Surrounded by rough terrain and scenery, Kathmandu Valley’s rim is a trail runner’s delight
With the monsoon nearing its end, the hills around Kathmandu Valley will be emerging into their best season for hikers and runners. Shiny green forests under incredibly blues skies, everyone wants to make the best of this window between the rainy season and winter haze.
For trail runner Raj Pradhan, the post-monsoon season is the best time to indulge in his passion. Ever since he was introduced to the sport six years ago, trail running has become an addiction leading him to explore many off-track roads around Kathmandu.
“Once you hit the trail, it is no more about losing weight. You do it because you enjoy being amidst nature, the energy just flows into your body,” said Pradhan who recently completed a four-day trail run all the way from Pokhara to Kathmandu with Australian Tim Blair and Nepali runner Narayan Acharya.
The trail running trend is becoming increasingly popular around the world, and is finally catching on in Nepal. Taking it as an opportunity to escape the daily hum-drum of congested city areas (see map), many locals and expats alike have been latching on to this form of running.
“The variety of trail possibilities is endless, which is what makes the Valley a special place,” says Roger Henke, former managing director of Summit Hotel and considered in running circles to have introduced and popularised the sport in Kathmandu.
Trail Running Nepal, Kathmandu Trail Running group, Lalitpur Trail Running group and events like Hash House Harriers, which take place every Saturday, are encouraging many to head for the hills.
“The people who know the trail properly can guide those who are new to the place, which gives us the opportunity to socialise and for them to explore new places,” says Suman Basnet who founded the Lalitpur Trail Running group in April 2014. They meet once a week for a minimum run of 20kms.
For runners like Bimala Shrestha Pokhrel, the aim is beyond just socialising. “I have been partnering with communities, motivating Nepali girls to get out of their comfort zone and enjoy running,” says Pokhrel, who was inspired to do so after she saw poor representation of women in the Annapurna Run and the Tenzing Hillary Everest Run. She now organises group runs of up to 10 km in the Chobar area.
Trail running is catching on with events like the annual North Face Ultra Marathon, Godavari Running Festival, and mountain races like Annapurna Ultra Mountain, Tenzing Hillary Everest Marathon which have become international events.
Individual efforts of American runner Seth Wolpin and British ultra runner Lizzy Hawker, who ran continuously for several days and nights to complete the Kathmandu Valley Rim circuit, in addition to Nepal's inspirational ultra runner Mira Rai have encouraged many runners to follow suit.
“There is growing local interest, participation and opportunity to run races. Nepali runners are becoming more visible on the international scene and have started receiving recognition within Nepal,” says Henke.
Narayan Acharya sees trail running as a sport that can boost eco-tourism if trails leading to remote areas of the Valley are maintained. “It is a whole new world out there, and it is waiting to be discovered.”
Where to run?
Now part of the Shivapuri National Park, the hills to the west of the city is heavy forests and teeming with birdlife. It also has a pleasant trail running to the top.
Situated in the southern edge of the Valley, the ridge offers a wide selection of trails. Known for its scenic view of the city below and mountains beyond, runners can pick from the Chobar trails or the picturesque run from Hattiban towards Champa Devi.
The national park offers a wide range of trails from the standard path to the summit from Budanilkantha to Chisapani, or the run up to Bagdwar, the source of the Bagmati.
The highest point on the Kathmandu Valley rim at 2300m, the steep trails running up this forested mountain is a good place to acclimatise for high altitude runs. With rich biodiversity, it provides nature and adventure.
What to pack
Although adventurous and exciting, runners need to be aware of their surroundings and always have an emergency kit at hand with:
As far as he remembers, Hari Rokaya has been running all his life. Having grown up running up and down mountains in Jumla, the three time Everest Marathon runner was born to trails.
He is now training young athletes with the single aim of making Nepal renowned globally - like Ethiopia and Kenya - as a country famous for long-distance running.
“God has gifted us with such beautiful mountains and hills for mountain races. We have to make Nepal known in the world,” says Rokaya.
Rokaya set up the Karnali Sports Club in Jumla in 2006 which has trained 22 young athletes. He sees immense potential in Nepali runners and believes they can easily earn a good reputation if they compete in international runs.
So far the club has produced ultra marathon runners like Bishnu Maya Budha and Dipendra Bam who have participated and won in international races in Hong Kong and China.
Run, Kathmandu, run, Lizzy Hawker
7 years and running, Billi Bierling