Just fed up with the hectic pace of life in the teeming Kathmandu metropolis, three of us, old classmates, got together and decided to go on a little trip to a medieval town called Bandipur. A friend of ours, a native of the place, had told us so much about it that at long last we set out for the weekend to discover the town – a place where old Nepal lives on! Bandipur, the very name for us seemed to spell magic! We were soon to learn that there is a great deal of truth in the belief that time stops in Bandipur. That a tiny piece of old Nepal lives on in this cool, cobbled Newar settlement.
Our journey to Bandipur branched off the Prithvi Highway, about two kilometers west of Dumre, which we reached by catching the local bus. From there, in less than an hour we reached our destination. If we felt like a bit of adventure, we could have done the two plus hours steep climb up from Dumre. But with not much time on our hands – and to be honest age not being on our side – we decided otherwise. So, in about three hours bus ride from Kathmandu and a few minutes’ walk, we suddenly found ourselves a hundred years back in time – right in the medieval town of Bandipur. Vehicles and motor bikes are banned from entering the town premises; a wise decision, that keeps out the atmospheric pollution and the noisy sound of traffic.
History has it that this ancient settlement was an important stop on the Nepal-Tibet trade route until it was by passed by the Prithvi Highway below in the 1960s, like several other hill towns in Nepal. We were immediately accosted as it were by the peace and tranquility that pervaded the place. The town which is built along the high ridge above Dumre occupies a vantage point, and from the Tundikhel below the town the most stunning panorama of Nepal’s major Himalayan peaks unfold.
The idyllic town was just as our friend told us. With its ancient cobbled streets and medieval ambience displayed by old houses that exhibit glorious 18th century architecture, Bandipur continues to retain the timeless magic of the centuries. Later in the course of our short stay, we discovered that the northeast end of the bazar was the main shopping strip and major thoroughfare of the town. Nearby stands the two-tiered Bindabasini temple dedicated to the goddess Durga, the guardian deity of the town. Needless to say, we spent the weekend just lazing around and loitering aimlessly around the town, or making short trips to other nearby temples, viewpoints and some mysterious caves.
Bandipur is probably the only example of a Newar town in Nepal that is truly a living museum of Newar culture. Its winding lanes are lined with tall Newar houses and people here seem to live as their forefathers must have done years before. It is somewhat hard to believe that a town tucked away somewhere up in the hills and barely three hours bus ride from Kathmandu has by default managed to escape the ravages of modern day development.
Thanks to the help from Himalayan Encounters and enterprising locals, dilapidated buildings have been given a facelift and come alive once more transformed as quaint, neat little cafes and lodges. Some notable ones are Bandipur Guest House – where we stayed – Old Bandipur Inn, Bandipur Mountain Resort, Piya Lodge, Raksha Hotel and Lodge, Pradhan Family Guest House etc. Ancient temples and Civic buildings that were previously in ruins, now throb with life and buzz with human activity.
These thoughtful and timely measures have enabled life in Bandipur to go on as before – clean and pollution free! While we were there, we saw no sign whatsoever of two or four wheelers within the premises of the town. Now a living community, the locals go about doing their daily chores, unaware of tourists sitting outside the cafes and lodges writing postcards home or just relaxing and curiously taking in the local scene. The tinkling of bells as women do their temple rounds, noisy school children and campus students thronging the main thoroughfare of the town and villagers, farmers and traders going about their businesses is an everyday sight.
Today, the form of business in Bandipur has changed from the traditional to one that is tourism oriented. Those locals that migrated down to Dumre, Kathmandu and elsewhere in search of greener pastures still come back to the place of their birth once in a while to get away from it all. As our friend from Bandipur put it, “Yes, I still have my house in Bandipur and will not sell it as long as I live. My children can do what they like with it after I am gone, but as long as I am around I will in no way severe the umbilical cord that binds me to the place of my birth!”
“Though I have a thriving business in Kathmandu,” put in another local, “I still go there with my family to our ancestral home to celebrate Dasain, Tihar and other major festivals. My younger brother runs a lodge there and is doing well too and has maintained the place very well. I don’t know how to put it, but when I am up there in Bandipur, after a couple of months in the Kathmandu hellhole, an indescribable feeling of happiness overcomes my very being and I am completely at peace. When I am there I realize how much I miss the place. Even my blood pressure seems to revert to normal. Bandipur is my life my very identity!”
When we were in Bandipur, we fully understood that feeling of belongingness to the place. No doubt this medieval town does have that magnetic pull. It is indeed a magical town, something out of this world. It was like traveling back in time to Nepal of a century ago where people are at peace and children still have a decent childhood!
Since tourism is the mainstay of Bandipur today, even clean, humble Magar HOMESTAY dwellings with just two rooms and four clean beds do good business. Exploring the place one morning we entered one such place near the town area, and out of sheer curiosity, asked to make us some breakfast. Not knowing what to order we asked the old smiling Magar Mom to make us what she made best. Meanwhile we looked around the spotlessly clean place and saw a little refrigerator in a corner, a shelf stacked with biscuits, instant noodles, trekkers’ food, cornflakes, different types of beer, potato chips, varieties of canned food, tea, instant coffee etc.
In no time the beaming mother of the house put before us cheese omelettes, two slices of local bread each and liberal helpings of finger chips! We then washed it down with several glasses of milk coffee. It was perfect, satisfying and far beyond our expectations. The next morning we were tempted to visit the place again. The lady greeted us with a knowing smile and this time without our saying so, made us pancakes with Bandipur honey and again milk coffee to go with it. We unanimously agreed that it tasted absolutely divine!
The next morning, we unwillingly caught the bus to dusty, dirty, crowded, polluted and impersonal – 21st Century Kathmandu to face life once more! The hangover of Bandipur has remained so strong that we have decided on going there once more in the near future. But this time on a longer and at least a week long trip to the place!
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