Adventure to Bandipur
We decide it is time to have a break from Pokhara and on Moniek's recommendation we head to Bandipur - a living museum of Newari culture, where winding lanes are lined with tall Newari houses and people here seem to live centuries before the rest of the country.
We kind of chance it. With one bag between the two of us we go for tea at the little bakery at the end of our road before taking a taxi up to the bus park at the Old Pokhara town and - quite by chance - manage to find ourselves on a bus immediately leaving for Dumre, where we will need to get a jeep up to Bandipur, which is draped like a scarf along a high ridge above Dumre.
The bus journey is rather hysterical. The bus system out here is rather crazy. As far as we can work out you have government buses which are very decrepid, then you have lots of private local bus companies, which of course tout for business (and are especially good at ripping off us Westeners) and then you have tourist buses owned by tourist companies for the main tourist routes and then you have the Greenline bus which is the King of all buses over here in terms of comfort.
Anyhow we are on a local bus, which feels like it may fall apart each time it hits a pothole, which it does very often so we are literally bumping our way along the road for about 2.5 hours, only stopping briefly to pick up people or to stop for the passengers to take a pee at the side of the road (which they do, women too) before we finally make it to Dumre in one piece despite the head-on-head-on-the-wrong-side-of-the-road-near-steep-cliffs-driving of the bus driver. Hoorah.
Dumre is yet another one of those depressing dusty junction towns with lots of traffic and beeping and dirt and litter. We manage to find the jeeps but are told by this young guy that it will cost us to go on our own, maybe better to wait for ohers to join us. So we follow our new friend over to a local tea shop where we are served horrid sweet black tea and Ewan chats with the friend and his brother who offers Ewan yet another opportunity to buy Marajuana (honestly, Ewan gets asked all the time, and if he doesn't then it seems kind of weird).
All of a sudden the boys leave us at the tea shop - so much for trying to get us on a jeep - so we go off and decide to simply pay the money (about GBP7 so no real biggy) to get us up to Bandipur and away from the noise of Dumre. It takes about 20 minutes for the jeep to climb its way up the hairpin bends to Bandipur, all the time the air becomes fresher and we are delighted by the views of the mountains, no wonder people visit this place.
In town we have no idea where we are going although we have decided to upmarket ourselves at the one resort in the town. To get there we have to walk through the main lane which is indeed lined with Newari style houses - glorious 18th century architecture - and then up some steps and past the small local maternity hospital (the first time I have seen anything like this) and down across a field which used to be the place where traders would gather to haggle for goods from India and Tibet before starting the long trek t Lhasa or the Indian plains.
This area not only provides fantastic views of the some of the Himalayan peaks but also hosts five huge fig trees (not that we noticed initially, in fact we had no idea that the trees were fig trees and even the fact there were 5 of them didn't stop us andeirng around trying to find normal looing fig trees!). In Nepali mythology the different types of figs are symbols for different Hindu Gods including Vishnu, Brahma and Hanuman.
Anyhow today the area is taken over with lots and lots of parties of Nepali youngsters, clearly on some bit school outing with lots ofdifferent schoolbuses parked nearby. It is kind of cool, lots of different music playing, food being cooked on stoves in massive pots, an atmosphere of celebration in the air, although we still have no idea of the reason.
So we finally find the resort which benefits from a lovely setting surrounded by pine trees and we are given a spacious room with an ensuite bahroom and a balcony affording fantastic views of the Himalayan range and tree tops to our side. It is quiet too, and we later realise that we were the only ones staying at the resort.
Anyhow we decided to make the most of our time in Bandipur and head out in our trekking shoes to trek down the "hill" (more like an incredibly vertical cliff face) to visit Siddha Gufa, said to be the largest cave in Nepal. The Lonely planet says it takes 1.5 hours to climb down, which we struggled to comprehend until we actualy started the descent and discovered that the path is mainly composed of slate tiles and as this side of the cliff does not receive the mid-day sun, the slate was incredibly slippery so at one point I was almost climbing down the steps sideways using my hands to grip onto the path.
Soon we were passed by two younger Western guys who were wearing trainers and virtually running down, whcih made our effort seem, rather lame. More so when we passed some Nepali women in traditional dress with flipflops on their feet climbing with the usual hedge on their back. Madness! Finally the steep steps eased and we were able to along a path before more steps all the way to the cave, about two thirds of the way down the cliff.
I must admit that I was no longer in the best of spirits because all I could think about was the ridiculous walk to get back to the top. plus we were totally unprepared, we barely had any water and we hadn't eaten lunch and only had half a museli bar to share between the two of us.
Amazingly we made it to the cave just after the two other guys (how strange is that, not many tourists in town, not the easiest walk and we happen to be visiting at exactly the same time) and there was a young Nepali guy waiting to guide us through the caves. Admittedly the cave is rather impressive with twisted stalactites and stalagmites but I just could not get into it. I was feeling a little lacking in energy and here we were being led around a dark cave and doing all sorts of things which would no way be approved by health and safety officers in the Western world - we had to go up and down ladders and use a rope to almost abseil down a section.
Ewan kept slippng and I just could not let go of the thought that we could easily kill ourselves in here, or simply twist an ankle, which would be a challenge bearing in mind we are stuck in a cave on a cliff. In fact there was one point where I refused to join the boys as they took another ladder into a deeper section of the cave and so I sat at the top, in total darkness and remembered Devika saying taht she would go to the cave to meditate, so I sat there, closed my eyes and tried to focus on my breathing (which was not so easy as it was hot and stuffy in the cave)although Ewan kept calling to check I was okay and before I knew it they were all heading back up and their torches filled the place with light again.
Needless to say I was actually rather relieved when the whole tour was over - we were in there for 45 minutes - and yet was not in the slightest bit looking forward to our trek back to the top and did debate walking down to the town below and getting a local bus to the Dumre and the jeep back up again. But that seemed silly. So we shared the rest of the museli bar and just went for it.
Like really went for it. I kept wanting to stop but Ewan would keep saying, "another 5 minutes"...which never really came, although we did stop for sips of our limited water from time to time and he did help to push me up certain sections when I got realy quiet. It really did remind me of proper trekking, the fact it becomes more of a mental thing. I got angry and then Ewan would make me laugh.
Amazingly I found a stick that made a perfect walking pole and I decided to just completely go for it. I had some idea where we were on the path although Ewan wouldn't believe me as he seemed to think we would take longer to go up than we had to go down. But alas not. We almost managed it in half the time. And oh my gosh what a relief to reach the top and walk along the ridge and downhill into the main lane.
I downed a litre of water before enjoying the best nepali tea I have ever tasted - this stuff seriously picks you up, it is great! From there we managed to trek back to our resort and I took to my mat to stretch out my aching limbs before helping Ewan do a headstand and then we each enjoye a much needed shower albeit a cold night and the water was not particualrly hot - before heading off for an early dinner, the sunsetting around 5.30ish these days.
And we were literally the only ones in the dining hall, which was kind of weird. But oh such lovely food, probably because we had hardly eaten all day, but we opted for Dahl Bhat to make it easier for the chef, and it was all freshly made for us and tasted delicious.
Back to the room and it was really cold and there was very little to do except wrap up in the blankets and read our books until tiredness got the best of us and we were asleep by 9.30pm!