Dadu Aur Madak

Although the trip from Kathmandu to Pokhara is an easily doable 230 kilometers we opted for a stop in the small village of Bandipur about two-thirds of the way there. About fifty kilometers out of Kathmandu we had our first encounter with the Maoists. We had been reading about this situation for some time now. What we are talking about is a tactic used by the Maoists that originated with trekkers. A group of young men with red armbands and hammer and sickle flags will stop tourists asking for a donation or occasionally a toll to pass through their region. Once you have contributed they will provide you with a formal receipt that they will stamp paid. The first thing they do though is hand you a typewritten page explaining that this is a popular movement that has support of the people, and that it is actually the government in power that is responsible for the occasional bombings that take place in order to blame it on the Maoists. In many regions they do in fact have the support of working people. They are pushing for the dissolution of the monarchy. They typically ask for a set amount for their "donation", and if you refuse they can appear to be very menacing. They are particularly aggressive with tour operators, who will generally cough up rather than risk damage to their support vehicles or equipment. This is especially true with rafting and trekking outfitters where the support vehicle is their lifeline. They ask for a per-head per-day amount. The amount typically mentioned for trekkers is $15 per day. Some people will negotiate while others simply refuse to pay. The latter is not usually the best option if you are a trekker on foot. Especially if yours is a small group. Tour operators generally just pass the cost directly on to their customers. Many operators though that are just carrying passengers between towns with pre-arranged hotel stays will refuse the high suggested price, offering a lump sum instead. Unfortunately the "donation" tactic has been taken up by teenagers seeking contributions for local "projects" like soccer balls, or a meeting hall for teens or what have you. There is always a rubber stamped receipt involved making everything official. We had already discussed staying close to one another in the event of one of these encounters, and had been advised by Nepalis to carry only a few small bills in our pockets. The bottom line is that most of these people are just kids. Incidents of any real violence  being reported are extremely rare. On the first occasion, there were a half-dozen kids stopping cars on our side of the road, and another half-dozen about a 100 feet down the road stopping traffic coming from the opposite direction. They handed me the formal explanation, and while I was reading it half of the group approached a van full of Indian tourists that had pulled up on our left. When the van attempted to ease by without paying the three kids in front of our bikes quickly turned their attention to the bigger fish. As soon as they did I signaled Karen and we drove off without incident.

Bandipur is a magical little town whose location just off of the main tourist track has preserved its charm. It sits about 8 kilometers off of the road that runs from Kathmandu to Pokhara and is reached by a perfect single lane blacktop that switch backs up the mountain. The main part of the town snakes along a ridge top overlooking terraced valleys on either side. The town has practiced amazing restraint in maintaining the small town charm and resisting the temptation  to turn it into just another cheesy tourist trap. Vehicle traffic is allowed only as far as the building in the bottom center of the photo. Most of the guesthouses are on the straight section and are in buildings of 18th century Newari architecture. Most have carved windows and eaves with slate roofs. The interiors are simple and rustic with few amenities but details of craftsmanship are evident everywhere. The town only has electricity until about 9:00 at night. Breakfast is included at most guesthouses which serve delicious regional meals. The village fathers have shrewdly chosen to reinvest tourist dollars into improving the town's infrastructure while maintaining its small town ambiance. The pedestrian mall is almost completely paved in pink sandstone flagstones, and local men were working on the remaining portion while we were there. It is kept immaculately clean. Guesthouses send someone out with a rubber tired flat truck to carry in people's baggage down the pedestrian mall. Part of the reason for stopping here was that until now we had only stayed in hotels owned by the Sakya family. We had experienced such amazing hospitality that we were curious as to whether that hospitality extended to other parts of Nepal. Bandipur met or exceeded all of our expectations. The people were wonderfully open and friendly and were helpful without having their hand out which is frequently the case in India.

The architecture is notably similar both on this business on the left, and this temple dedicated to Durga on the right. There are a few buildings like those below that show an even earlier architectural style and are made entirely of stone.

Left: A handful of houses dot the landscape of terraced fields away from the main street. At right: Trees seem to hold a place of special reverence for Nepalis. Typically roadways move to accommodate large old trees and not the other way around. It is not unheard of to see roads go down to just one lane when there is no way around a big tree. Large trees like this one often have a paved "bench" built around them to provide a cool and comfortable place for people to gather.

Our room was a top floor garret that opened onto the slate roof of the rooms below. We woke the first morning to find the valley below us completely blanketed in clouds with a clear view of the Annapurna range above it. The folks joining Karen are a Canadian expat living in Saudi Arabia, and her Nepali partner. They are tour operators that run tours in Nepal, Tibet, Sikkim, and Bhutan mostly for people from British Columbia. She also runs a few tours in the Middle East and in Turkey. They had come to investigate Bandipur as a stopover destination for tours traveling by road from Pokhara to Chitwan. They proved to be a wealth of information about travel in the Himalayas.