Though a straight line appears to be the shortest distance between 2 points, life has a way of confounding geography. Often it is the dalliances and the detours that define us. There are no maps to guide our most important searches; we must rely on hope, chance, intuition and a willingness to be surprised.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Nepal - Pokhara

(Machapuchare - the fishtail mountain - pokes out of the clouds)

I was very much looking forward to visiting Pokhara. My only problem with the place was that I kept calling it Pakora, despite my best efforts not to. (when you start off down the wrong road...) I was distinctly worried that I might give the impression of intending some kind of slur against the locals.

To avoid future problems, I've crossed Kabeb and Bijha off my Indian travel itinerary.

Pokhara is a fair-sized town that serves as a base for a large volume of travellers trekking on trips into the Annapurna range. As such, it is as burdened by tourist shops, bars and 'helpful' guides as Kathmandu, but with little of the incredible temples and history.

What Pokhara does have is the best setting of any town I've stayed in on this trip. Pokhara sits on the edge of a lake surrounded by lush green hills, which are overlooked by a fantastic panorama of Himalayan peaks.

As i found out, these assets, or lack of them, make a successful trip to Pokhara pretty much entirely weather-dependent. On the first of my two days there the rain never stopped, and in fact briskly built into quite an impressive storm. At one particular moment a clap of thunder like I have never heard before - akin to a small asteroid strike, or perhaps a truck-bomb going off - exploded over the town, then rumbled on and on, reverbating round and round the valley.

The second day started slightly less bleakly than the first. Encouraged, I went for an adventurous walk into the greenery, hoping to reach the top of one of the nearby hills. Despite my initial reluctance, a local 'guide' insisted on accompanying me on the walk up the hill. After a good half hour of hiking and exchanging language tips - German for Nepali - I noticed that my new friend had stopped to fiddle with his sandals. "Leaches" he said, shaking his head more in sombre acceptance than disgust.

(Right: culture clash as Linkin Park meets traditional Nepalese arts.)

With horror I looked at my own feet. I had five leeches already attached to my right ankle and four of the little fellas enthusiastically marching up my left shoe. Though smaller than those in Tasmania, they were surprisingly determined and one managed to leave a steadily leaking hole in my right foot.
(Does this picture make you think of Barry White? When there's leeches around and the humidity is through the roof, a dip in the lake is Yak ecstacy - ohhhh yeahhhh.)

Shortly after the heavens opened again, soaking me through, but also washing the blood out of my sock and trousers (always a silver lining!).
(Pokhara crack suicide squad in heavy camouflage.)

By this point, with the thick cloud cover offering not even a glimpse of the Himalayas, I had started to wonder if I'd have been better off staying in Kathmandu where at least there were temples and museums to be visited.

Then - a miracle!

Within the space of two hours late in the afternoon the rain stopped and there were even blue skies over the valley. The mountains - if they existed - were still shrouded in thick cloud and the locals held out little hope for that cloud shifting.

So it was more in hope than in expectation that I took a taxi up to a local viewpoint, which - in good weather - was said to have a spectacular view of the Annapurnas. I, and a few others, spent the late afternoon gazing into the clouds, willing snow capped peaks to appear.
After a while it was possible to 'imagine' peaks and colls, ice-sheets and rocky slopes.

And then, just as the sun was going down, real summits and peaks peaked through the clouds.

It was a very special moment.

Without that stroke of luck and good timing, I would never have had any concept of how huge those mountains are and how incredible they look from Nepal's valleys.

The photos say it all...
(Annapurna IV - a nearly 8,000m high peak)

As a footnote, I did visit one museum when I was in Nepal, and for the love of all that is holy was it not one of the weirdest and most disturbing museums I've ever come across... If nothing else, the collection was comprehensive, with a dead body representing each of Nepal's indigenous species. Yes, I did say dead body. This was not an experience for the faint hearted - particularly the 12 foot long Python skeleton. I could have taken any number of scary pictures of the dead - and in many cases visibly still decaying - exhibits. There really was only one word for the place!




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