It’s only when you leave it that you appreciate just how extraordinary the Kathmandu Valley is, surrounded by a 700km band of jumbled foothills that offer barely enough flat land to build a volleyball court. Only half a dozen roads fight their way out of the valley, but they are enough to make the Central Hills the most accessible area in the largely roadless hill country – though not necessarily the most travelled. To the northeast, the Arniko Highway follows the old Kathmandu–Lhasa trade route through broad valleys and misty gorges to the Tibet border; northwestwards, the Trisuli road snakes its way down into a subtropical valley nearly 1000m lower than Kathmandu; while west and then south, the Tribhuwan Rajpath, Nepal’s first highway, takes a wildly tortuous route on its way to the Terai. The scenery in this area is a shade less dramatic than you’ll encounter further west, but the land is nonetheless varied, rugged and only partially tamed by defiant terraces.
The majority of places in this chapter are easy overnights from anywhere in the Kathmandu Valley. The most popular are those that involve mountain views: Nagarkot and Dhulikhel, with well-developed lodgings, are both acknowledged classics; while the former has slightly better vistas, the latter boasts some interesting Newari architecture. The village of Daman has the most comprehensive views, but requires a little more effort to reach. These vantage points can’t compare with what you’ll see on a trek, but they do provide a taste of the Himalayas and can also serve as springboards for hiking and mountain-biking trips. The Tibet border area, meanwhile, has big appeal for adventure-sports enthusiasts: a trio of resorts in this area offer a wide range of activities including canyoning, whitewater rafting, kayaking and one of the world’s highest bungee jumps.
Although cultural attractions are relatively few outside the Kathmandu Valley, Panauti is among Nepal’s most intriguing small towns – all the more so because it is so seldom visited – with fascinating temples, bathing ghats and pilgrims’ houses. In the northwest of the Central Hills, the peaceful village of Nuwakot is also a worthwhile destination, with a superb fortress and a lovely hillside location.
To an extent, the boundaries of this chapter are dictated by travel formalities: towns and day hikes are described here, while longer backcountry treks are covered in Trekking. Many of the places described in this chapter could even be strung together with destinations in the Kathmandu Valley to create one long quasi-trek or mountain-bike ride.
Despite a relative abundance of roads, buses in the Central Hills are slow and infrequent. However, the region does contain some of Nepal’s most popular and rewarding mountain-bike and motorcycling routes.