The Perfection of Pokhara

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Nepal has some of the best white-water rafting in the world, but I was content to stay above the water.

As sad as I was to leave behind the elephants and crocodile-infested waters of Chitwan, good things lay ahead in Pokhara. As we sped along roads that would through the foothills of the Annapurna and I craned my neck to catch a glimpse of the swirling aquamarine river below, one thought resonated throughout my mind with the utmost clarity: Nepal freaking rocks.

I could not get enough of the beauty that relied as much on the craggy outcroppings of rocks as it did on the white-crested currents on the beryl water and the stubborn verdant flora that clung to the sides of the steep ravines, and I spent the six or so hours that it took to reach Pokhara with my face pressed to the bus window, like a hungry child standing in front of a bakery window filled with fresh pastries. (Can you tell that I was hungry while writing this post?)

On one of the suspension bridges that span the river.
On one of the suspension bridges that span the river.
...and here's a panorama of said bridge.
…and here’s a panorama of said bridge.

In the late afternoon, we pulled into Pokhara, a sleepy city nestled below the Annapurna mountain range. With a population of around two hundred fifty thousand, it’s the third largest city in Nepal, but it basically feels like a slightly large town. And that’s a good thing. It’s small, it’s friendly, and I’d have been happy to spend at least a week there. True, a lot of that friendliness comes from the fact that it’s primarily a tourist town. In this case, though, that’s not something that works against it. Pokhara’s the starting point for most treks up into the Annapurna, and after a few days of staring up at the mountains, a little seed of desire started to unfurl within me: someday I want to return to Pokhara and trek up into those mountains for myself. I want to see those beauties up close.

Trekking shops like this dot the main streets of Pokhara, but I'm not so sure that this Wal-Mart outpost is legitimate...
Trekking shops like this dot the main streets of Pokhara, but I’m not so sure that this Wal-Mart outpost is legitimate…
I want to climb those. Can you blame me?
I want to climb those. Can you blame me?

A large portion of my affinity for Pokhara came from the surrounding area. It is drop-dead gorgeous. In the distance sit the white-capped peaks of the Annapurna, and closer to the city, their foothills give the impression that Pokhara is cradled by the earth itself. Mountains aren’t the only natural showstopper, though; Lake Phewa gets plenty of credit, too. In the late afternoon sunlight, a symphony of colors arose: dusky violet on the lake, muted mauve in the surrounding hills, and burnished pink from the peaks of the Annapurna.

Canoes on Lake Phewa.
Canoes on Lake Phewa.
The mountain to the right is Machhapuchchhre. (And no, that's not a typo.) It translates as "Fish Tail" into English, and it's named for its distinctive twin summit peaks. Unfortunately, they can't be seen from the angle.
The mountain to the right is Machhapuchchhre. (And no, that’s not a typo.) It translates as “Fish Tail” into English, and it’s named for its distinctive twin summit peaks. Unfortunately, they can’t be seen from the angle.
The lake at sunset.
The lake at sunset. Machhapuchchhre is at the right of the frame. Unlike many of the other mountains in Nepal, it has never been summited by hikers. And it never will be, either; due to its sacred connections to Shiva, the mountain is off limits to hikers. Only one attempt has been made: in 1957, a group of Brits made it within 50 meters of the summit, but they turned back out of respect before reaching the top. Since then, Macchapuchchhre has been closed off entirely.

Pokhara even had a tiny piece of Japan to offer: on the other side of the lake, a Japanese Buddhist temple looks out over the city. After nearly two weeks of seeing so much Hindu influence everywhere I looked, it felt strange to see a pagoda that looked like it would have been at home in Japan.

Hey, that writing looks familiar...
Hey, that writing looks familiar…
A piece of Japan in Nepal.
A piece of Japan in Nepal.

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And the view was pretty good, too.
And the view was pretty good, too.
Pokhara, as seen from the pagoda.
Pokhara, as seen from the pagoda. The afternoon turned a bit hazy, so we couldn’t get a very clear view of the mountains.
We stayed long enough to catch the sunset before returning to the city below.
We stayed long enough to catch the sunset before returning to the city below.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get to enjoy all of the beauty that Pokhara had to offer. My inability to catch a decent view from mountain summits seems to be turning into a proper curse. We hauled ourselves out of bed when it was still pitch black outside in the hopes of catching the sunrise from Sarangkot, a lookout point located nearby up in the hills. Judging by the crowds that gathered at Sarangkot, the early hour is definitely worth the view. As our guide put it, the sunrise “makes the mountains sing.” Alas, the music we heard wasn’t exactly a concerto: all that awaited us was a dense bank of grey fog. I guess that just means I’ll have to return someday to try and see it again.

The "sunrise" at Sarangkot.
The “sunrise” at Sarangkot.

My stomach was still acting up as well: fine so long as I didn’t eat, but any time I mustered up the courage to get some food into my system, only minutes passed until I felt completely nauseated. Finally fed up with my body’s apparent inability to sort itself out, I made the trip to the pharmacy near our hotel. To be clear, this was not a “pharmacy” by Western standards, but I was desperate. The man running the shop asked a few questions about my symptoms, perused the shelves for rehydration salts and a mountain of antibiotics to flush out whatever demon had taken up residence in my stomach, and sent me on my way. Within two doses, I was totally fine and eating again without fear of having to spend my nights cuddling with the toilet.

The total cost of my medicinal stash? Sixty rupees…which is a whopping sixty cents in America. Yes, two quarters and a dime were all that I paid to regain intestinal bliss. The moral of the story: sure, you might get ill when visiting this part of the world, but the meds you’ll get will lay relentlessly efficient siege to whatever upset your system in the first place.

Another shot from the pagoda.
Another shot from the pagoda over the hills surrounding Pokhara.

I say again: Nepal – and especially Pokhara – is a great place. Mountains, lakes, dirt cheap medicine…what’s not to love?

LakePhewa

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