View from the Old Inn Patio
After another thrilling breakfast at the Hotel Barahi, we headed for the bus station and found our bus to Dumre. Actually, Dumre is on the main Kathmandu to Pokhara corridor and we opted for the “tourist bus” rather than the local bus, mostly so that we could have a seat and a place for our bags. Our seats were at the very back of the bus, the bumpiest and most nauseating part on a windy and very, very bouncy drive. Luckily, the drive to Dumre is only a few hours, but even so, everyone at the back of the bus was getting airborne and holding their stomachs lest the lose breakfast.
We made it to Dumre by about 10:00am and immediately found one of the local jeeps that make the ride up the steep hill packed with as many people as possible. They don’t leave until every square inch of the jeep has human flesh touching it. Luckily, we arrived early and actually each found a spot on the small bench seat down each side of the bed of the covered jeep. We waited as more and more people and their crap piled on board, all of them looking at us like we were from outer space. No one really spoke English but at least we could say Bandipur and ask how much the ride was (20 rupees each, about 30 cents a piece).
The Old Inn in Bandipur
We finally took off and started up the really steep but at least paved switchbacks. Counting the guy standing on the wheel guard on the front passenger side, the driver and four others crammed in the front seat, the twelve of us plus three little kids in the back and then all the people standing on the tailgate, at one point I counted twenty-nine people.
We were so packed in that I don’t think much would have happened if we rolled but sometimes, going up and around one of the hairpin turns, I swore we were going to roll over backwards. Luckily the ride up the hill was only about 25 minutes until we arrived in Bandipur. We grabbed our bags and walked onto the misty, flagstone paved streets of the village where no cars are allowed about five minutes down to the “Old Inn” of Bandipur, one of the few places to stay. It is a restored Newari house with eleven rooms that is really nice with incredibly nice staff and all meals included. A company from Nepal and the U.K. called Himalayan Encounters that does rafting and trekking trips owns the hotel and have done an amazing job with the restoration. We are guaranteed to like it here.
The Bandipur Library
Thalis for Dinner at the Old Inn
Town is really just one main street, the Bandipur Bazaar that is lined with beautiful old Newari houses with incredible carved windows and hand made slate roofs. They have done lots of renovation in the village and managed to keep it somewhat of an un-touristed gem. Bandipur was on an old trade route between India and Tibet until the road between Kathmandu and Pokhara was built which proved a lot easier to use than carting everything way up the hill here. The “Old Inn” is conveniently located right in the center by a number of cool and interesting sites such as an old, tiny library in the middle of the road and several close temples.
If the weather ever clears up here, there are supposed to be great hikes and fantastic views of the surrounding Himalayan mountains. Unfortunately, for most of today the electricity has been out and it is been raining. There are a couple of young volunteer kids here, one an American from Georgia now studying in St. Louis and another from Canada. We ended up talking to them a bit about helping teach here (there are several good private schools and the kids seem really well educated - more on that in a bit). They are heading out to Pokhara today to celebrate Robert’s (the American) twenty-first birthday.
School girls in Bandipur
Once it stopped raining, we went for a walk through the village and, after two little boys begged me to take their picture while making goofy faces so they could seem, we were walking towards the rice fields when a cute little girl named Pragya who looked about nine or ten but is actually twelve struck up a conversation.
Her English was impeccable and it ends up that she goes to the Notre Dame school started here a while back by Japanese nuns. She was very excited to talk to us and introduced us to her sister and baby brother before insisting that we come into her house and have tea with her while she showed us her collection of cards and gifts from foreigners. We stepped into their house and said hello to her mom and dad who both smiled and seemed used to their daughter inviting strangers into their modest, mud floored home. Her room was upstairs where she took us and methodically pulled out everything from postcards to pens to books to the little shaving kit they give you in business class (as far as we remember…) telling us the story of each one. She also showed us her coin and money collection and then insisted on giving Cindy two little plastic bracelets and me a book called “The Alchemist” that I have actually heard of but not read.
Old Couple at Temple in Bandipur
Tomorrow and Monday are another nation wide strike so she doesn’t have school and wants us to come visit again which we told her we would do. Hopefully we can find something interesting to add to her collection. She tried to insist that we stay for dinner or even spend the night since it started raining again but we told her we had to scoot back to the Old Inn and would see her later. She is very precocious and a bit stubborn to boot but really nice and cute and her family is too.
Laundry in Bandipur
Dinner at the Old Inn was a really nicely prepared Thali on pretty copper plates which was a pleasant surprise (you never know what the food will be like when it is all inclusive…) and we splurged for a bottle of Chianti which I think is our first red wine since the night before we left Bhutan with Kencho, the owner of Snow White Tours.
Since there was no electricity, we listened to our new audio book, “The Castle in the Forest” by Norman Mailer for a bit and went to bed early, hoping that the weather will improve tomorrow.
Sumitra from Old Inn
Well so much for hoping that the weather would improve. It poured all night and we woke up to a rainy, mist filled little village. Well at least it is relaxing little place but, since there is no electricity, that means no hot water, no laptop for writing the blog or downloading photos and, worst of all, no cold beer! The stuff we have to put up with! Breakfast was really good and we sat under the front porch watching the kids head off to school in their uniforms.
Looks like the strike, at least for today, was called off. After a bit, the weather cleared a little and we decided that, rather than go stir-crazy, we would walk down to the little temple called Mahalaxmi Mandir at the bottom of some slate steps out front. There we ended up meeting the local caretaker (at least that is what he claimed), his wife who was indeed gardening around the small temple and his “mother and father”. We are still not sure if those were merely terms of respect or rather they were his parents but they were all nice and he actually was amazingly communicative and trying to teach us some Nepali at the same time. He lives at the tiny temple and made sure we understood that the tika’s that “mom” pasted on Cindy’s and my foreheads would garner a donation. We hung out for a while chatting with him and the old man and woman asked if we would snap a photo of them. They nearly toothlessly cackled like little kids when I showed them the photos.
The bottle cap girl in Bandipur
Pragya our little friend from Notre Dame School in Bandipur
After lunch, it cleared again, still no electricity, so we headed off for a walk through the outskirts of the village where the roads are unpaved, the houses made of mud and the hills green and covered in rice paddies and corn fields. It is an incredibly picturesque little village and totally remote from both the craziness of Thamel in Kathmandu and the tourist scene in Pokhara. Everybody is really friendly and so far, none of the kids are asking for money or candy which is very refreshing. On the way back, we actually ran into the temple caretaker guy who had apparently “invested” some of our tika contribution into a bottle of local hooch - he was smashed (which made us feel a little weird) and proceeded to attempt to carry on a long and arduous conversation with us, constantly grasping my arm and insisting we come by later for barbecued corn (and no doubt, another contribution to his booze fund…)
We got back and had an exhilarating round of “bottle caps” with the little girl in the dirty orange sweater who was really cute.
After a bit, Pragya, the precocious little girl from yesterday showed up and wanted us to visit. At first she refused to accept our little gifts of some US and Bhutanese bills and coins for her collection and a flowered book mark and post card unless we would come to her house again. Finally she relented and we convinced her to go get her little walkman that needed batteries and bring it back so we could try fresh batteries and head phones.
Streets of Bandipur
She convinced us to take a “short walk” which ended up being a thirty minute hike up to a small mountain top called Thani Mai that provided superb views of the village. As the sun started setting, blue skies finally appeared and we were treated to awesome views of the Himalayas after getting skunked in Pokhara.
All the way up the steep steps to the top, she was giving us crap about being “so slow!”. We actually had a nice time with her (although I think she was bored of me shooting photos and was hungry and cold since she finally flitted off down the mountain without us). We slowly walked back to the Old Inn and had another tasty dinner before another early snooze. Hopefully the good weather will hold but at least we finally got to see the Nepalese mountains!
Bandipur from above
Well I woke up in the middle of the night and, once again, it was raining so I figured that there probably was little chance of a long hike to Ramkot which is supposed to have good mountain views and nice villages along the way (but of course, our friendly leeches after a rain too…).
We had a nice breakfast out on the back patio overlooking the corn and rice fields. It is amazing how quickly you adapt to stuff over here, whether it is the bumpy roads, questionable bathrooms or today’s little bugs nicely stewed into our oatmeal which hardly phased Cindy. After our first breakfast of the day, we walked down to Pragya’s house because she wanted to see what binoculars were and we didn’t have them with us yesterday. We figured that since she had to go to school, we could hang for a bit with her and then come back here to the hotel which would be a lot more difficult if we visited after school. Little did we know what she had in store for us! This time we sat in the tiny, mud floored kitchen with her mom and dad, both of whom are really nice but don’t speak a whole lot of English. Once again, her mother insisted on serving us tea - this time, she also insisted we eat breakfast of rice, dal, curried pumpkin and bitter melon pickles.
Rice Paddies in Bandipur
Considering we had just eaten, this was somewhat difficult but we did OK. Meanwhile, Pragya and her sister were frantically getting ready and wolfing down their breakfast with no silverware (thankfully, they gave us spoons). Next thing you know, both of the girls run off for school, Dad goes to teach at the government school and we are sitting there, still eating, with Mom and the baby. We thanked her profusely after we finished as much as we could and then headed back to the hotel where we spent the morning lounging around the Old Inn, hoping that the weather would clear.
Annapurna Panorama from Bandipur
After a lunch that we could barely fit in following our two breakfasts, we though we would walk around and see a few more of the local sites. On the way out, we were besieged by a group of little kids who were just dying to have their picture taken so they could look at it and make fun of each other.
After snapping a quick shot of each of them, I tried to show them and they mobbed me, each craning their heads and giggling while trying to grab the LCD so they could see it better. Ramsaran, the manager, came by with his two cute daughters and we snapped some pictures of them with the same results. We did manage to head off for a walk where, along the way, we picked up some of the future delinquent, public school boys who also wanted to have their pictures taken. Contrary to the students at the Notre Dame school who are cleanly dressed and all of whom speak at least reasonably good English, these kids were high strung, obnoxious pre-teen kids acting like future gangsters as you can see from the pictures - notice the pistol in the second kid from the right’s hand. Incidentally, pot grows wild all over the place here - I am sure this group will figure that out soon…
Annapurna View from Bandipur
We walked around a bit admiring the vistas and then made are way back where we relaxed over a beer chatting with the guys and girls who work at the Old Inn.
The cute girl Sumitra in the green top and red sari is a new hire who is seventeen and looking for a “foreign” boyfriend in case you are interested Lenihan…
Schoolkids in Bandipur
We ended up having dinner with Robert, one of the volunteers living in Bandipur and talked pretty late into the night with him. Tomorrow it is back to Kathmandu to find out about Tibet (there was some kind of international incident where some US journalists who had snuck in were deported) and figure out what to do afterwards assuming we make it there.