It was an early start for us this morning, as we had to be up, ready, packed and breakfasted in time to leave the hotel at 7.30am, to continue our great Nepalese adventure en route to our next hotel in the ancient village of Bandipur.
Bandipur is a hilltop settlement and a municipality in Tanahun District of Nepal. Because of its preserved, old time cultural atmosphere, Bandipur has increasingly been coming to the attention of tourism. At the time of the 2011 Nepal census it had a population of total (Bandipur and Dharampani) 15591 people living in 3750 individual households.
Bandipur is located at 27.56 N, 84.25 E and an elevation of 1030m on a mountain saddle (Mahabharat range) approximately 700m above the Marsyangdi River Valley, 143 km to the west of Kathmandu and 80 km to the east of Pokhara (where we would be visiting later on in our tour). We were so looking forward to exploring this lovely village in the real Nepal, set within view of the Annapurna mountain range.
Anal advised us that, while Bandipur was only 90 or so miles away, it would take us 5-6 hours to get there in our minibus, due mainly to three factors: the poor condition of some of the roads, the endless, chaotic traffic, and the narrow mountain roads as we negotiated often steep hairpin bends with sheer drops into the valley. I certainly hoped it wouldn’t be a white-knuckle ride!
We set off at 7.30am into the morning traffic, which was already quite busy. As ever, the road was rutted and potholed and dusty in some parts, while muddy in other parts. Our vehicle slowly lurched and rattled its way through the streets, often stopping for what seemed an age in queues of traffic. Once we got moving again, we could see no obvious reason for the traffic jams, but it was start… stop… start… stop for a number of miles. We weren’t too bothered though; it was cool and comfortable in our minibus and there was always plenty to see looking out the window.
After about an hour and a half, we made a “pit-stop” to allow us to use the restrooms and perhaps enjoy a cold drink. We only had 10 minutes, but it was enough to get off the bus and stretch our legs a bit. Most of the loos were the Asian squat-style ones, but there was one Western style, although there was no paper; I was glad I’d brought my own, as well as some anti-bacterial hand-gel.
Back on the bus we continued on our way, taking frequent drinks from our water bottles in order to avoid dehydration in these sub-tropical temperatures. Several times our bus drove around groups of cows and calves calmly walking along in the middle of the road. We enjoyed looking at the shops and the distinctive Newari-style architecture.
Newa architecture is an indigenous style of building design used by the Newari people in the Kathmandu valley in Nepal. It is a style used in buildings ranging from stupas and chaitya monastery buildings to courtyard structures and houses. The style is marked by striking brick work and a unique style of wood carving rarely seen outside Nepal.
After a while, we left behind the dirt and the dust of the city and started to climb up and down the undulating hilly countryside; often getting fantastic views of the lush valleys below. Our driver, Madern, was very careful and didn’t go too fast (to everyone’s relief!) and it was actually a very pleasant journey. Along the majority of the route we followed the fast-flowing Trishuli river, which had many precarious-looking rope bridges across its width, as well as an interesting cable car soaring off into the heights, which Anal said we would visit on the way back. The river twisted and turned and the water was a muddy brown colour; this was due to all the soil erosion which had occurred as a result of the monsoon rains. Now and again we spotted intrepid people on rafts and small boats in the river, which appeared to be popular for white-water rafting.
Because we had had several leg-stretch stops on the way, the five and a half hour ride seemed to go passed very quickly, and eventually the bus pulled into a small vehicle park just outside the main road of Bandipur village, which didn’t allow through-traffic. We were greeted by some gentle, pleasant ladies from our hotel, and Anal advised that we had about a 10 minute walk and that the staff would carry our bags for us.
We walked along, passing the charming little buildings filled with so much character. Laughing and chattering children followed us, calling out “Namaste” and asking us where we were from. We saw lots of interesting little shops, guest-houses, a temple, restaurants and bars advertising the World Cup games they would be showing on TV.
Finally we stopped outside the Gaun Ghar Hotel, a wooden building with shuttered windows and a first-floor balcony at the front running the width of the building, and containing colourful potted plants. The hotel appealed to me immediately, and despite its rustic, basic appearance (or maybe because of it) I knew I would enjoy a memorable stay here.
We walked into a pleasant, sunlit courtyard surrounding a small fishpond, and were each given a glass of cool fruit juice. Anal said we would be shown to our rooms to rest for a short while, before meeting for lunch in the restaurant downstairs.
We were allocated room 202 at the front of the building, next door to Vee who was in room 201; in fact, we shared the large balcony overlooking the main street which was devoid of any traffic. The room was very basic and had no-frills, but was nevertheless clean and comfortable. There were three beds (two of them towards the balcony doors), a rail on which to hang some clothes, and a bathroom with a stone floor. The bathroom was really a basic wet-room; all it contained was a sink, WC and shower with a floor-drain, no bathtub. It would suffice for one night, however.
After getting freshened up, we went back downstairs again and took our seats in the open-fronted incense-scented restaurant for lunch. We ordered a cold bottle of Ghorka beer each which accompanied a selection of Nepalese dishes; there was no menu to order from so we each ate what we were given. Local flavoursome soup or salad to start with, then a curry-like dish with fresh fruit to follow. We’d noticed that the portions and the food so far on this holiday had certainly been more than generous! 🙂
After lunch, we had some time to ourselves, in which we enjoyed a half-hour power nap, before reconvening at 3.30pm to take a walk around the village. We set off at a sedate pace in the heat and humidity, watching our footing on the uneven ground. The schools must have just been letting out as there were lots of smiling children in uniform, running, shouting and playing in the streets, and looking curiously at us as they passed by. June is the low-season for visitors in Nepal; the real tourist season doesn’t start until September because of the monsoon, but in one way that was better because it meant that there were no crowds and the locals were very happy to see us, and did all they could to please us.
As we strolled along, we passed a temple with its distinctive pagodas, bells and prayer-wheels. Hens with their little chicks pecked desultorily by the roadside, and we saw lots of nanny goats with their cute little kids, bounding and gambolling about sure-footedly on piles of rubble. At one stage, from our elevated hilltop position, we had a fantastic view of the verdant valley and the river meandering below between the tiny, primitive dwellings, the Annapurna mountains rearing up in the background.
The village was quite charming and appeared to be from a bygone era, where modern-day technology hadn’t quite reached. Unsurprisingly, we had no signals on our mobile phones, and our hotel didn’t appear to have wi-fi; we also had no television or phone in our room and the electricity supply was intermittent and unreliable at best. However, isn’t this why we come to explore places like Nepal? We couldn’t get anywhere more different from Britain if we tried! 🙂
We continued our little tour of Bandipur and came to a square where the locals were bagging up portions of raw meat on plastic sheeting in the open air. Anal explained that a fatted cow or buffalo would be killed and cut up, then the pieces distributed among the locals so they could all have a good feast.
We then came to an area where fresh water that came down the mountain was directed into taps that flowed freely; locals would come here to do their laundry or to bathe and indeed each of the taps had someone standing at them, washing either themselves or a tub of clothes in the open air. The pace of life here was certainly more relaxed and unhurried than our frenetic, high-tech 21st century lives at home.
Around 5.00pm we slowly made our way back into the village. Some of us went a little further up the street to see what was in the hotel’s immediate vicinity; there were a few other guest houses, small general dealers and one or two bars which proudly proclaimed “Free wifi here!”. We saw a little off-licence so decided to buy a bottle of beer each to enjoy on our balcony before dinner at 7.30pm.
The beer was called Nepal Ice and was strong, at 7%. Next door to the off-licence was a bar with a few local guys gathered around watching the football on a large TV screen; we decided we’d come back later on to mingle with the natives and watch the England v Belgium game if it was on. Meanwhile, we returned to our balcony and sat outside on a rustic bench for a bit, enjoying a spot of people-watching and looking into the distant mountains as dusk descended over this peaceful little village.
Dinner, once again, was a veritable feast of local and Western dishes; this time we washed it down with an exquisite home-made millet wine called tongba, brewed on the premises. The proprietor also came around with a small pitcher from which he poured each of us the local distilled spirit, also made from millet, called raksi. It was a strong drink, clear like gin or vodka; it reminded me a little of Japanese sake, or rice wine. We enjoyed the food and the convivial company and, around 9.30pm, we said our goodnights and went off to do our own thing. Trevor and I ventured outside and up the darkened street to look at the little bars and shops, deciding we’d return to our room, get our money, and come back for a few beers in one of the local hostelries as our hotel didn’t appear to have its own bar.
However, much to our dismay, it transpired that everything closes in Nepal at 10.00pm!! Back out in the street, every building was battened down and shuttered and not a soul was about. We walked in both directions but the whole village had gone to sleep, apart from a small shop opposite our hotel. So much for mingling with the locals! We therefore went to the little shop and purchased a couple of bottles of cold beer, and decided to drink them on our balcony in the sultry evening air. We must have been the shop’s last customers of the night, because by the time we’d gone out on the balcony the proprietor was rolling down his shutters for the evening.
Nevertheless, it was very pleasant sitting out in the balmy darkness, listening to the creatures of the night singing away; bullfrogs, crickets, the occasional barking dog or cry of a hunting bird looking for prey. We stayed out until about 11 o’clock as our wake-up call would be at 7.00am, ready to leave at eight.
We settled down in our rustic little room for the night, after a very interesting day.