A chronicle of Alison and Ron's trip around the world in 2009-2010.

"Not all those who wander are lost"
- Tolkien

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Pokhara Lakeside

Our jumping off point for the trek was Pokhara, a lovely and lush lakeside town, where the Himalayas reflect off the water, and everything and everyone is chill and relaxed. The bus ride was a bumpy 7 hour affair but we had front row seats for some breathtaking views of Kathmandu valley. The bus barreling far too fast for its badly worn shocks down a winding road next to a sheer drop off over gorges and the river below. Little villages and farms charmingly dotted the countryside blurring past our window.

We thought we were being savvy by packing our lunches ahead, but we ended up stopping for breakfast, lunch, and a pee break in-between. Our lunch of day-old Weizen pizza was eaten at lightning pace on the side of a bustling road where every honk nearly made me leap off the bridge we dangled our legs from into the sewage run-off below.

Before we took off, an old woman who could hardly stand without toppling over, limped to the bus window begging for money for food, so we gave her what would have been our lunch money. Grateful, she held her hands in prayer, Namaste.

We had booked ahead and stayed at Bedrock Hotel for the unbelievable price of 600 NRS ($8). I wondered, what is wrong with this place, that the price is so low? Well, for one thing, it didn’t include heat, which would have doubled the price but wasn’t really necessary with the extra blankets they provided. We also needed to toughen up if we were going to be heading into the mountains anyway. But the real shocker came when we first arrived. They said that they were overbooked for the first night and we would have to stay at a place next door, which we did not want to do.
Apparently a “big group” was arriving and renting all the rooms. After all my hemming and hawing over this, you know how annoying I can get, they relented into giving us our room and putting someone from the group in the other hotel. All was serene and peaceful, and we were snug in our bed by 10pm. About two hours later, it seemed we were engulfed in a flock of excited migratory birds. I couldn’t figure out what all the high pitched commotion was about until I peeked through the window shade and saw at least 100 teenage girls descend upon the hotel like a clearance sale at Forever 21. The group was not a bunch of trekkers (of course, what I assumed) but an entire high school class from Kathmandu on break. They packed 6 girls to a room, their flip flops flipped and flopped then flung in piles of pink and purple rubber in the hallway. Their loud incessant chatter overlapped each other in louder and louder waves of hysteria and then there was cackling about seemingly nothing at all that went on all night. Never having been a teenage girl, Ron couldn’t comprehend the situation and about died. I could understand it (even in Nepali you can make out the, like, you know when you like, y‘know, you know?) but it didn’t make it any more bearable. Worse, they didn’t check out the next day and we had to endure 2 nights of it.

The next day we went on a hike to the World Peace Pagoda perched on the mountaintop across Lake Fewa. We hired a local guy to paddle us across, who was very proud of Pokhara trying to relay facts and point out mountaintops in broken English. It made me think of Small from Ghana. There was a great secluded hotel right near the dock that would be a perfect place to relax after the trek, but alas they had no internet access - an unfortunate deal breaker.

The hike began as a series of stone stairs, that soon became clear that it was all stairs for a solid hour to the top of the ridge. It totally kicked our butt, we nervously glanced at each other, realizing that we were both in serious trouble to be going on a two week trek. Up is infinitely harder than all of our long walks put together. We scurried to the top at 1100m, the gleaming white stupa a jewel against the bluest of skies. In four alcoves around the perimeter, rested Golden Buddha statues.

In our glee, we didn’t notice the sign asking us to remove our shoes, and we were halfway up the stairs before a girl scoffed at us for sullying the sacred floor. Oopsie.

The vista was spectacular from this high up over Pokhara. From the lake below all the way to the snow-capped peaks in the distance, beckoning us. Or mocking us, we’ll see. Ron also snapped a great panoramic shot that is the new photo at the top of our site.

Then we declined two hours down the other side of the mountain and back around Damside (the local district) to Lakeside (the tourist district). Ron’s knees ached a little after this, and he got a little taste of what was to come. We wisely stopped at a roadside pharmacy and bought 6 sheets of ibuprofen. Locals here buy one or two pills at a time when they need it, so the pharmacist couldn’t understand what we would possibly do with 48 tablets.

Undeterred from our little walk, we rented gear for 15 days at Annapurna Trading Company for 230 NRS ($3) a day from a mustachioed man (like a young Sadam Hussein) who gave us a long commentary on Nepali politics free of charge. I still don’t really understand it, so I won’t try to paraphrase. To keep warm and snuggly in the high altitudes, we rented “Northface” down jackets and Negative 5 sleeping bags. In addition, we rented a big backpack for Krishna to carry everything in. We were quite lucky to rent brand-new, never before used (and abused) equipment, so we didn’t have to contend with any weird smells or worse - unidentifiable stains.

We also purchased a pair of trekking poles, which after hiring Krishna, was the second best decision we made on the trek. Although you look like a bit of a dork, they help immensely to keep balance on rugged terrain and reduce strain on your knees on steep downhills. I negotiated hard and got 4 “Leki” poles for 1700 NRS ($23). Although certainly not of similar quality being Chinese knock-offs, it was a startling price difference to our real Leki poles back home for $300.

Actually, the husband of the shop agreed to 1600 which put the wife in a sullen mood of disbelief at the nonexistent profit margin. I felt so bad for trying to get an extra dollar off from this poor woman, that I followed her out of the store and gave her 100 rupee bill. She hugged me, and we had a bonding moment commiserating about the men in our lives. Men and women, struggling to live and love each other, are alike all over the world. It made me realize in the often discomfort of the differences of culture when we travel, how many more basic similarities we share.

We unpacked nearly everything from our backpacks down to some essential personal items: toilet paper, sunscreen, sunglasses, camera, fleece hoodie, extra socks, t-shirt, flip flops. This would be the light day bag we would carry on the trek.

Then we loaded Krishna’s bag with everything else. First we stuffed in our sleeping bags, jackets, gloves, and hats. Then came our reading books (I brought a relevant book for inspiration- Annapurna by Maurice Herzog). Next was our ridiculously heavy first aid kit and shared toiletries case. Followed by about five pounds of Snickers and Bounty bars (these are like Mounds, mmm). And last but not least, a bottle of cheap whisky (at least we poured it into a plastic water bottle to lighten it up!). Yes, we had everything necessary to hike the Himalayas.

Everything left-over we left locked up at the Bedrock Hotel for our return. I was slightly horrified as to how much there was that we didn’t deem important enough to take with us. It was the size of a suitcase and weighed around 40lbs. What have we been carrying around?


corina December 13, 2009 at 4:13 AM  

it's amazing what accumulates even when you only have your back to carry it! we've hauled extra books around for a month now and we still haven't gotten to reading them.

looking forward to hearing more about your trekking adventure. i may have turned around after the first day ;p

There have been visitors to this blog and you are one of them. Thanks and have a beautiful day!