The Joy of Slothing
Wednesday 18th - Tuesday 24th
Sufficed to say, if you’re not trekking up mountains or doing adrenaline-pumping things like white-water rafting and paragliding, Pokhara offers very little in the way of activities. Luckily, if eating, drinking and general aimless exploring are pastimes you enjoy, this small city might still end up being one of your favourites.
We arrived on a Wednesday and spent the next five days doing almost nothing at all, which, after the hectic rush of Kathmandu and with the exertions of Chitwan National Park looming, suited us just fine. The city is really not much more than a large town and lies along the western shore of a lake Fewa Tal, with its laid back tourist centre stretching along both sides of the coast road - an area known, for obvious reasons, as Lakeside, and teeming with cafés and craft shops.
One day we took a tiny wooden longboat from the lake’s edge to Bindyabasini Mandir, a tiny island with an even tinier temple (although the highlight was paddling in the deliciously cool shallows away from the bustle of the lakeside quay). Another day we took a taxi across town and visited the Gorkha Memorial Museum (also miniscule but an incredibly thorough, fascinating tribute to Nepal’s famously heroic military warriors) then padded through the streets of Pokhara proper eating fabulously deep-fried street food (my favourite is a savoury doughnut-like snack known as selroti), dipping into bazaars and parks and generally watching everyone going about their daily business. Another day we followed Lakeside’s main street until it became a dirt track, then meandered through small villages and around lush headlands.
One evening we even spent hours happily quaffing Gorkha Beers (and Everest Beers… and Nepal Ice Beers) on one of the many restaurant terraces overlooking the lake, watching entranced as the clouds teased us - clearing one minute then rushing back the next - gradually revealing another Himalayan range. The peaks were startlingly close since Pokhara sits at the foot of one of the world’s steepest inclines, and we were treated more than once to the snowy tips of Mt. Macchapucchre and then to the world famous Mt. Anapurna itself.
The rest of the time we worked our way round Pokhara’s delightful little restaurants and bars, chatting with Australians and Dutch and Danes, consuming the local fare at a rate of knots, strolling along the lake’s edge, unearthing forgotten treasures in bookshops and even, one late night of bar hopping with our Aussies, getting caught in a full on midnight monsoon and racing around the deserted street, shrieking like hyenas, jumping over storm drains and standing under torrents, soaked to the skin but having an absolute ball.
Then, just as we were starting to tire of our slothful existence, and just when we had sampled almost all of Pokhara’s culinary wonders, it was Monday morning and time to leave.
We arrived in Chitwan after six hours of spectacular mountain roads and frequent stops, picking up any cheerful-looking person who seemed vaguely like they might want to get on. We tottered off the bus into a sea of touts and blazing midday sun, finally weeding out a promising-sounding place and being bounced away to it in the back of a truck. It wasn’t paradise - a collection of small huts around an overgrown yard where a horse grazed and the two young owners sat around getting increasingly stoned. Nevertheless, there was a stable with two very amiable elephants just down the track (a source of almost uncontainable excitement for me, who’d never seen wild elephants. My what a sheltered life I’ve lead), and the room was relatively clean and unspidery. We discovered later, however, that what it lacked in spiders it made up for in bats when one - presumably resident - suddenly shot out from a curtain and proceeded to flap madly about the room for half an hour before eventually roosting somewhere in the rafters.
The next morning, primed for our elephant ride through the jungle at 6am (a time which surely even the elephants object to) we found on getting up that a monsoon was in full swing and we would have to wait until the rain died down. Thankfully it did and, by 9am, we were shuffling enthusiastically through dense jungle, Luke and I swaying slightly and dodging the occasional branch aboard our wooden perch.
This was followed by watching elephants’ bath time - during which they wade into the river then spray themselves, their trainers and anything else in the vicinity - and an afternoon canoe trip up the park’s river. We didn’t see tigers, or rhinos, or bears, but pretending you are an Indian queen bobbing serenely atop your elephant is hard to beat.
And then our time in Chitwan was over and, with it, our time in Nepal. Next the dizzying highs and lows of India await us, and I couldn’t be more ready for them.