Bandipur’s bazaars may be gone but the views of the soaring mountains remain unchanged
Making faces at the baby sitting across the aisle, chatting with the backpacker from the U.S., listening to the conversations of old ladies with leathery faces. All these and much more are not enough to fill the interminable wait inside the bus at Dumrey, as the driver and ticket-collector wait for it to fill up. When the teen-aged driver (or so he appears) finally climbs up onto his seat, and the bus begins to move, you feel your day itself is finally moving toward some destination. The destination comes after the bus has grunted up a winding road for 30 minutes. Going down the stairs, warding off a persistent man cajoling you to try his lodge that has hot showers and great views, you arrive at the stone paved main street of Bandipur.
The flagstone street, lined with medieval Newari houses, flecked with signs of businesses and Wi-Fi, opens out in front of you like a large open gallery. Hemmed in by history and houses, without any sound of vehicles, it feels like you have arrived in a place that is a century behind Kathmandu.
Bandipur resembles Kathmandu’s past. Newari traders venturing out of Kathmandu after the conquest of the Valley by Prithivi Narayan Shah settled in Bandipur around the 18th century. Although Bandipur was inhabited by Magars before, the Newars embellished it with their architecture. It was an important town on the ancient trade route between Tibet and India. Bandipur passed into oblivion when the Prithivi Highway was constructed in the 1960s. Trade shriveled, and with it Bandipur. It is in that frozen state that the visitor finds it today.
The old Newari houses and a few Rana-era white buildings have been preserved and function as hotels and restaurants. The medieval Newar houses, their old brick walls embellished with ornate wooden windows making the wide street seem almost a movie set, complete with people carrying things on a pole slung across their shoulders. The set is complete with the most indispensible and unmistakable feature of Newari architecture: shrines and temples. The Bindebasini Temple, a two-story temple dedicated to Durga, sits at the eastern end of the town.
Another center of spiritual power is the Thani Mai Temple, which sits atop a hill on the western end of the town. It offers spectacular panoramic views of the mountains and the valley below. A longer walk takes you to the Magar village of Ramkot.
To the north-east of the L-shaped sprawl of tiled roofs of Bandipur is the Khadga Devi Temple. It houses the legendary sword of Mukunda Sen, the 16th century king of Palpa. The sword, which is believed to have been given to Sen by Lord Shiva, is worshipped in a special ceremony every Dashain.
From near the path to Khadga Devi, another trail goes to the open space of Tundikhel. It is a historic site. In the days when Bandipur still was a trading town, traders gathered there to buy and sell before continuing to either Tibet or south to India. Those bazaars are gone but what remains unchanged from those days is the view of the soaring mountains, which include Dhaulagiri, Machhapuchhare, Langtang Lirung, Manaslu, and Ganesh Himal.
If you’re the kind who excels at loitering and enjoying a place even after all the to-dos and to-sees have run out, Bandipur will suit you. You can wander through quaint houses set in the middle of green or yellow fields, small orchards, or sit in the cool shades of large banyan trees. At the silkworm farm you can see the various stages of silk production.
Bandipur is not only about medieval architecture and temples. A hike to Siddha Gufa is a thrilling change from the usual sights of Bandipur. The 437 meter-long and 50 meter-high cave is the largest in Nepal. The cave has several unique rock formations beside the countless stalactites and stalagmites. There is one huge cavity over forty feet deep. For those who wish to get to the bottom of this pit, there are a couple of ladders fastened by rope and rivets to descend on. Walking back up to Bandipur can be exacting, but consolation in the form of the gilded Annapurna Range stretches across the horizon. You can also head down to Bimalnagar, a small village along the highway, from where you can get a ride to Pokhara or Kathmandu.
Enough cash to last your stay and a bit extra because there are no ATMs in Bandipur. A good headlamp for a visit to Siddha Gufa. The walk down to or back from Siddha Gufa is tiring; carry enough water to drink.
Distance from Dumre:
Bandipur is a 30-minute drive from the Dumrey bus park (50 rupees per person). You can get to Dumre on any of the several buses and microbuses leaving from Kalanki for Pokhara (400 rupees).
Khadgamai Guest House & Restaurant; Heritage Guest House & Restaurant
Hotel rooms vary from 300 per night to 1,500 per night at some of the more expensive hotels. You might be able to negotiate cheaper rates in hotels away from the main bazaar. A simple room and three meals a day will cost you around 1000 rupees. Overall expenses for one person, including transportation from Kathmandu to Bandipur and back, will be around 2,500-3000 rupees.
Things to Remember:
The trail to Siddha Gufa, being on the northern face of the hill, remains dank and slippery. You need to be careful on it when going down.