The description in our guidebook made Bandipur sound like it was worth the energy to get to this out-of-the-way hill town – although we began to wonder when the bus connections from Kathmandu were much more complicated than need be – and then we had to catch another local bus up the hillside. We were dropped before the town was yet in view and dragging our suitcases along a path through the fields to our guesthouse was challenging. But when it finally came into view our spirits lifted!
The Depeche is an old farmhouse which has been lovingly restored in a traditional style and painted in burnt ochre with black trim, as is the rest of the town. Out of our window, the Himalayas stretched from east to west. In the morning, the mountains float above the mist in the valley, like a mirage in the sky.
And when we walked into town we realized we’d made the right decision.
The town center has a distinctly Mediterranean feel. In front of small restaurants tables are set out on the pedestrian-only thoroughfare. At night, louvered windows partially open to reveal a bright blue-painted ceiling with lacy curtains blowing in the breeze. It looks like something out of a Fellini movie. Everywhere, the locals are welcoming and don’t seem to mind you invading their simple lives. Bandipur is a fine example of 18th C Newari architecture (a unique style of brick work and wood carving rarely seen outside Nepal) that the town is now trying to preserve. Crumbling buildings have been restored as hotels and restaurants, and in the center there is no motorized traffic. But not easy to get to, Bandipur is still relatively undiscovered. Though geared toward tourists, they are just not here yet. Paragliders are the exception – from Australia, England, southern India…even Nepal, they come carrying their huge packs of paragliding gear on their backs.
As we’ve mentioned, the vast majority here in Nepal are trekkers and all of the trekking talk must have had a subconscious impact on Gerard: “I guess we must take some kind of trek!” he muttered. So one day we got moving early and took a turn off the main road signposted for the village of Ramkot. A French couple with a young boy had done it a day before and assured us it was no problem – a mere 2-3 hours to the village!
After an hour and half into this “country walk” Gerard is flagging, wondering what had possessed him to do such a thing. “If there’s a road out of this town we’re taking a taxi back!” Two hours into the trip I could see Gerard getting more tired and it’s up to me to divert his attention if we’re ever going to get there. I remind him the French couple had not only done it with ease, but carried their five-year old son most of the way. (We later found out that they actually hired a porter to carry Metteo!)
Meanwhile the scenery was spectacular, even though a mist had settled in the valley below. Finally we caught a glimpse of the village in the far distance. Gerard couldn’t believe we had so much further to go…but we made it! A beautiful little hill town with no electricity…and no road! Only one sign for a hotel and of course it was up another hillside.
But at the top was an amazing view of the mountains, and the most basic facsimile of a “hotel” – three cell-like rooms, no electricity or running water. The menu consisted of two dishes, which we ordered with great enthusiasm. As you might expect it took a long time to prepare – a pressure cooker of rice cooked down in the village was brought up.
Even though the meal was so simple it tasted very good. Two hours later, feeling somewhat refreshed we started the long road home. Things were going quite well till we came to a fork in the path…and took a wrong turn. After 20 minutes of climbing higher, it was clear we were no longer on the right path. Gerard insisted, “We’re not going back!” so there was no alternative but to fight our way through the jungle back to the path below. The terrain was treacherously steep and the undergrowth tangled and thick. But once we’d started what else to do? Eventually, with only a few bumps and scratches we joined the path below. Now Gerard is really tired and there is still a long way to go. One hour turned into two, and the end continued to be nowhere in sight.
Finally as the sun was setting on the Himalayas, our guesthouse came into view. So much for the two hours up and two hours back, we had been hiking all day! Ready to collapse, we ordered dinner, but the boy announced emphatically, “Today is my birthday. I don’t want to work!” Another 20-minute walk back into town with our flashlights to get something to eat. Even though I was very tired, for me it was one of the best days of the trip. But when I asked Gerard “Wasn’t it worth it for the great view? He replied, “Well, if you’re asking me if I would do it again, the answer is NO.”
The only other guests where we were staying were the aforementioned younger French couple with their son. Aurelien had done a lot of traveling ten years ago but now has settled into landscape design and obviously found his niche as a landscape architect. His website has pictures of his projects in Marrakech, San Tropez, Nice, Belgium and Miami. His wife is taking advantage of a six-month sabbatical that most French employers give every ten years. Aurelien continues to work remotely while they’re traveling, first in Nepal, and then to Thailand, Indonesia and Bali. However, man proposes and God disposes! Now with the political unrest in Bangkok they’re trying to sell their airplane tickets and figure out where to go instead. India might be a second choice and since he knows Agonda they parted saying, “We may see you again in January in Goa!” If we weren’t running short of time, this is definitely a place we could have whiled away several more days. Not to mention time for Gerard’s aching dogs to recuperate!