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Bandipur Trip with Dhankuta Community

Niharika Mathema

17 mrt. 2023

A trip to the highlands of central Nepal reveals promising opportunities for urban renewal

In early 2023 Shail Shrestha and Niharika Mathema, of Digo Bikas Institute (DBI), organized a trip with "Kopchey Punarjagaran Abhiyaan" a team of 14 representatives, where they visited Bandipur (in central Nepal) to take part in a deep dive of the best practices in sustainable rural tourism, human centered planning and pedestrianisation. This was undertaken as a part of HealthBridge’s Livable Cities Program.

The representatives who joined included the Mayor of Dhankuta Municipality, Chief Administrative Officer Dhankuta, Ward Chairperson of Dhankuta, and others. One goal of the visit was to provide new perspectives and knowledge of urban planning scenarios through first hand experiences. Further, the objective was to help contextualize the challenges and possibilities within Kopchey, Dhankuta's socio-cultural, ecological and economic realities and investigate the view from up close. The trip further exposed the community to issues related to urban renewal, geared at reversing the trend of decay and decline of Kopchey

This visit provided an excellent opportunity to assess and learn more about the factors in an urban renewal project aimed at sustainability, through the case studies of Bandipur and Kusma. The thematic focus of the visit was to support and provide assistance to the community members to redevelop, conserve and revitalize Kopchey as a vibrant destination for people to meet, socialize and enjoy themselves – encouraging not just economic but social and cultural exchanges.

We had the opportunity to meet Mr. Chij Kumar Shrestha, Vice President/Country Director, World Education and author of the book "Ghumifiri Bandipur" in which he highlighted the importance of first defining the area to be revived, in order for the interventions to be context-specific, direct and more effective. After a short briefing to the Dhankuta team, we explored Bandipur Bazaar, a permanent pedestrian zone which has become a key fixture in communities' infrastructure; boosting businesses and providing people with more space to congregate. With its remarkable 18th century architecture, streets void of vehicles, potted flowers and bright orange blossom vines littering the sidewalks and alfresco dining, the bazaar sets the scene of joyful gatherings, providing wonderful opportunities to witness daily community life while also facilitating random but meaningful encounters. Bandipur today is a most sought after public place which is completely devoid of automobiles, demonstrating an efficient way to improve environmental conditions with increased economic as well as social benefits. Pedestrianisation has created a pleasant environment where people can be involved in different social, cultural and tourism activities, which all adds up to an improved local economy.

We also made a quick stop at the Hotel Old Inn, a fine example of traditional Newari architecture built entirely of timber and warm red bricks with carved beams and wooden staircases, emanating a rustic and warm feel.

We then made a visit to Bindabasini Community Homestay to become familiar with sustainable eco-tourism and meet the local women who are running the homestay program. Community Homestay Tourism offers authentic place-based experiences along with with valuable insights into the life of the place and people. For the Homestay, families work together in organizing and managing the programs and share the benefits fairly among the members. It is run especially by local women, making them financially independent and providing them with valuable skills, thus increasing their self-esteem and position in the society. Homestay Programs in Bandipur are based on fairness, equity and social harmony which is possible due to widespread community involvement. Everyone takes turns hosting guests.

The Bandipur Eco-Tourism Project demonstrates the power of effective community engagement and highlights the importance of a collaborative approach to better understand communities’ needs and aspirations through regular meetings among stakeholders. Additional ingredients such as cultural exchanges, field visits, trainings and awareness campaigns help projects become successful and sustainable.

DBI focused its efforts on meeting and establishing constructive connections with the key groups in Bandipur, Dhankuta and Kusma to ensure meaningful relationships between the community and the stakeholders.

The Dhankuta community has gained new motivation and the visit has left a positive mark, making them more aware of ground realities. Our support has further encouraged the local community to start thinking about broader aspects of sustainable tourism, branding and marketing, walkability, inclusivity, markets as community centers and streets as public spaces.

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