Sundarijal is translated as “Nice drinking water” and that’s exactly what I found on this hike. A beautiful, if small waterfall, with crystal clear water. Nevertheless, westerners should not think that they can drink this water, as it is untreated. My point is that all the rivers I have seen in Kathmandu are distinguished by being quite “brown” looking (that’s putting it nicely) and the further you get away from the city, the “source” becomes cleaner.
I left my hotel early in the morning, after having a big breakfast. My driver, Bayan, had been hired the day before and he was already waiting for me when I went outside the hotel reception area. Sundarijal is approximately 15 kilometers northeast of Kathmandu, a fairly short distance from where my accommodations were. The Shivapuri National Park covers a large part of of the Sundarijal. I am not absolutely certain, but the Bagmati river flows from the Sundarijal water falls, and is joined by the Shyalmati and Nagmati rivers.
Bayan parked near the trail head, at a bus park. He asked if he could accompany me on the hike and I said, of course. It would be nice to have a companion to chat with. Nearby, there is a 640 kW hydropower plant that supplies electricity to the Sundarijal villages. It is also my understanding that there is a recently completed $460 million water treatment plant located nearby in Melamchi and it provides clean water to the Sundarijal area. After paying the parking fee, we began the hike. Immediately, you notice that there are probably not going to be any switchbacks. You also notice concrete stairs. I hate stairs, especially concrete ones. They are hard on knees and I cursed myself for not bringing Ibuprofen or aspirin, as I knew that my knees would be aching later that day.
Along the hiking route, you pass a village where the homes, small farms and businesses are constructed entirely on a severe grade up the mountain. Along with the villagers we passed, we also walked by plenty of farm animals, including water buffalo, goats, chickens, cows, ducks, etc. I found all of it fascinating, especially since you could practically touch them. Almost like walking though a petting zoo.
I found out that Bayan was 33 years old, happily married with two children. He is a hard-working Nepalese man, who pays approximately 7000 rupees to send one of his children to a private school. He has only been driving a taxi for a little more than a year. He owns the cab and during the tourist season can make anywhere from 25000 to 30000 rupees a month (which is about $250-300 dollars U.S.). He spoke excellent English, so it was easy for us to converse. Quite affable and good-natured, I immediately liked him and enjoyed his company. We made preliminary arrangements for him to be my driver on a later trip I was planning in a couple of days, but I found out today that his taxi broke down and he probably would not be able to accompany me on this trip outside Kathmandu.
I did a bit of research on the internet regarding this site and Sundarijal is part of what is called the Village Development Center (VDC). The VDC was named after a Hindu goddess, Sundaramai. A temple is dedicated to this deity in Sundarijal.. Almost 62% of the villagers are Buddhists and the rest are Hindu. Approximately 90% of the villagers are literate. In 1960, a military detention camp imprisoned the prime minister at the time, B.P. Koirala, and other political leaders for over 8 years without benefit of trial. The detention camp still exists in this national park and we passed a garrison on the way to the reservoir and dam.
The Sundarijal dam was initially constructed in 1895 and is a British design. However, I have read a conflicting report which states that it was constructed in 1934, but I believe this was a renovation and not a new dam. A “water catchment” pond or area is behind the dam, where water is stored before being released or used for hydro-power. The Bagmati river originates at an altitude of approximately 2732 meters before flowing into the catchment pond. The dam has an average water release discharge of 165 liters per second.
This is where I get on my soap box and complain about the pollution in the air and the garbage strewn around this lovely country. I apologize for being such a bummer, but I saw too many instances of garbage not being thrown in garbage cans located at convenient points along the trail. Instead, trash was tossed on the ground or worse, thrown into the river. In Kathmandu, It really is depressing to see so much garbage on the ground, mainly due to the fact that they don’t have organized trash pickups like we do in the United States. It’s also not unusual to see people wearing respirators (myself included) while going about their daily lives. I have purchased two paper masks and a cloth one since I arrived here.
I read a column in a Nepal newspaper yesterday that voiced this exact concern/issue and offered reasonable and logical solutions to the problem. He emphasized that the Nepalese government must take the lead in any significant change. However, he also noted that change begins with each person – both Nepalese and foreigners – having a stake in this issue. Most important, change will only happen when the Nepalese people demand that their government do something about this problem. Nepal is a beautiful country threatened by pollution and I hope something is done about this insidious problem before it’s too late.