Secret glimpses from Nepal
The last rays of the sun pierced through the window. A gecko on the window-glass inched closer to its prey, a mosquito. I lit a cigarette and silently waited to see how the lizard preys upon its victim. A spider, almost on the edge of the window's wooden frame was busy weaving his flimsy web. Then came the rapid move of the Gecko -- he swallowed the mosquito -- just in the likes of a snake biting a preoccupied victim and speedily retreating. It all happened too quickly to capture in my phone camera. However, the spider seemed all too sloppy on what had just happened near his incomplete web.
Craving for a little more daylight to brighten up the room, this traveller stood up from the sofa and pulled the curtain on one corner.
The view instantly etched in mind forever. The spectacular Himalayan mountain ranges stood right in front against the backdrop of a clear blue sky. Small patches of scattered clouds hung over and the rays kept reflecting on their icy peaks. The day's weariness from the six hour bus journey from Kathmandu vanished in a flash.
This traveller notes this puny but powerful scene at the small hilltop settlement in Bandipur -- a carefully preserved Newari village some 180 kilometres west of Kathmandu. Not only for the surrounding views or panoramic scenes, but for its preserved, old time cultural ambience, Bandipur has noticeably become the attention of tourism in the last few years.
Picking Bandipur was actually to explore an off-the beaten destination in Nepal. The decision paid back with many times more dividend. The quiet and small village has one main road blocked on both ends to restrict entry of vehicles. Coupled with a spacious piazza and two storied wooden houses, restaurants, grocery shops it sharply resembles one of those small Old Italian towns.
Walking along any direction along the arrow signs, indicating nearby tourist spots are easy to reach. In short, you'll never get lost in this small sleepy village. Though in most travel guides Bandipur has been labelled as a Newari village following a rich trade and cultural history and architecture, the village is actually home to a variety of Nepalese ethnicities with different beliefs -- the Bahuns, the Chhetris, the Newars, the Damais, Kamis, Sarkis, Kasais, the Magars and Gurungs.
If you are looking for short-length hiking and trekking options while seeking respite from the chaotic city life this could just be the place for you. With the presence of 18th century architecture, absence of traffic noise and restaurant tables set out on the bazaar overseeing the surrounding hills many prefer to keep the town in the list of their day trips. Opposing them right away, this traveller would recommend a few days stay to rejuvenate your mind and senses. More to it, the small hotels and restaurants have become accustomed to cater to almost all the needs of tourists here. This in particular makes travelling in Nepal so easy and relaxing. If it was not for tourism, defining Nepal would have been difficult.
Tourism being the largest industry and major foreign exchange earner -- most of Nepal has long been a proven tourist-friendly destination. Be it Pokhara or Bandipur, they know exactly how to take care of you, and perhaps that's why scores of Germans, British, Italian, French and others feel at home here.
It is perhaps this one close by country from where our poorly run tourism industry has loads to learn from. Shocking reminders of the 2015 massive earthquake are scattered almost everywhere, but still the tourism sector continues to boom in the very midst of destruction, limitations and lack of government funds.
I remember to have trekked along the Langtang valley barely a year before the quake hit in 2015 and little has changed in terms of pouring in of trekkers and holiday makers in the country. Also unless you are not opting for lengthy trekking schedules along some specified routes, you don't need special permits or passes or the TIMS card (Trekkers Information Management System ) for that matter -- whereas in Bangladesh we have made most of our scenic locations -- ranging from Rangamati, Banderbans to the Sundarbans ' subject to special permissions'.
Bangladeshis are pouring in Nepal in huge numbers too, but sorry to say, they have intentionally restricted themselves within the Kathmandu casinos and the Pokhara region. For most of my countrymen travelling these days has become 'leisure restricted within the walls of drinking, shopping, gambling, sexing and sight-seeing offered by two nights-one day package tours'. That said -- it appears indeed a matter of pride when we become blessed with a Musa Ibrahim or a Wasfia Nazreen to come forward and prove otherwise. However, these are the honest feelings of a bohemian Bangladeshi traveller in Nepal, like it or ignore it.
Pondering over all these thoughts, the early evening hour was getting dark and cooler.
Now having finished the evening prayers, it's time to relax with a chilled Nepal Ice beer and a plateful of Chicken MoMo. The ravishing blonde busy typing on her tab in short denim shorts, sitting just opposite could be anyone from anywhere in Europe but she appeared rather soothing to the eyes. My tale of secret glimpses in Nepal has just commenced.
Overall apart from the atmospheric village there are about four major attraction in Bandipur -- the Tudikhel , Khadgadevi Mandir , Thani mai Temple and the Siddha Gupha or cave. The Tudikhel surrounded by a row of Pine in one side and open on the other following a curve gives an impressive view of the nearby mountains and lowlands with a steep fall. This open space was once a vibrant trading area full of merchants buying and selling goods either for taking to Tibet or India. As trade declined and suspended the space was later used as a parade ground for the British Army's Gurkha regiment. Now it's a sports ground and a popular gathering spot for the villagers, even though this writer prefers to brand it as a dating ground for young lovers. The other two, as you can assume by their names, are Buddhist and a Hindu temples. Both are rather unassuming with typical religion oriented architectures but, but the main attraction after the village is the Siddha cave. Discovered as late as in 1987, it's the largest subterranean chamber known in Nepal.
One needs to be fit to undertake the hour 'n half long downhill trek through the meandering thin path through the lush green mountain and it takes even longer to climb back to the village. Fitness isn't all; you also need a powerful torch and a local tour guide beside suitable equipment to explore it. The 10 metres wide cave is more than 400 metres deep and some 50 meters in height packed full with stalactites.
Other than the stated four spots there are numerable short hiking trails around. One closely located mountain, commonly known as the viewpoint mountain became my favourite for viewing the sunset. Taking less than half n hour to climb to reach the top, it became a daily routine for me. Luck favoured to get a wonderful vista of the distant Annapurna Range Mountains for the first two days. However, more than enjoying the views and relaxing -- the viewpoint on top of the mountain felt like a spiritual retreat.
If you are a believer, be in here - try to match the Quranic verses relating to the mountains and the Sun -- you'll not feel the need of a Muazzin to make a call for prayers. You would fall down to your knees and prostrate at your will. It isn't the sheer scale of unending charm -- the mountains, this writer feels, were perhaps created to remind the arrogant and boastful -- how tiny they seem in the face of God's massive creations.
It often became too chilly just before the sunset and became crowded with photographers taking position in different angles, some with their most up-to-date gadgets; they appeared hell-bent committed not to miss a clear day's view. Most of them were Chinese, Japanese and Korean. It's the same this traveller witnessed in Myanmar and India. Travelling abroad nowadays appears more revealing with so many foreign tourists from other countries.
While having a beer after a long hike at a restaurant's open terrace one afternoon, this traveller came to meet a fascinating German trekker-cum-guide. Moritz was more than just an adventurer and he made his living out of trekking along the popular routes in Nepal, Pakistan and India. He was a rare case to have converted his hobby to a full-fledged profession by bringing group of trekkers from Europe.
However, if one of my readers anyhow chooses to go beyond the widely used popular trekking routes, here's a piece of advice from Moritz -- go for the lesser used local routes with a local guide -- be it wildlife, plants , waterfalls or flowers - the hidden gems of the sacred mountains would unfold with every move. Another traveller seemed fascinating was the stunning Israeli Noa Bohadana, at first blush i thought she was a model then it was learnt she was actually a wildlife photographer. Not animals, this year she came to Nepal to enrich her stock of photographs of wild orchids. No matter where her job took her, Noa should have been a model walking the ramps.
Coming across these travellers is also an added joy of travelling which amazingly strikes a chord with that Quranic verse -- Among His signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth and the diversity of your languages and your colors. Verily, in that are signs for people of knowledge.
Whatever has been penned so far, were the secret glimpses of Nepal, captured through the curious experiments of a bohemian adventurer. Your travelling options in Nepal may be different, but you may end up having the same glimpses as mine.
The writer is the Assistant Editor,
The Daily Observer