On my first full day, I decide to test the resilience of my recovery to health by walking Bandipur’s perimeters. I still feel shaky and a bit weak, so pace myself slowly. It is a 10 min. walk to the village center from the Hotel Depche, a route that is little more than a path through a plowed field at one point while at another, it is paved with slate and passes between two rows of low farmhouses. At the juncture of the main road and this path, a goat has just given birth to two little babies (the vernacular being “kid”). One is barely moving in the mud while another is up on her wobbly feet. A placenta hangs out of the mother goat, who is chewing her cud and seems not to have a care in the world. A young woman flies down the path, almost jumps into the goat pen, and picks up the baby from the mud and tosses it like a limp towel onto some straw. I applaud and she looks up and smiles.
A hand-drawn map at the entrance to the village indicates there is more to see on the main road headed east, so I go that direction to catch the morning sun on a mix of traditional and newly constructed buildings. Once again, the fact there are no vehicles rumbling or whizzing by, each one honking their merry way, is a quality-of-life improvement that leaves me profoundly grateful.
I drop away from the main trail to investigate a small Hindu temple flanked by an enormous tree, and notice an area just beyond where village women come to do laundry and bathe. As much as I want to approach, I just can’t, and so pause for a drink of water and then begin climbing a steep sequence of stone steps. I recall vaguely that there is something called “Buddha Gumma” on top, though I have no idea what that might be. A statue perhaps?
After a close encounter with a couple newly-born white baby goats, I am on the ridge and am greeted by the Dhaulagiri range of mountains standing clear and white. It’s the seventh highest mountain in the world, and was thought to be the highest until the 19th century. Climbed for the first time in 1960, but also is the site of one of the worst mountaineering tragedies when 11 American climbers were swept away in an avalanche in 1972. From this distance, why anyone would want to climb that gigantic mountain (26,780 ft.) is beyond me.
The “Buddha Gumma” turns out to be a newly constructed gompa, situated between two large trees, each with their built up rest area below. Prayer flags are everywhere and provide a welcome surprise after all the Hindu shrines. Of course, there is a small Shiva shrine in the corner of the compound by the tree, there long before the temple was built by a private individual originally from Bandipur but now iving (and making money) in Kathmandu. Photos in front of the locked gate indicate a procession that started in the village and wound its way up the hill, led by a small statue of the Buddha and several Tibetan monks in their big fan-shaped hats and blowing conch shell horns. The statue itself came from Thailand, and was consecrated by a young monk in yellow robes, who sits at the center of a group portrait. The main donor, a Mr. Gurkha, is in his 50s and has a kata scarf round his neck. He looks proud and happy.
When I come back to the center of the village, I walk into a slanting late-noon-time sun. Kids are out of school and skip, run, and scurry here and there on this wide open street. It must be heavenly after the dirt, dust, mud and trash that was here as recently as five years ago. I watch with a mix of amusement and ridicule a Chinese fellow trying to manage his gigantic telephoto on a big tripod–all to take a photo of the village temple’s carvings. Maybe he wants a degree of detail that I can’t see, and yet right beside him is an old woman with a blanket wrapped atop her head who has a remarkable face and greenish eyes. Where that trait came from would be interesting to investigate, since I’ve heard of green eyes in Afghanistan, Kashmir, and along the Silk Road. A classic National Geographic cover had a young woman w/ those striking eyes as an emblem of the Russian occupation in the late 70s and 80s.
From the center of the bazaar, I walk a short trail to a splendid looking Hindu temple undergoing some refurbishing. An old woman is the caretaker and beckons me in, but I know this routine: she will want money for dabbing a tika between my eyes after I perform bows in front of Shiva or whoever is the deity within. I would also have to take off my boots and I’m not in the mood to do either, so I stand outside the gate and stare, which annoys her. She gripes at me in a rising voice, and I feel privileged to be able to walk away.
Moments later, I’m sitting beside an older Englishman on a little raised platform, chatting away about Bandipur, his poor broken shoulder w/ a piece of metal in it, the taunting village boys (whom he detests), and his multiple periods of residence in this village. He even gave up his government-supplied lodging in the U.K. so he could have more money to spend traveling. I learn he is 76, has arranged a piece of music for the Rolling Stones (“Angie”), and continues to arrange and write, with the most recent work a piece for solo contra-bassoon. I promise to return during my stay and learn more, which seems to make him happy. “Old Nick.”
After a nap at my hotel, I’m recharged and feeling confident enough to walk up the path to Ramkot village and then follow the ridge to a lookout above Bandipur. To the west and away from the village is a wide valley marked by terraced fields, some actual flatlands, and a small stream in the middle. At its far end is my destination for the following day, Ramkot.
The trail badly needs maintenance but the distance to the next hilltop is short–some 500 meters–and so I push aside the shoulder-high weeds and plow through thickets, cross rock outcrops, and eventually come into a clearing. I ask the local deities to keep snakes and other critters away from my ankles. Soon, a small grove of pine trees lies ahead, flanking a small and rather neglected little Shiva temple. The splendid view looks immediately down on the village below, making me feel powerful at this height….but not powerful enough to endure the afternoon wind that comes whipping up that long valley and around this big chunk of rock. A few steps down the hill toward the village and I’m out of the wind with the sun warming my back–a perfect place to get out my Pokhara bamboo flute and try a couple tunes.
By the time I make it back to Hotel Depche, it’s quite dark and I’m fumbling along the trail. The soft glow of the hotel’s clay walls is a most welcoming sight. Dinner is a plate full of pasta, vegetables, and cheese sprinkled on top. Wash up after dinner with actual hot water, then fall into bed at 8:45 to sleep solidly till the foxes wake me up at 2 a.m.