Early Morning in Pokhara

Last month in Pokhara, at about seven in the morning, I was leaving my room for breakfast before starting work with some students in a hotel across the street. I was thinking about whether I had enough pairs of scissors and where I put my presentation notes. So at first I didn’t look up. The night before had been stormy and drizzly, and it had been too miserable to go out and explore. So I had stayed in the room and had an early night. Yet, first thing the next morning, this is the view that greeted me. I had to go back for the camera: DSCF5036
There’s nothing like a little storm to clear the air first thing in the morning.  And here clear air = stunning views of the Himalayans!


Pokhara: Last Stop!

As interesting as it was to visit Lumbini, it was a good feeling to drive out of the dust and heat, and slowly make our way up from south to north through Nepalese hill country. For about six hours we wound up and down hillsides on narrow roads, drove through small roadside small villages, and finally arrived in Pokhara in the late afternoon.

This was my fifth or sixth visit to the city and I wanted to try a new location away from the hustle and bustle of Lakeside. So I picked Maya Devi Resort on the north shore of Phewa lake. Its a quiet, undeveloped location with just the occasional paragliders who drop out of the sky on to the small beach and, unexpectedly, a very good Thai restaurant.

The resort is small and laid back, and specializes in parahawking, a unique type of paragliding.  The owner rescues birds of prey and trains them to lead paragliders to the best thermals, and the paragliders gets a very cool flight experience with a bird.


The little hut where we stayed

But we were just there for the relaxation and scenery. And made a few animal friends anyway:



One of the Egyptian parahawking vultures – Bob, I think?!


….and one of his kyte friends.

It was a quiet, relaxing 3 days. The downside was that Susie barely got a glimpse of the Himalayas — she should have had panoramic views – but we did get to spend time rowing on the lake, gossiping in cafes, and trolling around the shops at a much more leisurely pace than normal.

What a great trip!  From jungle to dusty Indian border towns to quiet lakeside silence…..I’ve had worse weeks. ;o)


Loved the emptiness of the lake beach at night


Girls Roadtrip! Or Thelma and Louise (with a driver)….

… (hint) It has a much better ending!

It was so exciting that my really good friend, Susie, would be coming all the way to Kathmandu. I was a little apprehensive too as this is a difficult city to visit in a lot of ways — its dirty, dusty and congested — but I thought she would do ok and she did. ;o)


Susie arriving at KTM.  This is one of the few pictures we managed to get together.  Guess neither of us had heard of selfies…oh well!

I had planned a full week on the road to escape the grey dust of Kathmandu.  (We did exchange some of it for the beige dust of the Terai…but that story comes later.)   We were excited.!!  A whole week of no kids or husbands, and time to catch up on each others lives.

Nepal isn’t the easiest country to get around. The road system is limited and a lot of the roads are windy and potentially dangerous. So if you wanted to keep to tarmacked roads that have western quality hotels, Chitwan and Pokhara are the best bet.,,and that’s where we were headed.   We had our own driver, a serviced jeep, good brakes and plenty of trunk space.  So, we were sure to pack essentials like gin, tonic, Pimms and PG tips.  We were going to do this in style…!

nepal roadways

Notice the black top roads (in red) are all in the south of the country. Thats because the north of the country is covered by rather large mountains called the Himalayas. No highways there!



Ready to go…bags at the door…


.. and into the jeep.  Let’s get out of here….!

We traveled for 4-6hrs from location to location, glimpsing rural Nepalese life from the windows.  It wasn’t always easy driving…too many trucks…but our driver did a good job of keeping us safe and we were never in the jeep so long that we went crazy.   It was fun to watch the scenery change…and the weather too.  The south is so much hotter!


Grabbing the view from the front….


….and from behind!  That truck was stuck in a 2 foot gutter.  One of several “accidents” we saw.  Fortunately nothing fatal.

So the next few posts are going to be about our adventures in Chitwan, Pokhara and Lumbini. He’s a little preview:


Other people even hauled our stuff up and down the stairs, so bags magically appeared in the rooms.


Enjoying an elephant ride together


Making new friends in Chitwan

People brought us plates of food. Yes those are french fries. What the hell!


Finally being chilled out enough to lounge around and read


Pokhara Revisted

The next stop on our roadtrip was Pokhara, my second visit since our first time back in November. It was much more interesting to arrive by road than by plane, especially since the last visit had been very foggy and there was nothing to see from the air. Mist still hung around the town and lake, but this time the Annapurnas weren’t so shy and we had great views each day of our three day stay.

Fewa Lake

Early morning mist on the Pokhara lake

We took a morning boat ride across Fewa lake, while the mist still hung around. It was beautiful and a bit eerie at the same time as we watch silhouettes of oarsmen gliding over of the sparkling water.

Fewa Lake

…with a tantalizing glimpse of the Annapurnas in the distance

Our destination was the trail head up to the Peace Pagoda, a pleasant 1 hour hike up to the top of a hill. Halfway up we stopped at a small cafe for a cold glass of water and took in the views.

Annapurna mountains

Views of the Annapurnas from the halfway point

Annapurna Mountains

…and the view from the Peace Pagoda at the top

Pokhara Peace Pagoda

The Peace Pagoda sort of has a Greek thing going on with the white dome against the bright blue sky…

When we’d had our fill of stunning Himalayan views, we drove back down the mountain by car, which took over half an hour on the dusty narrow road. (We’d walked up in an hour). When we arrived back in town the police wouldn’t let us drive our car back to the hotel, so we parked out of town and walked. Pretty soon it became clear why, as music start and a group of Nepali VIP’s lead the start of what turned out to be a very long parade.

Pokhara Street Festival

Horns blazing at the front of the parade during Pokhara Street Festival

Pokhara Street Festival

Pokhara Street Festival

The colourful parade went by for a good half an hour: an amazing array of clubs, societies, musical and dramatic displays. It heralded the start of the four day Pokhara Street Festival, now in its 15th year, aimed at the tourist celebration of New Year. Restaurants took their food out on to the streets at night, and competing vendors with tinny music systems blared out distorted music over one another. I could have done without that! From our street-side hotel the racket went on til late, but some how we managed to fall asleep anyway.

The next morning we had originally planned to take Latham paragliding and, although I wasn’t eager to pay good money for my son to jump off a cliff, I knew how badly he wanted to do it and are several reputable companies in Pokhara….so I agreed.  Unfortunately (or fortunately for me) they were fully booked.  So instead Latham and Jess launched themselves down from one hillside to another on the Zip Flyer, the world’s longest zipline.  Pokhara is rapidly becoming the Nepalese center for extreme sports, with a giant bungee jump in construction too…

After the thrill seeking duo returned, we headed out to lunch at Krishna’s Kitchen, a popular Thai restaurant on the North side of the lake. The food was good, but the best part of the experience was watching the paragliders land on the beach in front of us, some so low we could see the expressions on their faces.  The location was perfect too…a beautiful sunny day, peaceful sparkling waters and no noise or crowds.  Staying at Lakeside has been fun, but if we return for a few days, I think I’d like to say on the quiet North shore next time… it was a beautiful spot!

Pokhara Zip Line

Coming in for a landing!

Zip Flyer Nepal

At 1.8kms long with a vertical drop of about 2000 ft, riders catapult as fast as 100 miles per hour down to the magnetic brakes at the end of the ride. Latham arrived much faster than Jess just because of the difference in weight


Watching the paragliders land. This one was some distance away. Many practically came in over our heads.


The serene view from Krishna’s Kitchen

Road Trip! The Road to Bandipur

Our eagerly awaited week-long road trip didn’t get off to the best of starts. Our driver started the engine as we stood waiting to load the car with suitcases and it made a very disturbing strange noise, and belched black smoke from the exhaust. Three hours, 2 mechanic visits, 30 phone calls, three trips, and one replaced air filter later…we loaded the car and left quite a bit behind schedule. I was grateful that it wasn’t something more serious, but the late departure meant that we hit some traffic on the way out of Kathmandu, but even that wasn’t too bad. And the prospect of driving out of the dusty congestion kept us going as the city disappeared quite quickly turning into a two lane highway up and out of the valley.

Kathmandu to Pokhara Road

The first part of the road westward out of Kathmandu. Narrow windy roads with trucks are one thing, but when they are also resurfacing the road as well, its something else. Fortunately it wasn’t too congested and drivers were surprisingly well behaved.

Kathmandu to Pokhara road

And the dust! Its the dry season and the unpaved (or partially paved) roads cause an incredible amount of dust which coats the roadside plants so heavily that they are almost unrecognizable. I managed to snap this banana plant with one new, still freshly-green leaf. Poor thing…it won’t be green long.

kathmandu market

Market day and mandarin oranges are in season

Trisuli River

First glimpse of the Trisuli River. The river is low as its the dry season. Apparently it can be a raging torrent in the wet season


One of many dusty towns that we drove through

I enjoyed our drive.  Nepal is so much more than Kathmandu’s chaos and trekking.  It was my first real chance to see villages without garbage, small town life, farms and farming towns, and the Trisuli river which ran with us on much of the journey.

The scenery was interesting and varied and the towns ranged from  pretty and agriculturally charming  to dusty, dirty transportation hubs.  I tried to capture a little of each as we flashed through it all on the 4-5 hour drive to Bandipur – our first stop for the night.






First glimpse of the Annapurnas as we climbed the 7km mountain road up to Bandipur.

To be continued

Review of Fishtail Lodge, Pokhara

Fishtail Lodge Pokhara

The attractive landscaped surroundings of Fishtail Lodge

One in a very occasional series of hotel/resort reviews…

I thought our stay at Fishtail Lodge was worth writing about because it seemed unusual in a world of hotels that largely don’t care so much, filled with employees who are just doing their job, Fishtail was different in that it actually seemed to respect itself. When you enter the reception there’s a big board on the left showing dozens of famous dignitaries, royalties and international stars that have stayed there. Its quite a dazzling display. Although I didn’t recognize many of the Indian dignitaries, many I did know: George Harrison, Prince Charles, Jimmy Carter…to name but a few. Nowadays it may not be their first choice.  There are other newer, probably fancier resorts, but for somewhere more than fifty years old, it was in pretty good condition. The landscaping and flowers are beautifully cared for, and the hotel buildings are well maintained. The rooms weren’t fancy and had their problems – our shower head was busted and the phone wiring was iffy – but room maintenance came to fix it and because everything else in the room was ok we forgave them. I think largely why I liked was because it delivered what I wanted, a comfortable space, a great view, somewhere to read and privacy. And it was the last advantage -privacy – that really helped justify the price. There are plenty of places to stay in Pokhara that are a lot cheaper. And there are other fancier places that cost the same or more. But I liked that the place had a staff  culture and a sense of self, it made me feel comfortable.

Fishtail Lodge Pokhara

Each room with its own little terrace

The room design was interesting.  Large circular buildings were cut into twelve slices of “pie”, each slice being a room, with the slender tip of the wedge being the bathroom in each unit.  Air conditioning and plumbing etc. were centralized in the center of the pie, which is a practical way to take care of maintenance.

DSC00680 DSC00692 DSC00693 We ended up in room 17, one of their heritage rooms, that had prime views over the lake and mountains (if you are lucky enough to be there at the right time, of course.) We were also in good company and the plaques outside told us that Prince Charles and Jimmy Carter had both stayed in our very same room — but not at the same time, of course…..( that would just be weird! )I don’t think it was really the same bed 30 years down the road, but it was a first for me none the less!

Lastly one of its unique features was how the resort was set on opposite side of the lake, very much “on it” in a beautiful, natural setting.  Yet it was only a short peaceful ride over on a small floating pontoon to the town on the opposite bank.  It gave the Fishtail the advantage of quiet and privacy, but with easy access to the town’s shopping and restaurants. A nice touch.  We spent four days which was just about right.  I liked Fishtail very much.


Sarangkot: First Glimpses of the Himalayas

I was warned before I arrived here. Seeing the mountains in Kathmandu isn’t a daily occurrence. The monsoons, mist, fog and pollution all play their part in keeping the giants hidden from us valley dwellers.  But I was also told that the early part of Winter (now), after the monsoons, is the best viewing season– before the pollution levels rise with the increased emissions that the cold weather brings. That was the rhetoric.  The reality has been quite a bit different:  Nothing.  Nada.  Zip. Not a snowy peak.  Not even a suggestion of one.  Certainly nothing like a majestic Himalayan view to frame the backdrop to my day. I was starting to joke that the whole Himalayan experience was an elaborate hoax.  How could something be so big and yet so elusive?

Even our journey to Pokhara was unable to deliver on the promise, even though it is the is the gateway to the Annapurnas and the Pokhara guidebooks are full of tantalizing photographs of crisp blues skies and rugged perfect peaks just sitting as an indisputable, omnipresent backdrop to the town.  For us, the Annapurnas remained stubbornly absent during our entire stay.  We would never have seen one glimpse if we hadn’t made the decision to take an early morning side trip to Sarangkot.

Sarangkot is a popular viewing destination as it is an a higher elevation than Pokhara. Above the bowl of the town and lake, the odds improve that you can grab a view of Machapuchare (or Fishtail) and the row of Annapurna mountains that are unimaginatively named Annapurna 1, Annapurna 2….3 and 4.

Everyone wants to take you up to Sarangkot at dawn to see the sun rise over the mountains, and the early morning offers the best odds of a clear view.  Dawn required something like a 5.15am departure and Robert didn’t want to do it.  He also didn’t want to do it with a crowd of bus tours, so we decided that we didn’t need to see the sunrise but would go just a bit later in hopes the crowds had left.

We arrived just as the last of the bus tours departed.  Their giant buses were parked along the roadside and our taxi had to squeeze past them as we drove up; the narrow mountain roads certainly weren’t made for tourist buses.  We walked up the dirt track to a viewing platform and climbed the stairs to the flat, empty rooftop.  It was covered with plastic chairs and we were the only ones there.  I sat and drank hot ginger tea and looked out at the mist.  No mountains, only mist.  It didn’t look very promising. The waiter told us that there had be no visible mountain sunrise that morning and everyone had gone home empty-handed.


Sarangkot viewing platform


Only birds and the occasional small plane broke the monotony of the mist…

And then it happened….very slowly.  The barest outline of a corner, of a peak, started to appear.  Then a little more, and a little more, until a whole peak was revealed.  Very, very slowly over the next 30 minutes, like a giant curtain being pulled back, the range came into view. There they were…not a hoax after all!


Not the best picture ever taken of the Annapurnas…but one patiently waited for. I hope to have a clearer view one day. But, for now, I take this one!

Pokhara: Peaceful Lake Life


A misty early morning start. The massive Annapurna range is in the background, but you would never know it.

Nepal is a landlocked country and after coming from the Philippines with its 7000+ islands, it slowly dawned on us that we hadn’t see a stretch of water for quite a while.  Pokhara has the country’s second largest lake, and the idea of being back on water again was very appealing.

There’s a small tourist industry here, built around the Annapurna trail which starts in Pokhara.  On the perfect day with no wind and clear skies, apparently you can see the Annapurnas reflected in the lake, but we weren’t that lucky. We arrived to a downpour of rain. Subsequent days were dry and sunny, but the Annapurnas remained obscured in mist for our whole stay. Fortunately the lake was there and beckoned us forth.

We stayed at a lakeside resort and it was an easy (and lazy) option to hire a boatman to take us across the lake to the trailhead up to the Peace Pagoda on the first morning of our stay. The lake sits in the middle of the town and its an easy paddle out to its center to enjoy the calm of the waters. There are no motorized vehicles and not much traffic. You can sit still and just hear birds and lapping of the paddle. Its very peaceful.


Heading out from the lake’s sound bank

The town lies on one bank and the jungle lies on the opposite side. We skirted the green edges of the lake, past fishing nets and allsorts of aqueous plants (or weeds, maybe?). Daily life of laundry, fishing, and tourist activities went on around, but it never felt crowded or spoiled.


The quiet, green side of the lake


Getting an early morning load of laundry in

It was also a national holiday, and boat loads of visitors from the town were visiting the small temple island in the middle of the lake. For this reason we kept rowing past and didn’t stop to take a look.


Locals being ferried back and forth to the temple on the lake’s small island

Our destination was the trailhead for the Pagoda Peace Temple trail, which was at a small lakeside restaurant called “Typical Restaurant”. I decided this was meant to mean “typical” in the traditional sense, although the geese didn’t seem to care one way or another.


Watching the geese run riot


Robert deciding whether the place is typical or not….


Colourful boats on Phewa’s shore



We made friends with a local who told us stories of the lake that he remembered as a child – a larger, less polluted lake that they would swim in as kids. But its still pretty clean compared to Kathmandu, and the water still looks reasonably clean. He tells me that there are environmental groups working to keep the lake alive, which I am sure is an uphill battle, but I’m glad to hear someone is working to protect it before it is too late.

Tihar in Pokhara

Tihar Festival

Tihar Festival

Tihar, also known as the festival of lights, is celebrated throughout Nepal.  We chose to spend the four day break in the mountain town of Pokhara, which is about a 5 hour drive or a short 25-minute airplane ride from Kathmandu.   (We chose to fly, but as it turned out driving would have been much quicker. But C’est la vie! we made it finally, despite the weather.)  The festival began a few days before our departure with the Day of the Crow, where offerings of food, coins, oil-wick lamps and incense in are set out in their honour.  Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see this for myself, but our driver filled me in on the details.  He also explained that the second day is the Day of the Dogs, when they are anointed with the red tika, adorned with garlands and fed well, whether they are stray or pets.  This I did see and it was adorable.  Dogs were running around the city with little red dots on their foreheads and strings of marigolds around their necks.  Unfortunately, it was a work day and I was not in camera-mode.  But here is a sample from the interwebs…he doesn’t seem too pleased about it:

The third day is the most important one in Tihar. In the morning, cows are also given tikas and garlands, and doused with yellow and red powder. People touch the cow’s body with their heads, bow down to its feet, and even crawl between its legs on all fours, for the purpose of humbly asking for assistance and guidance for their souls when they leave this world. On the evening of this day, after the homes have been well scrubbed and cleansed with red mud and cow dung, each one is embellished with tiny oil lamps, and candles.  From this comes the meaning of the pretty light festival, which also happened to be the second day of our arrival in Pokhara. That evening we watched shopkeepers lay down a line of tiny lights around their stores and a pathway was painted on the ground leading inside.  I later learned that the pathways marked by the lamps and the footprints (or painted pathways) made from rice flour paste are to show the goddess Laksmi the way to the family’s treasured possessions.

The fifth and final day is Bhai Tika, when sisters worship their brothers by making holy circles of water and oil around them and by feeding them specially prepared foods, and sweets. The brothers in return give their sisters presents. If a boy has no sister, then a close female relative may perform the ceremony.

I also witnessed another tradition that no-one has explained to me yet, and perhaps it was only local to Pokhara: street dancing. We went for a hike in the morning on the first day and saw groups of singing and dancing kids along the hiking trail up to the peace pagoda. The next morning a few dancers performed outside the stores in front of the Lakeside stores.

Tihar Dancers

Early Tihar dancers getting into their act, near the Peace Pagoda, Pohkara

On the second day, it became clear that this is what everyone was doing, and it was quite a sophisticated affair. All down the main tourist shopping area of Lakeside, and in the main town away from the tourists, small dancing troupes were singing to shopkeepers. We saw traditional dancing groups, modern Bollywood productions and even the Gang-um Style horse dance. That evening, they kicked it further up a notch. In the darkness they had brought more candles and electric light displays, speakers, microphones and full-scale productions. The audiences were always passersby, gathered in a circle around the act in front of each store. You could spot them from a distance away.  These performances were not one dance wonders, but well-rehearsed, multiple acts with musicians.  After dinner from our hotel on the other side of the lake, the town was lit up with lights, music and dancing that went on until well past my bed time.


Rangoli, rice flour design at a Tihar offering