5 Reasons I Love Pokhara, Nepal

I went to Pokhara with the intention of staying a few days and stayed 19. It happens. Why did I stay so long? I loved it. Here’s why:

I Can See Nature!

I love cities. I love the hustle and bustle and feeling like I’m in the midst of something so much greater than me. I enjoy walking around to discover new restaurants and shops. But I love nature too. I love nature with the equal force I love cities. I love walking around in nature and feeling like I’m in the midst of something greater than myself.

Pokhara contains a fun balance of city and nature. The city lies in a basin of giant hills with a large lake at the edge. In Pokhara I am in a city where I can see nature surrounding me. Perfect.

Jumping Off Point for Adventure

Nepal is a natural playground and Pokhara is a great jumping off point for adventure. There’s rafting, trekking, mountain biking, paragliding, enough to keep me busy for a long, long time. I found myself signing up for one adventure trip, coming back, and signing up for another and another. After one trekking trip and two rafting trips I still felt like I’d only scratched the surface here.

Stayed Long Enough to Make a Few Friends

I love Pokhara because I stayed long enough to make some connections. I made friends with a hotel manager, some rafting guides and a few forever drifters. I visited a home in the village and found out where the locals eat their dhal bhat (meals). These connections in a city I was already fond of made me not want to leave.

The Food

There’s plenty of dhal bhat and Tibetian food to go around here. These dishes are definitely worth trying and were staples of my diet in Nepal. But there’s not just dhal bhat and Tibetian food in Pokhara, there’s yummy foreign food too. Just in case you’re one of those travelers who likes to mix things up a bit. The options for foreign food ranged from cheap and easy to pretty and a bit more spendy. There were also plenty of baked goods to go around. Plus, there’s a lot of healthy foods available, like organic coffee and muesli. And another thing: the grocery stores are a snack food paradise. So many people come in to stock up on snack foods before trekking, that the stores are stocked with goods like granola bars, crackers, cookies and chocolate. Lots of chococlate.

It’s Chill, Dude

I went on so many trips that based out of Pokhara, that when I returned I craved some R & R. While in town, I could lounge on my hotel balcony, sip some tea and look at the view of the lake and hills. Or stroll around with some friends to find a chilled out restaurant or place for drinks. I could come back from a 5 day trek or 3 day rafting trip and feel at ease, like I had found a home away from home.

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Nepal: Village Visiting and Bus Top Surfing

The manager at the guesthouse PZ and I stayed at in Pokhara offered to take us to visit his family in a village outside the city. This was a no brainer for us. Blame it on being recent Peace Corps graduates, we love a chance to get out of town and see village life.

This trip was one of those situations where we didn’t really know what was going on, but just went with it anyway. We weren’t sure exactly how much walking time was involved and how far away the village was, we would just be following our friend throughout the excursion.

We found our bus and Bekash asked us, “Wanna ride on top?” I felt like a teenager being offered a beer. “No, yes, I mean no, I mean YES!” So we rode on the top of the bus and it was awesome! The view is some much better up there and the air flow is a real nice perk.

After the bus dropped us off we walked about 45 minutes through the village and found Bakash’s mom washing dishes. He introduced us and we hung out around the house smiling warmly and trying to communicate that we loved the property and the dhal bhat.

We spent about half an hour hanging out before Bakash said it was time to start the walk back. It was a long one and we needed to give ourselves plenty of time. Turns out it’s about a 30 minute walk there and a 3+ hour walk back.

After walking about 3 hours we stopped at a view point other tourist were visiting. Here we learned that a bus would come in the next 10 minutes and we chose to take that instead of walking the rest of the way to Pokhara (another 3 hours).

Once again we rode on the top of the bus, where we were joined be a very drunk man with a horn who kept standing on the front of the bus yelling out “Bus surfing!” The curvy bus ride down the hill was nerve racking enough from the where we were sitting and watching this man made us legitimately concerned that we would witness a human death. We were actually thankful when the bus stopped before a check point and made everyone on the roof come inside. The rest of the ride to Pokhara was crowded and far less eventful, but that was fine by me.

Nepal: Rafting the Seti River

Shortly after returning from our trekking trip PZ grew restless and suggested we go rafting. At this point every part of my legs and feet hurt and the idea of a rafting trip made me wimper a little. I wished her bon voyage and said I would be staying behind.

She signed up for her trip and I started to waver in my decision to stay behind. I love rafting and camping and worried I would feel like I had missed out. Oh, but my aching feet wanted to stay behind! In the end I told my feet to suck it up. We’re going rafting!

We chose a trip on the Seti River with Holiday Adventure rafting company. Our intended two day trip turned into a three due to a strike. More time camping was ok with me.

We caught our bus in the late afternoon and rode down to the river. We set up camp at the starting point and prepared ourselves to leaving in the morning to raft down the river. This was the first time this company had ever set up camp at the starting point, but when there’s a strike, you’ve gotta get creative.

Setting up camp was easy enough, especially when there are cute French kids in your group who are eager to set up your tent for you. Bless those children.

Our guides made us a dinner of dhal bhat and we sat around an improvised sand and tarp table introducing ourselves and asking our guide about Nepali culture.

We woke up bright and early the next morning to pack up camp and start down the river. The guides packed up the raft with our supplies, gave us some Rafting 101 tips and we pushed out onto the river.

We quickly learned that this would be no high speed, high adrenaline rafting trip. The French family referred to it as “rafting for grandmothers.” I have no complaints there. I was apprihensive about being thrown out of the boat into class 5 rappids and I appriciated the opportunity to take in the beautiful scenery.

After a day of paddling and swimming we pulled ashore to set up camp. There we swam a bit, played some cards and read our books.

The last day was about 2 hours of rafting. We hit a few class 2 and class 3 rapids before pulling into our exit point. After unpacking the raft we ate some lunch and caught a local bus back to Pokhara.

For someone who was reluctant about going on a rafting trip in the first place, I turned into quite the rafting fan. So much so that I went on this same trip again two days later.

Nepal: Trekking the Poon Hill Circuit on Annapurna Mountain

First order of business in our trip to Nepal: trekking. Well, our first order of business was to recover from our illnesses, but after that we started trekking.

We were based out of Pokhara and chose the Poon Hill trek on Annapurna mountain because it’s a popular option for beginning hikers. We chose a five day circuit, which could have been done in four, but we weren’t really in the mood to strain ourselves. Leave that for the more rugged travelers. We just wanted to see some nature and Himalaya peaks.

The manager at our guesthouse set us up with a guide for our trek, which cost us about $50 a day. There were fees for a permit to enter the mountain grounds and a tourist pass as well. We met with our guide before the trek and learned that he had been a guiding for 10 years and passed a course and examination to become a certified guide. This made us feel like we were in good hands.

Day 1

Our guide met us at the guesthouse and we drove to the entry point for the trek, which started at 950 meters of elevation. And we started walking. And walking and walking. We walked a total of 15 kilometers in 6 hours on this day.

The walk was all fine and dandy until we reached the steps. Oh god, the steps. 3285 sequential steps in total. At this point I realized that if slow trekking were a sport I would be an Olympic gold medalist. Every single upward movement took a concerted effort. At one point the guide thought I looked so pitiful trying to climb all the stairs that he took my backpack away from me and made me use his walking sticks. If ever there was I time that I felt like wimp, this was it.

During the day we talked to our guide about the treks he’s done and learned that he has summited Mt. Everest. PZ asked if he thought we were wimps for taking this trek so slowly and he just giggled. He was actually really good about keeping us encouraged.

At the end of all those stairs we found our guesthouse in Ullari village. Sweet relief that was. It had started raining during our ascent and I was beyond ready to get to our guesthouse.

We were too tired to do much at the guesthouse besides look at the view from the roof and lay in bed with our books. For dinner however, I tried yak cheese and buffalo for the first time and they weren’t so bad.

Day 2

Walked 14.5 kilometers in 5 hours rising to 2874 meters in elevation. This trek was so much easier than the first day and made me feel like I could redeem myself somewhat after my poor performance the day before. There were some hard spots, but nothing like the stairway to heaven we’d climbed the day before.

The day ended at Ghorepani village where we had a fun view of village life and were able to hang out with some friends we’d made along the way. Once again, we were exhausted after the day of trekking and went to sleep right after dinner.

Day 3

We woke up bright and early to catch the sunrise at Poon Hill. This put us at the highest point of elevation we would reach: 3210 meters. At the top of the hill there is a view of several Himalaya peaks, including Dhaulagiri (8,167m) and Annapurna (8,091m). It was cloudy when we got there and we hung around for a bit hoping the skies would clear.

I was absolutely freezing and convinced everyone to start descending. Of course, the clouds moved away not too long after we started our decent. Luckily there was a view point halfway down the hill. It was nowhere near as incredible as the view at the top of the hill, but it wasn’t too shabby either.

The day of trekking after the hill was the easiest so far. There was a lot of down hill which at first I appreciated and then started to dread because of the pain it caused my joints. I’m officially a fan of level ground.

At our stopping point we met up with some of our friends. I drank my first glass of hot millet wine (called “roxi” in Nepali) and played card games with the guides and other trekkers.

Day 4

This day was a beautiful walk through the forest and ended with an endless number of stone steps to be descended. This put me in full grandmother mode. I started lamenting about my aching hip and calling out things like “You kids go ahead.” and “Praise the Lord Jesus” when we reached the guesthouse.

Now may or may not be an appropriate time to fill you in on the gory state of my blisters. One gnarly blister on each foot creeped up on day one and grew and grew throughout the trek. Lesson learned: do not borrow my hotel manager’s shoes to go on a five day trek. I’ll spare you the trauma of looking at an after the trek picture. I’ll just say that I lost one toe nail and developed 4 purple toe nails. Oh yeah, it’s gross.

In other news: PZ discovered her future calling as a porter.

Day 5

Easiest day ever. Just 2 hours of walking to reach the taxi waiting for us at the end of the circuit. Let me tell you, that car did not smell like a bouquet of flowers with the three of us in there. Shortly after this is the point where I noticed my toenail had ripped off, but enough about that.

After the Trek

Sleeping at our hotel and eating at the restaurants in Pokhara after the trek was a treat, but part of me missed being out in the woods. Why do bother with the pain of trekking? Because I love the nature. I love being immersed in the beauty of it. Maybe one day I’ll take my ruggedness up a notch and do a longer trek like the Annapurna base camp or dare I say, the Mt. Everest base camp.

The Road Home

I am now in America for the first time in 2 and a half years, well 29 months to be exact, but who’s counting? My Peace Corps service is complete and my days of traveling around India and Nepal are finished for now.

I’ve brushed my teeth with tap water, eaves dropped on conversations, flushed my toilet paper down the toilet and relearned how to drive a car. Mostly, I’ve been walking around in awe at how familiar and unfamiliar it all is.

The Journey Home Begins

Strikes in Nepal have been somewhat of a bi-weekly occurrence since we arrived. My entire time in Nepal I had a suspicion that there would be a strike the day I needed to go to the airport. And there was! So how does one get to the airport when no cars will drive on the street? By bicycle rickshaw, the world’s slowest method of transportation. Thankfully, we had given ourselves plenty of time to get to the airport. Pushing the rickshaw up hills would have been less enjoyable had we been panicked about catching our flight.

Flight #1 Nepal-India

Lesson learned: don’t illegally overstay your visa because Nepal is so awesome you don’t want to leave. The process of taking care of this really wasn’t so bad. It just cost a pretty penny.

After arriving in the Delhi airport we found ourselves with 12 hours to kill before catching our next flight. The airport wouldn’t allow us in the departures section until 5 hours before our flight, so we awkwardly hung around the arrivals terminal, playing cards, reading and musing about what America will be like.

Flight #2 Delhi to Chicago

14.5 hours of flight time on this one. The countless hours I have spent on Thai tour buses prepared me well for this leg of the trip. I spent a lot of the time amazed at how big the seats were and how much leg room I had.

Flight #3 Chicago to San Diego

Upon arriving in Chicago I discovered that my flight to Dallas had been cancelled. I waited in line for an hour to get my flights rerouted and was lucky enough to find an option that got me in only two hours later than my previous arrival time. The flight cancelation didn’t phase me too much. People in line with me were frantically using cell phones and the f-word, while I kind of just stood there and zoned out. Turns out I’m quite docile after 28 hours of travel.

At the airport I bought myself some welcome to America treats I’d been longing for: a Vogue magazine, a new crossword puzzle book and a soy latte. Bliss. Turns out I had already done a lot of the crosswords in the puzzle book. I started to actually worry that I will soon complete all the New York Times crosswords. I don’t even want to think about what I would do with myself if that day ever came.

My new flight to San Diego was absolutely packed with people and the airline offered a $500 travel voucher to people willing to go on a later flight. The things I could do with a $500 travel voucher! I was willing, but was told that my flight to Portland was booked and I should stay on this one. Then I offered to stay overnight in Chicago and fly out the next day. I’d been dying to see Chicago anyway. I was given the nod and then at the last minute someone whose final destination was San Diego offered to go on a later flight. That punk snatched my $500 travel voucher out from under me!

Flight #4 San Diego to Portland

This is where it all gets very fuzzy and sleepy. The only thing I remember is sitting next to an old woman and doing crosswords in our respective books. I felt like we had an unspoken bond.

Arrival!

I made it into Portland earlier than expected, which means I had to ask the help desk if I could borrow the phone so my family could come pick me up. My dad was not happy that his plan to pick me up at the gate with balloons had been thwarted.

The First Meal

My parents asked where I would like to go for dinner and I immediately replied “Andina!” I’d been thinking about this moment for a very, very long time. So we went, and we ate the yummy novo peruvian food and drank infused cocktails. And after we stopped by Cupcake Jones where I had a peanut butter cupcake that made me very much appreciate being back home again.

What About Nepal?

Yes, I went to Nepal. No, I haven’t written about it yet. But I will. Very soon.