Chilling lakeside in the Himalaya, Pokhara style

Posted: December 25, 2010 in Nepal
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Though sad to wave goodbye to the orphans in Sauraha, we were also excited to be heading to Pokhara for some mountain action (or is that mounting action?). We left Saturday 18th in the am, met a cool Belgian couple on the bus, Andy and Sarah, and hatched a plan to dig out trek info and meet for dinner the next night. We had booked a deluxe ensuite room at the Butterfly Lodge for a bargain $12 per night but some chancer taxi driver at the bus station did his best to dissuade us (quelle surprise!). The Butterfly Lodge, as highlighted by the Lonely Planet, donates a % of its profit to the nearby Butterfly Foundation, a not-for-profit day care centre for children from the poorest families in Pokhara and its surrounding villages. However, joe le taxi tried to persuade us that the family who run the hotel are really rich and give hardly anything to the people. Ironically, when pushed, he couldn’t confirm whether the place where he wanted us to stay gave anything to anyone other than the owner, his friend. Complete tool.

We stuck with our guns and insisted he drop us at the Butterfly Lodge. It was a shrewd decision. The place is ideally located at the northern end of Phewa Tal, the second largest lake in Nepal around which Pokhara is draped. It is the quietest part of town and within walking distance of all essential amenities, including the whisky shops. It is run by Govinda and his son Raj who also manages the Butterfly Foundation. The family set up the Foundation several years ago and have put a lot of energy and money into supporting local families. After dumping our bags we spoke to Raj about volunteer opportunities and he told us to visit the Foundation after our trek and he would be delighted to give us things to do. Our next blog describes our experience volunteering there.

World Peace Pagoda and Devi’s Falls

Perched at the top of a hill overlooking the lake, the World Peace Pagoda is a 2hr climb from Lakeside. We took a taxi to visit Devi’s Falls first, a waterfall that has carved open the rock at ground level and runs under the street. It is named after a Swiss woman who tragically fell to her death in the falls after heavy monsoon rains created a flash flood. The falls at first look rubbish but on closer inspection you can see the sheer drop and the funky patterns the water has carved out of the rock. We headed up the road from the falls towards the starting point for the path that climbs to the back of the pagoda.

The World Peace Pagoda is ironically named. There are 3 paths to the top but the most interesting routes, through the jungle and from the lake shore, are increasingly dangerous and many tourists have been robbed at knife point. We naturally erred on the side of caution and took the safest path which winds past people’s homes so you are never isolated. The view from the top over Pokhara and the valley is amazing but it was slightly marred by the raucous rumble of squabbling school children. We soaked up the sights of the mountains in the distance and then headed back down to town to meet our Belgian friends and sort the trekking plans for Monday.

Whistle stop tour of the Nepali Himalaya

Through the hotel we found a local guide who would take us on a 2 day trek through the local mountains for R1,400 per day ($20). Split between the two couples it was a good deal and our hotel reassured us that if the guide messed us around, they would take responsibility. After a hearty breakfast of porridge and banana with hot lemon tea (only $1.5) we hooked up with Raju and walked out of town towards Sarangkot, the first destination.

Sarangkot is a small peak that sits between Pokhara and the high Himalaya, the snow capped peaks. The walk is an early morning sharpener. After a brisk 20min stroll out of town on the paved road, you head straight up the mountain through people’s gardens and crop fields. The steps are steep and seemingly never ending. It takes about 2hrs to reach the top but the effort is worthwhile. Sarangkot offers 360 degree views of the Himalaya and Phewa Tal. On one side you can see across the shimmering lake to the World Peace Pagoda (ironic name because there are frequent muggings on the walk to the top) and on the other is the breathtaking panorama or snowy mountain peaks. It is a postcard moment and we sat and stared for a long time, soaking the views.

From Sarangkot the trek continued across the peaks and valleys of the lower Himalaya. The walk was not too demanding although the heat of the sun worked up a sweat. We arrived about 30mins before sunset at our incredibly over-priced lodge in  Naudanda. After a quick face wash we walked to the far side of town to get the best views of the mountains at sunset. It was a chilled experience, sitting in silence as the mountain hues changed from white to pink to red to black. After an average meal of vegetable thali (the staple Nepali diet of rice, daal, curry, chutney and yoghurt) we hit the sack early as there was nothing to do in Naudanda, literally a dusty road on a ridge between the mountains.

We rose early Tuesday morning to catch the sunrise. The girls left after 10mins, complaining about the cold. Andy and I opted to stay on to get the full monty. When the sun finally rose over the mountain tops, the colour display was spectacular. It was worth the effort and toughing out the cold.

After breakfast we walked on to the next stage of the 2 day trek, the climb up to Dhampus at the top of a higher peak. The climb was hard and Sarah struggled but dug deep and got to the top. We sat for a while to absorb the views – doesn’t matter how many times I see the mountains, I still find them impressive and inspiring. Our descent headed from Dhampus towards Phedi from where we had a 30mins sharp climb down the steps to the bus. The walk down was awesome as we passed through several small villages and said hello to the people who beamed smiles back at us. The people here are very friendly and always happy to welcome visitors with a genuine “Namaste, welcome”.

The bus journey back to Pokhara was hilarious. The bus was rammed so we had to wedge ourselves between the locals. As Nepali people are quite small (I am tall here!), the roof of the bus doesn’t allow me to stand up. Andy and myself had to semi crouch in the aisle and wind our legs around the food parcels on the floor. One lady got up and insisted I take her seat. I felt rude and said no thanks, that she should sit. It was an impasse until finally somebody explained that it was polite to accept the seat, so reluctantly I did but made sure I said thanks. The seat was cold comfort. The cushion was thinner than a size zero model so I spent the next 20mins with a metal bar rammed up my jacksy. I was glad to get off and jump into a taxi for the last leg of the journey to the hotel.

Routine maintenance

It’s amazing how quickly you can settle into a routine when you stop for a while in one place. After 5 days in Pokhara we are now living Groundhog Day every day.

* We wake about 07.30 and shower if we can find hot water

* We have breakfast at the same place near the hotel because we can get good food for less than $3

* Muneeza orders whilst I go to the sandwich shop to order lunch, the same order every day because it is so good

* After breakfast we get sorted in our room and head to the Butterfly Foundation (more in the next blog)

* When the kids go to sleep, we head back to the hotel and catch up on emails

* The afternoon is chilled with a walk around the town and then we have dinner in the same place

* We get back to the room about 20.00 and get into bed because it is so cold at night – we’re asleep by 22.00 latest.

It may be sad to admit but I love the ease of slipping into a routine and we’ve got another 3 days of this before the 12th Annual Pokhara Street Festival kicks to life on the 28th December. It should be a fun few days as Pokhara springs to life from its winter slumber and the streets are crammed with performers, tourists and crazy people. Our first festival on our travels – game on.

Hope you’ve enjoyed the update and Merry Christmas to one and all.

love james & muneeza x

Pokhara Nepal

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