Friday, 5 February 2010

Pokhara, Nepal

I headed to Pokhara by myself after the others had left to go home or on to other destinations. I had planned to meet some friends there and go on a 3 day trek, about all the time I had left but our phones decided not to work so I had a few days on my own.

The flight to Pokhara had me once again glued to the plane window looking in awe at the imposing Himalayan Ranges, this time the Annapurna Range with it's amazing triangular peak peeking above the clouds. I shared the plane with the same Indian family from Dubai (originally from Kerela) we had on our mountain flight. The Eid break gives us all a chance to see somewhere different and we decided that Nepal was certainly different.

I wandered down to Phewa Lake, a short distance from my small local hotel in Pokhara. It was lovely, not too many others there and I was inspired to walk along the path rather than take a boat across the lake to the peace pagoda. A wise choice I discovered later, it's quite a climb up from the lake. Sitting at a lakeside cafe I met an inspiring young woman. She was American, in her late 20s and had worked in Shanghai for a few years. She had travelled overland by herself through China and Tibet to get to Pokhara. An amazing journey, grueling and challenging, helped by the fact she spoke the language. I was envious when she told me she was heading to India for a few months.

Pokhara was a nice change from the bustle of Kathmandu. I talked to the hotel owner about a day trek, he arranged a taxi for me to take me to the top of a walk above the lake to Sarangkot then down to the lake. Sami my driver was a character. He had lived in Saudi and spoke some Arabic so we practiced on each other with some interesting results. He had to visit his parents place on the the way up the hill to drop off some supplies for his grandfathers 80th birthday celebrations. Did I mind?

Of course not. We wandered down a rough path passing an old lady coming up who greeted Sami with a big toothless grin. She was carrying a huge bundle of branches up this tricky path, obviously something she had done before. I got a little worried at one point as we wandered down, where was Sami taking me? I needn't have worried, we came to a house where I could hear the buzz of conversation as we rounded the corner.

The family were out in force. The big pots boiling over the fire as they prepared the feast. There must have been about 20 people there, including some lovely kids. I was offered some tea, milky sweet tea from one of the big pots. Nodding and smiling and saying thank you in Nepali I accepted. The old people were squatted down on the grass on a large mat preparing the vegetables and chatting to each other. I was given a chair. I was dying to get my camera out but felt like I would have been intruding photographing this festive family scene. Nope, I won't make National Geographic photographer of the year.

Sami was welcomed, I was welcomed. I heard him telling everyone I was from New Zealand. They nodded and the kids who could asked me about my self, about my home. Our stay was too short. We had to press on, I had a big walk in front of me. A walk a lot bigger than I had expected looking at the map.

I made it to Sarangkot OK. I had company along the way, school kids wanting to chat. School kids practiced in extorting chocolate and money from the tourists. I was amazed to see the children wearing English type school uniforms and seeing a smattering of schools through the trail I walked. My favourites were the small group of teenaged girls who wanted to know if I knew any boys in NZ their age, yep some things are universal. They gradually peeled off to their homes leaving only the one who wanted to be a teacher. We talked about this awhile then she went down a rough track to her house, a low stone hut down in the valley. I hope she gets to realise her dream.

The photo shows how far down it is from Sarangkot to Pokhara and the lake and yes, it is as steep as it looks as well. I started down the steps keeping in mind the instructions about taking care to take the correct path. Instructions that I didn't quite manage. I kept walking down and coming to dead ends, still miles above the lake. I was getting grumpy when I found the dusty road down and the man who lived in Australia and was visiting his home for the holidays. He gave me good instructions and off I went.

I was still feeling grumpy, a bit hungry but most off all a bit sore as I hit the trail down. I wasn't used to walking in the hills, it used different muscles and they were telling me I needed to rest for a bit. I was getting worried about darkness falling and the hotel owner sending out a search party, I could just imagine the headline, middle aged woman rescued in the Annpurna Range.

All was not lost, I heard a car and around the corner came a Toyota ute, 4wd and heading my way. I put up my thumb in the time honoured manner and it stopped. I jumped in with the three men, they were laughing at how pleased I was to see them. I was thinking, oh well I could die here but it's better than reading that headline. They had a discussion in Nepali, I suspect it was about how to frighten this odd New Zealander. We took the steep road down, they hammed up the driving I sat calmly and talked to them. They tried their best to scare me, nope I was enjoying the thrilling ride. I offered to take them dune bashing if they ever came my way.

I've never been so pleased to see a hotel in all my life. I took a long shower, had a bit of a lie down and then headed to town for dinner. The photos are of the boats on Phewa Lake, the paraponters from Sarangkot and the view to the lake from the top. See what I mean about being high up.

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