Travel Notes from Bungamati, Nepal
Leafing through my guide book, one morning, i thought of going to Bungamati. Some people don't even know where that is. Some locals I've talked to haven't been there, too. One morning in my Patan hotel room, i thought of visiting this small town because not much has been written about it. The curious in me wanted to know how Bungamati looks like in person. It is true that the longer i stay in Nepal, the more places i have been visiting. And i thank the fate, for if not my disappointing Bangladesh visa application and super expensive tour package to Bhutan, i wouldn't be here in the first place.
Getting here was part-hard work and part-luck. The hotel managers say two different things when i asked how to get to Bungamati by public transportation. One manager says i ride from Jawalakhel, the Tibetan refugee district of Patan, the other manager says i ride from Lagankhel bus park, the main bus station of Patan (Lalitpur). I followed my instincts and walked going to Lagankel. It's nearer to my hotel, and less than a kilometer away from the durbar square. On the way to the bus station and south of the durbar square, i passed by countless number of shops selling from garlands to gold, from clothing to cups, and from sweets to salami. After a very rewarding walk, i finally arrived at the bus park. Surprisingly, it's more chaotic than Ragna Park located in the heart of Kathmandu. I went up to five different conductors asking where is the bus to Bungamati until i was directed to a bus bound for Bungamati. In the guide book,it says it takes an hour to reach my destination. After about 30 minutes and paying about 20 rupees, i was already at Bungamati Bus Station. The trip going there made me think twice how Bungamati really appears. We've passed by several apartments and condominiums first. When i stepped out of the bus station, the magic of Bungamati starts to appear. The single alley going to the heart of the town is old, rural, quiet and totally non-commercialized. I felt that my first minute there already the million dollar question: Is Bungamati worth it? Without a doubt, i must say.
It didn't take me too long to reach Rato Machhendranath Temple: the imposing white temple sacred to Newars. The small courtyard fronting the temple evokes simplicity. And the beating heart of Newaris is so apparent once you start gazing on the outskirts. People live every single day steps away from this magnificent temple. I saw a mother and daughter washing vegetables on one side, a couple of old men sitting by the wooden bench outside a shop, and more Hindus paying tribute by lighting up candles and circling the temple. Minutes later, a throng of pilgrims came and danced while on approach. There was music playing, and people start gathering. In minutes, Bungamati turned from a quiet courtyard to a fiesta place. Later, i found myself walking to quiet alleys penetrated by small doors. There were more people there, but unlike in the courtyard where people are dancing, in here men carefully carve an image of Shiva or Kali from a flat wood. The intricacy of the work will make you think twice before bargaining a few rupees for a souvenir.
I walked east to discover children fooling around and playing with their friends. It is unimaginable to think that every single day, these kids do the same thing. Their playground is the single cobbled alley way that's witness to a couple of men playing cards, a neighbor blasting Hindi music, and a couple of shops who haven't sold anything in days. People know every one here. A nod here and there, one could sense the tight knit of the community looking after each other.
After quenching my thirst at one of the shops, i sat next to two old men. One of which still dressed handsomely in his Topi and earring. The other, obviously tired and hungry, pauses for a break. Later on, he rode his bicycle again with his wares. This moment made me think more about my father, and how much i think he misses me. I've been away for two months now, and have walked to the highest and lowest points in the Kathmandu Valley. I have started a conversation with kids and adults. I have shared with them my thoughts and aspirations. And i miss hanging out with my old man.
I walked to the west, and found some more houses. People stare at me more as these people haven't seen much tourist. If only they can realize how unbelievably beautiful their town is, they would then understand why i ogle at every direction in sight: crumbling Newari houses, playful kids always joking, old men and women whose charisma are so unfathomable.
Instead of hopping on another bus, i walked to reach the neighboring town of Kokhan. It is here where emerald gardens arise, and the people even more surprised to see a tourist in their home town. I spent a couple more hours here, catching the last glimpse of the sun for the day.
Less than an hour away from Patan, and the scenery has already changed so dramatically. I couldn't figure out how a bridge of just a few kilometers has left this area so noncommercial. About a month and half ago, i was on the other side of Bungamati river, in Kirtipur and Chobar. Separated only by a narrow river, yet the vibe is totally different. Bungamati is even more rural than Chobar and i think the latter has relatively been unspoiled.
I went back to Patan an hour before sunset, coming back from Bungamati. I enjoyed a hearty dinner at Cafe De Patan before retiring for the day. The chicken cutlet was really good, so was the vegetable friend rice. A new discovery I've had is that Patan could also be a good base for day trips around the valley. Don't you think?