We write to you from the hilltop town of Bandipur. An ancient Newari settlement, the community took the brave stance of banning motorized transport in the town center to preserve the medieval streets and architecture. Centuries ago, this place was a trading post on the trans-Himalayan routes that went over the mountains to Tibet. Although today the biggest trade here is tourism, it doesn’t take much imagination to transport the backdrop back to the days when pack animals trudged up and down the slopes carrying wares to a far off land.
The road to Bandipur consists of impressively-steep, tightly-cornered switchbacks up the mountainside. As our bus steadily snaked up this path, the late afternoon sun poured down into the valley and lit up our group’s first glimpses of the snow-capped peaks of the Himalayas. Impossibly high in the sky, sitting on a bed of clouds and hazy like a dream, it was truly a magical moment.
Since arriving in Bandipur, we have found both a mental and physical breathing space. Away from the dust and smog of the city, several of us in the group expressed gratitude for the sweetness of the air in this place, and also for the density of stars at night. We are also taking our stop in this place as our mid-course retreat – a pause in our busy itinerary to check in with ourselves and the group. The last couple of days have been a wonderful, energizing time, of slow walks up to high ridges, mountain temples in the morning mists, fancy dinners with a five-star view, deep conversations bonding us ever tighter as a group, and lots and lots of laughter.
Tomorrow we depart for the village of Balamchour to embark on our rural homestay. We are in equal parts nervous, excited and ready to take us wherever the journey goes! More tales of discovery and adventure will certainly follow.