Jun 19, 2017

Beautiful Bandipur!

bandipur, nepal, living history, life, love, beautiful,

On a recent road trip to Kathmandu we stopped off at the gorgeous hilltop town of Bandipur, Nepal. Time seems to have stood still in Bandipur's winding lanes of beautifully preserved 18th century Newari houses. Despite its proximity to the epicenter of the 2015 earthquakes, Bandipur escaped with only minor damage and is a glimpse of living history.

bandipur, nepal, living history, life, love, beautiful,
Landslide!

As mentioned in a previous post my husband and I were traveling on the East-West Prithvi Highway to Kathmandu when we heard the road was to be closed for four hours due to landslides. We decided to take a side excursion to Bandipur to have lunch and kill the time. Bandipur is located at the end of a steep and narrow but well paved 8km/5mile access road from the highway stop of Dumre.

bandipur, nepal, living history, life, love, beautiful,
One of the newly restored temples with authentically painted decor. 
Bandipur has an interesting history. Originally part of the Magar kingdom of Tanahun, Bandipur was ruled from nearby Palpa. When Prithvi Narayan Shah conquered the Kathmandu valley in 1786 Newari traders began rushing to Bandipur. They took advantage of its malaria-free hill top location to develop it into a bustling hub along the lucrative India-Tibet trade route. The Newaris of the Kathmandu valley brought their culture and unique architecture to Bandipur where it has basically remained unchanged to this day. Bandipur is very much a mini-Kathmandu!

bandipur, nepal, living history, life, love, beautiful,
Another beautiful temple.

Trading in Bandipur steeply declined in the 70's when the construction of the East-West Prithvi Highway bypassed the town. For technical reasons the highway was built through the Marsyangdi valley. No longer a vital trading post, ancient Bandipur was left isolated on top of a mountain. As a result of this poor accessibility, Bandipur lost it's importance as the Tanahun district government headquarters too. The tradesmen of Bandipur were forced to move down to the roadside bazaar of Dumre and the lowlands of the Terai. Slowly, Bandipur turned into a ghost town. The population declined considerably. The muddy track of a road to the town was only improved in 1998.

bandipur, nepal, living history, life, love, beautiful,
Back of the library in the town square.
Above you see the sun-filled and cheery town square dotted with temples, traditional Newari homes, and a tiny library. With impetus and substantial help from the owners of the adventure company Himalayan Encounters and the Bandipur Social Development Committee the derelict homes and shops have been reborn as cafes and lodges. Temples and civic buildings have been pulled back from the edge of ruin and lovingly restored. All the original structures bear plaques stating their name, purpose, and date of restoration. It was an amazingly lovely day as you can see by the clear blue sky in the photos. Each building is adorned with pots and bowers of beautifully blooming flowers. Motorized vehicles have been banned from the area and the bazaars are filled with restaurant tables donning bright umbrellas. Except for the traditional Newari architectural motifs you'd think you're in an pristine alpine Swiss village!

bandipur, nepal, living history, life, love, beautiful,
The fantastically restored library in the main square with it's hand-carved doors and windows of the native hardwood saal
Bandipur is absolutely immaculate.  If you look closely you can see rubbish bins discreetly and conveniently placed all over the village. There's a green bin near the left lower corner of the photo above. I mention this because in most of these antique Himalayan towns there is usually an open drain down the center of each road or square. This drain typically serves as an open sewer where everything from human excrement to noodle wrappers flows in plain view. (Just as you would have seen in any 18th century European metropolis.) Here they've strategically placed slate flagstones over the drain so you can no longer see it. No packs of stray dogs and various livestock loitering and pooping about town authentically either. Every's so shiny, neat, and beautifully restored I almost thought I was at some Disneyworld version of Nepal! Then I heard a familiar whack, a bloodcurdling screech, a horrific yowl, a rasping sputtering, and a prolonged hissing noise...

bandipur, nepal, living history, life, love, beautiful,

This ain't Disneyworld! A goat was sacrificed at the nearby temple of a goddess. As I have been told many times by many Nepalis, "The goddess won't listen unless there is blood." And blood there was. A lot odf westerners don't seem to realize that blood sacrifice is a part of Hinduism. The head is taken into the temple shrine while the blood is left to flow in the courtyard. The carcass of the goat is eaten later. The lady in red is readying offerings of fruit and home-made sweets for the goddess. Lamps of ghee are lit inside the shrine. Kids, don't try this at home!

bandipur, nepal, living history, life, love, beautiful,

The lady in the scarlet salwars proceeded calmly with the offerings of devotion as the goat still twitched. The man in tan was whom beheaded the goat with a single slash of a khukri. If you eat meat please be aware that this is where it comes from. Don't get all hasty and judgemental now. I know we hide and sanitize butchering in western countries but this is what really happens in abattoirs too.

bandipur, nepal, living history, life, love, beautiful,

A tray of beautiful fruit for the goddess overlaid with crimson ribbons. I was trying to get a photo of the puja tray with it's 9 compartments that the lady was carrying. You can sort of see it to the left of the photo. 

bandipur, nepal, living history, life, love, beautiful,

Anywho, there were a lot of signs advertising organic home stays. I'm not certain what exactly an organic home stay implies. Hessian-weave hemp bedsheets and a birdseed and yoghurt breakfast? I doubt I'll ever find out since the Sheikh is a 5-star hotel with a flatscreen and room service kind of guy.  

bandipur, nepal, living history, life, love, beautiful,

And so we ate lunch at one of the little sidewalk cafes advertising organic fare. The new owner and head chef of the restaurant seated us on the shady back patio. Above you see the incredible view from our table. I sipped a delicious fresh mint lemonade and the Sheikh had his usual latte. We perused the menu whilst the new owner and head chef noisily and repeatedly informed us that everything on the menu was handmade, all natural, and he was trained at the very prestigious Radisson hotel in Kathmandu. We ordered a veg pizza as neither one of us was very hungry after our mid morning snack of momos in Dumre. We were served possibly the worst pizza I have ever eaten. It was one of those pre-made frozen dough disks topped with a little ketchup, a sprinkle of grated yak cheese, raw onion slices, and tinned jalapeno peppers. The prefab pizza dough disk wasn't even completely thawed out much less cooked through. So we left. And my husband being an Indian had to tell the owner the pizza was terrible, exactly how a pizza should be properly made in the Italian manner with a fresh thin crust (etc. etc. etc.), and that he (the owner) talked too much. I wandered off slightly embarrassed to further peruse the town. 

bandipur, nepal, living history, life, love, beautiful,

The panoramic vistas were stunning in every direction from this hilltop town of about 15,000 people. It was blissfully quiet with no vehicles other than handcarts present. Birds chattering and children playing in the distance were the only sounds. Villagers occasionally snored during their early afternoon siestas enjoyed in outdoor porticos and verandas. Narrow lanes and alleys of hand laid slate formed mazes twisting and turning along the ridges of old Bandipur. We saw a few tourists, hippies and hipsters mostly. The Sheikh looked puzzled at my delight in this little gem of a town:

The Sheikh: Why would anyone come here? There's nothing to do.
Me: Imagine if you lived in a noisy, dirty, crowded, and congested city like Delhi or Los Angeles. Wouldn't you love to come to a peaceful, quiet, and clean place like this for a little rest and relaxation?
The Sheikh: Oh. It is very pretty here.

bandipur, nepal, living history, life, love, beautiful,

Despite what the Sheikh says there's lots to do around Bandipur. Opportunities for day hikes include a visit to a silk farm to the west of town, a downhill trek to Siddha Cave (the second largest cave in South Asia), a walk through the Raniban (queen's forest), or observing rural village life in rustic Ramkot which is just an hour's stroll away. Bibi would be thrilled to live out her natural born days on a sunny half acre of land gardening her heart out here. As long as she had a flush toilet. And internet access. Probably at least 6 hours of electricity too. The Sheikh says that ain't happening. Oh well.

bandipur, nepal, living history, life, love, beautiful,

The flowers in Bandipur were spectacular and everywhere. Above you see a unique strain of hibiscus that nearly every Bandipurean had in their garden. The photo doesn't do it justice. Searing high noon sunlight isn't ideal for photographing richly saturated colors. Each bloom was nearly nine inches across and faded from a brilliant cerise pink at the edge of the petals to a coral red at the center. The throat was a deep maroon highlighted with pure white. Most of the hibiscus shrubs were huge - about the size of small trees.

bandipur, nepal, living history, life, love, beautiful,

Mauve is Bibi's favorite flower and so I had to take a photo of this dahlia. Most of the dahlias on display were not quite dinner plate size and more of the cactus variety. Isn't that color divine! Dahlias always rot in my garden. We don't really get a full day's worth of sun in any spot in our flower garden so I think that may be the problem.

bandipur, nepal, living history, life, love, beautiful,

Did I tell you that the flowers were beautiful? And Bibi's favorite color is mauve? I did? It's for true! Bandipur is not yet a well known tourist destination. I would highly recommend this picturesque town to anyone who wishes to see what old Kathmandu was like before it became a grubby, crowded, noisy 3rd world city. Just don't order pizza. ;)

bandipur, nepal, living history, life, love, beautiful,

That's all kids!

As the month of Ramadan starts, speak respectfully, treat others kindly, walk modestly and pray sincerely. May Allah bless you and your family.

Bibi

15 comments:

  1. No, it sure ain't Disneyland. I laughed pretty loudly at that. You can't even get an accurate depiction at the state fair anymore lest the sensitive types be put off by feed lots and slaughterhouses. *shrug*

    I love that your husband not only critiqued the pizza but told the guy he talked too much. I'd do that too!

    Thank you for the tour of yet another beautiful place I'll never get to in person. Those flower photos are magnificent.

    I hope you're having a good Ramadan.

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    Replies
    1. Hi Goody,

      I guess I'm not fully Indianized as I still get embarrassed when the Sheikh launches into a lecture to complete strangers.

      Thank you & we're broiling away in the pre monsoon heat that is the usual fare during Ramadan.

      Delete
  2. Slaughtered goats aside, Bandipuri looks beautiful and that temple is stunning.
    Oh dear, I can just imagine the Sheikh going off on one.
    Those blooms are magnificent! xxx

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    Replies
    1. Hi Vix,
      I don't think a lot of Westerners realize that blood sacrifices are a part of Hinduism.
      Oh the Sheikh was shy BEFORE he married me. I don't know what has emboldened him after marriage.
      Have a great vacation!
      xox

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  3. The place is beautiful, clean and worth a visit. It does look like a European town straight out of a Discovery Channel. The goat sacrifice in such a picturesque place is a bit off putting. In India there are altars for animal sacrifices in Kali temples not all but quite a few have them as the animal sacrifice is associated more with goddess kali. An alternative to animal sacrifice is cutting of fruits and vegetables like pumpkin or cucumber as a symbolic sacrifice.

    Apple

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    Replies

    1. Hi Apple,
      Kali & her various manifestations are popular in the Himalayas. I find it interesting that the goddess gets fruit, sweets & blood.

      Delete
    2. Not just fruit and blood, even alcohol is offered to the goddess at many places. The same is true of the fierce incarnation of lord Shiva, kal bhairav. These practices came from the tantric branch of Hinduism.

      Apple

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  4. Thank you, Bibi, for this beautifully photographed immersion in a culture more distant from my own in space than time. My mother bought her chickens from a butcher because she refused to take sides in the debate between her own mother and her mother-in-law on the best method of slaughtering hens. One simply seized her selection and wrung its neck with a quick flip; the other slipped a sock over the chosen one while it rested on the roost, then axed it at dawn. Both adored politicians who supported flowers and covered drains in public places. (And indoor plumbing! My nieces and their families rejoice in camping. The rest of the clan greatly prefers ***** hotels.)

    As for the 'horrors' of blood in Hindu temples... Once upon a time I escorted a party of elderly Japanese ladies to a concert in a Christian church: they were greatly relieved that it did not display an image of Christ on the cross. "Too disturbing."

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  5. Hi Beth,
    I compromise in chicken butchering by driving the chickens to the halal butcher and letting him do the dirty work (including gutting & plucking) for about $1.

    Hooray for indoor plumbing! I guess my camping days are over?

    I recall the first time I went into a Catholic church at about 7 yrs old with a 7 yr old Irish-American girlfriend-SCARY! From the dimly candle lit interior to the bloodied Jesus crowned with thorns with a glowing heart hanging on a cross -AAAK! Quite the difference from the starkly undecorated & light filled Mennonite churches or the green shag carpeted and garishly festooned with fake flowers Baptist churches I'd seen.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It true that many people find the image of the Jesus on the cross disturbing. It took me some time to understand it's symbolic message.

      Apple

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  6. What a fascinating place! One day, maybe...

    The flowers are magnificent.

    Well done to the Sheikh for telling it like it is...

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    Replies
    1. Hi Veronica,
      It is gorgeous!
      Sigh, do not encourage the Sheikh- just don't.

      Delete
  7. Bandipur looks utterly gorgeous. And I chuckled as the thought of the Sheik dishing out 'advices'.

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    Replies
    1. Hi Mim,
      It is bee-yoo-ti-full! The Sheikh is the world renowned expert on everything! Don't believe it? Just ask him!

      Delete
  8. This entire post is stunning! Your photography of this sleepy little town is just magnificent. I can't wait to see more of your adventures in the region.Keep us posted!

    ReplyDelete

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