"was that a water buffalo!?" - postcard perfect Pokhara

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March 29th 2014
Published: April 6th 2014
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water buffalo's on main street Pokhara
23-29 March, Pokhara

Exchange Rate $1AUD = 86NRP (slightly less than Kathmandu)

The trip from Kathmandu to Pokhara is only around 200km, however it took 8 hours for the bus to negotiate the winding bumpy “highway". We rode with Mountain Overland for $14USD one way per person. The bus was comfortable and clean, and was only around 40% full. We stopped about 4 times for toilet and tea/lunch breaks. The trip takes around 1 hour to get out of Kathmandu and then hugs the mountainside, winding its way gradually downhill and then uphill again, all the way to Pokhara. The roads are quite shocking in some places. Even with a seatbelt you find yourself flinging out of your seat as the bus rocks frantically from side to side. You need to hang on for dear life to the seat in front of you, and if you are unlucky enough to have dozed off before hitting one of these typical sections of road, you may just find yourself laying in the bus aisle from the extreme inertia. Driving on Nepalese roads is well interesting to say the least. There are no lanes, just horns! The appropriate law must be; when overtaking, don’t bother looking or acknowledging what is coming in the other direction, as long as that oncoming vehicle is smaller than you or you are going faster than it, feel free slide into the oncoming traffic, honk your horn constantly, and overtake at your own leisure.

Driving through Kathmandu, in a way, it sort of reminded me of being on the top of a double decker bus, cruising through North-West London. The streets looked similar, and the shopfronts all had their wares out on the street by day, and by night were closed securely shut behind colourful advertisement plastered roller shutters. Okay, okay, so perhaps the Nepalese streets were a bit more littered and a little more grungier than London. Oh and I did see a large long tailed monkey just cruising down the footpath at one stage, owning the streets like a homeless dog! A lot of the shop owners leave out customary burning incense sticks on their street fronts and it is also hard not to notice that it appears when people decide to decorate the ouside of their buildings, that they head straight to the nearest Dulux centre and ask for the cheapest tin of paint possible. More often than not this seems to have given them only the choice of a few hideous, yet somehow harmonious, colours of bright purple, pink, blue, orange and green. Cruising further afield and into Kathmandu Valley, you start to notice the tens, upon hundreds, of clay brick factories. With their huge dominating single smoke stacks, and bright terracotta coloured bricks in abundance. The surrounding land around the factories consists of mini clay mines, all allotted and aligned out in an orderly fashion. HOOOOONNNKKKKK, another colourful “Road King” truck goes whizzing past as you fly out of your seat, bringing you back down to earth with the thunderous sound of their passing engines.

As you venture closer to Pokhara and start rolling down the mountain roads you also notice that roof cladding nails are yet to be discovered here in Nepal. Instead, packs of roof sheets are securely placed and held down by boulders the size of large watermelons. Not just one or two boulders, we are talking a pile of rocks that would literally weigh more than another floor of a building. For the buildings that aren’t covered by this local roofing system, there in its place stands instead an unfinished storey. Signified by the large lengths of rusted steel reinforcement column cages protruding out of the concrete “roof”. However, the floor below seems to be completely finished, painted and tiled. Had they run out of money, were they expecting a larger family later in life, or were they keen just to allow for some sort of future flexibility in the building’s purpose? Whatever the case, it certainly adds to the country's bursting charm and character.

We rocked and rolled (literally!) into Pokhara, with a population of around 250k, and the weather is quite overcast, meaning that the normally visible 8000+m peaks of Dhaulagiri, Annapurna, and Manaslu, and the gorgeous fishtail mountain Machhapuchhre(6993m), were, well, not so visible! We spotted a man with a sign for Orchid Hotel, where we had made prior reservations, and take a free ride directly to the hotel’s doorstep. We are spending a little over our $20AUD per night budget for this hotel as we figured we needed a bit of “luxury” in order to help us recover from recent health issues. Although at $30AUD per night, I wouldn’t exactly say we are breaking the bank! The room is really nice, it has a queen sized bed, a private balcony, attached bathroom with a shower, and wait for it…… a real shower curtain, a western toilet, and basin. The room has constant free wifi, and a TV with about 75 channels to keep us occupied (well when the power is on which is rare during the day!). We are on the 5th floor so we also have great mountain views (when the clouds disappear) and we have a little desk, chair and a sofa to chill out on. Quite different to the “box with a bed” that we have been used to so far. We got excited about the shower curtain as most private ensuites in Nepal simply have a wet room, where you take a shower and the entire room gets saturated, including the toilet. So for the 12 hours following a shower you feel like Neptune, King of the Ocean, whilst you’re trying to relieve yourself.

Taking a stroll, we really like the feel and vibe of the town immediately. I guess you could say it has a bit of a hippy vibe to it (seems we are turning into hippies already....only 4 weeks in!). There is little traffic on the streets, besides the few water buffalos that mosey up and down throughout the day, and best of all the streets are clean. Like really clean, especially compared to Kathmandu. There are heaps of clean, bright, and airy looking eateries in town. Most of the restaurants are two levels with the top level containing a street facing balcony where you can sit and watch the world go by below you. We have already seen great menus for Italian, Mediterranean, Korean, Chinese, Japanese, English, and Nepalese food. We seem to be spoilt for choice, which is exactly what we crave….. variety. Sandwiched between the restaurants are small barber shops trying to sell me a clean shave, travel shops, massage parlours, yoga studios, and adventure agents selling paragliding and rafting among other thrilling encounters. In the backstreets kids play net-less badminton, and of course stray dogs still rule the footpaths. On the other side of the main street runs the 4km long, 2km wide Phewa Tal (Phewa Lake). On the water’s surface resides hundreds of colourful wooden row boats, ready for the adventurous tourist to take them out for a spin. Likewise on the Lake’s bed, hundreds of sunken wooden boat skeletons are visible from the shore. And all the while in the background, and to the South of the Lake, the forested mountains silently await ready to be explored.

Our main plan for Pokhara had really just been to find a nice room to stay in, relax, read, eat, perhaps get some exercise, and just generally soak up the vibe of the area and the people. We were both hoping that a week or so of this routine would allow us to rid our bodies of any health issues we were still carrying. I successfully managed to hunt down a gym that I had found online. Albeit after a 60 minute search and ask mission. I found it hidden away down a tiny little dirt lane and in a small brick and tin building with minimal ventilation. It cost only 200NPR per session. The equipment was straight out of the 80’s! It felt like I had stepped into Rocky Balboa’s backyard set up…. but it had everything I needed, so it was just perfect. It felt so good to be tearing my muscles again after almost 4 weeks away from the gym. I returned to the gym a couple more times during the week and had some fun doing a legs session and trying to create a lot of the same exercises I was doing back home with the limited and old school equipment that they had. A level of creativity was required for sure. I would also finish off with a 2km run navigating the back streets to the hotel whilst getting quite a few strange looks from the locals. I must admit I would have looked extremely out of place, just being a “flash” of a white Westerner, at break neck speed of course, in neon orange sneakers, runnings shorts, and a singlet.

Suz and I also found a nice quiet little yoga studio down near the Lake, called Pranyama Yoga. Sessions were 600NPR per person and we ended up returning for a second class. The first class we did together was quite intense and a little too dynamic still for Suz's sore rib. So we made sure the second class was a little more relaxed and all about the languid stretching instead. We would recommend this studio if you are into yoga. I find it helps with my troublesome lower back issues and pain. It is really nice whilst travelling to try and find some sort of routine, especially with exercise, if you can. It keeps you sane and helps relieve any symptoms of travellers burnout that you might start to get. We weren’t getting it as yet, but we were using exercise as a preventative as opposed to a cure.

We also spent a fulfilling half day checking out what Pokhara had to offer the avid tourist. We awoke early at 4.45am to get ready and out the door for our taxi pick up. The day before we had arranged a taxi to take us on our self guided, self organised 46km, 6 hour tour for the price of 2800NPR. It looked as though the weather was going to be kind to us as we could see stars through the pitch black, considering the last 3 days had been hazy and overcast. The first half of the ride to our first destination (Sarangkot) to view the sunrise over the breathtaking himalayan vista, was a breeze, nicely paved roads and a relatively smooth journey. However, the second half was up a steep winding road, and on an unpaved surface of dirt and large rocks, with many potholes. On numerous occasions our driver had to drop the car back into first gear, and at one point he even stalled it. We seriously had doubts we were even going to make the top for the views! But to his credit, he ploughed on, with his ever so tiny Suzuki wheels and rickety suspension, and we made the top, with about 15 minutes to spare before sunrise. Thankfully our driver also bypassed the mass upon masses of tourists that were all sitting on the grandstand view point and went a further 15 minutes up the steep road to the grassed helipad area instead. Here there were only around another dozen tourists enjoying the much quieter aspect. We were certainly in luck with the weather, the sky was beautiful and clear and the sun popped it’s head up over the rolling hills giving off gorgeous warm yellow, orange and red hues. The sun gradually hit the opposite snowcapped peaks and lit up the facades of the mountains slowly from within the mornings dark shadows. It was a spectacular site, and we just stood and enjoyed the vista for around 30 minutes.

It seems there was also an extreme western looking “hippy” enjoying the view. Before sunrise he had lit a fire on the hill and began chanting quite loudly and playing a strange thin paperclip like instrument that he held between his teeth and plucked with his fingers. He then proceeded to flick offerings of rice and milk out of a bowl with a spoon, perhaps to the mountain gods!? As strange as he appeared he managed to hold a captive audience of about 5 other people that were mesmerised by his trance, although he didn't seem to be a genuine religious person to us, just, well to be honest weird! It was worthy of a few smirks from Suz and I for sure, and we could hardly contain the laughs that arose from those smirks at one point, and as we passed him Suz couldn’t control herself and let out a few giggles (to the disgust of the weird hippy!).

From the stunning sunrise viewpoint it was then back down the bumpy road and to the Lakeside for a breakfast stop before continuing our journey, uphill again, to the World Peace Pagoda, on the opposite side of the Lake. There are numerous World Peace Pagodas around the globe. The first one was in Japan and started by Buddha himself. So I guess it is fitting that the one in Pokhara is a symbol of Japanese Buddhism. The pagoda stands about 30m in height and affords 360 degree views down to Pokhara and the surrounding mountains and hillsides. It is certainly worthy of a visit. The third and fourth attraction for the day was a quick stop at Gupteshwor Mahadev Caves and Devi’s Falls, across the road from one another and at the bottom of the pagoda hill. The caves were a little unspectacular. A climb down a large spiral staircase lead into the underground cavern. The first section held a small caged off temple. Inside the temple was a natural stalagmite that the locals have decided looks a little like a phallic symbol of Lord Shiva. Delving a little further into the cave we needed to crouch through low ceilings and climb down a ladder until reaching the end. At this point I believe there is to be an underground waterfall. However, I would imagine that during the wet season of June to August and perhaps into September it may be quite something to see. This is similar to the Devi’s falls. When we were there it was merely a trickle of water over a dirt creek bed, but I have seen pictures during the wet season and it looks like it rages quite a bit. Our advice would be, unless it is the wet season, don’t bother with either of these attractions.

Our final stop was the old town of Pokhara to check out the Old Bazaar and to try and get a bit of a flavour for the lifestyle and culture of the Newari people, the indigenous Kathmandu Valley settlement. We still aren’t quite sure if we were just visiting the area at the wrong time of day/week, or if the Bazaar is no longer running, however all we saw was the outside of the red brick buildings that hold the markets. I still can’t find any concrete information to tell me if the markets are still up and running and what particular time of the day or week they are on. Oh well, we took a walk around Old Pokhara all the same, and passed many hand crafted timber furniture shops and peoples homes in the backstreets. At one point a nice Nepalese man guided us around the streets for about 10 minutes and spoke to me mostly about cricket, and how he got his leg injury whilst serving in the Nepalese Army.

The following day, I had another first time experience in Nepal....going into a small locally owned and operated barber shop to get my post Himalayan trek facial hair attended to. Now I’m not the hairiest bloke in the world, and in fact I’m pretty lucky as I only really need to shave once a week. However it had been 4 weeks now, and my top lip was starting to resemble a cat fish, or perhaps even a samurai. The barber was a young Nepalese guy with a rocking hairdo and he charged only 200NPR for a clean shave with a cut throat razor. It was the first time I had had a shave like this and I really enjoyed it. He followed it up with a nose hair trim and a head and neck massage and then he also styled my hair to resemble his as much as possible. I ended up paying him 500NPR for his great service and the laughs and enjoyment that were had by both myself and Suz who was behind the camera for this experience.

On our last full day in Pokhara we hired a small wooden row boat and a boatman to take us out on the lake for an hour. We got a talkative and confident 16 year old Nepalese boatman that wanted to know our life stories. It was very calm and quiet out on the water and it was nice to get a different perspective of Pokhara. Although you probably couldn’t do any longer than one hour on these particular boats as your butt really starts to go numb from the hard wooden seats about 30 minutes in. There were a few people swimming in the middle of the lake, and also people singing and playing guitars on other boats. It would be a very relaxing way to spend an afternoon before sunset if you grabbed a more expensive and comfortable boat with seats, propelled it yourself, and took a few snacks and beers with you. There were some other larger boats that were propelled by pedalling, like a bicycle, instead of an oar.

It was then time to plan for our journey back to Kathmandu. We managed to find the actual Mountain Overland office to pay for our bus tickets back to Kathmandu and because we went directly to their office they gave us a small discount, we paid 1200NPR each instead of 1400NPR. We will be spending one more night in Kathmandu and then flying out to Bangkok, Thailand, where we are really hoping that the political tension has settled down. Although we have recently learnt that there is an election on the day we fly in. But fingers crossed it’s safe enough to get around on the train system and inside the large shopping malls. Our plan for Bangkok is to stock up on our summer clothes and sneakers for a couple of days and then get out of the city and head south to an island somewhere for some much deserved beach time!

Favourite Food Finds:-

• desserts at Cafe Concerto including rich italian thick hot chocolate and lemon meringue pie
• vegetable moussaka at Maya Pub
• twice daily cappuccino at am/pm organic coffee

Favourite Exercise Experience:

• Lake Breeze Gym for 3 weights sessions
• Pranayama Yoga for 2 sessions
• walking up and down 4 storeys worth of stairs every time we left or returned to our room!

We'll Remember This Place For:

• chilled out vibe and buffet of great restaurants
• gorgeous sunrise at Sarangkot
• dog’s barking throughout the night and roosters stirring well before dawn

Additional photos below
Photos: 49, Displayed: 35


6th April 2014

Jew's Harp
I think the hippy was playing a Jew Harp. The Jew's harp, also known as the jaw harp, mouth harp, Ozark harp, trump, or juice harp, is a lamellophone instrument, which is in the category of plucked idiophones: it consists of a flexible metal or bamboo tongue or reed attached to a frame. The tongue/reed is placed in the performer's mouth and plucked with the finger to produce a note. My Uncle Jim (Mum's brother) had one and I remember him playing it when I was growing up. Another exciting chapter, keep em coming. Love Liz xx
15th April 2014

Jew's Harp
Hi mum, just getting back to our comments, a little delayed! Wow there you go, learn something new everyday! A Jews harp hey?! It was definitely pretty funny when you combined it with his crazy stomping around, fire burning and milk throwing. Hehe

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