Pokhara: Nepal’s Outdoor Adventure Hub
It’s got to be said that travel in the 21st century is really not that complicated. Even just 20 years ago, it would have been significantly more challenging and complicated, with far greater risk of being scammed. As I arrived in Pokhara, grateful that my driver survived his chesty cough long enough to get me there, I hadn’t even booked my hotel room yet. He was asking me where I wanted to be dropped and I was on the Expedia app, making that decision in real time!
It’s not just booking hotel rooms. With a smartphone and a local SIM card, I could navigate around the city, find local landmarks that I felt would interest me, figure out the best route to get to them, find restaurants along the way and find a post office and check its open hours. Where previously these tasks would have required paper maps, outdated guidebooks and occasionally even resorting to just asking a local and hoping that they both knew the information I wanted and could understand what I was saying, they can now all be achieved with just a phone.
Which of these scenarios is the ‘best’ is a more complicated question. It is now far easier to travel without needing to interact with many people. Whether or not that is a good thing is hard to say.
Thamel on steroids
Pokhara itself is like Thamel in Kathmandu, but scaled up to an entire town. It’s the gateway to the Annapurna Conservation Area and the wealth of trekking routes that can be found there, so every other business in the town centre (and for some distance out of it) seems to be a tour company of one sort or another. I, of course, was only here for a stopover, my tours having already been arranged in Kathmandu with Osho Vision Treks & Expedition P. Ltd.
What Pokhara has that Thamel lacks is a massive lake – Phewa Lake, which is actually a reservoir formed by a manmade dam. I went to take a walk along its shore, accompanied by the constant drone of microlights and paragliders buzzing over a mountain peak to the north, as well as small passenger planes and helicopters coming and going from the city’s airport.
It also has a post office – the first I’d found in the country that was actually open! Being rather an old-school sort of soul, I like sending postcards to my family back in England whenever I go on a trip and I was already two cards backed up at this point. Sending them off cost 35 rupees each, as well as a pleasant few minutes chatting with the friendly lady behind the counter.
A tale of two parks
My 10 minutes of research at my hotel before heading out on my walk had pointed me towards the southern end of the town. After my detour via the post office, I stopped in a park by the lake to wait out the worst of the midday heat in the shade of some trees. Several of the incorrigibly friendly locals came over to say hello – a lovely experience, even if the conversation rapidly ran out each time. It’s particularly impressive that none of them tried to sell me anything!
As the afternoon cooled, I continued south to the aforementioned dam, where I found a larger park and a woman asking me to log my entry and exit times. That seemed to be her job – she had nothing to do but sit there and make note of who was coming and going. That dam must be pretty valuable and, given that it requires a full-time guard, probably pretty fragile, too.
A few small trails, back alleys, and a cable bridge crossing the gorge after the dam (where some locals were washing their laundry in the Pardi Khola river) and I was walking amid open paddy fields and widely scattered shophouses. Bafflingly, about 80 per cent of the shops were general stores – the exact same general stores, selling exactly the same wares. How can they individually make enough money from just local trade when customers can find exactly the same stuff barely 100 metres down the road or so. Saying that, I was grateful that there were so many to hand as I needed to stop at one to replenish my water supplies.
The goal of what was, by now, a ludicrously long stroll was to be found on the other side of the paddy fields. It goes by various names – Davi’s Waterfall, Davies Waterfall, Davies’ Waterfall. The name comes from a Swiss woman who, while bathing upstream, was washed down the waterfall and died, being found some days later further downstream.
Given that sorrowful story, it’s a little…heartless to be charged entry, even if it was only 30 rupees. With so many tourists in such a small area and tall fences and rails to prevent anyone adding to the waterfall’s casualty count, it was very difficult to get any worthwhile photos. I took a grand total of 10, meaning that they cost me 3 rupees each.
The rest of my day in Pokhara was mostly routine. I walked the considerable distance back to the hotel by the most direct route possible, had a hot shower to relieve my aching feet, was introduced to my guide for the coming trek and, just as I was about to head out for dinner, the heavens opened with a thunderous deluge, which lasted well into the night. Prevented from leaving the hotel by the threat of being utterly soaked in seconds, I stayed in my room, dined on snacks and had an early night. I would certainly need that energy the next day…