Nepal Bandipur Travel Adventure - Day #1

by - October 28, 2017

Our two week trip to Nepal was never going to be getting off to the most comfortable of starts. With no direct flights linking the country to the UK, we were forced to fly 7 hours to New Delhi and wait 9 hours before jumping on a 90 minute flight to Kathmandu.  Fortunately, Air India proved to be an excellent airline – but unfortunately, despite purchasing the right to sit in a first class lounge, 9 hours overnight in an airport lounge is what I imagine purgatory to be like.  Our lounge rights did allow us access to an open buffet and free beers, but our exhaustion and general lack of orientation meant that it was still unpleasant – as best summed up towards the end of the ordeal when Sophie exclaimed “I’ll just finish my beer and go get my breakfast”.

The second flight passed by without event – except that strangely, despite being in the air for a mere hour and a half, it seemed that the entire plane decided to go to the toilet at one point or another, causing utter carnage in the process.  Upon landing, Sophie was able to gain her first experience of South Asian bureaucracy as we attempted to get our visas – at first it appeared that you needed to queue in four separate lines (paper application, electronic application, payment and submittal), however after spending a fair while in the queue for the electronic application, the Nepalese attendant looked up from what must have been a particularly engaging game of candy crush on his phone to tell anybody with a paper application that they didn’t need to re-submit the form electronically.  This was just as well, because after spending twenty excruciating minutes waiting for four middle-aged Estonian ladies to work out how to use the touch screen console, I had thoroughly re-defined my definition of purgatory…

Over 24 hours after we have last slept, we were finally out of the airport and on our way.  With a packed itinerary, I had decided that we would leave Kathmandu until last and had therefore arranged for a driver to pick us up and head towards the west of the country where we would be spending the first half of the trip.  My original intention had been to stop along the way at the town of Gorkha, the former centre of a powerful regional empire whose soldiers the British famously faced and absorbed into the army.  I had not anticipated that the main highway in Nepal was a single-lane pot-hole ridden affair which required several sections of off-roading where repairs were taking place and as a result it soon became clear that we would need the full day to get to our first destination, Bandipur, and that we would have to jettison the Gorkha detour.

The hill town of Bandipur is in an area of Nepal dominated by the Newari, an ethnic minority with their own distinct culture, language and architecture and the town is supposedly one of the best places in the country to experience this.  Somehow surviving the earthquake relatively unscathed, Bandipur has built up a reputation as a slightly off the beaten track haven for backpackers of all ages to partake in gentle day hikes and sip coffee on terraces overlooking the surrounding hills with the snow-capped Himalaya looming in the distance.

It took us about five hours to drive from Kathmandu Airport to Bandipur, meaning that by the time we checked in at our hotel we had been travelling for over 30 hours.  The Guan Ghar Hotel where we were staying was the perfect tonic to this – a beautifully restored Newari house set around a courtyard with a fountain and with views from the breakfast terrace over the surrounding villages.  As tends to be the case with supremely long days, we had got a bit of a second wind, so after dropping our bags off we went for a wander around the village.

The success of Bandipur has been down to the careful management of a local development committee who, appreciating the town’s potential, managed to balance the arrival of tourists with retaining the town’s culture.  Tourists haven’t arrived in droves (we saw a handful of couples, a few groups of German hikers and a Chinese minibus) but have brought enough money to allow the local community to restore many of the old buildings and lay new footpaths and roads.  It was clear as we walked around the village that whilst things appeared far more pristine than you would normally find in an isolated hill community, it was very much still a local town with a few foreign visitors, rather than a traveller ghetto.

We headed to the north of the town to the local parade ground where once upon a time the British would inspect their Gorkha regiments.  Now the flat expanse with tremendous views is popular with couples at sunset – and despite it being too hazy to see the mighty Himalaya, we were able to watch the surrounding terraced hills turn orange through grey before walking back into town for a pint of “Gorkha” beer (“only for the brave”) and a dinner of local food at our hotel – “momo” dumplings, thyme soup and fried banana.  With that, after nearly a day and a half without a bed, we clambered up to our room for the deepest of sleeps.

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