Cycling Nepal With Brand Partners
In May of 2019 Roz Groenewoud, Jen Gurecki and I tackled our second adventure together, this time leaving Africa for Nepal’s “rolling hills.” As with all adventures a lot occurred which was out of our hands, but a good adventure is marked by what you do with the curves and we had an amazing journey in this beautiful country of extraordinary natural beauty and deep spirituality.
We were joined on our trip in partnership with seven brands whose missions of ethical outdoor fun with great design align with ours; Liv Bikes, Sherpa Adventure Gear, Topo Designs, Swift Adventure Co, Sunski, Nutrient Foods, and Manda Naturals.
Being a part of the global launch for the Liv’s AR Avail Bike (naturally designed for women!) was a great addition to the journey and stories featuring my photography will follow on their many platforms, as well as in Sisu Magazine.
Nepal's Rot Festival at Gorhka’s Durbar Palace
The Rot Mahotsav (Festival) takes place in the Gorhka Durbar Palace, high above the Trisuli Valley and Gorhka, the stunning Newari architecture of the various temples, palaces and mausoleums teetering near the summit. The Rot Festival is dedicated to the worship of Guru Gorakhnath, one of the most important Hindu guru’s who lived between the 8th and 13th century, but appeared to King Prithvi Narayan Shah as a sadhu around the time of the unification of Nepal in the 1700’s. Prithvi Narayan Shah was the king who conquered the many small states which now make up Nepal and in doing so created what we now know as Nepal, and held off the advances of the East India Company, keeping the region from their colonial grasps.
I was able to spend the entire day, as the only westerner, welcomed by the festival attendees at the close of the 15 days of celebration, May 28th. Having climbed the 1,500 steps from town to the palace, in the morning I watched families gather at the Temple to Kali to follow ancient traditions, dedicate puja of money, rice, fruit, nuts, vermillion or red turmeric paste to anoint, carving open coconuts and slaughtering goats to the bloodthirsty goddess. And fascinatingly then shifting to the contemporary and shooting selfies with equal skill. I came to understand that a Rot is a hard cookie, which is believed to have been a favorite of the sadhu, although when I tasted one I found it almost broke the teeth and was told it is more ceremonial. I spent the heat of the day in the quiet forest near the summit where the sadhu’s cave is located, now crumpled after the earthquakes but still marked, and observed the footsteps in the summit rock sometimes attributed to him. Gorhka is largely known to outsiders as the epicenter of the 2015 earthquakes and the massive damage is evident still across the Medieval Palace complex, which is both palace and temple, and has been tentatively pending UNESCO World Heritage Cultural Status since 1996.
In the afternoon I sat and listened to the current guru guide his people, gathered under a tent at the closing of the festival, in the heart of Nepal’s founding city. On my way home at the close of the day I happened upon the offered goats being butchered for use in the kitchen.
Gorhka is a city foreigners rarely visit, and it was a privilege to experience the temples and palace alive with Nepali people who had come from all over to celebrate the festival, to experience living history in a festival mostly unknown to westerners.
Old Inn Bandipur, A hidden Gem
Bandipur is a hidden gem of Newari architecture, a living museum in which travelers can immerse themselves in high in the cradle of the mountains of the Tanahun District looking northwards to the distant Himalaya. The main street is without cars completing the transformation to another time, and if you stay at the Old Inn Bandipur you have completed the transit out of the modern world. (Be sure to watch your head on the doorjambs!)
Bandipur is still off the beaten path for tourists, the villages is a few winding precarious miles off the Prithvi Highway so most travelers blow past on their way from Kathmandu to Pokhara. Instead get out at the Bandipur Bus stop just after Mugling where Nepal’s east west and north south roads intersect. But more and more travelers are finding their way to Bandipur so go before it loses it’s mystery!
These old trade routes were the reason for Bandipur’s wealth and lasted through the 1950’s when a series of cultural shifts including the highways systems ignoring mountain top villages left Bandipur behind. The villages languished through the 1990’s safe but forgotten, and with a heavy population decline. There was no road to Bandipur until 2003 which has slowly been bringing an increasing flow of travelers.
Although opened in 2000, the two buildings of the Old Inn Bandipur were lovingly restored with a strong design eye just before the earthquakes in 2015. The team brought a gentle hand to the process honoring the beautiful bones of the structures and focusing on the intricate wood work of the Newari architecture and the beautiful indoor outdoor spaces that benefit from the gentle climate. The spaces are small by western standards but warmly decorated with historic pieces from around the region. And the staff is lovely and knowledgable. The rooms are simple, The Inn is more about the experience of history than luxury, but when you look south from the rooftop across valleys blanketed in clouds and north through the other towards the Himalayas, time slows down and you understand what Bandipur is all about.
Get up before dawn and walk the steps to the summit of Gurungche Hill and sit be Thani Mai watch the first golden rays illumitae the Himalayas and turn the mountains around you from blue to green. In the hotter months be aware that the damper air will make Himalaya sightings more elusive. The trail starts by the school.
Siddha Guda Cave is a popular tourists attraction, closer to the highway than the 1 hour walk from the village-take a flashlight. The village of Ramkot, made up of the Magar Caste with thatched round houses is a 2 to 3 hour each way, hike west across the saddle of the mountains from Bandipur. The Silk Worm Farm and the Khadga Devi Temple are also popular attractions.
Kakshya Café has great coffee and Samay Baji wonderful home cooked Nepali food, although I will admit I spent most of my meals on the terrace of the Old Inn Bandipur taking in how the changes of the day evolved the view and enjoying the great staff.
But the most unique experiences Bandipur has to offer are dropping through time and seeing life as it was a hundred years ago. Take time to walk the streets at different times of day, sit with the locals, watch the swallows swoop in at sunset from the terrace of the Inn. The best recommendation here is to sit with a cup of tea and watch the swallows and time hang in the air as if time has missed this village altogether.
The Magical Mustang, Nepal
The Mustang is a region which is rarer and rarer in our ever connected world. This corner of Nepal, more Tibetan than Nepali has been hidden away from time for hundreds of years unchanged by the outside influences, ruled by it’s own kings, with it’s own language, sect of Buddhism and marriage structure (polyandry.)
Only recently have roads reached the Lower Mustang, the Upper Mustang is still mostly impassable. Electricity and plumbing are still limited although the road is bringing these along with medical facilities finally.
Muktinath, located in the Lower Mustang is a pilgrimage site sacred to both Buddhist and Hindhus for centuries. They plan over the course of a lifetime to make what was once a 10 day trek, now a still arduous 2 day drive up the deepest gorge in the world, to wash away their sins in the 108 taps of sacred mountain water and pray for their parents.
The high desert region, located west of Kathmandu in the Himalayas is austered in it’s beauty, sunbaked in the summer and snow coated in the winter. The wild west town of Jomsom is the gateway but perhaps the least charming. The bells of diminutive pack horses will lure you deeper and deeper into the mountains, caves dotting cliff walls denote ancient trade north south routes. This is a place of magic and mystery, but it is on the brink of massive cultural change.