Boat, not a stone

Ravi M Singh

Ravi M Singh

Boat, not a stone

It seemed to take our fancy as the elevation would allow us a bird’s-eye view of the Kathmandu basin, once a lake

A year ago, I was on one of my lockdown escapades on my mountain bike with a friend. We rode south of Sitapaila to Ramkot. 

Heading west from the Sitapaila Chowk, we pedaled past a jumble of roadside houses, shops, teahouses, and housing complexes—the quotidian urban chaos. It surprised us to see the Sitapaila shrine with an appealing facade. We stopped to take some pictures. 

A few years back, Sitapaila (‘Sita’s footprints’), a massive boulder embedded with Goddess Sita’s footmarks, rested under a roadside tree—nondescript and unnoticed by passersby. It looked like Ma Sita got herself a befitting abode as a spacious compound bounded it, lined up with other deities.

As the last leg of the monsoon had dragged out a bit, the dirt road was boggy with endless puddles—nothing like we expected. We often got stuck in the mud, dismounted, and walked our bikes. We did not take a fall, though.

The traffic on the road receded. So did civilization. After Danda Pauwa bazaar, we found ourselves amidst dwindling habitation and farmland with young greens of rice and vegetables. The towering lush Nagarjun Raniban hills rose to a glorious height to our right—a sight for sore eyes.

After some half-hour, we arrived at Ramkot. Larger than Danda Pauwa, the town bore the trappings of a burgeoning city, advancing towards rapid urbanization; but at a high cost of greenery. I realized the village-town had lost massive virgin foliage and woods, which my eyes met a decade ago during a ride there. 

We stopped to rest at an intersection to regain our heaving breaths and sip water from our bottles. I spotted a tea shop, and we felt like having a cup. Next, I approached two gentlemen seated on a bench before us. 

“Namaste, we are a little confused regarding the two roads. Can you help us out?” I asked the older guy. He pointed towards the south and said, “That way due south goes to Switzerland Park, the other goes to Bhim Dunga.” Curious, he asked us how far we planned to go. Then followed a chat that proved fruitful.

As we sipped tea, the guy shed light on the folklore about Ramkot and Bhim Dunga. Ramkot, he said, got its name when Lord Ram, Sita, and Laxman, during their 12-year exile, spent some time there. During his sojourn, the legend goes, Ram built an armory there; thus the by-name Ramkot—kot for weapon store. 

As for Bhim Dunga, the gentleman explained, everyone misnames it as Bhim Dhunga (Bhim’s rock). “The actual name is Bhim Dunga, Dunga for a boat,” he said and recounted the ancient folklore.

“Myth has it one of the Pandav brothers, Bhimsen of Mahabharat fame in the days of Dwapara Yuga, once visited the Bhim Dunga ridge, which served as a ledge overhead a colossal lake, said to be the present Kathmandu Valley.”

Bhimsen, spellbound, wished to explore the waters. He sent for a boat and took a ride. The ridge that day on got the new name, Bhim Dunga—it’s not Dhunga, he summed up again. 

Ancient history too says Kathmandu was once a lake. Manjushri, a revered Bodhisattva endowed with tantric (occult) powers, struck with his scimitar between two hills at Chobhar to cause a breach to drain the water out; eventually, the lake turned into a verdant valley. We are familiar with the site today as Chobhar gorge. 

Bhim Dunga seemed to take our fancy as the elevation would allow us a bird's-eye view of the Kathmandu basin, once a lake. We thanked the gentlemen and headed uphill.

The ridge bore a large stone altar with three gajurs (pinnacles), giving the impression of a midget temple. The stonework included two deities. One was Ganesh, but I failed to place the other chiseled form, a little disfigured; it stood with one arm holding what looked like a Gada (mace). Well, that must be Bhimsen, I figured.

Wow! The elevation offered a 360-degree view of Kathmandu. Instinctively, it made us marvel at what a magnificent lake it must have been. Incredible. 

The grueling ride to Bhim Dunga turned out well worth our while. We struck home—happy and wiser.