Published: August 13th 2012August 13th 2012
The evening of the thunderstorm, although couldn't catch any of the lightning.
On our first full day in Nepal I awoke in our border-town hotel in the deep, green and misty valley that led off the desolate Tibetan steppe and down into the lush and fertile land of Nepal. The hotel backed onto a heavy river of swirling melt-water that would lead us away from the desert of Tibet and into the hinterland of the Himalayas.
The deep, green gorge wound slowly past, and petered out into much drier scenery, small villages and homesteads, and people driving livestock. Eventually, after passing several towns and steadily less amazing scenery, after Tibet anyway, we arrived in Kathmandu. We found a small hotel with no difficulty and set down for the night.
The next day Kathmandu was spread before us, hot, dry, dusty and busy. We marched towards the “monkey temple” a stupa on a small hill colonised by monkeys in various states of lethargy. They climbed electrical cables, ate offerings of fruit and nuts and reclined to watch the proceedings of the day. From this point, after ascending the many steps, you could see Kathmandu spread out before you, with the odd sacred cow nosing around, and its buildings
baking in the heat. After descending we meandered back to the centre to get something to eat. The Israelis directed us to a beautiful 1st
floor restaurant where we ate hummus masbacha with pitta and tried other Israeli dishes, which was very welcome if unexpected. I found Kathmandu difficult, and I am sure it is a place worth visiting with more prior knowledge of where to go than just a guidebook. Although I am sure this can be said of anywhere I am certain of it being the case there, as I got the feeling that there was more to be seen on its outskirts. One evening we visited a European-style casino at an expensive hotel, and milled around watching proceedings for a while. We visited extravagant brick temples and saw as much of the city as we could before deciding to head back to the hills as soon as possible. The nightlife there was definitely worth a look, however, with lots of bars and foreign travellers to make things interesting. The guys decided to head off on a trek to see the Everest base camp, and I made off to Pokhara, in the west of Nepal.
I don't remember anything much of the bus journey interestingly enough, I think the descent from altitude had made me drowsy. Arriving at the Pokhara bus station there were some guys hanging around and as soon as I got off one of them started talking to me about a hotel. He seemed nice enough and we got into a car with his friend and drove just around the corner to a Gurkha-owned hotel not so far from the lake. The place was nice and amenable and you could get up on the roof and see practically the whole valley, with the lake in the west and the Annapurna range to the north. It was early afternoon and I set off to find something to eat. All sorts were on offer and I can't remember what I went for, I think I might have ended up with a fish curry. The town was fairly rudimentary, with the properties at the beach fairly geared towards tourists, with the occasional ex-Gurkha run restaurant or hotel, a tourist agency or something more indigenous. Bimal, the guy who had showed me to the hotel, had arranged to meet up with me later to show me
around and he was invaluable from then on. During the couple of days in Pokhara he showed me to his preferred eateries and other things around the town. We spent some time together talking with friends on MSN messenger in the local internet cafe, and had a few drinks in the evening.
One day he asked if I would like to come with him on an excursion into the foothills of the Annapurna range, because he said he needed to buy his wife a chicken! He was recently married, and his first-born had just arrived. We headed out early in the morning, and he talked to the border guards, who he had explained would let him off the toll for entering the Annapurna mountain area if we went past before 7am. The road wound up, until we arrived at a mountain stream and set off on foot. The way was made up of paths and roads which wound up and up, past terraced paddies and smallholdings. The sunrise was incredible, picking out precipitous rice terraces and a mountainous horizon in dramatic colour. Occasionally we would get a look at the holy fishtail mountain Machapuchare, which Bimal explained
was of great significance to his people. Sometimes the endless staircases we ascended would be entirely paved with stones, worn smooth by centuries of use, and bearing testament to the strength of the people and the love and tenacity with which they clung to this beautiful place. When we got a chance, we would stop at one of the homesteads which offered something to eat and eat incredible dahl, rice and curry, enough to fortify you for anything, before heading off further into the scenery. After a night's rest we started to descend into the valley, before another wearying ascent on the other side. Every time we arrived at a farmhouse from there on Bimal would stop in and harangue an old woman about chickens, and would inspect a few plump hens before we headed back on our way. After stopping at an amazingly amenable hotel set high up with mesmerising views over the valley we set off again, this time into wilder, more forested scenery away from so much cultivated land. In some lush forest we bumped into an Aussie I had met back in the town, coming in the other direction, which was a strange but pleasant encounter.
We shook hands and promised to meet up back in Pokhara. Towards the end of the day a thunderstorm struck, and we walked through torrential rain and lightning in warm but gathering darkness until we reached another small hotel. I was grateful of a warm shower, listening to the rain clattering on the roof above, and fell asleep with feelings of comfort and dim elation. The next day Bimal set off early on his own, saying he had to get back to his wife. I never did find out if he got a chicken for his wife or not, but it was great to have his company for those three days.
I had my directions, and set off after a decent breakfast into the forest. I saw practically no-one, apart from some people carrying loads of green branches for some reason, and after a lot more walking arrived on a more boring road heading down into the valley, and it started to rain. Luckily a guy and his sister happened to pass me in a Jeep a little later, and picked me up and drove me convivially to the outskirts of the town, from where I got
a bus, crammed with people and their belongings, chickens and vegetable produce.
Another day, after a little convalescence and seeing Liverpool in the Champion's league final, I caught up with Bimal and he said he had something to show me. On the outskirts, the gravel river bed running down the valley towards the lake disappeared somewhat below the town, and Bimal took me on the back of his bike to see one of the caves that it had created, in which was a temple to Shiva. You took a natural staircase into a rounded cavity, within which was to be found the shrine, covered in offerings. After this the cave passage bore further down, and wound out into a moss-covered chasm which water dripped into. It was deeply beautiful, and I will never forget it although sadly I couldn't get any pictures of the place, though I think I felt better for not having disturbed the sanctuary of the place.
The next evening I witnessed an incredible spectacle. You could feel the storm brewing all day, with the pressure increasing with a warm pillowy feeling. By about 7pm the night was full of forked
lightning, and the thunder went on practically without end. After about half an hour of trying to catch the lightning without a tripod or anything to rest the camera on it started to hail, and I ducked into a restaurant and weathered the worst of it over a nice meal. The next day it turned out a local guy of about my age had been killed straight out by a hailstone, many of which were the size of golf balls.
I had been hanging around for too long I think, but by now had met Bimal's family, and seen a local dance joint, most of the lake-side restaurants and become known as “Vanja” by a local monk. I have a couple of sleeveless T-shirts that were given to me by a Swedish couple staying in a nearby hotel, which were my only real souvenirs of Pokhara.
I left shortly afterwards, taking the bus back to Kathmandu before disembarking on another journey to the border of India, a journey I remember little of apart from being sat next too some different guys, including a Japanese guy, at the back of the bus. The route plunged
into more misty forested valleys before drying out to reach really arid conditions before we arrived at the border, a dusty and intimidating place. I really had no time to gather all my feelings and experiences, I felt truly exhausted and overwhelmed, and excited at the prospect of India, the next and final leg of my journey.
There are more photos below