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Published: April 11th 2014
"Yes, yes, yes I know, I'm a billy no mates and have no friends", is what I felt like saying after the 6th person in two hours spoke or gestured, combined usually with a look of concern or confusion, to ask whether I was on my own. I was beginning to get the feeling that in everyday Nepal, ie. outside of the tourist bubble I'd been living in, perhaps women didn't travel on their own....
I was staying in Bandipur, some three hours from Pokhara, having decided to take the scenic route back to Kathmandu. I'd finished my Annapurna trek with a day being shaken around (as much as is possible when there are four squished into a row) in the back of various jeeps as we travelled a road that was in parts more rock and less road. The scenery had been stunning and accompanied by 5 hours of Nepalese boom boom music followed by another 2 hours of crooning Nepalese love songs (I preferred the later) and back in Pokhara I passed a few lazy days relaxing and bumping into people I'd met along the trek doing the same... then I started to get itchy feet...
next morning I was in a taxi to the local bus station (again less 'station', more random roadside... I was starting to get the hang of this) - no tourist bus for me this time though! Except I found myself on a bus that was not too dissimilar in standard to the tourist bus I'd taken to Pokhara - either I'd lucked out on this one or been diddled on the first.... I suspected the later! A few hours later I was deposited on the roadside in Dumre and slowly waved along the road (someone asked where I was going at least every 10m) towards the green bus that was apparently leaving for Bandipur. There was a walk option but it involved a rather large hill and...
The guide book described Bandipur as a quiet hillside town so I was quite perturbed walking along the main street looking for somewhere to stay to find that almost every building was a hotel, guest house or had rooms. Ok so it made finding a room easy but part of the reason I'd left Pokhara was because it was soo touristy. I ended up in a room above a shop run by
a sweet older couple and actually despite my initial reservations I loved it here. The locals had fought having the road go through the high street so the main street was pedestrianised and the absence of constant toot tooting behind you made a peaceful, chilled stay. By daytime the locals were most likely found out of the sun, busy behind a hang cranked sewing machine in an open shop front, stringing beads, carving wood for furniture or souvenirs or chatting. At the start and end of the day there was hangling over vegetables bought in from the fields on street corners, playing football or hanging out like the tourists.
Bandipur is a Newari town, very much evident from the distinctive architecture of red brick buildings with window and door frames carved in dark wood. They'd seen the benefit tourism can bring here and at the end of the street two big old buildings that had fallen into disrepair rather than been demolished and replaced with something modern and boring were being restored in the traditional style. They also had bins everywhere and as I sat eating an ice cream under the shade of a massive rhododendron tree covered in
beautiful pink flowers I was duely informed by a 5year old girl that I needed to put my wrapper in the bin. Just to make sure I followed instructions she the took it off me and put it in the bin herself!
I only had a day and a half in Bandipur and spent the aftenoon after i arrived exploring the village, out to a viewpoint at the old parade ground, along the winding back streets away from the main street and to the various small shrines around town. That night I found myself eating by candle light as the town went though one of it's unscheduled blackouts. Nepal has this concept of power sharing.. Basically you get power between certain hours, which might last for 6 hours or so, whilst another area of the country doesn't. And then in between those scheduled outages are the unscheduled ones... You quickly learn to always keep a torch with you by night and not to rely on charging anything urgently! Usually the lights work but nothing else, although in this case we had an hour of complete darkness.
The next day I went on a wall out to the small
village of Rankot, a few hours outside of Bandipur. It was an straight forward enough walk, or would have been had it not been for the lack of shade and the fact it was a boiling hot day! The scenery was lovely though with views of small villages in the valley below and surrounded by ridges covered in trees or terraced fields. And this was the route where I was stopped so many times that I started to develop imaginary friends to curb the questions :-) It was quite sweet really, even two ladies bent almost double carring a mass of cut grass and plants on their backs secured using a strap around their heads stopped to ask. I discovered later they'd been out early to cut the grass to feed to their goats and other animals, that way they could keep them in the village. Ramkot itself was a pretty place, the locals flaked out and sensibly keeping out of the sun, hundreds of corn cobs drying from poles, and the buildings in the village were different too. A couple of traditional round houses remained, a few were covered in clay with the roofs coming down to create an
outside sheltered area and the rest were wooden with balcony's and shady veranda's. I'd underestimated the heat and lack of shade so was very happy to find a small hotel at the end of the village - no rooms yet but they had some lovely shady tables a the edge of the ridge with stunning views over the valley backed by snowy mountain tops peaking though the cloud. It was run by two guys who were very enthusiastic to practise their English and in return were a mine of information on local culture and practises. I stayed rather a while before heading back.
The journey on to Gorkha was easy enough, it just involved three separate sardine tins, masquarading as buses. Seriously the number of people cramed into the last one could have set records! I was sat in the back row keen to peer out of the window but the young local guy next to me was equally keen to chat all the way - I remember the road winding up and up but less of the scenery! Once off the bus I struggled to get my bearings - my location seemed to bare no resemblance to my
map never mind finding the few hotels in town. It was steaming hot in the midday sun and as I struggled up and down with my bags toys nearly went out of the cot as I fleetingly considered jumping on the next bus back to the highway and onto Kathmandu. Fortunately the irony wasn't lost that on arrival I'd found Bandipur disapointing because it was touristy, whereas here I was bemoaning the lack of obvious tourist facilities! In the end I fell across a hotel run by a lovely family who enthusiastically told me that I was the second foreigner staying there, in a way that made me think not many did. I liked that.
Gorkha is the ancestral home of the Nepali royal family. Ancestors of Prithvi Narayan Shah came to Gorka in the mid 16th century from India and ascending the throne aged 20 within a year he'd started wars that ultimately unified the then 50 or so tiny states into present day Nepal. On a ridge high above the current town sits Gorka Durbar, a nice 300m climb in the afternoon sun, the remains of the fortress, temple and palace from that era. The Kalika Mandir
is only open to priests but outside are a couple of alcoves, which as I stood taking pictures I remembered reading in the guide book how one is a site for daily sacrifices of chickens, goats and the like.... Nice. I moved on. On clear days you have mountain views but needless to say this wasn't one of them and I could just about make out the villages in the valley below through the haze. A slightly cooler walk back down took me passed the now mostly closed tourist stalls that earlier had been selling all sorts of Hindu religious paraphanellia. Meandeing the back streets in town I passed jewellery shops, household good shops selling plastic and metal products alike and a butchers whose produce, a single carcas of something large was laying on the street as a man wealeded a cleaver over it, another sharpened a blade nearby and shoppers stood discussing what cut they wanted. Finally I found the part of town the guide book described and stopped for dinner in the gardens of a hotel watching sunset over the green terraced fields less than few hundred metres away - despite the bustle and noise of the main
street, Gorkha was a small town.
I awoke early (I rarely manage passed 6am these days) to the sounds of a badminton game outside, well, more of a knock about than a game but the whole family seemed to be joining in, including the mum in her brightly coloured sari. The last site to see was the Tallo Durbar, another Newari style building dating from the 19th century - originally designed as the administrative headquarters these days it's a museum with a rather eclectic set of exhibits ranging from musical instruments to storage pots, paintings and weapons.
The journey from Gorka was a marathon of buses. Apparently you could get a bus all the way to Kathmandu but after 30mins of hanging out on the roadside waiting for any bus to come by I jumped on the first one that stopped and preceded to sit there for another 20 mins waiting for it to fill up. This didn't bode well, particularly when 30 mins down the road we stopped for another 20mins. In all the trip that had taken 30mins on the way up took 1hr30 on the way down. :-( Getting a bus from Dumre on the
way here I'd noticed a kind of touting going on - guys who would insist there was a bus coming and get you to wait for the one that they got commission for. And here it was no different - one guy tried his hardest to get me onto the bus that would 'be here soon' and got quite upset when I got chatting to two locals who took me under their wing and told him to buzz off. Unfortunately it nearly backfired when their bus turned up fully booked, I.e. no seat for me, but they flagged another passing bus down. Finally I was moving on a nice comfortable tourist bus, alas just not in one of the nice comfortable seats. Instead I was squished into the drivers cabin along with three young Nepalese guys - it was hot, dusty, cramped and generally uncomfortable but they at least made for entertaining company for the 4+ hours to Kathmandu.
Bhakapur was a world away from Kathmandu just some 30km away and I was glad I'd chosen to stay here rather than do it as a day trip. I arrived just before dark and headed straight out to find food,
down to Taumadhi Tol square which was alive with locals milling around, the smell of food peddled by street vendors and the sound of drums from somewhere. The only downside of staying here was the 3am alarm call you might get when the bells were rung - I was keen to get up early and explore before the buses of day trippers arrived but not that early! I had Durbar square pretty much to myself and a few other early birds - peaceful in the early morning haze even the "Miss you must have a guide" guys left us alone, too busy playing football amougst the temples of the square. Some of the shrines here date back to the 15th century, complete with erotically carved roof struts! The Palace of 55 Windows, and no I didn't count them, is from 1700 hundred and sits next to the shiny Golden Gate. The whole square had a more austere feel to it, despire the best efforts of ladies wondering around with arm fulls of jewellery that they would do their best to persuade you to buy. In comparison Taumadhi was very much a living square, with locals coming to pray in the
early morning whilst on the other side and surrounding streets market stalls would spring up on any spare piece of path, most with vegetables laid out for sale - onions, cauliflowers, purple things which may have been aubergines and green spiky things which, well i really have no idea. In amongst them were a handful of shoe and house hold good stalls and the now familiar men with fruit laden baskets and later boys with tall sticks with bags of bright pink candifloss on top bobbing along.
Taumadhi was especially alive now in the run up to Nepalese new year a week later and I spent an afternoon sharing beers with an Australian guy on the balcony of a restaurant overlooking the square as we watched a pile of wood pulled our of storage and transformed into a chariot that would be used in a tug of war!!! There was a German film crew there who provided a separate source of entertainment as we watched them trying to get the best footage but the main event was an endless heave ho to pull the uppermost part of the chariot into place... manually, with a rope using a ladder for
support and guys perched precariously on the top. No heath and saftety here! On the very end of the rope where a gaggle of young kids, not adding much to the pulling but enthusiastically jointing in with the chants as the guys on top shouted encouragement to heave again.
After a rainy day spent doing the small museums (I gave up when I returned to the art museum for a second time to get part way through for there to be an unscheduled power outage) I went on a day trip out to a nearby village for more temple viewing. I could have spent longer here just hanging out but I had a few too many days before my Everest trek to justify it. The thought of 5 days in Kathmandu wasn't appealing either so a bit of a spur of the moment decision followed. Next up - jungle treks, rhino's and melting in the lowlands of Chitwan.
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