We spent five days looking around Kathmandu. Our walks took us many kilometres across the dusty city and each night we would return to our hostel foot sore and weary. Despite the exercise, we found a lot of time to relax at the various places we visited, and in some of them I found a deep sense of tranquillity. The Boudhanath, which sits in the centre of the city, is the Buddhist’s largest and most holy stupa. We spent the afternoon just sitting at its base, listening to the chanting of the monks and the babble of the tourists and devotees that ambled its circumference in a clockwise motion.
When we tired of the sun, we looked to the nearby rooftop cafes and, ascending up to one of them, paused on a landing to catch our breath. Behind an elaborate door which was partially open I could see a painter atop a ladder painting the ceiling. The painter caught my eye and invited us in to see the work that he and his two colleagues were doing. All around the room they were working on frescos of Buddhist scenes and iconography. The artwork was precise and detailed, completed with small brushes. We were told that each panel took two weeks to complete and that the room was to become a yoga studio.
On the next floor up we found an art studio, packed with workers (or possibly students) creating marvellous designs on hard canvas. We stopped again to look about and the proprietor took delight in showing us all the designs that he had for sale.
Kathmandu was brilliant on the whole. I enjoyed looking around the backstreets of the Thamel district and stocking up on woollen goods. We found some great places to eat in the winding alleys, including a fantastic Chinese restaurant which did tasty noodle soup. After a while though, the dust begins to get everywhere and we all felt the need to escape into the countryside (or mountainside as the case may be). In our hostel we met a cool Japanese man called Eiji who also wanted to get out of the city, so we all ended up booking onto the same bus.
We took a 7am bus west out of the city this morning, and after stashing our bags under the bus, settled in for a five hour journey. We had heard about a town called Bandipur which was on top of a large hill, right between Pokhara and Kathmandu. Apparently it was a good location to see some of rural Nepal and so we set our sights there.
There was only one road headed west out of Kathmandu and our bus joined a long line of other coaches ferrying tourists out to the distant peaks. It took a while for things to get going but soon we were rumbling over the stony and uneven roads that hugged close to the sides of a high river valley. The valley extended for our entire journey and it was awesome looking down at the small rapids which shone white, far down below. The backdrop to this journey was ethereal. It looked like someone had literally painted the snow-capped mountains onto the blue sky. From time to time a rope bridge crossed the chasm, and you could see the hunched figures of people laden with heavy bundles as they struggled across. At one point we passed a lorry which was doing an ‘Italian Job’; the cab was hanging precariously over the edge of the road, having smashed through the concrete barrier. Luckily the driver was OK, although he stood on the verge looking a little white.
The bus dropped us at the bottom of the hill, in a small town called Dumre. We had a cup of Nepali chai (Which is a less spicy version of Indian chai) and then walked to the junction where we flagged down a taxi to take us up the hill. The road up to Bandipur took us past terraced rice plantations and buffalo which were walked along with short string. As the car climbed higher and higher the mountains appeared larger and more formidable than before.
Finally we reached the top and explored some of the small settlement before sitting down to a big plate of Dal Bhaat (essentially lentil curry with rice). As we ate our dinner we spoke with Eiji about life in Japan, which sounds very interesting. Nicole and I are more than keen to go and explore there if money allows!
Bandipur itself was clean and the air was crisp. The main street was paved with large slabs of stone and weirdly had a ‘western’ feel about it. I kept expecting to see a batwing door open and someone come stumbling out.
I met a sock seller who told me it was “impossible” to reduce the cost of his socks by ten rupees and so I ended up with some rabbit fur socks for a rather pricey £1. After watching the sunset with my now, much warmer feet, we bought a small bottle of whiskey and returned to the chilly hotel room to warm up a bit.