locals and a handful of tourists.

The fact that Chitlang does not lie on the modern highway to Kathmandu is a blessing in disguise. One shudders to think what would happen to this sleepy valley if trucks, buses and all kinds of vehicles passed through night and day. Thanks to its insignificance, most of the land here is devoted to farming and few motor vehicles are encountered on the dirt road that links this fertile valley to Hetauda.

The short route to Chitlang from Godam above Thankot is still open but after the earthquake there are loose rocks hanging menacingly above the road that pose a danger to unsuspecting travelers. However, there are two other routes which though longer, are safer. One bus leaves early in the morning from Balkhu and heads towards Kulekhani from Pharping. After a three-hour journey the bus reaches Taukhel from where it’s an hour’s walk to Chitlang. The other bus leaves from Kalanki at 2:30pm and goes along the highway until Naubise before turning towards Kulekhani and eventually winding up at Taukhel. These buses then go on to Bajrabarahi. Travelling on smaller vehicles is not recommended as they are known for speeding dangerously. Walking to Chitlang can also be very rewarding, stopping to admire the many species of birds, butterflies, insects and a whole range of colorful flowers along the way.

Tourists don’t flock to Chitlang but there are always a few visitors who love the peace and verdant greenery that abounds here. And so it should be, as tranquility is the attraction of this haven. There are only five homestays and one resort that cater to tourists but they suffice. These home stays are basic and offer simple living but are as diverse in character as the crops you see around Chitlang. Some are striving to improve their facilities by adding showers and new washrooms, determined to make your stay more comfortable. The standard of rooms available also vary from one to the next but rates are fixed by the committee that administers their daily affairs.

The houses in Chitlang are so widely spread out that to walk from the first home stay to the last takes almost an hour. But this also accounts for the large free space one sees around here which is pleasing to the eye. Most of the land here is taken up by farming which makes this valley so beautiful. This ensures all vegetables served up are fresh and more often than not from the hotel owner’s own vegetable garden. Many of them also keep chicken and these are not broilers. The eggs and chicken meat here are of the rural variety, and are far richer in taste and food value than the normal produce in Kathmandu. There is nothing like eating dal bhat with freshly plucked vegetables and homegrown local chicken cooked over roaring firewood.

What attracts a lot of tourists to Chitlang is the goat cheese that Ashoke Kumar Thakuri produces on his own. Thakuri also runs a homestay besides manufacturing cheese on a low scale. Trained in France and Belgium through a skills-training project, he came back and bought goats to start producing goat cheese. His fame has grown and many tourists and expatriates visit him and spend a day or two in his home stay. Unlike the others, his establishment is more modern with a bathroom on each floor and solar heated showers. Meals are served either in the room or on the balcony overlooking the vast agricultural land surrounding the building.

There are a few interesting hikes from Chitlang and the best is obviously to the Kulekhani Reservoir. The hike is two hours long and if you find the right path it’s a very interesting journey. Carry on down the road and ask for the shortcut when you come to the next settlement. It leads through a forest of pine trees and the path is lovely as well as easy to traverse. The motor road is long and winding as always and not the right option. The shorter path leads directly to the reservoir and the vast body of water can be seen long before you arrive at the road head. This is a fairly large reservoir as it feeds the turbines that have been supplying electricity for a long time. There are a few lodges and restaurants here by the roadside that cater to a large number of Nepali visitors. The most relished item on the menu is of course fish. The bus to Kathmandu stops here for a while to ensure it fills up. Tickets can be bought here to make sure you have a seat if you’re heading back to the capital. It’s a delightful spot to hang around and one can even dive into the lake for a swim.

Another interesting hike from Chitlang is the shortcut to Taukhel, a settlement about an hour’s walk away. As the motor road dips down there is a temple just below the road. Leave the motor road and walk by the mandir and this leads to a very enjoyable path through vegetable patches and little brooks. You can ask for directions from the local people. Stop for tea and snacks and look around the charming little settlement of Taukhel. This is where you can catch the bus back to Kathmandu and enter the capital through Pharping. However, once the road from Godam becomes safe to travel, one can hop onto one of the pick-up trucks that ferry people and goods in an hour between Chitlang and Godam and avoid the hour-long walk between Chitlang and Taukhel.

By 2016 the cable car service from Godam to the Chandragiri hilltop should be operational as most of the construction work has already been completed. Godam is about a half hour walk from Thankot. A luxury hotel is also planned along with other tourist attractions. What this new development means for Chitlang is anybody’s guess but there will definitely be a lot more visitors heading its way. Once you reach the top of Chandragiri, it’s an easy, enjoyable downhill hike to the Chitlang valley. One would expect transport facilities will also be available by then. A change is definitely in the cards for this enchanting valley. One can only hope it is for the better.