Last weekend, our beloved M&B arrived from N-Zed and rather than welcome them into our home, we pushed off the next day for Pokhara, a 25 minute flight from the local domestic airport. As an aside, you’d think that a three day tour of a town not 120km away would find us with light luggage, but three kids as part of our entourage makes this completely untrue. Regardless…
The check-in process to this domestic airport is truly amazing, coming from the perspective of Dulles (IAD), VA.
One parks in the rocky pothole parking lot. No parking ticket per-se, the attendants just keep “a watch.” Lock up and off you go. Roll on up to the terminal with your luggage and tickets, wave them in the general direction of anyone looking official who mutters something in a questioning tone. Keep walking until someone physically stops you! Roll through the initial security check, which includes an xray. Make sure to put those weapons, incendiary items and/or large amounts of fluid in your checked luggage as opposed to your carry-on!
If you have someone with you, have them go over to the airport tax window and pay that while you stand in line. Have your luggage weighed on the huge manual scale (in kilos) and get a seat. FYI, if your infant is less than two (or looks it), be sure to purchase an infant ticket (or none at all) so you aren’t out another hundred dollars for a child fare. We didn’t do this, and so when the airport tax window person took pity and said we didn’t have to pay the tax, the ticketer said we did anyway as we’d bought E a ticket. Once boarding passes are issued, you saunter over to the bag checking, where the checker opens up your bag and rifles through it in less than five seconds. Really, who is going to take down a domestic Nepali flight?
The flight to Pokhara actually took off on time, simply awesome. It’s quite common to have a delay from weather conditions, as the airlines don’t operate with radar in flight, only visual flying. We boarded on nice new plane (Buddha and Yeti seem to have the newer planes, while the older German Dornier planes are operated by other airlines) and took off for Pokhara. We got just a few glimpses of the Himalayas in the 25 minute flight and landed on the very flat and very new asphalt tarmac in Pokhara. We walked into the one-building terminal and retrieved our luggage (Nepalis are actually very astute with luggage tag match-up, so don’t lose your claim tags!), then outside and haggled for a pair of taxis. (I’d been on the phone with our hotelier who gave me some advice as to how much it should cost to mount the summit. More on that later) Transportation secured (1970’s datsun and newish hyundai thingy) we made for the Peace Dragon Lodge.
The website makes the Peace Dragon Lodge look like quite the “hot spa stones and yoga” place, but as with all things, it’s the state of mind you’re in that defines how you experience things. The state of mind we were in when the cabbies dropped us off halfway up the mountain was annoyed. Rolling luggage in hand, sun and humidity to boot (I’ve gotten used to the arid KTM), we pushed up the logging road to the parking lot of the World Peace Stuppa, for where we were originally destined, and were already scheduled for a 10-minute walk up the steps to the hotel. Fortunately, the hotelier had sent down some folks to help sherpa the luggage up the hill. We mounted the summit (ascending some 200 meters in total from the cabs) and were greeted by a breathtaking view of Phewa (or Fewa) lake. We “checked in” and stowed the luggage.
Cold showers complete (hot water issue perhaps), we went up top to take in the views and order some dinner. I have to say that the food was pretty amazing, and perhaps all the more tasty for the time it took. Amazing sunset too. Sleep was long in coming that night for the planks on which we slept. The duvet was perhaps more puffy than the mattress. At least there was WiFi! We decided the following day to book accommodations on the other end of the scale at the Shangri-la hotel down the mountain, out of town a bit.
We piled into a Gypsy, a smallish minivan of sorts and put heads to roof down the mountainside, bumping our way down and then into town where the pavement began. The Shangri-la truly was a change, perhaps a bit much of one (WiFi at 100nrs for 30 minutes), but definitely a welcome one. Pool, included continental breakfast buffet and omelette station, hot showers, soft beds. We had some lunch and hired a car for the afternoon.
The tour that day was amazing. 3000 nrs to have a fellow drive us around and put together a tour (no more Stuppa’s please) was great. We saw the place where the Seti River (the white river, from the limestone) disappears into the ground, at Devi’s something-or-other. The Disney World-style blue railing keeps one from falling in and getting sucked to their death. We passed on the touristy gimcracks and tibetan beads and went across the street and down into the cave entrance (where red dip cards prove handy on bypassing tourist fees) down into the ground to see the back side of the main waterfall. Pretty cool. Very humid. The kids were excited, and E had fallen asleep by that point. During this entire time, all three kids and even B are accosted to have their photos taken with locals and tourists a-la the world’s shortest man (who is ironically, a Pokhara native).
We also got to see another portion of the Seti gorge, an aquaduct, more of the Seti River and the highlight, a “swing bridge”, which didn’t swing so much due to modern engineering. Constructed by the Brits (who had their camp nearby), this bridge spans some 300-400 meters across a gorge and is perhaps 150-200 meters over the ground. Thrilling! This is not the longest one though; our guide showed us some cell phone video of one about 60km away that looked a good kilometer long. We were toured out for the day and stopped at Caffe Concerto, an italian place with excellent food on the way out of Lakeside (the Thamel of Pokhara). We took our time with dinner and conversation and then cabbed back to the hotel and turned in for the night. Excellent day.
The following morning we breakfasted at the hotel and then walked into Lakeside (most of the way, then hopped a cab for the last five minutes) to see what was up with Dashai (the festival). Mostly just a lot of tourist stuff, so we made for a paddle boat lakeside. This was fun; we got in to this Coney Island style pontoon boat and pedal-paddled our way across Phewa Lake for a restaurant on the other side, for lunch (can you see a theme? We love the food here). The Lychee Garden Resort did indeed have beautiful views, and our appetites were again whetted with time. (We estimate that the momo flour was procured from across the lake by another paddle boat). E fell asleep before the food arrived and missed most of lunch, waking just in time to eat some spring roll and carrot before we paddled back into town. We toured some shops and got some ice-cream on the way out of town at Caffe Concerto before cabbing it back to Shangri-la. We had smartly procured a couple bottles of wine to avoid the hotel’s pricey bar prices. The kids and I made a poolside appearance, and were chattering within five minutes, but stuck it out for 30. The weather was unseasonably cloudy and a bit rainy, but the kids can never ignore a pool.
Since we’d dined so extravagantly and were nearly still stuffed from lunch, we got a couple of items from room service and fed the kids granola bars. Aren’t we great parents? Wonderful evening conversation with M&B.
Monday morning, our final day in Pokhara, we breakfasted again (helloo, omelette!), packed up and checked out, and hired a car to take us to Begnas Lake, some 45 minutes out of town and right next to M&B’s next destination, the Hotel Daybreak. We then hired a pair of canoes to take us out onto the lake for more beautiful views and scenery. We left M&B at said hotel (for a slow ride back to KTM via scenic detours) and went back to the airport. We saw and met with some friends (that’s one thing you can’t get away from; this is so small a community, we saw friends and coworkers from KTM at nearly every step of the way on this trip.) at the terminal and asked, unsuccessfully, for a menu from which to order food. We settled for Lays Magic Masala chips, granola bars, and a beer. Our flight was only an hour or so delayed. Back to KTM!