The northern part of the Kathmandu Valley rises to the sprawling forests of Shivapuri Nagarjun National Park, upgraded to national park status in 2002 to protect the valley’s main water source, as well as 177 species of birds and numerous rare orchids. This is one of the last areas of woodland left in the valley, and the forest is alive with monkeys, and maybe even leopards and bears.
In the past the park was mainly visited by trekkers en route to Helambu, but today the reserve is a popular destination for bird watching tours from Kathmandu. Several trekking and mountain-bike routes criss-cross the park, including the challenging Scar Rd cycle path.
You can combine a nature-spotting tour with a trip to the Tibetan nunnery of Nagi Gompa, about 3km uphill from the main gate above Budhanilkantha. Some buildings were badly damaged in the earthquake, but the main prayer hall survived. Around 100 nuns are resident and there are soaring valley views – you can walk here from Budhanilkantha in 1½ hours or drive in 20 minutes by motorcycle or hired 4WD.
From the gompa it’s possible to climb steeply for about three hours to reach Shivapuri Peak (2725m), via Baghdwar (where the source of the holy Bagmati River pours out of two stone tiger mouths), returning to the park entrance via the Pani Muhan water tank, for a very long day of around seven hours. This is a serious hike that you shouldn’t do alone. Take a map, plenty of water and preferably a guide.
There are several easier walks from Nagi Gompa. Consider the relaxing downhill stroll to Budhanilkantha, or continue south along the ridgeline for three hours to reach Kopan Monastery and Bodhnath. Another good option on foot or by mountain bike is to follow the dirt track east to Mulkarkha and then descend to Sundarijal – a mostly level 11 km trip.