Apparently the number two tourist destination in Nepal is Pokhara. To be honest, I didn’t know much about it before we went. I used to take pride in doing my homework before traveling someplace. Preparation for this particular trip sort of slipped through the cracks. In fact the trip as a whole was at risk of not happening, at least for me, due to professional responsibilities. In the end it seemed that canceling the trip wouldn’t have made a huge difference with what was going on with our staff and work in Somalia. I would, in the end, make a trip to Mogadishu soon after we returned to Nairobi and it seemed that it went quite well.
|Priya and Liz|
But all that drama with my work meant that my entire preparation involved packing a bag and making sure my family made it to the airport to catch the airplane on time. My poor wife shouldered the burden and complexities of getting everyone else ready and worked with Liz to determine, generally speaking, what we were going to do and when. Once on the ground, and a few time zones separated from my office, I did in the end become less useless.
We opted to fly to Pokhara from Kathmandu. It’s a choice between a full day’s drive or a short flight. Given our limited time in the country and two small children, the choice was a no-brainer. Though we might have deprived ourselves of the interesting and beautiful countryside afforded to road travelers, we more than made up for it with clear skies and spectacular views of the Himalayas – this time moving westwards towards along the Annapurna range.
|view of the Himalayas on the flight to Pokhara|
It’s the kind of thing that can almost make me weepy. I grew up with a fascination with, and hunger for, time in the mountains. I can’t seem to ever get enough. The past twelve and a half years I’ve spent working in Africa has resulted in very little time spent at altitude. It’s a cost that I signed up for but it’s one of the things that I miss the most. I do hope to rectify that at some point but for now, I need to take what I can get.
|our Yeti Airlines plane at the Pokhara airport|
I must say that the magnificent views of the Himalayas through an airplane window was cruel tease, akin to a hungry person seeing a brunch buffet through a locked door. If I were embarking on a trek, the tease would be eventually answered by the unlocking of the door to the buffet. Alas, not this time.
Pokhara has a nice little airport teeming with locals and energetic trekkers. Our bags were delivered to us by a tractor pulling a luggage trailer. I remember when we were living in remote Kibondo (Tanzania) and flying in and out of Kigoma airport, luggage there was delivered by Datsun pick-up (for those of you who remember Datsuns).
|the rope-tow raft to the hotel|
I was told in advance that we would need to take a boat to get to our hotel. And so it was. It was an interesting little crossing that we ended up doing multiple times. I would consider it a feature of the hotel rather than an inconvenience (I suppose the guy pulling the rope that tugged the raft back and forth might think otherwise). The lake, on which the hotel was perched, was a quiet and still body of water wedged between lush, green hillsides and the town itself. The water seemed relatively clean though I suspect that a fair amount of sewage makes its way into it from the community.
|Kinaya in the pool; note the prominent Fishtail peak in the background|
The hotel had a pool and we ended up spending a considerable amount of time there. The girls love the water and I certainly wasn’t opposed to it, particularly since it came with a view of the Annapurna range (when not obscured by clouds).
|caught this guy dangling off a branch for a sip|
Liz had been to Pokhara before and did justice to her tour guide role in taking us to some very nice places to eat. She also advised that we get up early on day two in an attempt to see sunrise over the Annapurna range. I was game. I wake up early anyway and it was worth a shot, having been warned that often times they are shrouded in clouds.
|tourists gathered to watch the sunrise|
We were up at 4am and crossed the still lake in the dark of the early morning. The taxi we had reserved was waiting for us. He would take us up the windy road along the shoulder of hillside to where we would view the sunrise. This particular viewing is a thing, as I’ve seen from time to time in my travels. The west end of Santorini in Greece is a known place where people gather to watch the setting sun. The solar eclipse is another. Here, in what felt like it was the furthest place in the world from the Greek islands, hundreds of people were gathering from all over the world to watch yet another natural phenomenon – the simple yet amazing rising sun catching the Himalayas.
Our taxi driver played a bit of tour guide and escorted us to what I think was a restaurant. We ordered a couple hot teas and made our way up a spiral staircase to the roof. It was packed with people but we were able to find a couple of plastic chairs facing the dark mountains off in the distance. Everyone was sitting in the dark, chatting as if we were in a theater rather than high on a chilly Nepalese hillside. We soon had our teas in hand and watch the faint light of the sun start to appear. It didn’t seem long before the first ray of sun caught the tip of Mt. Machapuchare (meaning "fishtail"). While Fishtail is generally the star of the show, in fact it's not an incredibly big mountain as compared to the others in the neighborhood. Clocking in at a mere 6,993m. (22,943ft.) it's fame relies upon both its proximity to Pokhara and it's prominent shape.
|Mt. Machapuchare, aka "Fishtail"|
Quickly people began to notice, almost with a cheer, and phones were raised to photograph the event. In fact there were only a couple of cameras (including mine) that were not also phones. It’s interesting to see how that has changed over the years – from 35mm, to digital, to phone.
|good that I'm taller than most tourists|
Unfortunately for the masses gathered for the event that morning, the clouds obscured much of the view. A peak would appear and then disappear. Hopes would raise and then be dashed. Very quickly people began to find their transportation and wind their way down the hill back to town. We soldiered on, half hoping for a change the weather, half just enjoying being where we were. Eventually we too made our way down the spiral staircase. On the lower level people were selling fabrics and other tourist items. There was a loom where the fabrics were being made. We ended up getting something, partially I think as something besides a photo that would take us back to the experience.
|making fabrics on a mountain top|
We were back at the hotel and it was still fairly early in the morning. We were able to rally the troops and head off to breakfast. We had time to walk around, hit the pool for a bit before heading back to the airport to catch the flight back to Kathmandu.
|Kiran on the boat|
For the remainder of our time we explored as much as we had time for. We visited temples, the zoo, more temples, etc. We had lots of yummy food. Much to see and do and amazing how much we were able to fit in over a week. We’ll definitely need to go back.