Finding Nemo

Monday, May 16, 2011

Peace Out Pokhara

Nepal has two major trekking areas: 1) Everest in the east and the Annapurnas in the west.  I had never been to the west, and was excited not just for new mountains but also to see Pokhara, a pretty city by Lake Phewa.  Supposedly you could see the whole Annapurna range from a couple of the viewpoints around there.

Once I got up in the plane though, I realized that wasn't happening.  A thick haze hung in the sky, it was the dust and dirt that accumulated before the summer monsoon.  Only rain would clear things up, and that wasn't likely this time of year.  It was a little depressing.  The plane descended, skimming alongside big hills, and as usual I wondered if we were about to crash into one of them.  At the last second the plane did a sharp 90 degree turn to avoid the hill in front of it and then just as it straightened out we slammed onto the runway.  Welcome to domestic Nepalese flights.

Pokhara is actually a pretty cool little town.  It is free of the insane traffic jams of Kathamandu for the most part, although the roads are so bad that you usually only have 1 lane.  This means taxis play that Asian chicken game, where they both speed right at each other and at the last possible moment swerve out of the way.  Who needs instant coffee?

Peace out pagoda
The trekker district is alongside a peaceful lane next to the lake, and its very nice.  Traffic is light, there are more cows and people than cars.  Birds fill the sky as they come and go from the water, the green hills are soothing to the eyes.  From my rooftop I could see the buddhist Peace Pagoda, one of several around the world that symbolize our common humanity.

Only way to see a new place
I hired a motorbike and checked out Devi Falls, a cool little waterfall that disappears into a hole in the earth that could lead to hell itself.  For a few more rupees you can go into a cave and check it out from the bottom.  Later I cruised up the little mountain across the lake, at the top the road gets very steep and is just a pile of rocks and dirt, very fun on my little 150cc toy.  It was hazy at the top, there were no white peaks.  I knew what the view was supposed to look like from the posters, and was starting to think twice about coming during the so-called "spring" trekking season.  Would be it hazy up in the hills too?  This whole trip could be a disaster.

After the rain
That evening a huge rainstorm rolled through, the wind on the lake was howling and I wished I'd had my kiting gear.  Kiteboarding in Nepal!  What a trip that would be.  Just before nightfall it cleared.  I looked out of my hotel window and was startled to see a beautiful rainbow covering the hill, and that wasn't all.  The Annapurnas had appeared like magic.  It was hard to believe, and the few guests in the hotel all ran up to the roof.  I looked around and noticed that the same thing was happening at every hotel, we were all drawn to the view together.  Even locals stopped what they were doing.  Every once in awhile, nature will create a masterpiece, something beautiful that unites people in a way that nothing else can.  I recalled watching crazy sunsets in Costa Rica, where each person on the beach would stop whatever they were doing and just stare at that moment when the sun kissed the water and disappeared.  Time stopped for that moment, we were all connected.

This was such a moment.  On the rooftop, noone spoke.  Nothing but the birds singing in the newly cleaned air and the click of cameras.  For each of us tourists, it was the first glimpse of Dhaulagiri, Annapurna South, Fishtail, and Annapurna II and IV.  They peaked over the foothills like snow-covered gods, surveying their kingdom in the twilight.  And then, it was dark.  The rainbow vanished, the gods went to bed, the show was over.
Surprise visit

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