The first full weekend in Nepal I signed with some other Projects Abroad volunteers to visit Pokhara, Nepal’s “Adventure Capital” and the country’s third-largest city. Early on a Friday morning nine of us departed Kathmandu by bus along with Zokul, our guide for the weekend.
The ride to Pokhara was about eight hours, including one flat tire and three stops for food and bathroom breaks. It was primarily downhill, and it took us through a variety of vegetation and diverse topography. As we descended there were areas that reminded me a great deal of Jamaica, with broad-leafed palms, verdant surrounding hillsides and terraced agriculture. Much of the trip was along a narrow, switch backed road high above a river, and it was a lovely and stark contrast to the hustle and congestion of Kathmandu.
The bus was filled to capacity with about half tourists and half Nepali citizens; I assume tour groups lease it and any remaining seats are sold to the locals. When we stopped for lunch it was amusing to see the natives line up for the dal baht, vegetable pakouda, and chana and aalu, while the westerners opted for Pringles and Oreos.
In the back row of the bus I met a delightful young guy named Biplab, who at age 26 is both a software developer
and a social worker; he is somehow managing to teach life skills to 2000 kids throughout the region. “If you get in any trouble in Pokhara,” he said, “call me, I will send some of my guys to help.”
He loves music (he was listening to some vintage Deep Purple on his computer) and was in a band in high school. “But after school some guys went to America and some to the U.K. and Australia, and I was all alone with no band. That’s when I started listening to Western music, classic rock and roll. I like to compose music, especially fusion of Western and Nepali music.”
He said that the next time I came to Nepal he’d take me to his village. “It’s not far from Pokhara, maybe 15 kilometers. We’ll go by car for most of the way, and then it’s a two-hour walk straight up. Maybe one hour if you’re a good walker.” We agreed to get together the following weekend so he could show me the “real” Kathmandu. Biplab was kind and thoughtful, humble yet proud, curious and bright, all qualities I’ve come to admire in so many of the Nepalese people:
The other eight volunteers from Projects Abroad were all very delightful young women from Australia, Denmark, Lithuania, Germany, Switzerland and Canada. We checked into a nice hotel in Pokhara with wifi and hot water, and then rented a couple of canoes and paddled to a small island with a temple on it. Later Zokul took us to a good restaurant with a live music and dance show. It was a similar instrument configuration to the club I had visited in Kathmandu, but much more soothing with the ladies dancing instead of singing.
The next morning we left the hotel at five, walked around the lake that is the centerpiece of the city and then headed straight up a mountain. It got very steep very quickly and two of the girls who weren’t feeling great turned back, wisely. We climbed for about four hours with one stop for a box breakfast, and around nine reached a lookout point for the Himalaya. It was not an ideal day, but through the haze we got a good glimpse of this section of the range, including Annapurna South, Annapurna 3 and the dramatic Fishtail. Seeing these mountains was one of the major “bucket list” items for this trip, and they were every bit as inspiring as I had hoped they would be.
We then walked up a road to the departure point for paragliding, which eight of the ten of us had signed up to do. We had a long wait as the company we were using went off with another group first; they had to complete their flights, pack up the canopies, do the administrative stuff and then come back up by jeep and do it again with us. It was at least a two-hour wait, which gave everyone’s butterflies a chance to multiply several times over.
Finally our pilots arrived, we paired up and got buckled in. There are straps around your thighs and waist, you are hooked to the pilot in several places, and the harness you wear actually includes a seat. My pilot was named Baloo and we didn’t do a lot of prep; he just hooked us together and told me to walk when he said walk and to run when he said run and that’s what I did, and off we went over the side.
It was dramatically evident how high people were flying in the afternoon as opposed to the morning. The early group had just followed the contours of the valley down to the lake, but now the colorful canopies were rising perhaps 800 meters over the top of the take-off mountain. “You are very lucky,” said Baloo. “Bad wind this morning, very good wind this afternoon.”
He was a good guy, concerned about my comfort and easy to converse with. He demonstrated the benefits of the afternoon wind by circling and catching the currents, and once or twice the lift was so sudden I could feel it in my stomach. He took us ever higher and Baloo said he could stay up here all day with a wind like this. I assured him my 30-minute ride would be plenty, thank you. It was very comfortable and calm, but the height we attained was staggering and a bit unsettling when you looked down. As we descended out over the lake he asked if I wanted to do some acrobatics, and he got us whipping around and pulling almost 3 Gs, he told me later. It was dizzying and not my favorite part of the ride, but the feeling passed quickly, we landed without incident and all of us were invigorated but not unhappy to be back on terra firma.
That afternoon the girls went on a tour of a cave and a waterfall and visited a museum, but the old guy opted for catching up with emails and a nap; I had done and seen what I came for. The following morning, as we loaded back onto the bus just after sunrise, we were witness to a clearer and more dramatic view of the same mountains we had seen through the haze of the previous day, a much appreciated farewell treat from our visit to Pokhara.