Bandipur, situated at an altitude of 1030 meters in the Western hills of Tanahu district, is an ancient Newari town that used to be the main trading center from the late 18th century to recent times before being replaced by Damauli which later became the district headquarters. Bandipur is a mere three and a half hours drive from Kathmandu along the Kathmandu-Pokhara highway, eight kilometers of which is graveled from Dumre onwards. You can also follow a popular two hours foot trail from Dumre bazaar to get there. The town is 143 kilometers from Kathmandu and 73 kilometers from Pokhara.
Home to the Largest Caves
If you are a traveler in a hurry, you’d be tempted to pack your bags and head towards Pokhara for the ultimate vacation. And, even if you are not, chances are that you might still choose Pokhara for a quiet retreat. Either way, you’ll be missing the hidden trail that leads to the small and serene paradise of Bandipur. With cobbled, moderately steep paved streets and traditional Newari styled houses, Bandipur is an interesting destination, one that gives you the feel of returning back into time and witnessing the serenity and mellowness of a bygone era. Bandipur’s rich cultural past still remains intact, and along with it, offers a magnificent natural vista as well. The region is also well known for its many mystical caves. Doubtless, Bandipur is a beautiful destination with an otherworldly exoticism capable of mesmerizing all, from historical researchers to cultural enthusiasts, nature lovers to adventurous explorers.
The Place That Was
Bandipur was the headquarter of Tanahu district for much of its history. According to historians, King Mukunda Sen of Palpa unified much of western Nepal and his kingdom was divided among his four sons after his death. Tanahu was then ruled over by Bhringgu Sen and his descendants until King Prithivi Narayan Shah conquered the place in the process of unification of modern Nepal. The alleged stories passed through generations claim that Prithivi Narayan Shah took control of Tanahu by conspiring against their king. He challenged the King of Tanahu for a duel without weapons while hiding his own weapon under the sand. Later, seeing the right opportunity, he took out his weapon and captured the king eventually taking command of the district. From this story we can surmise that Tanahu and Bandipur used to be powerful kingdoms during historical times.
Bandipur originally was a Magar settlement during the 1800’s. The third largest ethnic group in Nepal, the Magars still reside in villages like Ramkot and are scattered around the surrounding hills of Bandipur. It was only during late 18th century that Newars from the Kathmandu valley, especially Bhaktapur, started migrating to Bandipur. They brought along with them their cultural heritage and architecture, which basically has remained unchanged to this day. Historians point out various reasons for Bandipur becoming a popular destination for the Newar migrants back then. Firstly, it is surmised that after the invasion of Kathmandu valley by King Prithivi Narayan Shah, many Newar inhabitants migrated to other places, one of which was Bandipur. Since Bandipur had similar altitude and similar climatic conditions with that of the valley and was safe from the dangers of malarial epidemic, many migrating Newars might have found it appropriate to settle in Bandipur. Secondly, Newars, also well known for their business skills, probably wanted to cash in on the trading route along the Marsyangadi valley to Tibet and downwards towards India. With the influx of new inhabitants, Bandipur became a busy trading center in no time. During the 9th century, Bandipur was popular among merchants from Tibet and the northern plains.
Later, the town started losing its value as malaria was eradicated from the Terai and many settlers moved back to the lower plains. The district headquarters was also moved from Bandipur to Damauli. The construction of the Kathmandu–Pokhara Highway bypassed the town, which became another reason for the place falling into a state of seclusion.
The Place That Is…
Today, the town still carries the glory of yesteryears as its relative isolation has contributed in keeping the originality of the place intact. You can experience the essence of traditional Newari culture in Bandipur that still remains in its purest form today. One can also see many examples of Newari art and architecture in the temples and buildings of the tow. Besides this, Bandipur also has numerous natural attractions including various caves, beautiful forests, hilltops, landscapes and a panoramic view that captivates the hearts and souls of all visitors.
The houses are structured in traditional Newari design. The maintenance of the old houses is done with such meticulous detail and exactitude that their authenticity is not lost. The various shrines like Khadga Devi temple, Bindebasini temple and the Maha Laxmi temple, located in and around the town, also reflect and match the architecture of the Malla era. Despite being small, Bandipur projects the beauty of emblematical Newari art and architecture. The people still follow traditional norms of Nepali culture like “Atithiti Devo Bhava” (“Guests are Gods”) and are extremely hospitable to guests. You can stay in numerous guesthouses in the town and be assured of receiving traditional Newari hospitality.
Bandipur is blessed by nature and the two most notable caves found there are Swargadwari and Siddha Caves. Swargadwari Cave, also known as Paatali Dwar, is a two-hour hike from the main town. The cave is considered to be the gateway to heaven hence it is named as Swargadwari (doorway to heaven). Similarly, Siddha Cave, which is the largest cave in Nepal and has even been presumed to be the largest cave in Asia, is a newly discovered cave and has yet to be fully explored.
Bandipur being a hilltop settlement is well suited for mountain-viewing too. On a clear winter day the mountains sparkle bright with a white and yellowish hue against the blue backdrop of the sky. Tudhikhel, a flat field on the northern end of the town, the historical fort of Mukundeshawori and the Gurunche Hill are places famed for a panoramic view that encompasses nearly 900 Km of the delightful Himalayan range. The mountains that can be viewed from Bandipur extend from Jugal Himal in the east to Langtang Himal, Ganesh Himal, Gorkha Himal, Manaslu Himal, Himchuli Himal, Buddha Himal, Annapurna Himal, Dhaulagiri Himal and Kanjiroba Himal to the west. Make sure of being there at the right time of the year and you’ll be treated to a breathtaking view of the Himalayan range that is simply awesome.
The other enticing thing about Bandipur is its numerous small hiking trails leading to beautiful landscapes, forests and villages. A four-hour walk to the Magar village, Ramkot, gives you a typical overview of life of the Magar community. You can continue this hike up to Chapdi Barahi and to the popular Narayan Temple with its fishponds; the distance, about an hour from Ramkot. Another popular hiking route is a two hour hike to Mukundeshawori, a place dedicated to the goddess who is believed to have given King Mukunda Sen immense power and strength. The locals, and especially the Magars, believe the temple to be full of occult power. Another short hike from Bandipur also takes you to Bahun Bhanjyang past Raniban.
Bandipur has recently been recognized as a potential tourism spot. The place is the perfect blend of awe-inspiring nature and untainted culture. As it is opening up rapidly to embrace the outer world, it would be good idea for travel enthusiasts to get their gears ready to experience the natural aura and traditional mysticism of this ancient city before it is too late.
Explore Himalaya has reproduced this article with the kind permission of TravelTimes magazine (www.traveltimes-mag.com). This article was published in the May 2009 issue.