We were ready to leave the jungle of Chitwan and hit the road towards the hilltop of Bandipur. As we pulled our bags to the hotel reception, the rain suddenly poured that triggered a dash of anxiety. The thought of passing on that 40 km dangerous roadway to get back to Prithvi highway was stressful and even more distressing if the rain will not stop. But at least, we had a generous lunch at the hotel. Whatever delays that the rain would cause us, it will not leave us hungry on the road. As we were approaching that rough track undergoing construction, the rain seemed to hear us coming that it put itself to an end. It was a great relief, but it was only after about two hours that I was able to put a smile on my face – when we reached Mugling intersection.
Before proceeding to our destination, we had some snacks on a nearby store. I was not hungry then but still had a soft drink and some chips just to while away the time while our driver took some time to rest. I was munching my snacks while standing at the roadside and observing the surroundings until the driver decided to get going. The ride was better as there were no more potholes and big trucks on the road though there were still several curves. As we turned left to Dumre-Bandipur Road, I got elated that we are nearing our second stop – Bandipur. I was imagining the guide’s wonderful description of the place when suddenly my thoughts were disturbed as we were following the twisted course towards the hilltop. The road was paved but narrow and along the cliff. If only our driver have taken it slowly towards the top, perhaps I could appreciate the sceneries along the way. But it was impossible for me to enjoy the view with his speed and everytime he accelerates on sharp curves I got my eyes on the road and not on the surroundings.
At last, we arrived at the old trading town of Bandipur. We decided to stay near the carpark while our guide checked for a good hotel in the area where we could spend the night. There we had a great opportunity to have conversations with local people. Though it was just the usual topic of from what country, how many days are you staying, and the like, but it was fun spending time with them. They were warm and friendly. Their English could be quite limited but we learned a few Nepali words from them aside from that traditional Nepali greeting, Namaste.
Our guide was back and had us walked few steps towards the hotel – Kaushi Inn. I checked the room and was satisfied especially when I peeked out from the balcony. The view was wonderful with the whole stretch of Bandipur Bazaar boasting its antique buildings designed with Newari style. I loved that rustic ambience of the hotel room. It made me felt like living in countryside without having the facilities such as television and air condition in the room, though an electric fan and a wifi were available. I also climbed the rooftop and surprised with the fantastic views of verdant mountains all around. It seems like Kaushi Inn could let their guests experience the highlights of Bandipur without having to step out of the hotel.
THINGS TO SEE IN BANDIPUR
It was 5 in the afternoon when we started to hike towards the summit of Gurungche hill. The climb was not demanding and did not require much energy from me. The stairs were not steep and I managed to go up faster than my normal speed. In less than 30 minutes I reached the peak with some quick stops on benches in between to take photos and at the same time breathe some fresh air. Found at the top of the hill is a Hindu temple called Thani Mai where believers make a wish once they get there. But for me, arriving at the summit of Gurungche hill was more of experiencing the serenity of the place. I was surrounded by lush mountains with thick clouds above it obscuring the snow-capped mountains behind that I yearn to see. I looked over the rooftops of Bandipur on one side and the terraced fields on the other. I stayed there until the sun started to fade away.
We had an evening walk towards Tindhara, the wash area of the villagers which was said to have existed before the Newari people settled in Bandipur. It is the source of water of the whole town with a temple beside it. In getting there, we passed by the villages where I get the chance to observe the people’s everyday lives. Their two-storey houses were mostly made up of red bricks and wood painted with bright colors. In front of their homes were corn cobs that they put for drying. Along the streets, there were children happily playing while waiting for the night to fall. As we move along the narrow alleys, I was amazed how women carry heavy loads. A basket full of goods is suspended on their backs with a strap that is extended and positioned over their heads like a scarf. I wondered how long could they walk with that heavy weight placed over their heads. I imagined how people back in the ancient times endure long journeys carrying their stuff that way.
The dusk was approaching when we arrived at Tindhara. I caught sight of the water coming out freely from the spouts at the side of a hill and the nearby Hindu temple. We saw women who just got done with their laundry and others were taking their evening shower. It was getting dark so after staying for few minutes we went back to the hotel.
There is nothing more to do at night in Bandipur except relishing its tranquility. After dinner, it was a good idea to have a night walk along the cobbled streets of Bandipur bazaar. At the end of the street, we sat on benches and filled the air with wonderful conversations while allowing the place to set the mood of the night. The entire stretch is lined with traditional Newari houses constructed with bricks and adorned with wood carvings on its windows and doors. Some of these houses were converted into hotels and others into restaurants and shops. While most of the towns in Nepal are touched with modernization, Bandipur chooses to retain its vintage vibe. This is the very reason why tourists visit the place – to escape the noise and hustle of the city.
I began to move out of the bed before the light of the morning sun penetrates the curtains of my hotel room. I braced myself for the day’s scheduled spelunking activity inside Nepal’s largest cave, the Siddha Gufa. The cave is accessible by two possible routes: one from Tindhara and the other from Bimalnagar. I chose the latter because the guide said it was shorter and easier. But it turned out that it was not as easy as I believed. I did not expect that the hike was uphill. Though there were stairs and handrails going to the entrance of the cave, I need to climb more than a thousand steps and the ascent was pretty steep. I remember that the most challenging climb I did was in Sigiriya, Sri Lanka but not until I reached Siddha Gufa.
I heard my heart pounding as I put too much effort bringing one foot in front of the other. I stopped at the cottages in between to rest and get some shade. Every time I look down and see how far I have climbed, I found some strength on the beautiful landscape I see from above. Roughly 45 minutes, I arrived at the small opening of the cave. The moment I get there, there was no feeling of relief because I knew I am into another set of adventure.
An entrance fee is charged to allow entry into the cave. It is also necessary to have a guide to explore Siddha Gufa. There was a handheld flashlight provided for us but I opted not to hold one since I was clenching my camera on one hand. It was cold and totally dark inside and we only relied with the flashlight to see our path. I almost backed out when I saw it was wet and very slippery. I did not know how I managed to pull myself up and down with a rope and climbed steep stairs anchored to a rock. I was very careful taking my every step, not minding my hands to get dirty holding on to anything just to make sure I would not slide and lose my balance. If not only because of the unique formations of stalactites and stalagmites that was illuminated by the guide in every corner, my struggle would be futile. Somehow I got delighted with how the minerals have deposited for centuries and formed itself into different structures resembling cauliflower, old man, and many others.
That was not my first time to go caving but exploring Siddha cave was an unforgettable adventure. It was a challenge I never expected I would be in. I think it would be an enjoyable experience if safety measures were implemented to prevent a possible fall or injury.