I don't want to dwell too much on leaving Bardia because it was a bit of a negative finish to what has been one of the highlights of our trip. In short we had no way of leaving Mr B's under our own steam because the location is so rural, and Mr B had repeatedly assured us that leaving would not be a problem; however it was a problem because Mr B was not there when we were leaving to take us in his jeep and Mrs B volunteered to help us arrange our journey in his absence but gave us some incorrect information. This left us with a rather scary and soggy motorbike ride in heavy rain which involved riding through rivers, and roads which had turned into rivers, to get a bus to somewhere to get a horrendously bumpy bus to somewhere to get a packed and uncomfortable bus to Pokhara about 20 hours later.
Fortunately Pokhara was just what we needed after our arduous journey. It is very much a traveller enclave – chilled out with plenty of western-style restaurants and bars with live music. In fact, if you were to wake up in the middle of Pokhara you would be hard-pressed to realise that you were in Asia for a few moments at least. The city isn't really a true Nepal experience, however Pokhara is the gateway to the genuine Nepal experience – the Himalayas, and specifically the Annapurnas. Our main purpose for visiting Pokhara was to partake in some trekking in the mountains, more about which in a separate post, but before and afterwards we were able to enjoy what the city had to offer.
After some sleep and a bite to eat at our guesthouse we went for a wander around the area which mostly consists of a long road lined with restaurants, bars, travel agents, art shops and what seems like hundreds of shops selling trekking equipment. Behind the shops is a sizeable lake surrounded on the remaining three sides by a sneak peak of the mountains, albeit obscured by clouds and mist.
Unfortunately as we arrived in Pokhara so did the rain, and for a while it looked like the rain would stay for as long as we would, so we didn't have chance to enjoy the lakeside views just yet. The weather did, however, provide us with an excuse to have a lazy day and do little more than to plan we would be trekking and to enjoy some western food (don't judge us – it had been over three months since I had last had the chance to have a beef burger or a steak and I wasn't going to let the opportunity pass me up).
We couldn't resist looking in a few of the art shops, and we discovered that Pokhara is home to a whole host of talented artists inspired by the mountain landscapes and whose work sells for dangerously reasonable prices. Notwithstanding the fact that we do not currently have an abode with walls on which to display paintings we couldn't help but buy a painting that caught our eye, followed by another, followed by two more...and then two more. Ok, we went a little painting crazy, but in our defence the paintings we bought are all beautiful and irresistibly cheap.
After we decided on our route it took us a day to prepare for trekking (it might have taken less time had we not been so distracted by art shops!) by the end of which we had arranged the requisite licenses and hired/purchased hiking boots, thick socks, rucksacks (although our travelling backpacks are fairly small we still weren't about to drag them, and their entire contents, up to 3200m+), hiking poles, silly looking hats, water purification tablets and enough snacks to keep us alive for a week if the worst came to the worst. The trekking shops of Pokhara are packed with all sorts of knock-off clothing, mostly branded with North Face logos. These aren't half-heated fakes either – the hiking boots I bought came complete with branded box and numerous labels drawing attention to the various features and high-tech materials which were clearly not present in the articles. I really don't know why they bother with the fake branding as no-one would believe that they are the genuine article (and none of the sellers tries to pass them off as genuine) – the manufacturers would be better off selling them as what they are and saving the effort of reproducing logos, labels etc.
As mentioned earlier, I will leave our trek itself to a separate post, but we returned to Pokhara tired and in need of some home comforts. We treated ourselves to a blow-out three-course meal at a restaurant we had enjoyed eating at prior to trekking (owned by a Brummie from Hall Green and his Malaysian wife) partly to celebrate surviving the Himalayas and partly to celebrate Monique's official graduation as Dr. Ziebro.
The weather was much nicer this time around so we were able to enjoy the lakeside scenery, and more of the beautiful Nepalese sky, on a lazy day recovering from trekking.
We hadn't had enough of the mountain views yet, so we decided to go paragliding the following day to see the area from a different angle. This involved: driving up to the top of one of the peaks overlooking the lake; being strapped to a stranger who, in turn, was attached to a parachute; being given a 30 second briefing along the lines of “You see the edge of the mountain? Run at it”, and then running towards the edge of the mountain until our feet were no longer touching the ground. It was slightly counter-intuitive, but not scary. After that it was a case of enjoying the beautiful scenery in near-silence as our pilots navigated the up-lifts (using birds, clouds, and other paragliders as guidance) to get as high as possible. It was really fantastic and one of the highlights of our trip so far!
We had the option of a short 20-30 minute flight or a longer 40-60 minute flight, however we were warned that in the rainy season it is more difficult to ensure a longer flight because the up-lifts are not as strong as they are when the weather is hotter. We initially used a nearby up-lift to spiral higher than our take-off point, after which my pilot went in search of different uplifts to try to travel further over the mountains. Unfortunately the only other uplifts he located were not particularly strong, so we were only able to fly for about 30 minutes, but Monique's pilot had better luck/judgment and was able to fly for around 45 minutes or so. It did mean that I was able to see Monique coming in to land:
It was definitely a unique experience to float around over such spectacular scenery (which would have been even better had it been a clearer day when we could have seen the snowy higher peaks), and really memorable.
In the remainder of the day we visited a few sights around Pokhara. First stop was the Mountain Museum which was quite enjoyable (although slightly rushed because our paragliding trip had been delayed while we waited for suitable weather conditions). It was interesting to read information about the world's highest peaks (putting our modest trekking efforts into perspective) and the
nutters people who have climbed them and, perhaps
most interesting of all, see the equipment they used to do so.
Apparently woolen mittens and a pair of goggles were sufficient to
climb to over 8000m in the '50s. It also included a display of empty
oxygen tanks that have been removed from Mt. Everest (mountaineers
are not the most eco-friendly of people, and Everest is not the
easiest place to clean up after messy visitors), and a
disappointingly blinkered display about Yetis that suggested that
they don't exist.
Next stop was the Devi Falls. Unlike most waterfalls that you view from the bottom and see the water fall down towards you, at the Devy Falls you watch the river flowing past you and then disappear out of sight down a sink-hole (a bit like Oblivion, for those of you who know Alton Towers). The water was incredibly powerful as a result of the recent rain, and it was interesting to see a different type of waterfall. However, Monique and I spent more time looking at and photographing the beautiful light rays caused by the sun passing through the nearby trees and the mist-cloud created by the falls.
After that we stopped at the Tibetan Village, which is apparently the only place outside of Tibet where you can see a genuine Tibetan community. The atmosphere around the village was really nice; there was a football tournament taking place with lots of people watching, including monks in the traditional Tibetan deep red coloured robes (as opposed to the orange robes word by Buddhists in most other countries). We wondered around for a while enjoying the atmosphere and taking a few photos of the main stupa as one of the mountain peaks peeked out from behind the clouds for a short while.
The following day we reluctantly left the comfort and relaxation of Pokhara, and the mountain views, behind us, and made our way to Kathmandu.