It wasn’t all work and no play in Pokhara. There was lots of play. Sometimes too much play. So much play I don’t know if my liver is ever going to forgive me for what I put it through. There are many fine bars that will happily assist you in the systematic destruction of your brain cells, but there’s also a supermarket in north Lakeside that puts chairs outside so you can sit and chill and basically get rat-arsed for supermarket prices in a pub environment. It’s every British persons’ dream. It’s also lethal to several of your basic motor functions and you may find yourself stumbling down the road attempting to take selfies with tiny cows. But why not track down some local booze, like raksi or chyang? Because your internal organs will die a little death, that’s why not. I found a little momo shop that sold chyang, a milky coloured rice beer, for ₨120 per litre and it’s sold to you decanted into a water bottle. Not a single part of your body will thank you for consuming a litre of this stuff and every time you so much as glance at a water bottle the next day all of your internal organs will recoil in horror. I spent an evening consuming this with a couple of people who are much better at holding their booze than me. The next day I was meant to be up to let people into the store room so they could drive supplies into Gorkha and I had to crawl, literally crawl, to my friend Steffi’s room and throw the store room keys at her and beg her to go and do it for me.
The food around here is amazing too, I’ve put on a few kgs living here, it’s got everything from some excellent Western food to the Nepali staples I love so much. The ubiquitos dal bhat every single day? Yes please. They eat it twice a day here as standard, it’s basically where you try and fit all of the rice in the world into your digestive system. It’s a Nepali thali where it just keeps on coming until you beg them to stop. Turns out they have different words here depending on what state the rice is in. If it’s still in the field being grown it’s dhaan. Uncooked and in the bag it’s chaamal. Cook it up and it becomes bhat. And then there are momos, little parcels of utter joy created by the gods themselves to contribute to the happiness of mankind. You need these in your life. They contain anything from veg to dead stuff and are served on a plate of ten with a spicy sauce called achar. If you’re missing the comforts of home there are two outstanding pizza restaurants opposite each other, Godfather’s and Neptalia, with everyone pledging their loyalty to one or the other (Hashtag Team Neptalia). I had my favourite places to go. Breakfast was usually aloo sandheko at a tiny little place at the end of the road where they had a nest of baby barn swallows, gaunthali in Nepali, and apparently if they nest in your home or business it’s considered good luck. Though how a bird shitting in your dal bhat is lucky is beyond me. I hung out at David’s a lot, the headquarters of our earthquake relief operation. And if I just fancied chilling out with a book or chatting with friendly strangers, Rest Point Cafe was the place with it’s gorgeous views over Fewa Lake, cold beer and ridiculously good prices.
Sometimes I wonder if I travel to travel, or just to wrap my chops around all of the food I can get my increasingly chubby paws on. It’s not like I didn’t try and work it off, mind. I headed up to the Shanti Stupa (Peace Stupa) more than once because I wanted that classic Machapuchare Reflecting In The Lake photo. Never bloody got it, mind. The first time I went up alone, it was later in the day and I walked right around the long way because it was more of a gentle incline than the heart attack hill up the usual way, through some woods, not a bastard clue as to where I was going, relying on Maps.Me to get me there. I knew I wasn’t far off when a couple of boys told me I was still really far away and I should pay them to guide me or I’d get horribly lost. I glanced down at my phone. Nope, reckon I’ll be fine from here, lads. By the time I got there and settled down with a cup of tea the whole mountain range was obscured by cloud. The second time I went I went with Batirtze, a Basque chick I’d met. We caught a boat across the lake as early as we could then hiked up up up, the much shorter but terrifyingly steep way. It was clear when we started but by the time we got there, you guessed it, cloud.
It was still a lovely day though, we wandered all around Pokhara and checked out Devil’s Falls which is probably a lot more impressive after monsoon season, and also Gupteshwor Mahadev over the road. It’s a sacred cave with a Hindu temple and a statue of a cow and no, I’m not shitting you. And you can walk all the way down and to the end where, if you look through the gap, you can actually see Devil’s Falls as they flow into the cave. Another day we rented bicycles to check out some Tibetan settlements. We learned the hard way that renting bicycles in a country that consists entirely of hills doesn’t rank in the top ten of sensible things to do, it was pretty hot too and we spent most the day looking for trees to sit under and lament our life choices, and realising that we were utterly lost and had completely ridden past the settlements and that big bastard hill we just cycled up? Pointless. The settlements were cool though, we met a couple of lovely women, one of who had fled Tibet 30 years ago. We bought some bracelets that we’ll probably never wear, I shall attempt to palm mine off on unsuspecting friends at my earliest convenience, and headed back to town. It was worth the effort though, you get some epic views of Machapuchare, the Fish Tail mountain, all over town.
It’s compulsory to be on top of Sarangkot for sunrise at least once during your time in Pokhara. Most people hire a taxi at stupid o clock to take them up and bring them back down once the main event is over. Me and three people I volunteered with, Steffi, Marc and Liza, decided to walk up there, spend the night, put a spot of sunrise in our eyeholes then walk back down because that’s way cheaper than a taxi. It’s a really easy albeit steep route up. Loads of people live up here, you won’t get lost and even if you do there’ll be someone around to point you in the right direction. We took it as easy as we could when you’re dragging your beer saturated, pizza fuelled, out of shape carcass up a stupidly steep incline. And the views, mate! You have to stop and take in the views. Frequently. Whilst sitting down and guzzling water.
Eventually we made it, wheezing, exhausted, sweating like a blind lesbian in a fish shop, we plodded up to the last stretch just as a bus rounded the corner. Yeah. Orrr we could have just done that. But no, because it’s a lovely walk and I really enjoyed it. The first place we came to, we were greeted by a woman who ran Fewa View Family Guesthouse and said she could give us a room for ₨200, as in that’s for the room which we suspiciously clarified because that was super cheap and we hadn’t even had to barter. ₨50 each she confirmed, though Marc and Liza had to share quite a small bed. It was fine for one night though. She also sold tea, beer, and the usual simple food. That’d do us, then. We draped our sweat drenched tops over the railing and settled in for the evening.
The next day was a bitch of a start, you’ve got to get up that hill to the viewing point regardless of how much your entire lower body protests at having to deal with steps in its pre-tea state. Those few minutes just before sunrise are legit the coldest bastard minutes of the whole fucking day, but as the Annapurna range started to light up, as the sun started to creep over the mountains, guys, this was so worth it. Now if someone could just move Machapuchare and the actual sunrise that little bit closer together so it fits neatly into the 1:1 frame that Instagram demands, that’d be swell. We walked back down to the guesthouse and after a nice, long breakfast and enough tea to appease all of the basic motor functions that had taken offence at the early hike up a hill we made our way back to Pokhara.
But if you want a closer look at Machapuchare you can, of course, have a little hike around the Annapurna region but since the earthquake my insurance company had told me in no uncertain terms that I wouldn’t be covered for any trekking in Nepal and I didn’t fancy risking getting hit with altitude sickness in the middle of nowhere with no insurance and no spare $10000 for a rescue chopper knocking around amongst the lint in my pockets. You can also do an ultra flight with Fishtail Ultra Flight, these guys actually contacted me through Instagram to advise me of their services. Well I’m a sucker for a cheeky little scenic flight. I actually booked this before the earthquake but on the day I was meant to fly the weather was pretty shite. We’re talking thick cloud and drizzle. Think a fine spring morning in north England. I don’t mind walking up a hill to the Shanti Stupa only for my views to be foiled by cloud but it’s another thing to have to fork out a load of money for it. They were pretty understanding and said I could go another day instead, then the next day is when the ground shook and all commercial flights from the airport were cancelled to make way for aid flights, but I wasn’t in any hurry to leave Pokhara, so when the airport opened again and there was just an inoffensive smattering of fluffy white clouds I went on my half hour ultra flight, and it was amazing.
You rock up to the airport in a minivan that they send for you, check in, then a team of people dresses you in the gear required so you don’t freeze to death. When I say they dress you, I literally mean they dress you like you’re an 18th century wealthy chick who is obviously incapable of clothing herself. I attempted to help with things I thought I was rather accomplished at, such as zipping up a jacket or putting a bandanna on my head. My efforts were batted away with a smile so I just kinda stood there, slightly awkwardly, and let them get on with it. I met my pilot, was strapped into the tiny little flying machine, and the man I’d just met minutes before made himself comfortable between my legs which is not something I ever thought I’d write in this blog. Ultra flights are cosy. And there’s no roof, hence all the arctic gear. My man was a Pokhara boy born and raised but he learnt his trade in South Africa. He was very knowledgeable on the area, pointing out landmarks and generally having a little chat. I absolutely loved this flight, I wish I’d forked out for a longer one and if I ever come back to Pokhara I’m splashing out on the full 90 minutes. Take off is exhilarating and the views are utterly incredible. We flew towards the Fish Tail mountain then turned around and headed back to the airport, accidentally tacking an extra ten minutes onto my flight as we circled Pokhara, waiting for clearance to land. I highly, very highly in fact, recommend you do this. It’s by no means cheap and you might have to forego that tenth pizza to afford it, but you’re paying for a machine in what looked like top notch condition (hark at the fucking expert here), a skilled pilot, and some excellent customer service.
God I love Pokhara. I think I do have a tendency to get quite attached to places I stay in for more than a month, but I met so many awesome people here who I would like to remain in my life. The local guys like Santos and Narayan, as well as the other travellers I met here, and not only the people I volunteered with. I met some cool people at the first place I stayed at, The Cherry Garden, before I moved into Narayan’s beautiful hotel, Hotel Celesty. I’ve got to come back here anyway, I still have the Annapurna region to explore. I didn’t set foot in it, not even Poon Hill. Just as I was considering a small, relatively sane altitude trek the second earthquake happened and I figured it probably wasn’t worth the risk and I should save my trekking for when the ground stopped moving like a possessed jelly. It’s not just my risk, I didn’t want people back home to have to go through the not knowing if another one did happen and I couldn’t get to a phone for a day or two. But anyway, I wont be sad if I have to come to Pokhara again. On the contrary, I hope it happens sooner rather than later.