It was around four in the evening when I walked down to the lake shore with the intention of renting a boat. I had spent the morning and early afternoon walking the streets of Lakeside looking up at the soaring peaks of the Annapurna Range and stopping in at some of the dozens of nearly identical curio and fabric stores, occasionally bargaining for a piece of cloth or vaguely interesting knickknack though in truth I did it more for the game of bargaining then any desire to possess the items in question.
Any time I could get a store owner below 25% of the original asking price I felt as if the game were over and I obligated to complete the exchange by handing over money and departing with the object. In this way I came to own several shawls, a mask supposedly antique which I don’t really believe though it is of superior quality to all the others I saw, and one wooden flute, all of which excepting the mask will be given to friends when I return home. After stopping off at my hotel to deposit the days catch on the unused second bed which I had pushed up against the wall beneath the window, I went out as I said to rent a boat and paddle about Fewa Lake.
At just over $2 US per hour the boats were hardly a bargain (my hotel is the same per night) but I rented one anyway and opted to paddle myself, partly for the exercise and partly to escape the constant barrage of questions I had endured throughout the morning and early afternoon. It is very difficult to find any peace and quiet in areas like Pokhara and while it’s fun to talk to the local people, especially the children who are almost always sincerely interested in you, whereas the others usually have an end goal of selling you something, I was wanting some peace and quiet. Part of the reason I talked to so many people is that the off-season had arrived in Nepal and very few tourists remain, in fact in my four or five hours of wandering I came across only two other tourists a woman and her daughter bargaining for some embroidered silk shawls.
The boat I received for my 150 rupees could easily have seated a family of six and two oarsmen and consequently moved sluggishly with one lone paddler seated at the stern. Once I got past the Varahi Temple, a small island temple not fifty meters from shore where a modest and possibly ceremonial fire was burning on the left side which sent a plume of smoke drifting out across the still lake waters and looked, with the jungle hillsides in the background, not unlike some of the foggy river scenes in Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now; I turned back toward shore and saw the cake-icing snows covering the peaks of Lamgung Himal and Annapurna II. Such views spurred my paddling on until I was well across the lake skirting the opposite shore among a multitude of water striders darting on the placid, hill-sheltered waters where the views were even more spectacular.
A handful of other boats were on the lake, but I seemed to be the only foreigner out at such a late hour, indeed this was one of many times I felt that I was in fact the only foreign tourist in Pokhara. Most of the other vessels on the water were fishermen bringing in their nets for the day or heavily loaded transport canoes hauling goods from Lakeside to the isolated west shore, which is only reachable by boat or on foot. Here and there were a few people out for fun, including two boats chock full of local school children still in their blue and white uniforms, one boat full of girls and one of boys each racing the other back to the landing. After about forty-five minutes of paddling I reached a point where the views of the Annapurna range were, in the words of an Englishman I met in Katmandu, “gob smacking gorgeous.” I put down the paddle and moved to the center of the boat where the benches were wider and, using my bag a cushion, lay back against the gunnel and hung my feet over the opposite side so that they just skimmed the surface of the chilly water. I lay like that for some time snacking on a snickers bar and drinking water as the sun painted very subtly changing orange hues across the mastiff of Machhapuchhre; I thought of all the Nepali people I have met in the last week and a half and how while they are slightly more reserved than Indians they are every bit as friendly and probably even more genuine. I remembered the story a British climber told me about the sherpas that accompanied his expedition, who, despite the fact that their homes were a hard two days hike over mountainous terrain, waited beside the runway until the expedition team’s plane had taken off, which, as he told me, was delayed several hours, but the sherpas insisted on waiting. I could picture them standing at the side of the runway smiling and waving as that plane finally lifted off, tucked in its wheels and disappeared.
I must have laid there an hour or more thinking about how much I have seen and how many little tiny incidents could be entire stories in themselves until finally I noticed the moon rising over the eastern ridge and it occurred to me suddenly that it would soon be dark and I had the better part of an hours paddle back to the landing I departed from. By the time I finally made it back the boats owner was nearly the only person left and he already had his flashlight out to guide me in amongst the boats, but he too seemed unperturbed at waiting.
The last day I spent in Pokhara I rented a bicycle in the morning and road around Fewa Lake stopping off occasionally to watch fishermen, women watching clothes in the tributary streams and children herding goats on the now barren hay terraces at the upper end of the lake. I rested for a while in the shade of a large tree and several young boys playing on a nearby bridge came over to see if they could ride my bicycle while I rested. While the older boys took off on the bike one younger one who was too small to ride it, sat with me in the shade and I showed him how to use my camera.
After using up most of the memory I had left he finally got the hang of having to wait after each picture (no instance gratification on my aging equipment) before taking the next one. He was actually pretty good with the camera, in fact he took the picture of the lake above and then like most other children I’ve met insisted I take his picture. On the way back the chain on my bicycle broke which made for an unplanned and fairly long, but not unpleasant walk around the lake.
By the time I made it back to my hotel I was exhausted, but I had only one more chance to get to Sarangkot which is the main overlook for the Annapurna Range. Despite being tired there was no way I was going to be in Nepal and not see the sunset of the Himalayas. I was resting in the garden court of my hotel talking to the owners sun about hiring a taxi to get up to Sarangkot when he offered to take me by motorcycle. I’ve come to enjoy motorcycles on this trip so I took him up on the offer. Sarangkot is about 1200 meters above Pokhara of which it is possible to climb about 800 of them by road.
We parked the bike at the end of the road and began to ascend the nearly vertical stairs that lead up the other 400 meters. I couldn’t say how long it took, perhaps an hour, but it was definitely the hardest hiking I’ve done in quite sometime. For those used to nonmetric systems we climbed roughly 1300 vertical feet in less than a mile of walking. And apparently the Nepalis have never heard of switchbacks.
Once we finally made it to the top the exhaustion quickly became a memory and we sat on benches atop the hill looking out at the Annapurna Range. The mountains felt so close you could reach out and touch them. When the sun begin to set the wisps of clouds around the peaks turned into what looked like a pinkish mist, as if someone has airbrushed it into the scene. There is really no way to describe the view and unfortunately my camera was not up to the task either. I have put up the new photos, but they fail to capture it for me, the mountains were in fact much closer than the lens of my camera makes them seem. Nevertheless I have the images in my memory and I am glad that I made this side trip to Nepal.