Half term in Pokhara!

On Valentine’s Day we headed to Pokhara to find Sam Hall a Nepali wife. Only joking, but the whole of Pokhara was crazy for love! We headed off at a much more leisurely hour than usual on a public bus direct to Pokhara at 10.45 am. Unfortunately about an hour in, in a completely packed bus, the girl standing in the aisle next to me threw up all over the floor of the bus. It was at least half an hour before anything was done about it. After the girl got off the bus, a fellow passenger alerted the “conductor” who hopped off the bus, grabbed some sand and stones and poured it on the sick to absorb the liquid. After another hour we stopped at a roadside cafe for about 20 minutes so that everyone could use the toilet and have a chance to buy some food. It was another 2 1/2 hours to Pokhara during which time it began to rain heavily. We called Gaurav to see if he had any suggestions on where to stay and he managed to negotiate a deal for us at ‘Hotel Stay Pokhara’ which had Wifi, hot water and a great location about 5 minutes walk from the famous Phewa Tal (‘Tal’ means lake in Nepali). Feeling tired and a bit miserable about the weather (we had been promised sunshine) we checked in and unpacked. We then had our first hot showers in almost two months. It was a truly amazing feeling. Olivia and Sam went out for a walk and ended up at a restaurant called ‘Moondance.’ Freya and I were so tired that we decided to eat in the hotel’s restaurant. We soon received a text from the others saying “You’re missing out” and when every dish we ordered could not be made for one reason or another we headed out to join the others who were now with Gaurav. Freya and I shared the most delicious pizza that I have had in ages (though not as good as the Sourdough pizzas from Peter’s Yard, Mum) followed by Lemon Meringue Pie and my first cup of coffee in almost 2 months. Gaurav then gave us our second installment of money to last us for the next 6 weeks before we all headed out to the ‘Busy Bee Cafe’ which is one of the coolest bars I’ve seen in Nepal. We had a really nice time at Busy Bee or ‘the Bee’ as Sam liked to refer to it and I had my first experience of Shisha – double apple flavour. We headed back to our hotel late and had to wake up a member of staff as we had just missed our 12am curfew! We seem to have a real habit of getting locked out of places which is proving hard to break!

We met up with Gaurav for breakfast and he took us to a really nice restaurant called ‘Mike’s’ which was right on the lake. Unfortunately the weather still hadn’t cleared up and Gaurav was worried about his flight from Pokhara back to Kathmandu being cancelled (it wasn’t and luckily he flew the day before the plane crash – see external link). It started pouring with rain again just as we reached the hotel and Freya and I decided to catch up on some well needed sleep before we went out shopping. We ended up buying matching T- shirts, a hemp overnight bag each and some playing cards. We then headed to ‘Paradise’ for lunch where we had a delicious steak each and used the Wifi to catch up with family. We met a Welsh man who is currently living in Australia who recommended that should we ever get the chance we should head to Sikkim on the border of Nepal and India. We then headed back to the hotel to shower before dinner. Sam had chosen a restaurant attached to a German bakery called ‘Boomerang’ as there was a free cultural show every evening where we experienced traditional Newari dress, music and dancing. We even ended up dancing on stage with them towards the end of the show. We then headed back to Busy Bee but Freya and I left early as we were still absolutely shattered.

On Sunday morning we headed to the German bakery to grab some breakfast before we attempted to walk to “Old Pokhara.” After walking for about an hour and a half and with Freya’s ankle hurting we found a mini bus that could take us the rest of the way. We bought a basket full of offerings and went to a small(ish) temple. We were looking for the Bindabasini Temple but even though people knew what we were talking about, they could not point us in the right direction. We had some chiya and then decided to head home having been so unsuccessful and unable to work out where we actually were! We found another temple on the way and gave our offerings. We also gave each other tikkas but got rather excited and ended up looking as if we had been shot in the head. I then managed to deface a temple by spraying it with the red mixture making it look like the scene of a battle. When we had finished, we found a taxi driver to take us back and he asked us what we were celebrating. Of course our immediate response was that it was Olivia’s birthday, so the most happy taxi driver I have ever met sang ‘Happy birthday’ to Olivia on the drive back. We also saw some of the traditional Newari houses but there aren’t that many left now. When we got home we prepared for our ‘date nights.’ Sam had decided we needed to spend more one on one time with each other ‘to get to know one another better.’ Today I was dating Olivia, and we went to a lovely restaurant called ‘Maya.’ I had a burger but was far too full to finish it as we had eaten spaghetti only a few hours earlier! We then met up at Busy Bee for a ‘debrief.’ We met some Australians who were volunteering here with a Canadian. They were really nice and Jesse, the Canadian, was handing out Mars Bars and eggs to everyone (he was a little drunk). We then headed back to the hotel early enough to meet our curfew!

On Monday 17th February I woke up to texts from my Mum asking if I was alive because she had heard about the plane crash on the news. We hadn’t heard anything so this was a shock to us all but I hastily replied to calm her nerves. Freya and I had woken up later than the others and by the time we got to Mike’s to have breakfast, Olivia and Sam had already hired a boat and were out on the water. I had a migraine so waited out the next turn and Freya went out with Olivia. We got a call saying that Freya had fallen in but they were just trying to trick us. When they eventually got back, having rowed to the other side of the lake, my head was much better and I headed out in the boat with Sam. Our first stop was Tal Barahi which is an island shrine “located a few hundred meters offshore.” We then decided to head further up the lake to Fish Tail Lodge – an exclusive resort way beyond our means. The views were incredible and we each had something light, but nonetheless expensive, to eat. I had a strawberry smoothie and chips which were both delicious (as you would hope). It took us a while to row back to the drop off point and it was late afternoon by the time we got back to the hotel. Freya, Olivia and I booked a Pony Trek for the next day to take us to some of Pokhara’s famous sights. I dated Freya in the evening and we went to a Jamaican restaurant called ‘Buzz’ which was basically a shrine to Bob Marley but a place with really delicious and relatively cheap food. We met the Australians again and they said they would meet us at Busy Bee later on. When we got to Busy Bee, Sam looked awful. Olivia informed us that he had eaten too much and had too strong a beer and he was sick before heading home. We played cards with the Australians and then we too headed back to the hotel.

On Tuesday 18th February, we were awoken by a call from reception to say that the horses had arrived early. When we saw the horses though, none of us wanted to ride them anywhere. They were far too small and skinny and perfect for a 6 year old in the UK. It was frustrating because we had asked when we were booking about the health and size of the horses and we were definitely lied to. We each paid a small cancellation fees because we felt bad for the horses and then headed out for some breakfast and to see if we could hire a jeep to do the same thing. We stumbled across Simrik Tours and Travel where we met Arun. He had just returned from the UK having studied something to do with computers at the University of East London so his English was perfect! We told him what had happened with the horses and that we wanted to hire a jeep and he said if we liked he could come with us (for free and to get a day out of the office) to be our tour guide! We decided to leave at 5am to see the sunrise at Sarangkot and then he wrote a list of every sight to see in Pokhara and said we could go to all of them in one day – so we called Sam and then booked! On our way back to the hotel we met the cutest Tibetan Mastiff puppy called ‘Baby.’ Her ‘Grandpa’ was a Gurkha and had just moved back to Kathmandu after spending 8 years living in Reading. We then met up with Sam who had been paragliding in the morning but we were told to leave the restaurant he was in as we had crepes from another place. We decided to hire a pedalo and the 3 of us spend an hour just cruising the lake in the glorious sunshine. That evening we all headed to Buzz and ended up eating with Jesse and his Australian friends who were joining us for happy hour. We left early and headed home as we had a very early start.

Wednesday 19th February was the most insane day I’ve had yet in Nepal. We saw a ridiculous amount and were with our guide for 13 hours exploring Pokhara (so take a deep breath before you start this paragraph). We left the hotel at 5.10 am and headed to Sarangkot (1590m) to watch the sunrise. It was by far the most beautiful sunrise I have ever seen in my life! From Sarangkot we headed to the Bindabasini Temple which was stunning. Animal sacrifices are common on Saturdays so luckily for Olivia (who is a vegetarian) we missed these. “The featured deity, Bindhyabasini, is an incarnation of Kali, the mother goddess in her bloodthirsty aspect.” It also turns out that we were only around the corner from it when we were looking for it on Monday! Olivia gave us all tikkas and then we headed to the Mahendra Cave. “Unfortunately, the stalactites that were once the chief attraction of Mahendra Gupha, have mostly been stolen, leaving only a few surviving stalagmites daubed with abir (red tikka powder)… Most visitors now are Indian pilgrims, walking along a fairly well-lit path for five minutes to the internal Siddha Binayak shrine, where a pallid resident priest performs a puja.” We went all the way to this shrine and the priest gave us each a blessing in English and even told Freya he knew she was very intelligent. From the Mahendra Cave it was a short drive to the Chamere Ghupa more commonly known as the Bat Cave. “There are no handrails or concrete footpaths… most of the thousands of winter residents here are thought to be from two agile, insect-eating Horseshoe species, but the valley is home to eighteen or more bat species, and roost sites are often shared.” When we went there were thousands hanging from the ceiling fast asleep even when we made a fair bit of noise. When it came to the exit, a tiny hole, Freya, Olivia and I were told to go back through the entrance while Sam and Arun squeezed through with the driver’s help. From the Bat Cave we headed to the Gurkha Memorial Museum which is beside the British Gurkha Camp. The museum was extremely interesting but unfortunately the top floor was being renovated so we didn’t get to see everything. There was so much to read about and so many incredible achievements to try and get your head around. It is definitely well worth a visit if you ever happen to be in the area. We then headed just across the road to the Seti Nadi River Gorge. ‘Seti’ means white in Nepali and the water is a blueish white due to all the rock flour suspended in it (Geography in action). The gorge itself is roughly 70m deep and we were blessed with a tikka and some holy water by the resident priest. He took pictures with all of us and gave us his address to send them to – he had rather a large collection. We then headed back to Lakeside to Mike’s for some breakfast before heading to Begnas Tal. The lake is huge for fishing and as you walk in you can see the concrete holding tanks of the Government fish farm. We didn’t stay for long as we still had so much to see! It was straight to the International Mountain Museum which was again extremely interesting especially as Sam and I’s trek is fast approaching. We learned about the extensive clean up expeditions along Everest and saw some of the rubbish that had been brought back. We also climbed the model mountain outside but no one managed to get to the peak! From here we headed to Devi’s Falls. The waterfalls are supposedly named after a Swiss woman said to have drowned while skinny-dipping with her boyfriend in 1961. Her name was Mrs. Davis. However, the name “Devi” may just mean goddess. We then headed across the road to the Gupteshwor Mahadev Cave were you can see Devi’s falls from underground. There is also a “cow shed” which contains a cow that for 10 rupees you can make it produce milk. Seeing this was a very odd experience. We then ended the day at the World Peace Stupa, or the Peace Pagoda, where we watched the sunset. The Peace Pagoda stands at 1113m and the views from it are just phenomenal. The Stupa itself is 40m tall and is so serene and peaceful. As we were leaving, Arun taught us some basic meditation. When we ‘came around’ there was no one left and we had been locked in to the area. Arun found the gate keeper who let us out and we trudged back down the stairs to the Jeep, absolutely exhausted from our day. Arun dropped us back at the hotel where we had our last hot shower before heading to ‘Maya’ for dinner and then on to ‘Busy Bee.’ We danced with some crazy Chinese tourists – one of whom flirted outrageously with Sam. The tourist was a guy. Perhaps it was Sam’s camp dance moves that attracted him to Sam. Anyway the band left and we stayed for a while. Olivia and I tried on a random person’s motorbike helmet and we got chatting to a guy from Kathmandu. We jokingly asked if he knew our coordinator, Gaurav, and it turns out that they are childhood friends. Nepal is clearly a small country! We headed back to the hotel knackered but we had thoroughly enjoyed our day.

On Thursday 20th February, we checked out of the hotel and then headed to Mike’s for breakfast. Arun and his brother gave Olivia, Freya and I a lift to the bus park but Sam had decided to stay for a few extra days as half term didn’t end until the Saturday. The bus to Dumre was the most terrifying journey yet. For some reason the driver drove extremely quickly, tipping the bus so much that Olivia and I held hands for fear that we were going to die. Luckily we survived but the bus from Dumre home to Besisahar wasn’t much better. The bus was so old that it was practically falling apart and the only seats left were at the back of the bus – the bumpiest part. At one point my seat fell through and I ended up sitting on a metal bar until another seat was freed up. However, we arrived home in one piece and had an amazing time exploring and relaxing in Pokhara.

Lots of love,

Emma xxxx