Strung out along a ridge in the Himalayan foothills lies the ancient town of Bandipur. It has only been fully accessible by road since 1998. The ridge is just 200 metres long and barely wide enough to accommodate the main street and the buildings that line it. Behind the houses the mountainside falls away steeply. The small market gardens farmed by the inhabitants are accessible only by steps cut into the hillside.
The main street itself has been described by Lonely Planet as a ‘living museum of Newari culture’. The former merchants’ homes lining the main street date back to the 18th century. Today many have been converted into guesthouses and cafés, but in a sympathetic way that preserves their historic structure and charm. A covered veranda extends along almost the entire length of the street on its northern side. At either end a few streets lead off, up and down the hillside, before the town peters off.
The town’s geography has meant that it has been until recently quite remote and unvisited by tourists. But with the building of the new road came visitors. The town now caters, in a low-key way, to hikers and those interested in its history and architecture.
I am no hiker, as is clear from my posts about our travels, but the culture and photography potential of the old centre drew us here. It was well worth the journey, as I hope my final Monday Walk of the year, and of our Nepali adventures*, will demonstrate.
We arrived in Bandipur late one afternoon and had time to do a quick bit of exploration then. However as we covered the same ground the following day I propose to describe that full day below and supplement its photos with a few from the previous afternoon. I mention this in case anyone spots some odd changes in the light on the buildings! The main street runs east to west, so buildings in shadow in the morning will have the sun on them in the afternoon, and vice versa.
A day spent in Bandipur
Bandipur wakes early and therefore so did we. At around 5.30 someone rang the bell at the small shrine immediately opposite our room on the main street, several times and very noisily. Someone else (or maybe the same person?) coughed long and loud. Footsteps sounded on the wooden stairs of the old building, and cockerels crowed. I gave up trying to sleep and dressed roughly to go outside and see what the mountains looked like in the early morning light. I was rather too early however. But returning thirty minutes later I found the light much better, albeit without the warm glow I’d hoped for.
By 7.30 we were both up and ready for breakfast. It was cold this early in the day, so we wrapped up in jackets to sit outside with, we hoped, that amazing mountain view. But while we’d been showering and dressing cloud had descended on Bandipur and we could see nothing! At least the breakfast was good, with muesli, yoghurt, fresh fruit, omelette, toast and marmalade. Even the coffee was decent!
One of the waiters promised that the cloud would be gone by around nine. And yes, soon after that hour we found that the sun had burnt off the cloud. We would have the mountains as a backdrop to our photos after all.
Street life in Bandipur
We strolled along one of the streets leading off the Bazaar, as the main street is called, taking photos as we went, of course. I was fascinated by the small shops and the various goods on sale, including in one the dried noodles I used for my monochrome Nepal textures post a while back. Below you can see them as they actually were; I did say the colours might surprise you!
We passed a small temple. Next-door was a house, its door open. A woman sat stringing garlands, her radio playing a haunting Hindu chant.
This temple is reached by one of those steep flights of stone steps and paths leading down between the houses of the main street. On our way down we had to manoeuvre around a small delivery van unloading piles of gas canisters on to the path. This was clearly the closest the driver could get to the recipient houses. From here the only route was on foot.
As we arrived an elderly woman was doing some tidying up around the temple. Through sign language we established that it was OK for us to come inside the surrounding fence and to take photos. When we had finished she employed more sign language to indicate that we should make a donation, although whether this was to her or to the temple I have no idea! Either way, she seemed more than happy with the 100 rupee note we handed her (about 65 pence), just as we were happy with the photo opps.
Of course the climb back up was equally steep and afforded good views of the backs of the houses. You can see how suddenly the ground falls away behind them.
By the time we reached the top we were ready for a break. I got a great espresso in one of the main street cafes while Chris enjoyed a refreshing orange juice. While we drank we marvelled at the strength of the local women carrying some of the heavy gas canisters we’d seen on the temple path, and other loads, using a strap across their foreheads. These mountain people are tough and strong!
Khadga Devi Temple
After our drinks we dropped off the warm layers we no longer needed in the now hot sun. We then had another walk to another temple, Khadga Devi. The views of the mountains as we climbed the hill were marvellous.
There was no one at this temple to ask permission of or to request a donation; we had it to ourselves. The temple seemed newer, or perhaps more thoroughly restored, than those elsewhere in town, but there were some attractive details. If you compare the roof decorations with those on Mahalaxmi you will see how much newer and cleaner these are. Personally however, I liked the greater character that age gave to Mahalaxmi!
After taking some photos we climbed a little further, for more views of the mountains.
But there was construction work making the track dusty, and the sun was getting hot. So we retraced our steps and sought out lunch in a café/bakery near the foot. Sandwiches and a cold drink refreshed us, so afterwards we checked out some shops. Chris bought a backpack to replace the one he’d brought with him, as the strap had broken, and I bought a couple of scarves as Christmas presents. Incidentally the backpack purchase was achieved through one of the easiest bargaining exercises we’ve ever engaged in. The seller quoted 9,000 rupees which I quickly calculated as around £60. Chris gave a firm no and before he could even give a counter offer she came back with a revised demand for 1,000 rupees. So that’s a 900% reduction without any effort at all!
After lunch we walked in the other direction along the main street, taking photos there and on one that branched off down the hill a short way. I spotted two of the women we’d watched carrying the gas canisters, now enjoying a very well earned rest.
We then split up. Chris wanted to explore a little further, while I fancied a relaxing afternoon soaking up the atmosphere of the town, sorting photos, writing some notes and reading a little. The veranda of the hotel was a perfect spot in which to do this, and to round off this walk with you. But first, one final afternoon shot of the view from the garden at the rear of the hotel.
* Although this is the last of my Nepali Monday Walks, I still have more to share from that trip in posts that don’t fit this ‘walking’ structure!
I visited Bandipur in November 2022