Poking around Pokhara…

(Emily) So what’s Pokhara like? Well, it has a beautiful lake, green hills, snow capped mountains, clean guesthouses, shops galore and restaurants serving every type of food you can think of… what’s not to love?! To say we were excited would be an understatement! Pokhara is trekking central; every second shop is either a camping retailer, selling all the fake North Face products you could ever need, or a travel agent organising trips into the Himalayan Annapurna Range. But even if you’re not inclined to the masochistic art of climbing mountains (like us!), there’s a lot on offer to keep you amused and entertained for a good few days (or ten…) Our first priority when we arrived was to get ourselves a decent meal – we’d read months before that Pokhara had, amongst other things, a steakhouse and James was literally chomping at the bit. However, Fabs wasn’t feeling too good on that first evening so we took one for the team and said we’d wait until he was better to experience the elusive ‘steak moment’, opting instead for a great little restaurant that wouldn’t look out of place in any European city. The salad, complete with balsamic vinegar (yes, that’s right!), had us rhapsodizing and, sad as it sounds, I think that once we combined it with a swig of red wine, there might have been a little tear to the eye. Sod all the temples, this was our religious experience!!

We began our time in Pokhara with good intentions, determined to make the most of having trekking nirvana on our doorstep, and on our second day (day one being reserved for laundry and touring the various cafes and German bakeries…) we set out on a hike up to the highest viewpoint – Sarangkot – in the immediately surrounding hills. It was 5th November – eight years since our first date – so we thought we’d celebrate our anniversary with a picnic at the top. Ah, how romantic : ) Rather stupidly, we set out at midday and all too soon we were sweating buckets in the heat of the unrelenting sun, cursing our now obvious folly (or rather James was cursing my folly – he’d been the one to suggest we got a taxi to the top and walk back down!) James was also suffering from a pretty terrible cold (the remnants of India working its way out of his body, no doubt) and was struggling to breathe; not quite the romantic stroll we’d envisaged! Still, it was good to be out in fresh, clean air and the woodland path we were following was deserted, apart from the occasional shepherd with his goats (the other tourists had clearly either taken the sensible taxi option or were far too hardcore for this little ‘amble’ and were straight to the Annapurna circuit!) After an hour and a half it looked to me like we were nearly at the top but James knew better how easily one can be deceived when climbing in the hills (David and Sal, he was remembering ‘fondly’ the walking holidays you guys took in the Alps when he and Ben were teenagers…!) In retrospect, finishing off the last of our water at this point was a little premature as it turned out that we were actually only about half way up. Add dehydration to the heat stroke and wheezing and we were in danger of needing a doctor rather than our idyllic picnic!! Nevertheless, we struggled on (are we pathetic, or what?) and eventually made it to the top where, James had to admit, the view did make it all worthwhile: in one direction, we looked back down the way we’d come to Pokhara and Phewa Tal Lake and in the other we had the Annapurna mountain range stretching majestically from  Dhaulagiri (8167m) in the west to Annapurna II (7937m) in the east. All the while, the sky immediately above us was filled with colour as paragliders swept serenely about the Sarangkot peak. Perfecto! A few hours in the sun, and a bag of mo mo’s (little Nepali filled dumplings, a bit like tortellini) soon revived us from our ordeal and we made to leave before dusk. Luckily, we passed a 4×4 that was about to take some paragliders back down to town so hitched a lift – I don’t think the path through the woods would have been quite so easy to navigate in the dark!

That was about it for our trekking career (I think James’ report back to Fabian that evening was ‘Never again’!) To be honest, my ankle is still not quite right from the accident in Istanbul so we couldn’t have done much more anyway (good excuse, huh?!) Instead we busied ourselves with boating out on the lake (ten percent rowing, ninety percent drifting, reading and sunbathing) and sampling all the cuisine on offer. It’s a tough job but someone has to do it!! And suffice to say, the steak sensation was worth the wait when we finally went with Fabian, Juan and his girlfriend Olga – our fellow diners must have thought we’d spent the last few months under a rock such was our enthusiasm! It was great that Pokhara, by pure coincidence, gave us the opportunity to catch up with friends who we’d met along the way: obviously Fabian had arrived with us and we’d known in advance that Juan (a Spanish biker on a GS 1250 who we’d first met in Pakistan) was already there. Then, on the evening we all went out for Fabs’ birthday, we were reunited with Peggy and Patrick, the German cyclists who we had met back in Istanbul (if you remember, they’d had their bicycles stolen from the train in Serbia…) It was great to catch up with them and hear about their experiences, particularly in Iran which we were so gutted to have missed out on (our visa application was rejected three times). We even saw Isabel and Esteban, our Spanish friends, when our last night coincided with their arrival. They’d left India to go back to Spain for a wedding and then had a complete nightmare trying to get back into the country – Indian immigration has some stupid rule whereby even if you have a multiple entry visa, once you exit, you can’t return for two months. Don’t get us started… (In fact, when we went out for dinner with Estebel and some people they’d met on the bus from the border, all eight of us ended up having a huge cathartic rant about our experiences!)

It was all too easy spending time in Pokhara and the days blended into a happy haze of food and relaxation. James bought me an e-reader for our anniversary (had it sent out from the UK on the sly!) and it is the best present ever; we’ve downloaded over 4000 books already! It came already loaded with the classics so the free time in Pokhara gave me time to devour one after another – ‘Around the World in 80 Days’, ‘Wuthering Heights’ and ‘Bram Stoker’s Dracula’ – before moving on the rather less high-brow ‘Twilight’ series!! Towards the end of our time there, we realised we’d better get our act together with organising the bikes’ shipment from Kathmandu to Bangkok, and of course our own flights too; we managed to get two of the last seats on with Nepal Airlines, phew! We also visited the Gurkha Museum which is situated next to Nepal’s main Gurkha recruitment centre: each year hundreds of men from all over Nepal come to put themselves through the rigorous selection process  from which only the top few are chosen. The Gurkhas have a worldwide reputation as excellent soldiers and it was fascinating to read about some of the achievements of certain individuals in the various wars of the last century – lots of VCs awarded! Very humbling.

After a week or so the time came to move on – we wanted to get down to Royal Chitwan National Park for a few days before our final stint in Kathmandu. It was very misty on the morning of our departure and, having had a bit of rain the day before (what’s this wet stuff falling from the sky?!) we thought we might be in for a damp ride. It would have been all too easy to makes our excuses and stay another day but we bit the bullet and headed off…

5 Responses to “Poking around Pokhara…”

  1. Jackson says:

    Man up

  2. Julian says:

    Good work you two. That picture at the top was worth the effort!?

  3. meg says:

    i am suprised to hear you went for a walk james, i hear you were not the most enthusiastic back in the alps

  4. joanna says:

    I have a few questions:

    (1) Are you sure Fabian was just about to eat that steak, or commit murder? Looks like someone spiked his beer!

    (2) Was that gravy on top?

    (3) The last time I saw a brownie that size it was to feed all of us at Windsor races! (OK that last one wasn’t a question, more like an “OMG, how did he eat all that”?!)


    PS Can’t help but agree with Jack on the hiking bit – sorry!!!

  5. Jackie (AKA Mum) says:

    Hi Emily and James, Well here I am at last having just got my computer up and running after yet another ‘back to factory conditions’ job!! Just printed off another 38 pages for Pop and will read it myself later. However have perused the photos and they are as stunning as ever, will comment further once I’m up to speed.

    Stay safe, much love, Jackie xxx

    ps Skype is also back up.

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