The road map for entry into Tibet/China became crystal clear with the visit to Ram’s office to fill up the Chinese visa form. Entry would be on the 27th. Thus, we had three more days on hand. It was decided to visit Pokhara on 24th and return the next day, in time to collect the stamped passports from Ram’s office. The afternoon of the 25th would be reserved for miscellaneous activity, including a visit to the Indian Embassy if we had the time. Local sightseeing will be the focus on 26th after the mountain flight, which depended hugely on good weather conditions. The plans for the next few days were laid out thus. Accordingly, after Leela was done with the next load of washing we set out for Pohkara. The city of Kathmandu is astonishingly dusty due to road and other construction works. River sand mining and stone crushing units add to the dust and chaos on the road. On the outskirts of the city we stopped for breakfast. The small thatched hut turned restaurant served us chana and omlette. The former was a bit spicy while the latter had loads of salt in it. Nevertheless, both were tasty enough for additional helpings.
Heavy traffic slowed progress till Naubise. There are numerous stay wire bridges across the Trishuli River. We stopped near one of them to experience a short walk across it. The Trishuli River is named after Shiva and the legend is that he drove his trident (Trishul) deep into the ground high in the Himalayas to create three springs, which is the source of the river. The river originates in the Tibet Autonomous Region of China (TAR) and forms one of the main tributaries that feed the Narayani River basin in Central Nepal.
From Kathmandu it is 110 kms to Mugling, which we had also traversed on our way to Kathmandu on 22 June. Pokhara lies 90 kms further west and diverts from the road to Bhairawaha at Mugling. The journey from Kathmandu to Pokhara was barely 200 kms, but was not a smooth ride. Pokhara is reportedly the second biggest city in Nepal. However, indisputably, she is the darling of tourists. Pokhara is the base for trekkers doing the Annapurna circuit. Three of the ten biggest mountains are in close proximity to Pokhara and there lies the appeal of the city. There are hotels and backpackers inns all over. Many shops sell equipment meant exclusively for trekkers. Handicraft shops, souvenir vendors, coffee bars, tourism facilitators, et al make for a typical touristy town.
Hotel accommodation in Pokhara was arranged for us by Mohan in Hotel Snowland. He told us that the hotel offers good views of the lake and we looked forward to it. But when we checked in at 1.30 pm we were disappointed, to be polite. The rooms did not even overlook anything decent to write about! Since it was hot and humid as we came into the city we decided to have lunch at the hotel rather than move about and get fried. We sat for quite some time in the restaurant area before the security guard (who seemed to be the only person in the hotel who could summon service) sent us a young waiter, who mercifully took down the order. It took close to three quarters of an hour for the food to arrive. And when it came the waiter placed the rotis and chicken curry before us and left. He was summoned again and I asked him for plates; he almost had a cardiac arrest. He brought two of them after he had recovered from the shock of the ‘insane’ request. The request for a third plate most certainly placed him in mental ICU! I could not, after this trauma, ask the waiter for water. Baiju got a bottle of it from the car. Through all this it was the availability of free WiFi that kept us in good humour. Data connectivity is extremely costly on pre-paid SIMs in Nepal. Lal and Baiju have already spent a fortune staying connected; therefore, its free availability was a boon. We were able to get most of our work done; including updating the blog posts.
The food was extremely good; was it the hunger or the chef’s expertise? Hard to tell. Since it was still hot we decided to rest awhile and then go for a walk to the lake. By about 4 pm the skies opened up and cooled the city. It continued to pour for almost an hour and was still drizzling when we ventured out to explore the streets. The first stop was at a cafe for a hot mug of café latte. The rain and flowing rain water continued to dodge our efforts to walk. We decided to drive to the lake. The Phewa lake (variously called Phewa Tal and Fewa lake) is a large freshwater lake that is famous for its reflection of the Machchapucchre (fish faced) and other mountains of the Annapurna and Daulagiri Range. We could not experience these as the rain hid the mountain views. Boating on the lake was also stopped due to the rain. What I liked most was the availability of baskets and bins at intermittent locations for collection and segregation of waste. When I wondered aloud why this was not being done in Kerala pat came the response of my companions: the baskets will be pilfered in a trice for whatever it is worth!
We walked around the lake for more than an hour braving the drizzle and got a good view of the Taal Barahi Temple, located on an island in the lake, and the World Peace Pagoda. Pokhara is an expensive city, by all means. This was brought home to us rather rudely when we picked up a half bottle of vodka, and bottles of soda and Sprite; it cost us nearly INR 900! It was a chastening experience. Dinner was at the hotel. Since the weather was not conducive for viewing sunrise from Sarangkot we decided to tuck in for slightly longer.