A Newar Town outside the Valley- Bandipur

On the way to Pokhara on the scenic Prithvi Highway, you will come across a small town called Bimal Bazaar in Tanahun District. A half hour from here will take you to the largest cave in the country, the Siddha Cave, which is also said to be the largest cave in all of South East Asia. This cave is 10 meter wide and more than 750 meter long. Discovered in around 1980, the cave’s entrance is narrow but it opens up into a vast vaulted chamber that is full of stalactites, stalagmites and bats. Further inside are spectacular undulating limestone formations. After you have had your fill of this fascinating cave, you can walk upto Bandipur, a walk that will take about an hour and a half of your time.  It is a historical route, many merchants having passed this way in ancient times, and it will take you to Tundikhel, and on to Bandipur Bazaar. The Tudhikhel is a spacious area that is flat and serves as the local stadium to have football matches in.

Restoration work going on in an old building

Bandipur has a history. After the conquest of Kathmandu Valley by King Prithvi Narayan Shah in the late 18th century, many Newar merchants left the valley to look for better opportunities outside. Bandipur was chosen as a suitable trading post for trade between the northern hills and the southern Terai, not least because it did not have the dreaded malaria as did most of the Terai. The Newars being superb craftsmen soon built houses reflecting their high aesthetics—houses with pagoda roofs, wooden lattice windows and carved wooden doorways. Today, these fine dwellings still stand proud and one could be forgiven for forgetting that Bandipur was originally a simple Magar village.Bandipur Bazaar became an important centre of commerce especially during the Rana period (1846-1951). However, in the 1950s, malaria began to be eradicated from much of the Terai and this led to the development of many commercially important towns. As a result, Bandipur began to lose its sheen as a trading post and soon (in the 1960s), the district headquarters was moved to Damauli which grew as a thriving bazaar.

In 1973, the Prithvi Highway, which by-passed Bandipur along the lower lands, was completed, and this more than anything else rang the last death knell for Bandipur, which more or less became a sort of ghost town for many years following. However, the bad phase has been over for some time now and Bandipur is being looked upon nowadays as a lovely tourist destination. Not only is the scenery from here terrific—including a spectacular panorama of the entire Annapurna Range along with Dhaulagiri, Manaslu and Langtang peaks as well as the Marsyangdi Valley—the ethnic Newar architecture is appealing as well. A lot of restoration work has been completed with the result that the town has managed to retain its ethnic style all the while incorporating modern amenities. A visit to the town is an opportunity to get a close look at Newar cultural life outside the Kathmandu Valley, the original abode of the Newars.

Photo: Marianne Heredge

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