Cover Bands, Etonians, Mountain Vistas and Shiva’s Asian Tea House

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November 13th 2011
Published: November 13th 2011
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If you spend a good few days, as I now have, in Pokhara, Nepal, there are a number of things that make it a quite special place.

Initially one can be fooled into thinking Lakeside is just another over done tourist town, but it shouldn’t be judged until you’ve come back from some of the many adventures the area offers.

I have arrived here three times feeling exhausted and in need of TLC, and Pokhara’s cocktail of opportunity provided that in many forms.

Firstly, my accommodation; Century Guest House is situated just off the main strip, opposite somewhere I’ll come to later, Busy Bee Bar. Century is a pretty pink and blue town house situated in charming gardens and run by Dipendra and his family. Unlike other guest houses in the vicinity there was no one standing outside when I arrived offering “good, cheap room sir?” I had to walk in and ask, and when I did, they gave me a fair price straight away and the most comfortable room with en-suite I have had during this trip. On my return from trekking they welcomed me back like a member of the family, took care of my laundry, gave me back the belongings I had left with them, and ensured a good hot shower. This they also did on my return from my bike trip to Lumbini. This kind of care is priceless and I heartily recommend them to anyone who visits.

The next remarkable thing about Pokhara is the cover bands. You can judge bars on them. Along the main street of tourist shops, German Bakeries, internet cafes and restaurants are signposted a plethora of bars advertising “good live cover band”. As a rule of thumb, the further you go from the centre, the worse the band will be, but the cheaper the beer will be, such a conundrum. All cover bands play the same set list, from The Beatles, through the Rolling Stones, dipping into The Cranberries and a couple of Kings of Leon numbers to ensure the younger audience is satisfied. The best of a screeching bunch is to be found in Pokhara’s number one beer house, The Busy Bee Bar. An absolute tourist trap yes, but also the only place to wind up after a hearty post-trek meat intake at Everest Steak House. It was here I had my final ice-cold Everest beer in Pokhara, and shared the evening with the most unlikely of characters, an old Etonian. A Captain in Her Majesty’s service he was in Nepal to learn the native tongue of “his boys”, him being a posh officer of a Ghurkha Regiment. He was a barrel of laughs, but I mention it as it was brief reminder that we Brits, similar to the Nepalis, inhabited some completely different worlds within the boundaries of our shared ancestry.

Pokhara is split into a few easily definable sections and Lakeside is so termed for a reason, it runs along the eastern shore of Phew Tal, a huge lake whose activities are presided over by the matriarchal mountain, Machapuchare. On one memorable day Rober, Lynda and I hired a small row boat and enjoyed stunning clear sky views from the middle of the lake, and from a secluded beach on the other side (which was much further away that we at first estimated, and involved a good amount of paddling to reach).

All these things make Pokhara a place of comfort, beauty and pleasure for the weary traveller, but there is one other place worthy of special mention.

Shiva’s Asian Tea Shop, is, as the name suggests, an eat house run by Shiva, Tara and their wonderful family. Tucked away down a little alley, and with only two gas hobs, six chairs and two tables, it is easily missed. For those who do miss it, they’ll never be aware of the warmth, friendliness and fantastic food they provide. For 120NPR (£1) their version of Dhal Bat is superior to any (and I’ve had a good few) I have tried yet. Three or four different spiced veg dishes are served with the usual dahl and rice, and they provide the brilliant addition of curd, salad and papad. The first time you sit with them, you are greeted as a new family member, and every time you return the welcome gets warmer. Shiva encourages guests into the tiny cooking space and demonstrates his techniques, laughs and jokes with all the customers, and remembers everyone’s name. Fifty metres from his door you will pay 200NPR for a watery coffee and some dry toast, for 100NPR Shiva and Tara rustle up a breakfast of good Nepali coffee, tasty Omelette, curried Potato and Toast. If ever you visit Pokhara, take the time to visit them and I guarantee you will keep going back for more.

As if an omen, I rose with the dawn on my final day to heavy rain. Dipendra decided to take the opportunity and stay in bed, as I would have done were it not for another bus journey. Our planned early morning photo shoot was a wash out, meaning you’ll just have to go there yourself and find out Pokhara’s little gems in your own time.

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