Back to the mountain villages for cool evenings and stunning views, but stop bleating on about the dust…218 days in.
Each time we have told a Nepali that we spent a night in Butwal they give us a chuckle. Not for the same reason that you are giggling about, but due to its reputation. Luckily we landed a hotel that didn’t charge by the hour. In fact, with its hill view from the Buddhist cremation site and fab Indian dining we quite enjoyed Butwal. However, it was just a destination to break up the 16 hours to our next stop proper: Bandipur.
Walking into Bandipur was like no other place in Nepal; a pedestrianised street flanked by restaurants offering alfresco dining in the shade of authentic old homes covered in bougainvillea that gave it a very Mediterranean essence. A fortuitous conversation with Geeta on the final bus up to the village led to the offer of a home stay with her husband and family, Ram, Garima, Gorob and the in-laws. We were tucked up in the attic as work was underway to convert the dishevelled building into a guest house, and we were the guineapigs! That night we ate on the floor with the kids as the parents looked on dishing out more rice – dal bhat of course.The fabulous efforts to keep Bandipur clean, led by Himalayan Encounters, doesn’t extend up to Gurungche Daada, where a small shrine perched high above the town offers great morning views, and old newspapers with stories of Prince Harry’s visit earlier this year. Back in town we decided a second breakfast of our favourite fruit, curd and muesli was essential before tackling the steep descent to Siddha Gupha and exploring Nepal’s largest cave. Unlike the huge caves we saw in Mulu National Park, this system is much less visited with no lights or wooden viewing platforms illuminating giant monoliths of calcium carbonate. What they did offer was slippery scrambles, long ladders and a chamber full of hot air along with stalactite formations in the guise of Hindu gods. We arrived back to find Geeta had cooked some taro, a potato-like root vegetable for us to share, ace! Staying with the family had plenty of moments like this; and Gorob certainly enjoyed the footballing skills of Mike and Glenn’s patience in the counter flicking game, what seven year old wouldn’t! But there are only so many times you can lose WWF top trumps… Day three allowed just enough time to fit in a visit to the silk worm farm (unfortunately it was mating season which is conducted behind closed doors) so our one hour trip was only rewarded with a few specimen jars and surprisingly tough silk, although the drunk old man on the way back up added some unexpected spice with his amorous hands, why are they always drawn to Mike?
We contemplated spending a further day in Bandipur, if just for the health benefits, but just as staying with the family had been good fun, it did equally at times feel a little awkward; waiting for nan to finish in the bathroom, lifting grandad into a seating position without pulling out his catheter and having to knock to be let back in at night, so we said our goodbyes and promised we’d return ‘with all our wives’!Gorkha, famed for its elite soldiers (u’s and o’s – same same), Joanna Lumley and as the seat of power during the unification of Nepal; and it also lends its name to a cracking beer! Gorkha was closest to the epicentre of the 2015 earthquake and we expected to see a lot of damage. However, from our cursory glance 18 months after, it appeared no worse than anywhere else, the roads were most definitely serviceable and there was all the same activity as with all other towns – Nepalis certainly love crumbly bricks and concrete. To unify the country was a tough ask for King Prithvi Shah, but it ultimately made a stronger Nepal that could rebuke us Brits when we tried it on back in our empire days and were so impressed by their army we quickly signed them up when the going got tough in #backoffindia. So a visit to his palace was an obligatory stop, but we got more than we expected! Just like many of the durbars in Nepal, Prithvi’s old pad features many Hindu shrines and this had one to Kali, a bloodthirsty goddess who needs appeasing, and what better way to do so than with a bit of animal sacrifice! Three jolly little kid goats were tied to a post, butting and rucking with each other as little kid goats do, unaware of what fate lay in front of them. Even when one freed itself and we gave it a little cheer, pointing it to the exit, it stayed for a while longer to play. But with Kali getting impatient, the goats were led away to the priests, doused in holy water and petals (Kali likes a dressing with her meal) and dissapeared from view. The noise though, unmistakeable. No yelps nor cries from the goat, just a clear thud from the swing of the blade. Curiosity found us a peep screen where we could peer in just a metre from the execution to witness the next two. The operation was so swift it was hard to believe that the goats neck was made of flesh and bone. There was no spurting of blood and no hanging around, although there was plenty of post chop wriggling. Almost as soon as the deed was done the goats carcass was in a bag and being hauled downhill to become curry (thus rendering the entire procedure as an elaborate shopping trip rather than a sacrifice!). And with that our time in the western hills was almost over, all that remained was a bus ride back to Kathmandu and one last jog away from the crowded streets of the capital as Mike’s next half marathon looms into view. You may think running in the Nepali hills surrounded by the mountain views would be a lovely experience (ok, some might disagree because of the word running), you probably imagine filling your lungs with all that mountain air…but no! Even outside of the capital you will still find yourself doing battle against great plumes of dust thrown up by all sorts of agricultural veichles and buses taking the most improbable of mountain tracks to deliver a batch of local teenagers to a view point where they spend an afternoon indulging in some of their favourite pastimes; cooking, eating and littering.