We arrived in Pokhara around 12:30pm after another long, stressful, anxiety filled, four and a half hour drive. The road from Chitwan to Pokhara was the same road we took from Kathmandu to Chitwan. And it wasn't any less intense this time around. But we did make it safely and that's all that matters. Phewwwww. Our lodging for the next four nights was called Hotel Middle Path, which was ranked number two on TripAdvisor out of eighty two options (now its number one). For $38 a night, we didn't really have too high of expectations, especially knowing Pokhara is a backpackers town. However, the first room we got was miserable. It smelled like the dirtiest Goodwill Store mixed with a retirement hotel, the carpet was stained, the bed sheets were dirty and it gave off this indescribable creepy vibe for some reason. So I kindly batted my eyelashes and politely asked for another room. They happily, with no hesitation, moved us to the fourth floor from the second floor. Much better. No mothball smells, no cigarette burns on the carpet and bed sheets looked like they were recently washed. When I apologized for being so high mantainence, the guy replied with "treat this like it's your home, whatever you need, just ask". I mean, these people are just the best.
After we all settled in, we went for a stroll around town and had lunch on the patio of The Olive Cafe, located on the main strip. It was lovely to sit outside, people watch, familiarize ourselves with our bearings, chat it up and brainstorm what we will do for the next three plus days.
We ate, had cappuccino's, headed back to the hotel to change and then set out to visit the World Peace Pagoda, which is a Buddhist monument on a hilltop in Pumdi Bhumdi. It is situated at a height of around 3600 feet and was built by Morioka Sonin, a Nipponzan-Myohoji monk, with local supporters under the guidance of Nichidatsu Fujii, a Buddhist monk and the founder of Nipponzan-Myohoji. The shrine was created as a symbol of peace, and offers panoramic views of the Annapurna range, the city of Pokhara and Phewa Lake. This ended up being over a three hour adventure. But we certainly enjoyed it every step of the way (literally, every single step). How could you not? It started with a ten minute walk through town to the main dock on Phewa Lake. We then took a twenty minute boat ride from one side of the water to the other side.
Then we walked up hundreds, most likely thousands of stone like stairs, for about an hour. Every next level you got to offered fantastic views. And the scenery surrounding the trail was very inviting as well. It was lush greenery that if it could talk would say "hold my hand and walk beside me". When you are sweating up a storm from a work out, it helps to have visuals to appreciate along the way. It's mental motivation. At least it is for me.
About half way up, we passed by a small village of homes...
Once we got to the top, there was a nice breeze that was much needed to cool us down. I was huffing and puffing so much I felt like the Big Bad Wolf from The Three Little Pigs. The World Peace Pagoda was lucky I didn't blow it down with my heavy breathing. I think the altitude mixed with the heat mixed with being slightly out of shape didn't help either (excuses, excuses). As I slowly caught my breath, I could feel my body, mind and soul transition into perfect harmony. It was so calming being up here. There was no noise and no commotion. Just peaceful vibes.
And unfortunately, based on this sign, you had to keep your clothes on. What a huge disappointment that was.
The Peace Pagoda has four main Buddha statues, reflecting four prominent stages of Buddha's life - where he was born in Lumbini, Nepal where he became enlightened in Bothgaya, India, where he taught most of his life time in Sarnath, India and where he reached nirvana at Kushi Nagar, India.
As we were walking down the same path we walked up, we noticed young kids and parents, with paddles as well as women carrying up loads of what looked like grass on their back. I think this is their everyday commute. They paddle across the lake to the main city for school or work then hike up this steep mountain to get home. Wowzers, Their endurance level must be extremely high to do this every single day. Good for them. It's better than sitting in a car, smoking a cigarette, listening to trashy music, on a polluted freeway for hours at a time.
Oh, and I forgot to mention there is a typical restaurant at the bottom of the hike for anyone who wants to grab a quick bite or a refreshing drink before or after the climb. What's a typical restaurant you ask? Well, ask the owners who came up with the name...
That night, we walked to Cafe Concerto, a yummy restaurant owned and operated by Italians. It was rated number one on TripAdivosr so we obviously weren't the only tourists looking for an authentic pizza and pasta dinner. The place had a very charming ambience, great service and pretty delicious food. Six thumbs up from us. Our waiter was the most adorable, peppy guy I've ever met. I wanted to put him in my pocket for a rainy day.
The next morning, Jennifer and Vinny wanted some chill time, and since I'm not that great at chilling, I walked around town by myself. Pokhara, although still smaller than your average metropolitan area, is the second largest city in Nepal. The main street is quite long but after ten minutes of window shopping, you realize it's all the same. There are restaurants, bars, paragliding companies, souvenir stores and for the first time in eight weeks, I saw tons of coffee shops that offered "coffee to go" as an option. Unless you randomly found a Starbucks in India, "coffee to go" wasn't ever possible. After doing research on this new found discovery, I quickly learned that coffee farms are everywhere throughout Pokhara so having locally grown organic coffee isn't a luxury, it's the norm. As I continued down the street for a little while longer, I started hearing music. American music. Blasting. About five hundred feet more, I noticed a radio station booth on the corner that was rocking out to Michael Jackson's Beat It. Oh man, I love that song. Everyone passing by was singing along, out loud, so of course, I joined in. Luckily I wasn't discovered by a recording company. And I saw a colorful local bus that caught my eye.
For the remainder of the day, we took in some of the local sights. First up was Devi's Falls, which was described to us as a cascading waterfall that flows through a tunnel from a lake and into a cave. Well, it wasn't exactly like that when we saw it. I believe it's because the summer months bring the most rain which in turn, intensifies the waterfall pressure so in March, there wasn't much rain yet. Regardless, it was still pretty. Just nothing to write home about. Plus, there were a few very random 3D clay displays of people without heads so we had a quick laugh and inserted our perfect faces into their perfect bodies.
Next up was the Gupteshwar Mahadev Cave, which was supposedly formed from Devi's Falls. After you pass by thirty or so shops, you are welcomed at the top by a beautiful spiral staircase that takes you down to the entrance of the cave. Although dark and dingy, the caves are beautiful from inside. It is a very sacred place for the Hindus because a phallic symbol of Lord Shiva is preserved here, apparently in the condition it was originally discovered. Due to the lack of light, it was nearly impossible to capture it in a photo but I certainly tried. A for effort, right?
Third on our Pokhara scavenger hunt was Tashi Ling, the smaller of two Tibetan Refugee Camps in the area. There was a tiny museum that provided some history on how these Tibetan refugees arrived in Nepal and "how they struggled yet grew over the last 50 years". After the formation of communist regime in China, it immediately started taking interest to occupy the neighboring country, Tibet and eventually invaded the Eastern part in 1949, making the lives of innocent locals highly unbearable. So on March 10, 1959, when the Chinese people deliberately crushed their peaceful demonstrators in Lhasa, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama and 80,000 Tibetans took refuge in India, Nepal and Bhutan. They traveled days and nights risking their lives while crossing the high Himalayan Ranges, mostly covered in snow, causing frostbite, injuries and untimely deaths. When the survivors settled in Pokhara, they had to quickly adapt to new food habits, new cultures, new languages and new climates. This lead to even more deaths. However, they remained optimistic that a better future was ahead and sustained livelihood with the help of NGO and INGO's in building small agribusiness and poultry. Some even worked as daily wage earners in the constructions of what now is known as the Siddharth Highway, which connects Pokhara to the Indian Border. Today, there are about 550 settlers of this camp, who have been there for over 50 ears as refugees, only with the hope of one day returning to their country, Tibet.
On a more uplifting level, we were able to watch as women wove carpets and blankets, all by hand, with no big fancy machines or factories. Their intricate, stunning final products were then sold in a showroom nearby. Very impressive.
Last on our self-made makeshift city tour, we visited Tashi Palkhel, which is the larger of the two Tibetan Refugee Settlements in the Pokhara area. As we entered the grounds, we were immediately welcomed by prayer flags flapping in the gentle breeze and the colorful Jangchub Choeling Gompa in the middle of the village, which is home to nearly 200 monks. The atmosphere made you feel as though you were actually in Tibet (well, what I think Tibet would be like. I've never been so just using my imagination here. Work with me). We purposely saved this for last because from 3:30pm-5pm, the monks all gather for a prayer session that consists of rumbling, chanting, hmmmmming, singing, horn blowing, drum hitting, instrument clapping and then followed by silent meditation. We sat indian style, against the back wall and just observed for over an hour. It was so relaxing, so calming, so tranquil. We all were trying not to fall asleep. There were monks as old as what looked like seventy years old to as young as almost seven years old. They all had their heads shaved and were wearing the traditional "saffron robes".
That night, we walked to dinner at Moondance, which just like Cafe Concerto, had great food, great service and a great ambiance. Fun times all around.
Our first two days in Pokhara were pretty pretty pretty awesome. Can't wait for the next two days. In the famous words of The Truman Show, "Good morning, and in case I don't see ya, good afternoon, good evening, and good night!".