Oh yes… Pokhara was the big pouffe of our trip. The place where we decided to visit and put our feet up for a while after our trek up that little hill you may have read about in our last post. As it’s only a short bus ride from Kathmandu – well, 8 hours, but we’re used to those sorts of journeys now – we were planning to pop over for a couple of days after the trek. We’d heard so many good things about it from people we met while we were trekking, that we decided to sacrifice a couple of side treks on the way down to be able to relax there for a little while longer. I have to admit that the decision was slightly influenced by a few mornings of waking up at 5am in a tiny timber room to the sight of my own breath condensing in front of me, exhausted after only getting about three hours sleep, with dry cracked lips and a very sore throat. The thought of chilling out at a lakeside restaurant with a beer and a pizza was somewhat attractive at 5500m, and we booked our bus tickets straight away once we got back to Kathmandu. We could’ve flown a 30 minute flight but the only time we wanted to brave Kathmandu airport again was to get out of Nepal. The following morning, we we’re on the bus heading for Pokhara!
Despite being slightly worried by the sight of an overturned bus at the side of the road as we wound our way down the Kathmandu Valley, the journey was quite pleasant and we got there on time. Whereas I’d usually have stepped off the bus fully prepared to begin shouting down a barrage of hotel offers and insisting that we’ll be going to the hotel we want to go to, despite their advice that it’s full/burnt down/run by gangsters, I was feeling quite relaxed about the whole thing. Maybe it was just Pokhara’s influence, but it could’ve also been that I’d just woken up after a long snooze on the bus. So we ended up going through the usual tourist charade. We got into an overpriced taxi, the driver’s ‘cousin’ gets in and proceeds to tell us that the hotel we’re intending to stay at has lots of construction going on around it and that we should take a look at his brand new place where it’s nice and quiet. I agreed to have look and after visiting our intended hotel first (nice and quiet, no construction at all), I found that his ‘nice and quiet’ place was so new it wasn’t actually finished and I had to step through the sawdust of the reception desk, which was still being noisily built in the lobby as I walked past. Needless to say, we returned to the first hotel.
We had 5 nights in Pokhara, which is a lovely quiet city by the lake Phewa Tal. The main drag, Lakeside, runs along the east bank on the lake and is simply a huge collection of cafes, restaurants and bars, all interspersed with trekking and travel shops. We spent most of our time relaxing and reading while aimlessly floating from café to restaurant to café, the details of which I won’t bother writing here. It was a great place to be after the trek.
On our second morning we decided to see whether we still had what it takes to walk up a big hill and took an early morning hike up to the World Peace Pagoda which has great views of Pokhara, although the Annapurna mountain range was hidden by a thick haze which was a little disappoining. Later that day I decided to take one of the barbers up on his offer of a shave. Only 50 Rupees, what a bargain! After a great shave with a cut-throat razor, and without any further discussion, the barber then carried on with a head, face, eyeball – surprisingly good – and back and shoulder massage. As I was enjoying what was a fantastic massage (but not as good as the one I had by the womens’ prison inmate in Thailand!), I knew I’d be paying more than 50 Rupees. Sure enough, even as I begun asking him how much the bill was, he was already punching numbers into his calculator. The number punching lasted for a silly amount of time, and consisted of a sequence of exaggerated button poking as he held the calculator close to his chest like a posessive child. I watched with interest and some amusement. I’m sure the number pressing was totally random, and after a more controlled press of A/C, 1, 4, 5, 0 at the end… he showed me the fruits of his apparently extensive calculations. Hmm, 50 Rupees, to 1450 Rupees with no prior agreement? I didn’t think so, gave him 300 and left.
Over the course of the Base Camp trek, our staple diet of mainly Mars and Snickers bars was great for keeping us going. In Pokhara, the milkshakes, pizza, ice cream and beer needed to be burnt off somehow so we decided to go for a jog in the mornings. Jogging up and down Lakeside before 7am was an interesting experience. The first time I was going just fine, I’d ran ahead of Alexandra and had a good rhythmic pace when I spotted a guy crossing the road holding a big tray covered with newspaper. As we got closer I noticed that he was heading to cut me off, he’d obviously spotted me first. He then stepped right in front of me and lifted the nwespaper to uncover a huge pile of pastries. ‘Pastry sir?’ he asked as I dodged him and carried on up the street without answering. As many street sellers do in Asia, he then continued to reel off his full list of available products, as if I’d suddenly hear something I couldn’t resist, turn around and run back to buy it from him. I don’t know… maybe I did look like I wanted a massive chocolate croissant as I was running up the street. On the way back I was asked by a barber if I wanted a shave and a haircut (I probably could have done with the haircut, but I was completely clean shaven!), and yes I was still running. By that point I’d already been approached by two other pastry sellers and I’d started annoying myself by replying with an out of breath ‘no thanks!’, as if they were actually asking me a reasonable question given my situation. Towards the end of my run I noticed in my peripheral vision a car was matching my speed along the road. It stayed there for about 100 metres before the window was wound down, a head poked out and I heard ‘taxi sir?!’ I must have looked like I needed it, and I have to say, I was very tempted. I soon realised during my second morning jog that this was the norm in Pokhara.
A couple of days before we were due to leave our lovely hotel manager decided it’d be a nice thing to do to tell us that he had a large group of trekkers arriving back early and that despite us booking 5 nights, there wouldn’t be room for us on our last night and that we’d have to find another hotel. We argued and after threatening to write to Lonely Planet, TripAdvisor etc. he gave in and agreed to let us stay. It put a bit of a downer on our remaining time at the hotel but it wasn’t too bad. That same day we cheered ourselves up by doing one of the things that Pokhara is famous for in Nepal, Paragliding!
We were driven by jeep to the top of Sarangkot, one of the big hilltops surrounding Pokhara, and assigned our pilots. Alexandra took off first with her Czech pilot and I followed with my French pilot (who oddly had the same name as my mum, Flo, but thankfully short for Florent rather than Florence as he was a bloke). It was a great experience. Flo told me all about how to look for thermals and taught me how to steer into them and stay in their core. We ended up spending most of our time as the highest pair in the air and we were fortunate to see yet another stunning Nepali view. Pokhara and the lake were below us and to the south, and the Annapurna mountain range (which had finally revealed itself from behind the mist for the first time since our arrival) was to the north. Flo finished off the ride by taking us over the lake and making a speedy descent with a bit of aerial acrobatics. He did some swinging from left to right, which was a bit sickening, and then switched into a huge downward spiral which had us flying almost horizontally as we dropped. He then finished the ride with a perfect landing next to the lake!
We left Pokhara without saying much to our silly hotel manager, and headed back to Kathmandu. The following day we returned to the ariport and had a nerve-wracking wait to get out of Nepal. Our next stop will be Hanoi and I’m writing this while sitting on our final flight of the 3 it has taken to get there. Yesterday, while everyone trying to get to Europe was stuck in Kathmandu because of the Icelandic volcano ash, we were yet again delayed by the fog around the airport, and were worryingly close to missing our connecting flight in Delhi. We spent the whole flight stressed that we’d be stuck in Delhi yet again. When we arrived we were so relieved to be met by a member of Air India staff (who happened to be one of the most pleasant Indians we’ve met!), were transited through smoothly and told that the aircraft we were flying to Bangkok on was the same one we’d just arrived on, so it was actually impossible to miss the connection after all! Our transit was completed with us arriving at the gate just as our names were announced over the P.A. system, which was a first for both of us. Oh and we didn’t realise until we boarded that we had been upgraded to business class too, perfect!
After a night in a nice hotel airport in Bangkok, with a pad thai for dinner, we were up this morning at 3.45am to catch our flight to Hanoi. I still can’t believe that we actually managed to get from Kathmandu, to Delhi, to Bangkok and then to Hanoi, in less than 24 hours, with all of our baggage and even with a business class upgrade… hopefully this luck will continue for as long as possible!
Here are some pictures from Pokhara.