Sunday, 27 April 2008

New Year festival in Pokhara, central Nepal

Yesterday, Saturday, I was up with the light, as usual, despite having my latest night yet on Friday after spending a long time on the Internet and my photos. As arranged, my guide, Kamal, met me at 8am and we walked to the local bus station where we caught a little bus (30R for both of us) to Sankhu, a small village on the eastern side of Kathmandu valley. From there we trekked up a steep hill through small farms to Changu, another small village but with a stunning Hindu temple dating from the 5th century. In the square around the temple were three small stone statues dating from the original construction. They were in remarkably good condition, even though exposed to the weather and constant worship. There were few people there, so enjoyed it very much.

We continued eastwards, climbing steadily, initially through farms and then forest, to Nagarkot a town on the ridge at the end of the valley, with views into the valleys on both sides. Though there is no wind in Kathmandu, there was a very strong wind blowing over the ridge, which at 2,100m is 600m above Kathmandu. It was tiring, so we had a lunch of daal baht at a local restaurant (265R for both). As usual, I stuck to bottled water, but had cup of tea in which the water may not have been sufficiently boiled, because an hour later I started to feel squeezy.

We caught a local bus (46R for both) down the hill to the town of Baktapur, where we caught another (36R for both) back to Kathmandu. I was heartily sick of the bus by the time we were back - very dusty, with constant honking and frustratingly slow - not arriving back till 5:15pm. The only entertainment was the bus tout/fare collector on the bus from Baktapur. He was about 12-13 and a real pro, whistling loudly and calling for customers at each stop. He swung in and out of the open bus door, waving and chatting to people at the front and was aggressive in collecting fares.

Feeling bloated, I skipped dinner and was in bed by 8pm. It was a bad night for electricity, with power off from 6pm, so read the local paper by my headlamp before going to sleep. This morning I felt quite sick, so skipped breakfast, took some Immodium and started a course of antibiotics for stomach problems. I exchanged a book I had finished for another at a bookshop.

The lunchtime flight to Pokhara was slow but uneventful. Arrived early at the airport and had to stand and wait for 35 mins until they opened the counter for my flight (they use just one counter for different airlines, making it a bit of a madhouse). Then through my first security and body check to the passenger area. There are seats there, but no information about flights. When a flight is to load a man stands at the single exit gate and calls out the name of the airline. Everyone races through to the second body check and onto an ancient, battered bus for the ride across to the plane. We sat and waited in the bus while maintenance men went around the plane with screw drivers, making sure it was held together. Another battle among the passengers ensued to get onto to the plane and grab seats on the right hand side, to get views of the Himalayas. As it turned out, continuing heavy haze ruined any good views. The plane was a 16 seater, with a row of eight seats along each side.

A car from the Lake Palace Hotel (US$23 per night, including breakfast) met me at the Pokhara airport for the short drive the hotel. I have a reasonable room on the third floor, with my own bathroom and air-conditioning. Still feeling ordinary I skipped lunch and decided to explore the town.

It was a good afternoon to do so, and the town is in a beautiful setting on Phewa Lake with forested hills (mountains?) on three sides. A New Year festival was underway in a large park on the lake with lots of food stalls and a continuous live music and dance program underway. The place was packed with locals (entry fee was just 20R) and only the occasional tourist in evidence. I sat and watched the entertainment for an hour, chatting to a friendly Pommie tourist (she and her husband have sold up in the UK and hope to settle on the Indian sub-continent - have met several who have taken such a big step).

Further along the lake, in another park, there were even more celebrations taking place around a Hindu Temple. Apparently it was a propitious time for religious blessings and weddings, as there were at least a dozen underway. As well as the religious celebrations, there were a few bands, using traditional instruments, playing with a couple of people dancing. While I was taking a photo of one couple dancing to a band, surrounded by a large group of onlookers, I was dragged into dance with a young woman, much to the surprise and amusement of the onlookers. After we finished dancing many patted me on the back, saying "Good! Good!"

Feeling a little better this evening I treated myself to a plate of plain rice at the hotel.


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