Gorkha, the birthplace of Prithvi Narayan Shah the unifier of small rival kingdoms into a single nation in 1769 is where it all began for modern Nepal. While a lot has been written about Gorkha, sadly not many tourists make it to Gorkha despite it being midway between Kathmandu and Pokhara and well connected by a 25 km road stretch that goes north to the main town. It is sad because only when you visit this historical town do you realise that while Kathmandu is teeming with temples and culture, Pokhara bubbling with adventure opportunities and Chitwan a natural jungle paradise, Gorkha in its history and simplicity offers an insight into the soul of Nepal.
A visit to Gorkha offers an understanding of history, a reflection of events that created a nation and the roots of a people that the world recognises as among the greatest soldiers and warriors even today. Here villages are alive with communities and offer an opportunity to experience the rich local culture and rural life in its rich simplicity as it has been for centuries. The surrounding hills and terrain are beautiful; hillocks and hiking trails offer spectacular views of snow capped peaks including Manaslu and Himalchuli as well as a panoramic view of the valley, as it has for centuries.
Gorkha was the epicentre of the huge earthquake last year and the damage is visible especially in the higher areas. But it is here that you will experience rural Nepal at its best. While many have lost homes and more, local communities still smile at the few visitors like us who walk through their hill side villages and welcome us into their courtyards. Spending time in such a natural setting and witnessing life in these traditional villages is a different experience. Tourism can make a big difference for these local communities and help them overcome economic problems thrust upon them last year. But travelling to Gorkha is not just about helping them.It is you who will return richer from the whole experience.
The main attraction of Gorkha is its Durbar which is a fort, temple and palace all in one. Within the palace is the sacred Taleju temple of the tutelary deity of the last ruling dynasty and displays a wealth of Nepali architecture. The view from the palace is awesome. The giant peaks of Manaslu, Himal Chuli, Baudha and others stand majestically against the skyline towards the north.
The east wing of the Durbar is the palace, where Prithvi Narayan Shah was born. Much of the building is done in the Newari-style by artisans brought from Kathmandu. It is only open on the 10th day of Dashain. The building houses what is believed to be Prithvi Narayan Shah’s throne.On the left of the bells there are stairs that lead down to the cave where Gorkhanath, a solitary sage lived. Gorkhanath acted as a spiritual guide for Prithvi Narayan Shah and is considered to be a guardian of the Shah Kings. The town got its name after him.In the west wing of the palace is the Kalika Mandir, a temple dedicated to the goddess Kali. This is the first building on the left if you enter from the west. Sacrifices are offered in front of the temple. The earthquake has caused a lot of damage to these structures and repair work is currently ongoing.
Housed inside the Tallo Durbar, a Newari-style palace built in 1835, the museum’s exhibits are limited but interesting. It’s set in large garden, which is nice for a stroll.
The Manakamana Temple located on the top of a hill at 1,300 metres, is reachable by the unique cable car in Nepal. Venerated since the 17th century, it is believed that Goddess Manakamana grants the wishes of all those who make the pilgrimage to her shrine to worship her. A downhill hike back from temple is an interesting option. You will pass through local villages and scenic trails.
The old town temples
The old town is dotted with temples. Immediately above the bus stand is the fortified Ratna Temple. A little uphill is the two-tiered temple dedicated to Vishnu; a white temple with aNandi statue that’s dedicated to Shiva and a small, white Indian-style temple dedicated to Ganesh. Further up that road is a small square with a miniature pagoda temple dedicated to Bhimsen, the Newari god of commerce.