Fishtail and Annapurna III
Pictures don't make it with these things. Like the Grand Canyon.
After a day of delayed gratification and an evening of enlightenment; I arrived at Pokhara under cover of darkness. In the hard-scrabble field/ bus station. There was little to see but dust under Nepal's dim, fluorescent lighting. So I grabbed the first taxi driver that was willing to take me for $4.
I'm staying at the KC Hotel in Damside. The 'other' side of the the tracks. $6 a night gets you a huge 3-person room with a bathtub nearly as decrepit as Tom Denson's was in Ocean City, Md. Big double-bed and a single to put my suitcase on. Desk, wardrobe and lots of outlets. Breakfast included. Large terrace overlooking a placid lake. The water's edge is so close to the hotel that I might be able to see myself in its mirrored surface if only I could lean over the railing far enough.
The night-sky was filled with stars reflected by water. It was hard to see a horizon. I finally got to sleep around 11 PM. Slept like a baby until 4 when I sat up like it was Christmas morning and knew that I'd never go back under. So I threw a jacket on, settled
My $6 Room
Just don't look in the bathroom.
into a terrace chair, feet on the railing, pulled my head down between my shoulders like a baby chick and looked to see what there was to see. As the sky began to glow with pewter-soft, early-morning light; Songbirds revealed themselves in the shadows. There are so many different species of birds here. Blackbirds with brilliant-scarlet wings. Sparrows in flight that make a sound like a Hummingbird's flutter. Mockingbird-sized things with long tails looking like little planes pulling banners over Coquina Beach back home. Huge, Kilbarri-sized eagles circling the lake, heads down, looking for breakfast. Brilliant-white Snowy egrets flying in long, undulating ribbons that skim across the lake's surface.
To my right I saw a pyramid-peak which the locals refer to as the 'The Fish Tail'. I see no tail. To me it looks like the Matterhorn set atop a wide, granite table. As the sun climbed, other mountains revealed themselves one after another until the entire range lay bare. I've never seen or felt anything quite like it. The mass of them is hard to describe but their gravity pulls you out of yourself. They're encased in a prismatic ice that refracts the sun-light into a speckling of
brilliant, gem-stone hues. It was more than I hoped for. Before I came out here, a number of experienced people told me not to expect much if I didn't climb at least a couple of thousand feet vertical up the northern ridge. Otherwise it was too cloudy to see much of anything unless you got lucky.
After the show went on for an hour, the sun did its thing; Glacial-mists simmered off the peaks. Mists evolved into clinging clouds. After that you couldn't see squat. Perhaps it's just a matter of getting out of bed earlier.
I took a cold water shower. I'm toweling off my shivering self and wondering why the hell I'm putting up with cold water showers when I look out the window and see a Nepali woman bathing herself and her two kids in the frigid lake and a hard, policeman's knock spikes my door so now I'm crow-hopping on one foot, listing hard to starboard while I try to pull denim over wet skin and when I finally throw the door open and say "Yes!?' I find a small, smiling waiter presenting me with a cup of milk tea. He bowed from the
Look fast because this lasts about 5-minutes.
waist and said, "Welcome to Pokhura Mr. REE-Charts".
If after this trip is over. If after months of travel I never see anything better than Nepal. Nepal will have been enough.
I left Kathmandu after 4 days though I could have stayed there longer. With only a thirty-day visa and the entire country laid before me I decided to move 200-miles west to Pokhara. You have a few options to get there. You can fly which takes 20-minutes and costs just over $100 one-way. You can hire a private car. You can take a 'Tourist' bus for $15 or you can take the local bus and ride with livestock. I picked tourist bus. Booked the ticket with my hotel though I might have paid less if I had shopped around but the hotel manager cancelled the $6 airport pickup charge so net cost to me was $9 for the bus.
If you're staying in Thamel the best thing to do is get a Cyclo to the 'Bus Station' for $2. The reason being that; dragging your stuff over potholed lanes to a place you've not been before is not a good way to start a long day.
Boats For A Paddle
This is below my terrace. In the morning people come to bathe, later to launder, later still to swim and fish.
I squeezed into the tiny metal cyclo seat with my stuff and we pushed off. Or at least my elderly driver did. There is no 'Bus Station' in Kath. At 6:30 AM a wide boulevard just outside Thamel is lined for hundreds of meter with buses awaiting passengers. I had no idea which bus I was looking for but my cyclo man did. I stashed my suitcase in the boot and looked for breakfast. Sidewalk is lined with vendors selling snacks and water from baskets hanging from their necks. Baked goods, candy, nuts, chips and of course, Pringles. All of it slightly overpriced but not at a criminal level.
The bus pulled out and we were on our way. On our way, that is, in the company of all the other buses that had been lined up with us. Most of those were headed to Pokhara too. We drove long and slow through Kath's sprawling west side 'burbs. The trip was scheduled for eight hours. All of it on a two-lane road that serves as the major traffic artery heading to the western provinces. We stopped less than an hour later for a potty break in a dusty parking
Adelet; Tibetan Refugee
She hangs roadside and deals handicrafts. Great English speaker. Translator stuff.
lot with a small restaurant. We stopped an hour after that for a breakfast break in a place serving Indian and Nepali food. The restaurant's bathroom is a small, outside building with two squatters total. I'm next in line. A Nepali woman with a 9-month oldish baby in her arms is hopping from foot to foot behind me so I told her to go in ahead of me which she does, after she hands me her baby. But that's cool. I'm a certified baby guy. Nepali babies are solid. Mine felt like a 30-pound cuddle. I get a tap on the shoulder and a different woman places her baby in my other arm. The first woman comes back smiling, takes her kid and leaves. A third woman thrusts her baby at me. Same thing. So I got to hold a total of four Nepali babies and they were mellow as could be but I still had to use the bathroom so I started hopping from foot to foot. The babies giggled.
Five minutes after we had left the restaurant, all traffic came to a halt beside a white water river. The road here is built on a shelf carved
My Hotel Is At The End Of This Cove.
Reminds me of Orr's Island in Maine.
out of a river hugging canyon wall. Grades are nearly vertical and stony earth falls onto the road constantly. A big rainstorm the night before had caused some major littering. And so we sat. I figured we'd be there for a while what with all of the ambulances flying up the apron and military vehicles following them. I took my book out and sat under a tree by the water. Two rafts full of white water tourists, hooted at us as they shot past. Beautiful spot that reminded me of Pisac, Peru. A lengthy, steel-cable pedestrian bridge crosses the river here. Women with babies bundled to their backs crossed back and forth. Viscous, brown water roared beneath them.
When another ambulance blew by I decided that I had time for a walk. I plodded up past the traffic jam for about 2-miles. The road twisted its way through a steep, dark, narrow LOTR canyon. There was a small village built vertically upon a small ridge. A concrete staircase led to the top. Along its length were homes dug into the ridge. On the stairs sat small groups of red-sari' women holding baby goats while their kids flew up and
When You Have Nothing Else To Do
After the first 2 hours of stoppage, passengers amused themselves
down the stairs. They love their goats in Nepal. The village had a couple of small grocery stores. Hungry bus riders bought them out of every snack they had. An enterprising village woman walked down the line of vehicles selling quartered cucumbers. She did quite well. They love their cukes in Nepal.
After 5 hours we were on the move. Albeit a slow move. We pulled into our lunch stop at 4:30. By the time that was over with the sun was low in the west and blazing red. We came down a steep ridge and the world opened up. It was the very same sensation I got when I first saw the Ashau Valley in Vietnam. Here is a wide, flat valley floor carpeted with rice paddies. The rice plants are a short, thick variety that I haven't seen before. A beautiful dark green in color. The valley is miles across. In the fields are small, unpainted wooden homes. A wood platform mounted with a 20-foot pole acts as a haystack frame. In the fields women hoe along rows of plants. Bent at the waist they work methodically with their short-handled tools. They wear white, rolled turbans with
Village On The Pokhara Road.
Made a killing on snacks as hungry westerners bought everything in sight.
wide tails to cover their backs. A Christmas-red, short-sleeved blouse. A sarong and around their waists they wear a cummerbund made of rolled cloth in primary colors. In the late evening light, the women's' red blouses blazed like poppies against the sage paddie backdrop. Out, beyond the fields, you could see the dim outline of something very large.
We rolled into Pokhara 5-hours late but we got there. Sometimes that's enough. I said goodby to my seatmates and bid them a good life. Hailed a taxi and there's where we started.
Pokhara is a trekker town. It's the beginning of the Annapurna Circuit which is a 17 to 21 day hike, depending on your fitness, through the Himalayan foothills. The trekking companies describe the walk's difficulty as moderate. It is not. You will be reaching altitudes of 17,000 feet over rocky ground. You will carry a pack. You will be spending your nights in 'Tea Houses'. Unheated shacks with bad food and shared squatter bathrooms. In your sleeping bag every night will be your batteries. If you do not sleep with them, they will become so cold as to be non-functional. And you will do this every day
Still has moisture issues doesn't it?
of the trek. In the restaurants here you see three types of people. Drained ones who have just completed the trip. Quiet ones who had to turn back and excited ones who have just arrived to begin the trek. The Annapurna will teach you what your physical limits actually are. Not what you think they are. I had dinner with a group of kids who were heading out in two days time. They invited me to go up a peak with them the next day to see the World Peace Pagoda. They asked me if I had a scooter and I said that we could walk it. A young Brit looked at me incredulously and said, "Why would you want to walk all the way up there?"
It's a kid's town. Lots of bars and restaurants and hotels and hemp shops and more bars. The popular neighborhood in Pokhara is 'Lakeside'. This is where all the money is. The locals are throwing up guest houses as fast as they can. The newer 'packer hotels are west of town and without paved roads. You can get a room for six bucks or three hundred. There's an airport with direct service
My New Boots Looking Not New
Good boots. Bought them in Kathmandu for $35. Guy threw in two pair of socks.
to Kathmandu. 58% of the economy in this town of 335,000 people is dependent on tourism. They all speak some English. The problem in Nepal is electricity. Power can go off at any time and stay off for hours. When the power goes down so does the Internet many times. As a result you take advantage of any electricity you can get. All of my blogging here is done off-line to be uploaded as soon as the lights go back on.
If you are an outdoors type or you just want to try it on for size then you can do no better then Pokhara. Treks can run from 2 to 21 days. You choose. There are trails in the area that you can do solo. Difficulty level of a trek is your choice. You can make it as hard or as easy as you like. The reward is a visual and physical experience that will stay with you for years.
The Happy-Pants girls should be landing in Kathmandu right about now. I don't think that Karen and Karlie are coming here to Pokhara though I sold Karen on it hard. Trekking isn't high on the list but
they say they might try a three-dayer out of Kath. They should have plenty of shopping fun in Kath. Interesting collection of stores in a hassle free environment. Karen and Karlie survived an earthquake in Northern Thailand just before they left Chiang Mai for Bangkok. I was in a Greek quake and they are twisted scary. Some swaying back and forth occurred for 10-15 seconds at the massage place where Karen and Karlie were but that was the extent of it and nobody was reported hurt in Chiang Mai. Karen's Birthday is on the 14th of May so send her a congrat or a sympathy card depending on your age stance. Mother's Day on Sunday. Happy Mom's Day Moms!
Shouts to all my boys; Montgomery, Pickering, Stites, Schaudies, Duarte, Jessup and Noah. Maintain men. Maintain. To my Weisbaden music students; Keep practicing! To Markuz; How is your football team doing? To Tom and Ellen; What's up? You never write. You never call. Where's the love? To Greg in Seattle; I'm living next to a battalion of Gurkhas here. These guys are hard core PT-wise and they sport big knives. Saw the picture of the excavation Greg. Dig deeper.
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