If you only had time to visit one place, which would it be, Nagarkot or Dhulikhel?
This is a question I get asked a lot. Surprisingly it’s Nepali people who are asking more than tourists these days as the economy improves and domestic tourism increases. Europeans are next as they look to escape the tourist trail and get both culture and mountain views into their holiday.
The ones that don’t ask are Indians, Chinese, many south Asians and large tourist groups. Why? The answer is simple, Nargarkot has more hotels so more tour companies take people there so tour companies prefer to book trips to Nagarkot rather than Dhulikhel as there’s more money in it for them.
Are tourists losing out though? Is Dhulikhel the secret get-a-way people would actually prefer?
Let’s start by taking a look at what they both offer.
Briefly Summarizing the attractions of Nagarkot and Dhulikhel
Nagarkot offers …
Mountain views, fresh air, forest walks and culture.
Dhulikhel offers …
Mountain views, fresh air, forest walks and culture.
Both are close to Kathmandu city (1.5-2 hours) and both offer day trips (it’s better to spend overnight for sunrise views).
There’s not too much of a difference is there? Well according to the tourist propaganda there’s more. Nagarkot apparently offers views of Everest … and that’s the sales pitch which brings people by the bus load.
Let’s break things down into the main categories and choose a winner.
Which has better mountain views?
Nagarkot is touted as having the best mountain views near Kathmandu with a chance at seeing Everest. While Dhulikhel is barely mentioned in any write ups for having mountain views!
Yes, Nagarkot has mountain views they are quite far away. Yes Everest is meant to be visible but it’s a dot and you’ll need great weather plus a telescope to see the dot. That’s not to say the mountains are not spectacular, they are. Most people forget Everest when they are there. So it all works out. Dedicated tour agencies, viewing towers and easy to find guides make it all a simple process.
Dhulikhel also has great mountain views. The viewing platform at the Kali shrine offers lovely views of the Himalayas virtually every morning during peak season. There’s no claim to see Everest here though. The main viewing tower was damaged in the 2015 earthquake but you don’t “need” to climb it to see the mountains. You also don’t need a guide to get to the viewing platform. That said, there’s little fuss which leads one to think it’s not as impressive as Nagargot.
Winner: Nagarkot – There are more facilities around Nagarkot which gives it the edge here. I’m ignoring the claims of Everest. I’m simply going on experience. It can get crowded though, so if that’s not your thing then Dhulikhel wins.
Which has better cultural heritage?
Nagarkot is well written up in the guidebooks with a shrine and a cheese factory often being mentioned, repeatedly. That’s about it for heritage. The earthquake took a toll on the little shrine and good luck finding the paneer (cheese) factory.
Dhulikhel’s cultural heritage is reminiscent of the Kathmandu Valley. The towering Bhagwati temple reminds one of Bhaktapur as does the old cobbled (stone paved) streets with some impressive courtyards dating to the 17th century. It’s not enough to fill more than a couple of hours, but it’s an interesting well preserved Newari town. There are no entrance fees yet there are also few guides so do bring a good guidebook to make the most out of them.
Winner: Dhulikhel – hands down Dhulikhel beats Nagarkot with plenty of temples, shrines and cultural heritage.
Which has better treks or hikes?
Nagarkot has two main hikes. There’s the morning hike out to the viewing platforms and a short forest walk along the main road. Neither can really be called “treks”. The morning view hikes can be extended with a good guide but it’s nothing spectacular.
Dhulikhel also has two hikes with the first leading up from the old town to the Kali temple. This is more of a walk than a hike though. Two hours going slowly. But at the top you can part ways on the Namobuddha circuit hike which is a full day for more hiking around the Kathmandu Valley. I recommend a guide for this one as it is not well marked despite what many other guidebooks say.
Winner: Dhulikhel – the Namo Buddha or at least a part of it wins this category over Nagarkot. However in terms of ease then Nagarkot’s morning hike and forest walk are a simpler affair.
Which has better accommodation?
Nagarkot has two main strips of accommodation. A budget end at the early part of the hill leading up and a more exclusive lot of hotels at the top. The earthquake took its toll here though and I seriously advise anyone going to Nagargot to recheck hotel listings to make sure they are still open (hint: my guidebook to Nepal has up-to-date correct listings). That said, there’s more than enough accommodation available in Nagarkot.
Dhulikhels hotels are split into three areas. The main road offers both budget, mid-range and high end resort style hotels though none are epic in style. The old city offers some rock bottom budget backpacker style places and up near the Kali shrine are a scattering of mid to higher end hotels with mountain views.
Winner: Nagarkot – only by virtue that there are a lot more hotels to choose from in Nagarkot than in Dhulikhel and they are of a better standard.
Which has better restaurants?
In both cases restaurants are few and far between in Nagarkot and Dhulikhel. Both offer simple local places near their respective main bus stops. Most people simply prefer eating at their hotel.
Winner: Nagarkot – there are about four dedicated restaurants near the bus stop in the town which offer about the same level of food as the two in Dhulikhel. In both cases, it’s better to eat in your hotel.
Which is easier to get to?
Nagarkot is listed everywhere! Tours, buses and taxis all promise an easy ride to Nagarkot. And, it’s true. Nagarkot is easy to get to but only via a tour or private car. Via bus it’s a bit of a long morning and usually involves a transfer at Bhaktapur. The whole journey takes about 2-2.5 hours from Kathmandu.
Dhulikhel is not listed anywhere! Forget the tour buses going there. It’s either a private car or a bus. The other option is one of those overpriced private tours. The good news is that the local bus is a direct one from Kathmandu and only takes about 1.5 hours.
Winner: Dhulikhel- the easy direct bus route wins out over the touts offering overpriced packages to Nagarkot.
Best and worst aspects:
Nagarkot has everything ready for you but it can get very crowded with tourists.
Dhulikhel requires a little more exploration but you get to experience a wonderful old town with views.
The overall winner between Nagarkot or Dhulikhel is …
Drum roll please …. the winner is:
For people in hurry – Nagarkot.
For independent travelers – Dhulikhel.
Nagarkot is easy and everyone talks about it. You get a great view and everything is taken care of for you.
Dhulikhel is a little more work but offers a beautiful experience with both culture and mountain views.
Wrapping up the comparison
Personally, I like Dhulikhel more than Nagarkot. I like the fact that there is an old town to explore with heritage and there are few tourists there.
However if I was stuck for time and was looking for a near on guaranteed experience with less historic culture then I’d choose Nagarkot.
In either case I hope this comparison has helped you to make up your mind in choosing which destination you would choose.
Lastly for the most updated and extensive write ups including restaurants, hotels and things to do in then see my guidebook to Nepal.
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