Pokhara, Nepal…Some views are good, and others not so much
March 31, 2017
Road to Pokhara
We had 10 days in Nepal and after 4 days in Kathmandu, we decided to take several people’s advice and go to Pokhara. It’s a city about 200 km to the west. I was told it was pristine and tranquil. There is a big lake and the International Mountain Museum to visit. After the noise, pollution and energy of Kathmandu, it sounded like a perfect trip.
Our hotel, the Tibet Peace Inn, organized it all for us. We decided to book a car and driver so we could see some of the countryside. He would also be available to take us to all the sites once we got there. His hotel costs would be covered by us, but it would be less expensive than flying there. In all it cost us about $300 for the transportation for 3 days.
At home, 200 km would take about 2 hours on a calm, organized highway. In the mountains, it might take 3 hours with traffic. Our trip to Pokhara took 6 hours with a half hour lunch stop! The road travelled down into the valley and then mostly curved along the agricultural land and through small villages. Where mud or rocks slid onto the toad, they were left and traffic just had to go around.
Hundreds of buses and large, brightly decorated trucks all tried to pass each other on every curve. The honking was constant, but along with flashing light signals, everyone seemed to know how to make it through. I was going to say safely, but there were many close calls. I stopped watching. Our driver knew the road and didn’t drive as aggressively as he could have.
The villages obviously did not expect to have that much traffic as they built there homes along old trade routes. Houses were built close to the roads with terraced fields taking up most of the land along the valley floor and up the sides. There were a few suspension bridges that crossed the river to allow access to more homes up on the slopes. There didn’t appear to be any roads on the other side so most people would have to walk up and down steep slopes to get to their homes.
Water standpipes were in front of about every 6th house. Women gathered here to wash clothes and children. Men played games of chance on tables with cards or throwing coins at a target. Families sat in the shade outside small shops. Children kicked tattered soccer balls around. Farmers were already planting rice in the fields using cattle to pull a plow. We saw one mechanical plow in our travels in Nepal.
We went to Pokhara on a Thursday and saw many children waiting with their parents for the school bus to pick them up. Their traditional British uniforms seemed so out of place in these tiny, dusty villages. Most of the women here dress in pants and Indian tunics in beautiful colours. They really contrasted against the mostly blues and greys of the children’s clothing. These bright sweaters were unusual.
Our arrival in Pokhara was quite disappointing. It was cloudy and smoggy. It is a large city (250 000) but the tourist area of Lakeside was admittedly tranquil, but certainly not pristine. We checked into the Family Home Hotel which had been booked by our hotel in Kathmandu. The room was large and even had a balcony to sit on and watch the goings-on of the community. The hotels in Nepal advertise 24 hour hot water and we would agree that this shower had the best heat and pressure of any in Asia. At breakfast the manager told us to ask for anything we wanted because we were to feel like we were at home. From our experience, they “get” customer service here.
We walked by the lake. I had my second surprise to see a scrum of photographers on the shore snapping pics of a woman standing in one of the boats, dressed in a lovely saree. There was a fog machine nearby trying to create a misty scene. I don’t know the story, but I took a picture too. While Peter was waiting, he met a family from India who were visiting. After a short conversation, they wanted to take our picture with their little girl. As India is close to Nepal, there were mostly Indians and Caucasians in Pokhara. We didn’t see many Asian visitors.
Our driver picked us up at 5 am and drove us to the top of a sunrise lookout. People were waiting to be hired to show us the best place to stand. We declined. As I was the first there, I had to choose the best place to set up my tripod. The spot was great, but was difficult to protect once all the tour vans and buses began to arrive. We did meet a very nice man from South Korea who was well-travelled and showed us some of his incredible mountain pictures.
The hills were still shrouded in mist and a few clouds had formed. The sunrise looked nice and you could see several terraced fields. Suddenly the top of a mountain appeared, way above the surrounding hills. It had snow on the top and was barely pink in the sunrise. This was Annapurna. This is why people come to Pokhara. It is the starting point of the Annapurna Circuit, a trek up the mountain. Now I knew what all the excitement was about. The tip of Fishtail Mountain also appeared for a few moments. The smog and clouds soon covered all the spectacular views and left us with just hills.
We spent the rest of the day touring the area. We saw the White Pagoda on another viewpoint. It was built by a Japanese Buddhist who wanted there to be 100 of these built around the world to honor the birth of Buddha in Nepal. It was begun in 1974, but when it reached 35 feet high it was torn down by the government of the time but was finally completed in 1998. The 4 Buddhas face the cardinal directions and were donated by countries like Thailand and Sri Lanka. If you are not sure the expectations at a temple, look for signs. They will usually tell you. There was a great little coffee shop with views on the way down.
In the town itself is Devi’s Falls. It is the dry season, and you have to pay to get in to see the falls. There are fences and walkways all around this area that is a little bigger than our back yard. However, there is only on spot you can actually see the falls so it was a little underwhelming.
Across the street is Gupteshwor Mahadev cave. These were much better. The river from the falls flows under the street and runs through a cave. You enter through a newly (as in the cement was still being shaped) renovated entrance, past a shrine, and down many steps to see a waterfall entering the cave. There is an opening in the rock behind the water so it was quite beautiful.
International Mountain Museum
After lunch we visited the International Mountain Museum. It is a large, modern building. We saw photographs and statistics on all the important mountains and when they had been climbed, including quotes from those who were the first to ascend to the peak. There were profiles on some of the most prolific climbers and samples of some of the gear used in the past. Descriptions of the culture of the tribes of the mountains were displayed. Pictures comparing the glaciers in the mountains from 50 years ago to know show that the climate is changing.
There was also a display of photographs taken by Toni Hagen in the 1950’s. He was a Swiss geologist who came to Nepal with the United Nations to survey and map the area. His pictures show Pokhara and the mountains at a time when there were no roads to this area. Supplies were delivered by a DC-3 plane in those days. There is an interesting documentary about his time in Nepal that would be easier to watch with English subtitles, but the pictures and views are still worth seeing.
After breakfast, we watched the neighbors across the street remove a tin addition to their small house and begin digging the dirt out from that area. When we returned in the afternoon, the dirt had all been bagged and replaced with large stones and smaller rocks and bricks as a foundation. A load of large cement blocks had been delivered and was waiting on the street.
The workers were resting, but 2 men on bicycles arrived. They bagged up all the metal pieces and loaded them onto the bikes. Even the tin walls and roof were balanced onto the bike using good knowledge of levers and balance. They pushed the loaded bikes away from the site.
After being led astray by Google Maps to the wrong, but okay restaurant we planned on an early night. A big lightning storm passed north of town for a couple of hours. The sound of the thunder echoing around the peaks was more evidence that big mountains really do exist in this area. We hoped some rain might clear the skies for another try at sunrise, although I worried for some friends who were trekking on the mountain at the time.
At 5 am the stars and moon were bright overhead so we were optimistic. While the sunrise was quite lovely, and the tall peaks did appear in their entirety, the smog quickly swallowed them up so there was not much left for us to than return to Kathmandu. Our friends who were on the mountain in the storm had arrived at their guest house early in the afternoon and got to watch the storm. They arrived in Pokhara 3 days after we left and thought it was the beautiful place. Click the link to see what they saw. Pokhara Images.