Bandipur, a Breathing Monument to Newari Culture and Architecture
Getting to Bandipur was the easy part; it was leaving that was difficult. I had caught the bus from Gorkha that morning and arrived at Dumre, a small town on the Prithvi highway and turn-off to the hilltop village high above. After waiting around for about an hour with a bunch of locals, we piled into the back of Land Cruiser taxi to take us up the formidable, snaking switch-backs to the altitude of 1030m.
Bandipur really is a living and breathing monument, a window into a Nepal of a bye-gone era. Over the last decade the Bandipur Eco-Cultural Tourism Project has been working hard to protect cultural and natural resources and to promote sustainable local enterprise. Funded and mentored by the European Commission, the goal is to conserve Bandipur’s unique built and natural heritage and effectively promote the town as a sustainable tourist destination.
On arrival, I could imagine that town hadn’t changed much since its heyday as a bustling trading town, on the route between Tibet and India. Maybe there was a few less people now and no caravans of trade passing through, but the built vestiges of wealth and commerce still exist.
In the 19th century it was granted special permission to build its own library, a privilege that signified the town’s status and prestige. This building still proudly sits centre stage within the main street.
Thankfully vehicles have to stop on the town’s periphery and the majority of the village is a pedestrian only zone. Wondering down the main street to find somewhere to stay, the huge efforts to maintain it’s original character were breathtaking. Original three storey brick and timber shuttered shop-houses line the main street. With its generous width, no traffic and stone paved surface, the whole street feels like a narrow piazza; a place to congregate and socialise, populated with tables from restaurants and cafes, children playing, locals chatting and the odd wondering tourist.
Town is small; it took me five minutes to walk its length. After checking out a few places to stay I chose a homely guesthouse overlooking Bindebasini Mandir, Bandipur’s two tiered temple dedicated to Durga. Their ceilings are low and I’m tallish; that doesn’t really mix. The charm and view from my bedroom window more than made up for my bruised head. A quaint window seat with original timber shutters framed the outlook over the main street and the comings and goings of everyday life.
The guesthouse owners ran a small general store downstairs that stocked everything from coils of wire to bright red buckets and toothpaste. One of the evenings I was treated to a home cooked meal, my first in months. The menu was my favourite and Nepali staple, dal bhat. Essentially a spicy lentil soup, served with steamed rice, a side of vegetables, various chutneys and chapati. Simple and great. After a evening of broken English conversation and fuelled up on multiply servings of dal bhat, I was ready to venture forth in the morning and go explore.
My first day of roaming took me to Tundikhel, an ancient parade ground and only real flat area for a long way around. From here sweeping views unfold of the valleys below and the mighty Himalaya’s rear up in the background. Scouting in and around the village I came across a classic Nepali creation, a chautara. Essential a raised stone platform shaded by a large tree, these are places of rest from the unrelenting Nepali landscape and become meeting points for people and communities.
I rounded off the day with a sunset from the nearby highpoint of Gurungche Hill; more big views and a great way to get a nearly bird’s eye view of the village below. The next few days I continued to wonder in and around Bandipur, including a visit to Siddha Gufa, reputedly Nepal’s largest cave. A steep descent from near Tundikhel, down a well worn track eventually brought me to the cave’s entrance. To my surprise it was guarding by a local man selling ‘tickets’! I obliged and paid the 100 Rupee entrance fee – I’m sure he only had three visitors that day; me and a Dutch couple!
The cave was fun although my headlamp couldn’t do it justice. Lots of rickety ladders and unsafe looking rope gave access to various areas and after about an hour we immerged into sunlight. A near 45 degree climb ensued back up the track. Toward the top of the ridge it was interesting to see terraces hewn into the hillside for growing vegetable and staples for everyday life.
For more information on Bandipur, please visit their official website at www.bandipurtourism.com.
I regret not staying longer, but as is the case with many an adventure, I felt the need to push on and get to my next destination. Looking back, I wished I had taken the opportunity to properly explore some of the outlying Magar villages and spend less time sitting on busses. I highly recommend at least staying two or three day in Bandipur, it truly is one of Nepal’s national treasures.