Pokhara: Nepal's Better Half…

IMG_0569Pokhara is Nepal’s second city, and such a change from the first, that it’s almost hard to believe they’re in the same country. Where Kathmandu is noisy and chaotic, Pokhara (pronounced like a distinctly southern-drawled and gooey ‘okra’, y’all) is chilled and peaceful—almost TOO tranquil. I start to miss all the chaos and manic maniac drivers with foot on the gas and hand on the horn (I even had one flashing lights at me, so I stopped in the middle of the road to force him to do the same, just because I could)…

Of course, I’m talking about Lakeside, where all the tourists and local groovers hang, and full of spa-like accoutrements, boutiques and yoga, trekking centers and restos, caffeine and alcohol. But there’s another Pokhara, too, the original one, just up the road a piece, as high up as you can get in that particular valley, and filled with goldsmiths and silver, as opposed to the lakeside scene that tourism built. So I had to go check it out, just to get some traffic to avoid, if nothing else…

IMG_0563Lakeside only really comes alive at night, and much of that in second-level clubs and drinkeries, so not immediately accessible to pedestrians. But to call it a ‘little Thamel’ or ‘second Thamel’ is a bum rap, as the place is eminently walkable, as opposed to the bruised knees and psychological near-misses involved in just walking Thamel after dark. It’s cleaner, too, with wide sidewalks flanking one broad thoroughfare, with a lesser muddy walkway along the lakefront itself…

Prices are higher, though, for nearly everything except ‘momos’, the hearty Tibetan dumplings that are ubiquitous in the region. The real challenge is to find the bro’ price on food, the Paknajol price (where you go in Thamel), where any meal with dal baht (soupy lentils and rice) will allow you extra to fill up on, like tortillas in Mexico, where nobody goes hungry…

And coffee goes for a price here that would make Mr. Starbucks himself blush, much too expensive, so I go for Red Bull rip-offs (which was a rip-off itself in a previous Thai life, just sayin’). But the power still goes out half the day, maybe even worse than the Kathmandu area, and I end up staying up half the night just to use Internet. In all fairness: WiFi is generally good, whether there’s power or not (they have backup), so the power is the real problem—what a shame…

IMG_0567So Nepal missed the Digital Nomad boat, just a few old hippies left from the old days who could care less about Internet connectivity. Pokhara seems fully given over to tourism, with sweet smiles and pleasant dispositions well-suited for it, everything but the electricity. So I feel sorry for the taxis without passengers and the hotels without guests, whether victims of the earthquake or not. So they’re building buildings like no tomorrow, all with no power; only Commie countries ration power rather than raise the price…

But it’s not all sweetness and smiles. Nepalis will blow cigarette smoke in your face no joke, right inside the resto, and Europeans all too happy to follow suit. So I take long walks and befriend all dogs, writing on scraps for later transfer to computer on the midnight shift. I even finished my curry cookies on the uphill climb to Sarangkot, for lack of better options (see earlier post)…

I got halfway up the twisted path to Sangarkot before turning back, more put off by the prospect of a twisted ankle than a twisted psychopath. I mean: what if I meet someone on this lonely narrow path? Worse still: what if I don’t (meet anyone)? Fear is the great conservative influence on behavior, the what-ifs of life come forward to haunt in advance of any display of unwarranted bravado…

IMG_0572And the bus ride Kathmandu-Pokhara is beautiful, if problematic. A round-trip is not backtracking, not the first time, since it’s an entirely different view, right? But the drive stretches out forever, one hour to leave KTM, and worse on the return. They stop for lunch TWICE for the driver to fill his gut free while passengers mingle listlessly. And trucks pull over to sides of roads with no shoulders, so no shortage of anxiety there…

But the real problem is that the last 12 mi/20 km on the return to KTM takes at least three hours, due to road work and traffic jams, so plan accordingly. And you’ll FINALLY see mountains after three weeks, if you know where—and when—to look, same in Pokhara. In Kathmandu,you’ll only get that at the airport. Now you know…

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