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

"Not all those who wander are lost"
- Tolkien

Saturday, December 5, 2009

The Peace of Pokhara

“No other mountain view in the world is equal to Machhapuchre, with Annapurna hanging there in the sky above the green Pokhara plain.”
-Tilman, Legendary British Mountaineer

After the trek, we arrived back in Pokhara ready for some serious rest and relaxation. We searched and searched for a guesthouse that was both reasonably priced and had an in-room internet connection. This was much tougher to find than you would expect. None of the budget guesthouses offered wifi and the places that did were too expensive and charged by the hour. We almost caved and checked into Hotel Barahi, one of the most costly options in Pokhara, from sheer desperation but we would have to eat and drink air for two weeks. Unlikely. Dejected, we crossed the street and ran into an enterprising guy who jury-rigged an internet connection from the hotel office through a second story window into our room. For $25 a night, we were stoked. And we also got a bed with a real comforter and a bathroom with a bath tub! Unfortunately the food at the hotel sucked, so we were forced to leave our safe haven a couple times a day in search of sustenance. Aw, well you can’t have it all.

We had a couple favorites that we visited several times. A local dive nearby the hotel, called Aashis Fast Food, was run by the sweetest husband and wife team. They served up decent fare for super cheap and even let me take away a tray of dishes when Ron got sick one day (we think from the horrid room service at our hotel).

There is a lot of variety in the restaurants in Lakeside and we enjoyed: Japanese, Korean, Indian and Mexican dishes. Our clear favorite was Everest Steakhouse that served up huge steaks smothered with your choice of toppings like grilled onions and champignon mushrooms. We would order the half steak for 325 NRS ($5) which was about 12 ounces of steak alongside steamed vegetables and french fries. I think we went 3 or 4 times, including a reunion dinner with Yoav and Michal, and it was consistently yummy. The only criticism I could make was that they had the dullest steak knives on earth. Lucky the steak wasn’t too tough but it did measurably slow the mastication of the meat to have to cut through it with a butter knife.

And then there was the coffee. Ron, a self proclaimed coffee addict, has never quite adjusted to Nescafe and often laments that the budget restricts his free intake of caffeine. So imagine his glee when he found not one but several restaurants offering organic coffee, filter coffee, and the much sought after French press coffee. Oh my.

Although, many days we nested, there was always a cacophony of sounds outside our bedroom window to keep us company. It would start with a startlingly loud Moo! In the dead of the night. So loud, I would jump upright in bed, positively sure the sound emanated from somewhere as close as the bathroom. Later, with the birth of dawn came the loud crowing of birds rising and falling in waves upon the winds above the hotel. Then the vegetable guy would push his cart by at 7am sharp like he has probably done for 20 years calling something nasally monotone that sounded like “Ma na maaaaaaahr”. Next as the locals rise to get ready for the day there is the frequent ralphing sounds as they suck their snot through their nose and spit it out. No one uses tissues or handkerchiefs around these parts, that’s just nasty. It is much more socially acceptable to be a diminutive and smooth skinned Nepali woman walking down the street hawking up a loogie. Skink-hock-ptui!

The streets or street alongside the lake has just the perfect amount of action. There isn’t too much traffic. The sidewalks are wide and welcoming for us pedestrians, and there’s always something interesting to behold. One day, Ron saw the most unorthodox (read: inhumane) way to transport live chickens via motorbike.

One afternoon, we watched a bad action movie being filmed that, like on tv, we couldn’t quite pull ourselves away from. Part “what will happen next” and part “I can’t believe someone is wasting film for this”, we watched amongst a crowd of onlookers until we were shooed away for being in the shot.

And then there was the thankpa artist, that was quite happily and thoroughly excavating his nose cavity whilst he painted an elaborate mandala. I don’t know if this is my idea of zen. Similar to India, nose picking is not a private activity, and frequently happens in the midst of conversation. There is nothing much you can do at this point but hope you are not offered a handshake or some food after they dig out the golden nugget.

Ron got his first straight razor shave. The foam was slathered on his face in synchronization with the techno-nepali music in the background. It was supposed to be two or three dollars, but then the guy offered to trim his hair in a hideous marine cut and massaged his neck and then demanded more money. He was giving me the evil eye the whole time as I took pictures, probably because he knew I wore bigger pants than he. When I got wind of this little extortion I payed the guy the agreed upon price and told him not to swindle tourists into extra services without first discussing the price. He probably burned a couple holes into the back of my skull as I walked away, but I'm used to it by now.

The country is relatively stable and we felt safe traveling around, even though there were a number of Maoist protests going on that virtually shut down the country, including our bus back to Kathmandu. But we weren’t exactly sad about staying in Pokhara another night, we had been charmed.

Pokhara is pronounced poke-ha-rah with the emphasis on the last syllable but Ron calls it poke-a-harah like Pocahontas, and now I find myself saying it too. The locals don’t much appreciate it but smile anyways as we mangle most of their language. I guess it’s the effort that counts. At least we have Namaste down pat. A universal hello and goodbye in Nepal, every time I say it, it brings me back to the end of a hundred yoga classes, my hands in a prayer over my heart chakra, my heart saying “I honor the light within you.”


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