Between the grassy lowlands of the southern Terai region and the glaciated peaks of the world’s highest mountains lies a land of rolling topography, temperate climate, and indigenous communities. To appreciate this authentic and historic region, we crested Nepal’s hill country to visit and explore the three settlements of Bandipur, Ramkot, and Gorkha.
Nicknamed “The Warm Heart of Nepal”, Bandipur is a hilltop Newari town and one-time stop on the India-Tibet trade route. The pedestrian-only main street, paved with slabs of silvery slate, retains its neoclassical facades and exudes a preserved old-time atmosphere.
The town of Bandipur is perched on a precipitous limestone ridge with panoramic views of the Himalayas. With the monsoon season now concluded, the world’s greatest mountain range basked in bright sunshine during the day, and radiated a snowy alpenglow after sunset.
Geologically, wherever there is limestone, there are often caverns. Down a steep and slippery hiking trail from Bandipur, we found Siddha Cave, the largest cavern in Nepal. While underground, we had fun clambering over flowstone formations and repelling with ropes.
At the end of another rural hike from Bandipur, we visited the authentic Magar caste village of Ramkot. The Magars are one of the oldest of Nepal’s 59 indigenous groups, originally migrating from Mongolia. Known for being hospitable and kind by nature, the Magar people welcomed us to Ramkot with affable dark eyes, big jovial smiles, and unpretentious chuckles of delight.
Upon entering Ramkot, it was immediately obvious that the Magar residents take great pride in their village. Devoid of motor vehicles, the main streets were no more than wide slate-paved walkways lined with flowering plants. Strolling the impeccably maintained and litter-free village, we were enchanted by Ramkot’s harmonious disposition and charming ambiance.
Architecturally, besides the occasional solar panel and satellite dish, Ramkot is built entirely of traditional buildings. Two-story stone and brightly-painted wood homes featured slate roofs, ground floor kitchens, and upstairs sleeping quarters. Many of the smaller structures had a circular form, were painted with red or ochre mud, and roofed with thatch.
After our fascinating visits to Bandipur and Ramkot, we rode up and down hill country roads to the historic town of Gorkha. Gorkha is the birthplace of King Prithvi Nayaran Shah (1723-1775), the first monarch of the Kingdom of Nepal, and the home of the Shah dynasty that ruled a unified Nepal until 2008.
A one-hour stair climb led us to the former imperial palace on a hilltop overlooking Gorkha. Three-foot thick walls of the fortified Newari structure enclosed ornate temples, sacrificial altars, and the royal living quarters. Unfortunately, much of the fortress is still under renovation after the massive 2015 earthquake centered here.
Gorkha is also famous as the homeland of the highly decorated Gorkha Battalion military force recruited by British and Indian armies. Over the past two centuries, loyal, strong, and ferocious boys raised in this hill country region have fought fearlessly and with distinction in both world wars and many other international conflicts.
In this undulating land between the southern lowlands and northern mountains of Nepal, we were introduced to historic and authentic places populated with ethic groups maintaining traditional lifestyles and customs. Here, proud and friendly locals welcomed us to Bandipur, Ramkot and Gorkha, three remarkable settlements in the hill country of Nepal.
Blooger’s Notes: This week, our daughter Claire will be leaving us to continue her open-ended around-the-world backpacking trip. She will be flying to Malaysia and plans to spend the winter in southeast Asia. We have shared many cold Gorkha beers and thoroughly enjoyed every minute of our time with Claire in Nepal these past six weeks.
On Friday, Esther and I will begin a 12-day hiking trek to Everest Base Camp. While on the trail, our ability to communicate may be hampered, so hopefully we will see you when we get back down the mountain.
Feature Photo: Traditional ranch and residence in Magar village of Ramkot