Saturday, October 30, 2010

To Pokhara

Right then, the mountains are calling and so I hop onto a bus which, I’m told, will take 7 hours to get me to Pokhara which lies in the shadow of the Himalaya. It costs 400 rupees to get there (€4 - the Nepalese rupee is a wonderfully agreeable currency in that €1 = 100 rupees) and my bus is a pretty beaten up 20 seater which is, mercifully, only half full. It has air-con also but only if you open the windows all the way. Very quickly it becomes apparent that we’re going nowhere fast and, just outside of the city, we enter into a valley which descends via a series of seemingly never-ending bends far, far below us. The road there however is clogged with traffic and we spend that long navigating our way down that the driver turns the engine off each time we stop, as each delay is 5 minutes at least. It all means that after 3 hours of travelling we’ve advanced roughly 30km out of the city. And, yes, the mathematicians out there will by now have worked out that that’s a ridiculous 10km per hour. The open windows mean that after an hour’s travel we’re all covered by a thick film of dust and shit.
Once we’re finally at the bottom of the valley, the road opens up - but doesn’t widen - and we’re back approaching acceptable speed levels again. The journey ultimately takes 8 hours and in the last hour we’re rewarded by glimpses of the towering snow-capped peaks of the stunningly impressive Macchapucchre (6997m) and Mardi Himal (5553m) which pales somewhat in comparison to its neighbouring peak, both of which lie north of the town of Pokhara and deep in the Annapurna sanctuary area.
I quickly find lodging close to the lakeside - a pristine, freshly painted guesthouse far away from the madding crowd for just over €5, and with unlimited hot water (not as common as you might think) it’s exactly what my grime covered body needs. Here I’ll spend the next two days making sure I have all of the equipment I need before setting off on the Annapurna Circuit trek; the sole reason I have come to this part of the world in the first place. There’s a plethora of Tibetan restaurants all around Pokhara - Tibet is just a hop, skip and a jump over the hills after all - and desperate to try out some genuine Tibetan fare I order what the waiter assures me are buffalo spring rolls. The Tibetan name for what I’ve ordered is buffalo Sha Bhack Ley (I had to write it down) and in the half hour it takes for them to arrive I’ve gulped down two cups of beautiful milk tea, but the wait is worth it. I’m served two huge, what could be best described as pasties fresh from the oven. They’re sublime, the pastry still flaking from the oven and the buffalo baked with garlic, onion and spices. I immediately order two more because I need fattening up before this trek, and besides, the prospect of 18 days of menus filled with 4 varieties of daal bhaat looms ominously on the horizon.

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