Pokhara, southwest of Kathmandu, is the gateway to the Annapurna region. Katherine and I flew through here on our way back from our Annpurna trek. We flew from Jomsom to Pokhara, landed, got a taxi and then hopped on a bus — we were out of the city within 45 minutes, if that! So, needless to say, we did not see the city.
But, I had wanted to come back — everyone said it was beautiful and a great place – and I had the time, so I figured I would come on over. I took a tourist bus to get here — VERY different from the buses Katherine and I took! It was comfortable and not overflowing (most of the buses K and I took were not quite as comfortable and overflowing, including passengers up top, and we were the only foreigners on them!) and we stopped at nice rest stops (not that there was a problem with the places the other buses stopped at– they were just a bit more local).
On the way, I had a great clear view of the Annapurna range (you know, as opposed to how it was when we were actually trekking!)
I had a great, but expensive guesthouse the first night here in Pokhara (set up through the guesthouse in KTM that i got my bus ticket through). It was really nice to stay in a place that was super clean and had wi-fi (so great to skype with two friends!) but the next day I downgraded myself (gotta keep that 30$/day budget going — which, incidentally, has not been happening at all here in Pokhara….). The new guesthouse…. well, let’s just say that it is different from the first one. Did I mention that I downgraded myself?
Pokhara’s mainstrip is called Lakeside, aptly named since it runs along lake Phewa Tal. It is full of restaurants, tourist/souvenir shops, bars, cafes. The first morning I went for a great run along the lakeside — solicited a lot of stares — but it was fun to be out running when people weren’t trying to get me to buy pashmina scarves (nice as they are) or trying to get me to buy fruit or just plain begging. following the run, I had a leisurely breakfast in view of the lake with the tops of the mountains peaking out above the ridge to the north of town – I sat in the sun reading my book and journaling for a few hours.
the rest of the day was spent…. well, not sure. I think that there was more coffee time in there and reading time and lots of food time. it was a really really chill day. Even though there are so many restaurants in town, they all basically have the same menu – pizza, dal bhat, momos, lasagna, enchiladas, hummus. I spent awhile the second night looking around for a place to eat — wasn’t sure what i wanted — but I looked at a dozen or so menus before I realized they were all about the same…
The next day, I decided to walk up to the Peace Pagoda and then walk around the lake. The Peace Pagoda is on the south side of the lake – up high, overlooking the scene. I had read that you could walk up there — so consulting my map every once in a while (as slyly as I could — as when I pull out my map – it seems to attract people from all around to ask me, in order, “how are you? where are you from? where are you going?” and sometimes followed by “would you like some nice jewelery?”.
But, I found the bridge near the dam and crossed over — but then my troubles started. Two guys immediately were in the path – telling me I had to go one way, but I thought I had to go the other…. maybe I should have just trusted them, but that was right after I saw a sign about thefts on the way up and that people should always travel in a group and/or with a guide. Neither of which I had.
So, I ignored those two men (they were probably like – ‘whatever, lady, go get lost’) and wandered along the path — which was pretty cool – set up high above rice paddies. But then a young man of 14 (can’t remember his name) asked me the three questions (see above) and when he heard I was going to the Peace Pagoda – he told me I was going the wrong way and that he would show me the way. I decided to trust him (though I did wonder if he was in cahoots with the other two men) and he lead me up into the woods – I did ask if he was for sure taking me to the peace pagoda – i had a moment of being nervous! But he assured me this was the way. I asked him questions about school and his plans for when he is done (his favorite subject is math; he plans to join the army). He walked super fast and took up further up the ridge until we got to a larger path — there he told me to just keep following it. He of course asked for a tip. No such thing as free help around here.
I followed this path for a ways, climbing further and further up. It was a bit unnerving at times — I was definitely alone up there! And then all of a sudden…. there wasn’t really a path anymore… I mean, there were paths, faint ones that looked like cow paths, but no real path. I didn’t have a lot of options – so I tried a few of them, pushing on — through cobwebs and scrambling through overgrown trees. I definitely felt grateful that Nepal does not have a plethora of poisonous plants, animals, snakes, spiders – especially spiders since I walked through a lot of spider webs. (and if there are poisonous spiders here — just don’t tell me, ok?) Then, I came out on a path! But which way to go? I tried down — that wasn’t right, so I tried up — which was correct. I ran into a family, dad was wearing a red sox hat — and they assured me I was almost at the pagoda (I must have been a sight — all sweaty from climbing uphill and a little scratched up and messy from scrambling through the woods, cobwebs hanging off of me).
Th peace pagoda was beautiful — and if the clouds hadn’t been built up on the mountains, it would have been an amazing view — even still, we could see some of the mountains here and there – Annapurna I, II, III and IV and Machhapuchhare.
I didn’t stay long – as I was hoping to walk around the lake and the book said it would take all day — so down I went. Like a lot of trails in Nepal, this one was not straight forward…. I made many wrong turns, went up hills only to go back down, asked kids and grandmas and buffalo herders about where I was going – to sometimes get a response I understood and other times…. (like when I had 3 small children all yelling at me and each pointing at the three different possible paths – and as I left on the one I thought was right, i heard “No, Didi!” [Didi means sister in Nepali and it is what women are called until they are called grandmothers] and more screaming – only to turn around and have each of them pointing again in different directions).
At one point, when I thought I was close – I came to a dead-end at a house (and I am not sure if it was a dead-end but the dog barking at me made it a dead-end for me!) and so I went back down to what I hoped would be a path — but no, that dead-ended into the water…. so the only option was to retrace my steps and climb up the hill I was trying to avoid (did I mention that it was super hot and humid here?!) So, as I stood at the water’s edge, contemplating my options (wait, there weren’t really any options at that point!) a kid who was across the small inlet came over in his canoe – asking the typical questions. However, I did not like his response very much as he said there was no way to get around – and instead he would take me across in his boat for 500 Rs. Um, no thanks – I’ll keep following my map (though, there was a part of me that was tempted….)
I came to what I thought was the final village – and saw my path across. At the west end of the lake, it becomes more of a river and there are rice paddies everywhere. So, I started down the path – rice fields on either side. It was pretty awesome being out there. And I was pretty excited to be heading back and to be done with being lost (I could see where I had run to the other day – so I knew where I was sort of). But, all of a sudden, my path t-boned with the river. Of course — becuase as I had seen all along, there is a river there. Right….. and no bridge.
There was a path heading up towards where I wanted to go — so I followed that, hoping at each turn for a bridge. But, no show…. I was starting to get nervous – had even checked out the river for how deep it was (could I swim across holding my bag above my head?). But then, I came around another corner – and there was a couple who was coming across on a little pontoon boat with a rope on either side! I just about cheered! I asked if I could use it and they signaled, go ahead — so I hopped on and started to pull myself across.
My co-captain was a dog with a marigold chain of flowers around his neck. (it is Tihar, a Hindu festival, and on the second day of Tihar, dogs are honored.) He stayed on for the ride and then chilled on the boat as i left.
From there it was an easy (albeit long) walk back to Pokhara and my guesthouse. I was definitely ready to be done by the time I got there!!!
That was my biggest adventure in Pokhara. I didn’t take part in some of the other options available to tourists – like paragliding and rafting and the trip in a taxi up to a look-out on Sarangkot as Pokhara is definitely more expensive than other places I have been! I spent a lot of time walking the strip, people watching, reading my book and contemplating this year and what i am doing – including having a moment thinking – WTF am i doing?! but mostly it was a good few days of relaxing lakeside.