Namaste Nepal!

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Asia » Nepal » Pokhara
March 1st 2016
Published: March 2nd 2016
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I woke up staring at the bottom of the sleeper bed above me. The train was just pulling in to Gorahkpur station. Everyone was up and gathering their belongings. I walked out of the station and went towards one of the many buses parked on the roadside. I recognized some other travelers who had been on this train. I had met them and we had hung out together while waiting for the train which was delayed by an hour; two raucous Indian friends and a calm Japanese dude. We were all boarding the same public bus towards the Sonauli border crossing, taking about 3 hours. My time in India was coming to an end - for now. A few kilometres from the border we got caught in a caravan of trucks waiting to get across. The bus dumped us off and I walked first to the Indian customs both and got my exit stamp. Then about 200 metres later I walked into another office, filled out some forms, and paid my visa fee. And then I was in Nepal. I gathered with the other travelers and ate at a border restaurant, ordering some Chowmein.

Once my hunger was taken care of, I had where to go next. I hadn't figured out that part yet. I was kind of tired from traveling and wanted to go somewhere close. There was a quiet Russian girl going to a town called Lumbini. It was only 26 km away. I decided I would tag along and we hired a cycle rickshaw to take us to Bhairawa. Once there we spent the next half hour walking around and trying to find the bus. There was a rally and hundreds of people were marching the major street, it had something to do with the prime minister being in the town. We finally found a bus and headed to Lumbini. When we arrived there, I once again ran into the boys I had gone through the border with. They had wanted to go to Kathmandu but were not able to find a bus, due to the rally. They were going to hunker down until the next day. I teamed back up with them and found a guesthouse that would cost us each less than two dollars. We then went off and checked out some of the temple areas that lay near. Lumbini is the place that Buddha was born in and thus attracts a lot of Buddhists and historic tourists. We saw the building that Buddha was born in, and as well as some surrounding nature. The sun was descending and we headed back to our guesthouse area and explored the street. I learned that my new Indian friends had traveled throughout India and that this was their first time in Nepal. The Japanese guy had been on the road for several months and seemed to be a master of budget travel, based on the experiences he shared. I played card games that night, and ate Dhal Baht at a restaurant. I discovered that you can get refills on rice and sauce with this dish almost anywhere in Nepal. The Japanese guy was right when he said "I coming to Nepal because I am hungry". It was also cool to travel with some people who spoke fluent Hindi.

I had gone to bed early after an exhausting day of travel. I woke up before sunrise and walked down the street. There a bus waited to take me to Pokhara. For the next eight hours the based through Nepali lowlands and the Terai, an area of rich biodiversity and greenery. We passed through many Nepali villages and I began to notice that the people's faces were changing, having a mix of Indian and Tibetan. Although the distance was only 200 km, the road passed through very mountainous areas and the road was often windy and precarious. The bus honked loudly when approaching turns for fear of coming face to face with another bus or truck along the narrow and cliff-dropping road. The bus did finally arrive at the bus station in Pokhara, which is the getaway to the Annapurna region where thousands of trekkers are drawn each year. This is also the region that was affected by the massive earthquake last year. I met a French dude named Nicolas while on the bus who knew this town and country quite well and was walking to the lakeside part of town. He told me he might know a place where we could find cheap accommodation. We walked along and I got a brief tour of this part of Pokhara. Plenty of shops could be found and many companies offering trekking itineraries and other adventure activities. I was interested in doing some paragliding while here and walked into some shops to inquire. Unfortunately for me, there was an annual paragliding competition going on, so this meant that there was no paragliding being offered at all for the next week! I was pissed off about that, but decided I would see if there was any rafting I could try. This too wouldn't be possible because the water level was too low and cold. I also wasn't planning on trekking in this region, I would be going to the Everest Region for that. This left me scratching my head at what there was to do here.

Nicolas led us to this place called Phat Khat, as he knew the owner. It was a bar and restaurant, and the owner Mouk and Nic began to catch up. This place was slated to have a guesthouse and dorm but it wasn't going to be ready officially for another week. We asked him how much he'd charge us to let us stay. His response was just "stay". Sounded good to me. The dorm itself didn't have power or running water yet. Not that it mattered much, as Pokhara seemed to be having power cuts for up to 16 hours a day during this time. Nepalese people have had many challenges the past few years, the latest being that India had a blockade on the import of fuel that only ended recently. We hung out in the relaxing courtyard and ate some food. Then I played on the bar guitar while chatting with the many young Nepali guys. Later on we walked the town and got to view by darkness.

I woke up early the next morning and went to the lake, I interacted with many people and took many photos although it was pretty hazy. Then I ran some errands; found a working ATM, went to an internet cafe as there was no working internet where I was staying (throwback to my Far East trip a few years back), inquired on various info. I realized what some people have said regarding Nepal; that it's Diet India. The Nepali people are incredibly kind and don't seem to hassle in the least. Part of me would usually have my guard up with interactions in India, but not here. I came back to Phat Kath and then ordered a very late breakfast. I then walked back out and headed up one of the hills just behind this part of the town. The hike was nice and passed by many Nepali homes along the way. "Namaste!" (hello) was the common word spoken. I sat at the top for a while and then a young Nepali dude who had run up the hill, sat next to me and we discussed different things about Canada and Nepal. We stared off at the beautiful, albeit hazy, lake view. I descended back and it was dark as I returned. I met back up with Nic and we chilled out just outside the dorm room having beer while gentle reggae music came from the bar.

The nights get cold in Pokhara, so I had a bit of a chilly sleep. Nonetheless I was up early and after having breakfast, I walked down the street and met up with Som. He was the owner of a bicycle shop, mainly off-road mountain bikes. I had decided to rent a new Giant model and bought a map of Pokhara and the surrounding region. Som gave me some intel on a good route to try and I was sold. I left the shop and then biked down around the closest part of Phewa lake and then got around to the other side. From there I stopped to get some water and the shopkeeper was propositioning that I meet his daughter and then eventually take her to Canada. Sounded like a headache in bureaucracy to me. I climbed the stone and dirt road up towards the peace pagoda, and some parts of this route were steep. I'm talking like 40 degrees at points. I had to stop often and my heart was racing. I finally made it up to the pagoda and had a nice view of the lake. Sadly, today was also very hazy so it was difficult to see anything with much clarity. I got back on the bike and then headed an what I could only describe as an off-road route through the mountains. I thought the pagoda trek was hard but this felt infinitely worse. The road just climbed forever as it gained elevation. It wasn't even noon at this point and my workout felt done. But there was a lot more to come. I passed through different villages along the way. "Namaste!" we'd say to each other as I passed. The sun became hot and I noticed this challenge was unrelenting. I stopped often to rest and to ask directions because the map I had wasn't exactly precise for these dirt roads. Rarely did I get a downhill, but when it happened I had to be very careful not to go too fast for fear of jutting rocks. I wondered what I had got into and how Som had seen it wise to suggest this to me. Luckily I have some biking experience (mostly touring though), but I hoped this wasn't the standard advice he gave to your average traveler. The hours clicked by and I encountered many villagers and stopped at times to get a quick snack. Finally I passed through a town called Bhumdi. I met a young kid who begged me to try the bike. I said yes and before I knew it he was gone. Wondering if I had a made a gross error in judgement, he then came flying back down the trail he had gone up, quite out of breath at that. At least I wasn't the only one. I gave him a few rupees after he told me he had no parents and was very poor. Usually I only give food if someone asks me for something, but in this case I had no food on me and was really getting hungry.

I ended up riding all the way to a small mountain village called Tarehbir. I only found one person who spoke enough english to direct me down a path back towards the rivers that led back to the lake. If this was supposed to be the downhill path, then it was akin to wanting to commit suicide. Damn you Som! The path was narrow enough that only a person might fit comfortably and went through mountainous jungle and was made up mostly of rock steps. No way I would be able to cycle down this. It was like a double black diamond of mountain biking! I walked my bike down for a good part of the way. At times bulls would pass quite close and I had to move as far away as possible because they could become aggressive. I wondered how I got into this situation! Eventually the "path" widened and evened out enough that I was able to get on the bike and continue down, although I had both my front and rear brakes engaged almost fully. I was able to see where I needed to go, and that was a relief, because it would have sucked to run out of sunlight. The path down seemed to continue forever, but I also continued passing beautiful serene villages and scenery. Plus the fact that I didn't have to go uphill was pretty relieving. Of course go downhill too fast and you die. Eventually I made it all the way down, and when I looked back up, I couldn't believe how high up I had been. I found a way to cross one of the rivers at a place called Niremane, over a small suspension bridge. Then I cycled through the village of Pame and stopped to get some snacks. I let another little kid try out my bike, and his little sister jumped on with him. I carried on and made it back to the lakeside. I took in the sunset over the water, happy to not be stranded up on a hill in darkness. When I made it back to the bike shop just as it was going to close. I had circumnavigated the entire lake area and explored quite a few of the mountains, though I didn't realize what it would entail. Hindsight is always 20/20 I guess. I have no idea how many km I did in total but my cycling adventure lasted about nine hours. I let Som know about my journey, but he just smiled and said "You did it? Good!". He didn't get it.

I walked back through the main street and asked around for a place with a good and cheap Dhal Baht to indulge in. I needed calories! A shop keeper ended up directing me towards I small lane that I never would have ventured into otherwise, but he claimed they had some of the best around. Was he ever right about that. It was incredible and the owner told me to have as much as possible. He sat with me over chai after my meal. I walked back to Phat Kath and decided that stretching and then cleaning my body would be good priorities for that immediate moment. You better believe it was an early night for me, I felt destroyed but looking back I'm glad I got to experience the Nepali mountain villages in a way I never would have otherwise. And the best part was that my bike and myself came back damage free.

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