Bandipur, Feb. 4 to 6
(this post took 3 days, 4 attempts, and at least 5 power failures that required starting over from scratch. So it goes in Nepal. The last two photos are among my most precious of the whole trip).
I’m writing this from Pokhara, looking out my seventh floor hotel window towards a bank of clouds obscuring the Himalayas. Coming back here is jolting after the great quiet I experienced at Bandipur, but I’m trying to be accepting and not so judgmental about the dogs, construction, and crush of humans in a relatively confined space.
The descriptions that follow mainly narrate the photos, taken during the last two days of my stay. Internet is doing its usual finicky 1990s era dance with connectivity, so may I breathe or sing or chant a mantra while waiting.
I mentioned earlier how my hotel was about a ten minute walk from the village, a distance that turned out to be a blessing. When the foxes (or some other critter) got the village dogs all worked up, Hotel Depche was far enough away that the chorus did not rouse me from sleep. As a result, I had five nights as the single guest in a hotel that could accommodate 20. It was bliss, and did much to heal my jangled health.
The owner, Madan, worked in Kathmandu for Himalayan Expeditions, then came to Bandipur and served at the company’s pilot hotel, The Old Inn. After learning how to manage staff and solve problems, he saved money and was on the lookout for a suitable location. When the promontory became available, he bought it and opened the hotel about 3 years ago. It’s still a work in process but gradually taking the shape of his vision. I told him it must be very satisfying to see your dream come into being, and he agreed.
After two solid nights of sleep and the walk around Bandipur’s perimeter, I felt ready for a five-mile RT hike to a hilltop village called Ramkot. It was a cloudless and warm day, but the south-facing trail turned out to have very little shade and I ended up feeling steamed. The trail had very little rise and fall to it, so that was a blessing, but it also faced into a valley full of haze and smoke, so there were no expansive vistas until I got closer to the village. Most of the houses were well-kept and the dirt paths fairly clean of trash and debris. One old man was drunk at 11:30 a.m., his raksi bottle beside him as he sprawled in the dirt beside the main trail. Whose grandfather/father was this? I felt very conspicuous and many of my greetings were not returned. My camera was not out and so I wondered about this reception. The only positive response to my presence was a group of 9-12 year old boys, who hung around my lunch spot and weren’t satisfied to get a piece of candy, wanting more, and then (predictably) asked for money. No doubt foreigners look like a world of wealth they will never access unless they ask, and so they do, persistently.
I went slowly the next day, energy levels being low, and revisited the Buddhist gompa at the edge of the cliff, then went up to the top of that ridge to play my flute in solitude. When I came back through the village, I ran into a fellow I’d chatted with briefly the previous day: Mr. Nick Harrison, from the U.K. At age 76, he’s still sharp and spry, although a bit world-weary from his travels in India that eventually led him to Bandipur. He’s been here off and on for 3 years, and will stay until the rainy season begins in earnest in June. A composer, arranger, and performer on the fiddle, he said he helped with the Rolling Stones’ “Angie” and I believe him. I could not access his website on my iPad but he says some of his compositions are available for listening.
I enjoyed his storytelling about encounters with various foreigners and villagers, and he seemed interested in my profession as well.
As we walked down the main plaza, a mentally-handicapped young man threw a chunk of concrete at Nick, hitting him on the leg. He brushed it off as a regular occurrence, saying that the young man received no treatment for his condition and therefore it couldn’t be helped. Compassion in action! I would have probably reacted less magnanimously.
On the last day, the morning started with heavy fog. It was a pleasure to have breakfast in my room and watch the show of light and clouds gradually reveal the mountain I would later climb.
My first stop however was at a Catholic-run school of good reputation called Notre Dame, based in Germany but now run by a Japanese woman from Kyoto who has been there for 31 years…a time-span that begins in 1983. Her cohort is an American nun from St. Louis, also based in Kyoto originally but who came to Bandipur to help manage this school of 800 students–most of who live apart from their families in hostels nearby. I pitched the idea of USF students coming to volunteer for 2 weeks, and while non-committal at first, they gradually warmed to the idea.
Who knows if it will happen?
I had a delicious lunch atop the Old Inn’s roof, then headed for the mountain visible in the distance.
It was the only high point I hadn’t visited and, with the sun warm and a bit of Dhauligiri peeking through the clouds, a very scenic little trek. I found a place under some long-needle pine trees to take a nap, falling to sleep almost instantly to the soft sound of wind passing through. The climb to the top was neither easy nor hard, but the rocky outcrop had no decent place to sit or shelter from the sun, so I came down about 50 meters until finding a lovely spot that surveyed the whole valley. Hotel Depche was right before me, the village in the background, and paragliders soared the updrafts the whole time I was there…sometimes appearing just above the treetops as they whizzed through the skies. One had to be vigilant when taking a leak that some paraglider would appear suddenly, although I’m sure they had better things to look at.
My last stroll through the cluster of houses that lead to the hotel was after school hours, so I saw a boy on his front veranda working on homework. He was six, loved science, and upon hearing our chat, his sister soon came out in her Notre Dame uniform to see what was going on. She was 10 years old and could hold up her end of a conversation in English quite well. Both let me take their photos, which Madan at the hotel offered to print in Kathmandu and then deliver to the children. There’s no doubt their education will take them away from Bandipur and into cities like Pokhara or smaller, and yet that is what Nepal desperately needs: an educated workforce that holds politicians accountable for the sorry state of the nation’s infrastructure.