A mystical path through jungles at Kathmandu-Nuwakot border leads us to a meditative hideout of Tarkeshwhar Mahadev Temple where we enjoy a marvelous panorama over the preaching and hospitality of a straightedge sage who goes by Shreenath Baba.
Our hiking journey to flee the mundane and seek solitude begins with a bus ride from Balaju towards Kakani. Drop off shortly before the Nuwakot district gate as you see chicken coops on your right. From here, after walking up a graveled road for about 20 minutes, we reach the stairway into the pristine jungle. Take note that there are no settlements along the route and water supply is largely absent until you reach the top, so make all necessary preparations beforehand.
The path is not too steep and you get to see wonderful green farms in the valley on the left, while on your right stands Jamacho’s awe-inspiring cliff. A warm winter sun peeks through the canopy and with the right chill in the wind, makes the walk rather pleasant. A heartwarming view of shimmering hills behind the light haze follows us throughout but resist the temptation to stop en route because the higher you go, the better vantage point you get.
Before you know it, you’ll reach the wide jeep tracks of what’s known as Heaven’s Trail. Climbing a few more steps, you come across an abandoned green building that happens to be a community pilgrimage shelter smeared with graffiti. “Hooligans are a nuisance here,” says the frustrated and garrulous caretaker Mukunda Aryal. “They have no respect for God!” As unfortunate as the situation is, his tirades about how “ryabes” and “tyabes” have defaced the shelter will most likely amuse you. There seems to be no end to his rants, so once the conversation starts getting tiresome, excuse yourself to the shelter’s filthy loo.
Aryal happily volunteers to be your guide for the last stretch of the climb till the small hut of the Tarkeshwar Temple. Upon entering the spotlessly clean lawn, Aryal introduces you to the rather sinister-looking Shreenath Baba who sports dreadlocks that look like a curled up snake, his neatly combed beard tied with a rubber band. Baba doesn’t beat around the bush: “Tero jaat ke?” (“What caste are you?”) he asks. Debating the futility of casteism will draw fire, so steer clear from contesting his holy wisdom and cooperate. “This is Shiva’s abode but I don’t let anyone smoke or drink here,” he’ll warn you with a cold glare. “Get a glass from outside if you want to drink some hot water.” His hospitality – impeccable! While we enjoy our glass of hot water, Baba preaches about existence and inner peace until his ringtone, a Bollywood dance track, blasts from his Nokia. It’s a loyal runner who’s brought him ghee and potatoes from a nearby village. “Eta leraija!” (“Bring it here”) he commands in a harsh tone. Baba is quite an interesting character and so are his philosophies which we listen to for a moment before he asks us to give him space. Taking his blessings , we leave. On our way out we can’t help but notice a cigarette butt in a niftily camouflaged ashtray lying next to his throne.
We head up a final flight of stairs that takes us to a small cave where, adjacent to Shiva’s statue, is a secluded meditating spot. Only a couple of feet wide, it’s carved into the middle of the rocky cliff facade. Ahead is an absolutely stunning vista of clear blue skies under which lies Kathmandu, stretching infinitely into the horizon. A sense of calm immediately grips you. Close your eyes to relax your mind, and with God by your side, feel spiritually uplifted. Time seems to stand still; your emotional baggage completely vanishing. You won’t feel like leaving the place, but they way back is long.
Follow the steps down and from Heaven’s Trail deviate left towards a narrow and steep track that runs through gigantic sal trees. Carefully tread on the slippery grass before finally making it to Kavresthali village in the lap of Shivapuri. The immaculate village is dotted with traditional mud houses, with tiny trails crossing through the farms. Without road links, cars or motorbikes, the village looks tranquil - only vague echoes of bellowing cattle are heard. Continuing along a brook, we reach jeep trails that eventually take us to the village bus stop.
Before catching a bus, step into Dharma Dai’s cafe where bhauju insists you try some chicken curry, pickles and a local brew. Seated beside men hurriedly downing mugs of kodo ko raksi, you join in the merrymaking only to discover they’re the accomplice and driver of the bus you’re about to take. The drive back then may involve praying, swearing and the chewing of nails all the way to Gongabu.
A relaxing walk through secluded, virgin woods with spectacular sights and a spiritual sensation in the cave of Shiva’s statue makes this half-day pilgrimage to Tarkeshwar quite pleasurable.