Namaste Pokhara

Posted by on Apr 19, 2013 in Featured, Nepal | 0 comments

A visit to Nepal is not complete without hiking the Himalayas.  Months ago, when we were planning to volunteer in Nepal, I eagerly and naively asked Mike, “Oh! Should we hike Everest!?”  After being quickly shot down (apparently expert climbers die each year attempting this feat) and doing a little more research, I learned that it takes weeks to trek and acclimate to the altitude at even just Everest base camp.  Since we only had 2 weeks in Nepal, we were going to figure out another way to get our hiking fix in.

We decided to take a long weekend trip to Pokhara, a picturesque lake town that serves as a springboard for many of the most popular treks in Nepal due to its proximity to the Annapurna Mountain Range. While we were still too short on time to do any of the real hikes (these typically take 5-10 days) we knew that the fresh air, short walks, and inviting atmosphere would serve us well.  We were also keen on spending some time alone.  Between the 24/7 driver in India and the constant interaction at the Nepal volunteers house, Mike and I had not really had one on one time in three weeks.

We booked the tourist bus to Pokhara because local buses have a high fatality rate.  If it were not for the beautiful views of rice paddies and mountain cliffs, the 8 hour, unairconditioned, cramped ride to Pokhara would have been unbearable. I was just thrilled that the bus’ breaks, however squeaky, worked.  Upon arriving into Pokhara, we avoided the swarming mass of hotel owners angling for our business by opting to walk from the bus station into town.  

From the very start, I could tell I was going to love Pokhara.  While touristy, it was exactly what Mike and I needed: a beautiful setting, the ability to eat some good Western food (pizza never tasted so good!), and the possibility of hiking the Himalayas.  We used our weekend in Pokhara as a relaxing retreat.  We strolled around Phewa Tal (the lake, and centerpiece, of the town) at every time of day.  We allowed ourselves to get lost in the numerous bars, restaurants, and cafes making it a goal to find the most delicious momos (traditional Nepali dish similar to a Chinese dumpling), and best happy hour deal. We even found a local yoga and meditation studio so Mike could experience his first practice in a country known for the art.  And, in true Nepali fashion, all public transportation went on strike for one day, leaving us nothing to do but lounge at a cafe drinking coffee, eating pastries, and catching up on email (a strong wifi signal has been our most elusive luxury thus far)…and it was glorious! 

While we did not have the typical “Pokhara trekking experience,” we did get a chance to do some walking.  We decided to hike up to the top of the World Peace Pagoda, a Buddhist stupa (temple) built on a hilltop overlooking the lake.  The stupa was constructed after the atomic bombs by a Japanese Buddhist to promote and celebrate world peace.  Even though there were several straightforward ways of getting to the pagoda, we opted for the “scenic” route.  After reading a four line paragraph in “Lonely Planet, Nepal” we felt prepared to embark on the walk.  Instead of a simple hike to the top, we encountered wrong turns, major detours, and multiple interactions with locals that knew only enough English to point in a very general direction when asked by two dehydrated Americans, “Stupa!?  World peace!?”  Eventually, we found ourselves at the base of an extensive staircase leading us to the World Peace Pagoda.  The climb was steep and long and I swear that the stupa kept moving further away. Finally, after 4 hours of wandering and climbing under the scorching sun, we arrived.  Sadly, the view of the distant, snow-capped mountains was almost nonexistent because of the Nepal haze that hung over town (due to dust and pollution, skies in Nepal have a constant cloudy appearance until after monsoon season.  We learned that the best time to see views is in the fall).  But, we participated in the traditional clockwise walk around the stupa and snapped a few photos before heading down to the lake to experience what ended up being the highlight of our day: a ride back to our side of Phewa Tal.

To avoid repeating our lengthy walk, we decided to take the quick way home and hop on a rowboat across the lake.  This experience was incredibly memorable and encapsulates why we went on this extended journey;  It afforded us stunning “once in a lifetime” sunset views and a priceless interaction with a local.  (We were forced by a grinning Nepali man to switch boats in the middle of the lake due to the fact that we didn’t have enough life jackets on board.)

We did not get the traditional Himalayan trekking experience.   In fact, we basically got lost and sunburnt on our walk to the Peace Pagoda hilltop.  But we did not care. Our relaxing time in Pokhara allowed us to escape the bustle and pollution of Kathmandu, reconnect over cocktails, and have a vacation within our travels.  I am so glad we said namaste to one of Nepal’s most popular weekend getaways.

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