Nepal Motorcycle Diaries: Bandipur and Gorkha
With some days to kill before starting our Langtang trek, we reserved a motorcycle and scoured the map for a worthy destination. Settled on Bandipur, a hill town three hours away, and set out the very next morning, armed with face masks.
Staggered into Bandipur that afternoon feeling grateful we were finished with the motorbike for today… Riding on a Honda CBZ as a passenger for three hours on a Nepalese road is not as comfortable as it may seem, and with every pothole I thought fondly of our Avenger from Goa.
The town of Bandipur traces the spine of a high ridge above the town of Dumre, and the hills around the town are bandied with ripe green terraces. The village itself is a small settlement of dignified Newari-style townhomes lining the neatly-cobbled walkways, red brick and dark brown timber. It had an old European feel to it, antiquated but well-maintained, though the sight of women in salwar kameezs is enough to bring you back to Nepal.
We checked into a tiny, cozy room with a balcony that overlooked the square with the Bindyabashini temple. The fancy, renovated hotel next door charged 65 USD for their rooms, but the rooms were similarly furnished with spartan wood antiques, though their timber, buffed to a shine, may have been of more fancy ilk.
Only a few residents are to be seen, which is a surprise considering the size of the settlement. Shopkeepers and their families hang out on the steps, waiting for customers. Women fix each other’s hair, men play a board game–bagh-chal– that seems to be ubiquitous to Nepal.
Early the next morning we walked down to Siddha’s cave and went spelunking in what is supposedly Nepal’s largest cave. 45 minutes later, we were slowly pulling ourselves up the steep hill back to Bandipur. For anyone who is considering paying Siddha’s cave a visit, coming up from Dumre to the cave (and down) is easier by far.
Though Bandipur and Siddha’s cave was our real reason for renting the motorbike, the second hill town, Gorkha, also turned out to be a worthwhile visit.
Gorkha is the birthplace of the King Prithvi Narayan Shah, who unified the kingdom of Nepal back in the 18th century. It was the seat of power for a long time before the capital was moved to Kathmandu.
Much larger than Bandipur but similar in layout, Gorkha itself isn’t pretty by any standards except for the views it is fortunate enough to possess. Not nearly as photogenic, and instead of small townhomes, the homes are apartment-sized, designed to hold more than one extended family.
Another big difference between Bandipur and Gorkha was that there were a LOT more people to be seen. The residents had the same attitude as a small village, though, with slow ambling walks while shopping and chatting animatedly. Authentic handicrafts can be found here, as we passed by several different types of workshops. There were weaving looms with patterns and colors unique to the Gorkha region, and art studios with both paper and cloth art.
The highlight of our visit, though, was Gorkha Durbar. High atop a hill, with 1500 steps leading up to it, is a small, fortified group of buildings. There is a temple, a 16th century royal palace, and some kind of tomb that we somehow overlooked while up there.
The following photos of Gorkha Durbar (and the museum) are classic examples of Newari architecture. Windows are often two long horizontal beams of carved wood bordering a square screen lattice (called jali in India) and doorframes are intricately carved works of craftsmanship.
But the most memorable part of our trip was the return ride to Kathmandu.
Before we set out to Kathmandu, we eyed the storm clouds coming our way and decided to gamble. Xiker sped us down the hill from Gorkha, but once on the highway I realized we were running out of gas. I scolded Xiker every time he passed a gas station, but it was another hour before he finally consented to pull in.
“No gas! Next station!”
5 times we pulled in, 5 times we were told the same thing. The storm clouds were almost upon us and I was absolutely furious. The worst thing would be to run out of gas in the middle of pouring rain!
Finally, though, right after we passed two gas trucks heading the opposite way on the road, there was a station, with gas.
Xiker put in 2 liters. I growled at him, and he put in another 50 rupees worth. The gas attendant, very observant of my doubtful attitude, assured us that we would make it to Kathmandu without problems.
We set off. A hour away from Kathmandu, the rain began to come down. A little bit at first, and I thought to myself, it couldn’t get much worse could it?
I was wrong.
It poured buckets on us as we slowly inched towards Kathmandu, weaving through traffic that consisted of either other crazy (idiotic?) people on motorbikes or incredibly slow trucks puttering uphill.
It wasn’t long before we were both completely soaked and shivering, but since we were already soaked it didn’t make sense to pull over and wait out the rain: many Nepalese restaurants are unheated one room units with a large roll-up steel door left open during working hours (they are exactly like storage units in the USA).
When you’re going over 30 mph, those little raindrops turn into icy bb pellets. I huddled behind Xiker and tried to keep my face out of the rain as I shivered and prayed fervently for our safety. I was so cold I was actually hoping for more trucks to pass, because every time we passed one sputtering huge black clouds, we were briefly awash in warmth.
I couldn’t see anything further than the splatters on the lenses on my sunglasses, and wondered to myself how the hell Xiker could see.
Finally, finally, we got to Kathmandu, but it was another 20 minutes before we got to Thamel. The only good thing about the rain was that it drove everyone inside– the streets were almost empty (very unusual for Kathmandu)!
At a corner a few blocks away from our hotel, the motorcycle jolted to a stop and shut off by itself. Xiker had to switch on the reserve button and used up the very last drops of petrol getting the bike back to the rental shop. He was extremely proud of his impeccable ability to gauge how much fuel one needs to get from point A to B.
It wasn’t until after we were warm and dry in our hotel room in Kathmandu that I finally asked Xiker how he managed to see while driving with his sunglasses.
“Oh, I couldn’t. Why do you think I hit all those potholes?”
Well, at least we got back safely and were able to laugh about it… However, we agreed to pull over next time it started raining!