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Bandipur Beckons

 

A hike up an old trail to a historical hamlet leads to a peaceful and relaxed overnight stopover.

 

Sitting on the rooftop of The Old Inn in Bandipur, gazing out at the amazing view and basking in the tangible serenity, I simply couldn’t believe that I had lived here so many years without ever having heard of this place. When I was first told about it, though I added it to my list of ‘places to visit’ in Nepal, I felt no sense of urgency. As it turned out, it would take me another year or so to finally make it there. What a long time to miss out on such a great place!


A friend and I were spending a week in Pokhara, and decided to stop over for a night on our way back to Kathmandu. Two thirds of the way to Pokhara from Kathmandu, it makes an ideal stop when going to Pokhara or returning. Alternately, it’s a great place to spend a relaxing weekend on its own.

On the recommendation of a friend, we decided to walk up from Dumre. We were told it was a beautiful, not too taxing hike. The night before leaving Pokhara, however, my friend felt a bit unwell, and though she still wanted to stop at Bandipur, opted out of walking up. At Dumre we found a jeep, and I piled our bags in with her—making the walk up for me much more pleasant and relaxing, as it turned out. Rather than a hike, loaded down with a pack, it felt more like a leisurely walk through the woods.

The trail up to Bandipur is a dirt road, clearly marked, just after passing Dumre, if you’re coming from Pokhara, as we were. If you’re coming from Kathmandu, look for a steep trail on your left just before you reach the town.

The way isn’t hard to follow—the few diversions on the route tend to lead to farmhouses, and though I met few villagers on the road, those I found were more than willing to point me in the right direction. I met a village family as I crossed a dried-out river bed, they seemed more surprised than anything to see someone from the outside using the old path. Though some still travel on it, the trail, while wide, was becoming overgrown. It was easy to imagine the use it must have gotten before the nine kilometer motorable road was built; when this was the easiest way down from Bandipur, itself a profitable cross-road trading post. Now, after ascending the first dip in the hills, it’s peaceful and quiet, the busy road just behind you is now unseen and unheard. If you’re a bird watcher, you’ll find much to see all around you as you walk, as the peace and silence is conducive to avian activity of all sorts. It’s serene and I had ample opportunity to relax, reflect, and generally be alone with my thoughts. 

There are a few switchback turns, but mostly the road slopes gently upwards, with a large tree on a small plateau part way up where you can sit and rest and get a great view. It took me about an hour-and-a-half to make the walk, going at a good pace as I had nothing to carry, though stopping often to enjoy the view and take photos! I would allow two hours if you want to take your time even more.

For most of the walk there was little activity, and few people except for village houses glimpsed in the distance. As I neared the top of the ridge I started passing farm houses, animals, and beautiful groves of oranges, avocados, and much more in a tidily cultivated landscape. It was autumn and the trees were laden, the fruit ready for picking. Up in town, later, I bought avocados amazingly cheaply, the lady at the corner store I bought them from inquiring curiously how in the world I planned to cook them!

I entered Bandipur from the left side of the ridge—the road used by vehicles deposits you on the right side. The town runs along the ridge and straddles the hill, offering amazing views on either side: the Himalayas on the one, and myriad hills overlapping each other beautifully on the other. The main strip of houses is only 200 meters long, lined with houses, shops, lodges, and eateries.


A tiny Newari outpost, the houses are mostly built in the old style, with rustic, charming brick-and-wood work to be seen everywhere. Many of the Newari inhabitants originally hail from Bhaktapur, here in the Kathmandu Valley—back when the town’s location and elevation made it a good stop on the trade route between Nepal and Tibet. With the current road obviously replacing these ancient trading ways, the population has declined and business has changed—many might say declined for the worse, until the recent wave of tourism.

As for me, I think that the fact of Bandipur being a little off the beaten track, though likely the kiss of death for the traders, is the reason it has retained the relatively unspoiled charm it still possesses. The small main strip of town is closed to vehicles, making it ideal for strolling, people watching, and just blending in with village life. People were friendly but not overly commercial, mostly getting on with their business and letting you get on with yours, a refreshing change from many tourist locales.

We arrived the day after Tihar, and the main road was still lit with burning lamps that evening. Children skipped around their parents and played with each other on the stone-paved road; there was no screeching of tires, no honking of horns. It was a perfect, peaceful night. When I think back on it, I often allow myself the luxury of wondering if, that evening, I had a little glimpse of what it would have been like if I’d been lucky enough to visit a hamlet here in the Kathmandu Valley a century ago. 

We stayed at The Old Inn, a charming, carefully restored old Newari lodge with well-appointed rooms, decorated in an artistic, rustic style. I especially loved the polished, exposed wood beams everywhere, the tiny staircases and wooden floors. Both the atmosphere and the hospitality could not have been better, and I had barely started home before I was already planning a return trip! So, do yourself a favor—don’t wait as long as I did to visit this charming town: plan a trip today; it’s great for a weekend, but even a one-night stay will leave you relaxed and restored, as I felt when leaving.