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Nestled onto the top of a ridge overlooking the hills that lead to Kathmandu in east and Pokhara in the west is the small Newari town of Banidpur. Walking into town, which you must do because all the roads to the main square are littered with staircases, you get the feeling that you are walking back in time. Not too far back, there is still running water and electricity most of the time, but back enough. Beautifully dressed ladies can be seen leaning out the small carved wooden windows, while the men talk business in the cafés and the kids and chickens play in the streets.  If it wasn’t for the single internet café on the square, you would think time had stood still here for the last 50 years.

The hills around Bandipur are littered with gorgeous vistas and winding trails, the restaurant menus with fresh thukpa soup, momos, dal bhat, and their tables with candle light for the nights with no power. Cobble stone streets lead you in and out of town and concrete buildings are still happily in the minority. The temples take you back to a time when Nepal was still ruled by kings and queens.

If you’re over the super touristy feel of the bigger cities, this is the place to come. Take a few days. Go for a walk. Talk politics. Enjoy the architecture. Sit in the square and let the school kids in their blue uniforms rush around you like a wave. Soak it all in now, because this place is so good, that it too will be super touristy before long.

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I was so excited to visit the birthplace of the Buddha. In my head I had this image of a romantic old Hindu kingdom, locked away and preserved, full of peace and tranquility. …yeah, I was a little off base with that image.

Lumbini is not so much a town as a destination, and it certainly retains no sense of being a once wealthy kingdom. Any sense of peace and tranquility was smacked away as soon as we came out of the hills and in the plains of the Terai. Suddenly, the only spiritual experience we were having was cruising along between two trucks and neither being hit nor dying from espixiation. Welcome to the Terai – the land of hot, dusty, and flat.

Lumbini itself was mostly a large, dusty park preserving the land upon which they believe Buddha was born. It now serves as a spiritual center and a magnet for Buddhist monasteries from all over the world.

Once in the complex, with the Terai safely outside, I stood amongst the ruined stupas in the wide-open field, felt the setting sun on my face, and just listened to the wind in the trees. I was standing in the grass barefoot (no shoes allowed). Off to my left was a young Nepalese girl, holding a Japanese tourist and blue camo covered policeman captive with her wit and charm. I closed my eyes, and for a moment could grasp a small sense of what it meant to be here — what it meant to be standing the exact spot where the Buddha was born. And there it was, peace.

As I opened my eyes and began to walk back into the hot, dusty chaos, I vowed to remember that feeling. To remember that if I could find that feeling here, there were very few places where I couldn’t find it again.

Later that evening the owner at our hotel put it best – the Buddha must have been chosen to be born in such a hard, hot place. “He needed to know suffering. How else can you let go of something, unless you have know it?”

Tansen is an old, hardly touristed town several hours off a winding drive through the hills to the south of Pokara. It seems to stretch over a whole hill top and down into the valley below. Tansen is a little rough around the edges, but overall the place has a delightful air of authenticity to it. A stopover in here means:

The best breakfast at a tiny little restaurant – hot savory samosas, warm sweet and gooey jeri, and a just right sized cup of milk tea.

A walk through the meandering streets and around the octagonal town center.

A morning spent in Dhaka stores, looking for just the right color combinations.

Smiling children with their hands clasped together in a Namaste, ready to run for cover the minute you Namaste them back.

But the one thing that will be missing, the one thing you can feel the void of in this town, is the Tansen Durbar (palace). Everyone that we talked to agreed. It had been the most beautiful palace. And no one had expected that in one night it could be lost. So what happened? Earth quake? Fire?

Politics. A battle between two groups that had been holding civilians in a state of constant fear for over a decade. The Maoist and the government. All in one night, lost was the beautiful palace, and lost were over 30 lives. A lesson in impermanence? Perhaps. A lesson is the waste of war? For sure.