Pokhara – Plunging Lakes and Towering Peaks

Pokhara – Plunging Lakes and Towering Peaks

Pokhara dissuades all but the inveterate trekker or the masochistic traveller who does not balk at a 12- hour road trip through some of the most clogged, dusty, treacherous roads in Nepal. Of course, you can book a flight from Kathmandu months in advance if you’re sure of your itinerary which trekkers and travellers seldom are. I have had to negotiate both types of transport during my three visits to this town in the past five years. And I daresay, I don’t regret it at all.

For, once you reach this lovely city of shimmering lakes and soaring peaks, the second largest in Nepal, you are under the constant gaze of a galaxy of snowy eminences – Machupucchare who proudly preens himself looking down at his own reflection in the Pokhara lake, Annapurna who offers tantalising glimpses of herself and her siblings from time to time as you drive past another lake, Manasalu and Daulagiri, peeping out of the clouds to confront you suddenly at the end of a lane or across a verdant meadow, this city is comparable to Patagonia or South Island in New Zealand, only much livelier.

Pokhara is the town of fancy food, scary sports and apparel alchemy. If the last one has your eyebrows arched, let me explain – almost every other shop in Pokhara’s high street, not to mention the many in its winding alleys, offer laundry services to transform trekkers’ hopelessly soiled, mud-splattered and crumpled clothes into fresh, fragrant, creased and clean wearables in just a matter of a few hours.  Trekkers can count on looking elegant when they visit bars and nightclubs on their return from slush and snow on the slopes they had just trampled upon.

And, after days of Dal Bath or ersatz pizza and pasta, they can finally feast on fancy stuff. The menu in the smallest and pokiest eatery is exotic enough to make a Michelin-starred chef blush. Desserts oozing wild honey, salads crowned with exotic herbs and the aroma fresh ground coffee seduce your dollars and Rupees easily.  As you dine al fresco facing the lake, you can ogle at all those hang-gliders and paragliders floating yonder with Machupuchare towering over them like a protective parent. Microlights do their somersaults in the foreground framed by snowpeaks. The lazy and the laid back can still feast their eyes on mighty Annapurna and her siblings, thanks to chopper sorties that virtually brush past the eminences. If you’re in the mood for rafting, canoeing or canyoning, you just need to walk into anyone of the hole-in-the-wall travel shops to fulfill your entire bucket list of adventure sporting.

On my third visit, after a taxing trudge all the way to Mustang some 8 days away, my wallet was so emaciated that I go looking for some authentic Thakali cuisine, as opposed to all the fancy fare available. Thakali cuisine comes from Thak province at the foot of the Dhaulagiri en route to Mustang. It is spicy, – uses plenty of Sichuan pepper, and delectable, its appeal enhanced by the aesthetic bronze plates and dainty bronze katoris in which it is served.

Most trekkers go through something akin to post-partum depression when they get back from an arduous trek. So all one does is to stroll through the bazars of Pokhara zombie-like, ogling at the wares. Like other trekking towns (Cuzco, in the Andes or Namche Bazar en route to Everest), virtually every trekking aid and equipment is on display. Shops choc-a-bloc with trekking poles, parkhas, windcheaters, quilted jackets, snowshoes, gloves, suntan lotions, high-calorie food bars etc etc. Every conceivable brand from as far away as Norway or New Zealand are laid out attractively. But since you have already managed your trek with stuff either borrowed or inexpensive substitutes picked up from Janpath, you eye them with characteristic smugness and wend your way towards the antique markets to blow up any remaining money. (Treks have a way of centrifuging your wallet, the higher you ascend, the more you pay for everything including water bottles, showers or for charging your phones)

You know you can never afford all those authentic antiques plundered from faraway Himalayan villages. Statues of Buddha of every vintage, size, material, all with hooded eyes and serene demeanour entice the last wads from your wallet. Telling apart those fashioned in the back alleys of Moradabad from genuine antiques takes some expertise. I don’t even attempt.