You must have heard about the Manjushree Park. It is one of the parks in the Kathmandu Valley where entry is not free. Yet it has been witnessing a steady rise in the number of visitors, mostly Nepalis since its formal opening about 10 years ago.
It is a perfect dating spot, shooting spot, cycling spot, picnic spot and an ideal station for viewing the Himalayan ranges on a clear day, according to Bina Maharjan (34), a park employee from Chobhar, Kirtipur municipality. It is also a kind of gateway to other attractions, including Taudaha, Adinath, and Jala Vinayak. People with interest in the industrial history of this country may find in this place a perfect research topic: The demise of the Himal Cement Factory.
What’s more, this place is literally a stone’s throw away from the centre of Kathmandu: An hour-long bus ride from Shahid Gate brings you to this place.
The park based in Chobhar got its name from the legendary Manjushree, who is said to have cut the hill surrounding a huge lake with his magical sword making the valley suitable for human settlement. It forms part of that chopped hill. The valley proper will surely become a lake pretty soon if a landslide blocks the Chobhar gorge through which Bagmati and Nakkhu rivers drain!
Hindus believe that the huge lake is the creation of the demon Vanasura. The demon himself blocked the flow of the lake’s waters to enable his sister Usha to bathe. Lord Krishna came from Dwaraka, fought Vanasura, chopped his hands and let the lake drain, preparing the ground for human civilisation. The water drained thus is said to have formed the Katuwal Daha. There’s no dearth of people, who believe Vanasura still lives in one of these caves.
Adventure seekers’ hotspot
During holidays, the park witnesses a big crowd of visitors, mostly domestic tourists. The park staff have their hands full during such days. While many come for unwinding, shooting, picnics, spending time with loved ones, there’s a crop of visitors who come here for adventure.
What kind of adventure does an amusement park offer? Guided tour of a network of well-navigated caves having a length of 1200 metres! This is the most important attraction of the park literally hanging over the Bagmati.
Where on earth those caves lead to? The trained cave guides (the park boasts of a five-member team of all-female guides), including Tulasha Maharjan (33) of Chobhar, do not know anything about the myriad routes. So, the question of taking adventure-seekers to uncharted routes does not arise.
Tulasha says they take visitors along five routes only. The park has divided these routes into three categories. The route leading to Mahadev Pokhari falls under the short category. On an average, it takes these guides 20 minutes to navigate the 40.3-metre route with a group that should have at least five members.
The route leading to the Pareva (Pigeon) Cave is 86.4 metres long. The cave is a hotspot for pigeons and it takes about 35 minutes to complete this average-length loop. According to Tulasha, the route leads to the Bagmati bank.
Another route leads to the Barahi Cave. Navigating the 100.95-metre-long medium category route with visitors takes these guides about 40 minutes.
The path leading to Naya Gufa (the New Cave) is 128.06 metres long and comes under the long category. It takes these guides about one hour to complete the journey with a team of visitors.
Of the known routes, the route leading to Bagh Gufa (the Tiger Cave) is the longest. The guided tour of this route takes about one-and-a-half-hours.
These guides say that medium-category routes are the most difficult. As these routes are narrow, the people have to crawl along sections to complete these routes. Navigating these caves is relatively easy for slim people.
The entry fees depend on the length of the routes and the visitors’ nationality. For Nepalis, short routes cost Rs 100 per visitor, medium routes cost Rs 200, whereas the long routes cost Rs 300. For SAARC nationals, the rates for short, medium and long routes are Rs 200, 400 and Rs 600, respectively. For other foreigners, the rates are Rs 500, 1000 and 1500.
For Nepalis, the park charges Rs 20 per person. For visitors from SAAC countries, it charges Rs 50 per head and for other foreigners; it charges Rs 100 per head. People exploring the caves do not have to pay the entry fees.
No untoward incidents
Tulasha navigated these caves repeatedly with seniors as part of her training before joining this profession six months ago. Other guides too have undergone similar, rigorous training. A guide gets monthly salary of Rs 6,600 (on an average). There’s insurance cover for these guides. Presently working as the main guide, Tulasha has conducted guided tours of these caves for 600-odd people so far. There have been no untoward incidents during the guided tours that started about a decade ago, she says.
Asked if she has had any unpleasant experience associated with the job, Tulasha says she has had none. On the contrary, she says the visitors encourage her and praise her for taking up the challenging job.
Before embarking on the journey, one has to fill up the consent form, confirming that s/he is embarking on the journey out of free will and no one is to blame in the event of any untoward incident during the journey.
The park provides one headlight each to the visitors and a guide. According to Tulasha, the guides take back visitors safely if they find it difficult to complete their respective journeys.
A temple located on the banks of the Mahadeva Pokhari is one of the main attractions of the network of caves. While Hindus call it the Mahadeva Temple, Buddhists call it the Manjushree Temple. According to Tulasha, Lamas say they get glimpses of the temple in their dreams. They ask her to light lamps on their behalf.
During her early journeys, Tulasha and her friends used to spot bats in these caves. These days, they seem to have vanished. The increasing human activities, the light from the headlights and the general commotion may have driven away these creatures.
For the caves: 10 AM-3 PM
For the park: 7 AM-6 PM
For shooting short movies, the park authorities charge Rs 1000 per day, while for movies, they charge Rs 1500. Charges for feasts depend on size, ranging from Rs 1000 to Rs 3000.
Peak season, busy days
The park witnesses huge crowds in the Nepali months of Asoj, Kartik and Mangsir. It’s also full of people during public holidays, weekends, Nepali New Year. On such occasions, staffers like Tulasha remain busy throughout the day. While on other days, they have time for brief chitchat with friends and for interviews with the media.