Friday, 7 December 2012

Pokhara Part 1 - Defying Gravity!

As planned, I took a week off away from Kathmandu in the rather lovely area of Pokhara.  I was looking forward to this as it was not only a new place to visit for me, but I had planned to do a few things that were a break from the ordinary.

I flew from Tribhuvan airport in Kathmandu on Saturday 17th November.  Now, I see myself as a good flier, always fairly comfortable in the skies, but I have to admit, Nepal domestic flights make me nervous.  Accidents are alarmingly common here, and as such I have to say that I breathed a sigh of relief when we landed safely in Pokhara. 

I made my way to my first accommodation, which would be the Karma Guest House.  At less than £5 per night, this place was excellent, with a soft bed and thick, dense pillows, and friendly staff to help me out when I needed it.  Their friendly dog was there to greet me when I arrived, and it was nice to be able to stroke it; Gatthaghar is crawling with stray dogs who look friendly enough, but as rabies is rife here, it’s better to stay well away.

My first day in Pokhara mainly involved taking in the scenery and getting accustomed to the shops and restaurants in Lakeside.  It was clearly a popular place for tourists and trekkers, and as I walked through the town and looked up, the sky was dotted with paragliders, floating down to earth from their jump-off point at Sarankot.  Despite being a fairly busy town, Pokhara is so unlike Kathmandu.  The air is crystal clear, the views are unbelievable and the general atmosphere is one of calm and relaxation.  Everyone there just seemed to be looking to chill out and go at a leisurely pace, eating good food and doing fun things.  Suits me!!  I met up with fellow Rasuwa Langtang Orphanage volunteer Kit, who arrived that afternoon, and went for two-for-one happy hour cocktails at Busy Bee café.  This was followed by Chinese food in the aptly named China Town.  The food was great, although the place was surprisingly quiet. 

The following day, we decided to take a boat out on the lake for a while. At 300 rupees for an hour without a driver (about £2.10) we struck out from the shore, and were stunned by the beauty of the views from the water.  The snowy Annapurna mountain range could be seen above the trees lining the lake, and the peaks were reflected in the water.  The sun was beating down on us as we rowed, but it was a pleasant way to get around.  We came close to an island temple which rang out with bells and shouts as worshippers came and went via boat.  It was a lovely way to spend time, and I was pleased to find I was rather good at steering the long boat from the back, even if we weren’t going anywhere particularly fast!

Once back on dry land, we went for lunch and planned the rest of the day.  We decided to follow the guidebook’s suggestion of heading up to the World Peace Pagoda to see the sunset, and (for some inexplicable reason) we decided to take the long way up.  This meant an uphill hike for an hour and a half.  You guys have met me right?  This isn’t my usual idea of fun.  I have to say, although I was tired by the time I reached the top, the walk was pleasant enough and the views from the top were definitely worth it.  Plus, the feeling that my lungs were going to explode went away fairly quickly, so I was happy enough after that! The Pagoda depicts the life of Buddha around its walls, and is in a prime position for people to watch the sun go down, painting the mountains gold before changing to pink and lilac to blue.  It was really beautiful.  Being the organised beings that we are, Kit and I followed the other visitors down the hill as dark approached.  We had no idea how we were going to get back to Lakeside though.  Walking back the way we came in the dark was not an option, so we hoped the other people knew where they were going.  We ended up in a car park where some tourist buses and cars were parked (note: we could have got a taxi this far and walked for 5 minutes to get to the Pagoda. But we didn’t. The scenic route was a lot more interesting though!). There were no taxis here though, and we had to ask around about the best way to get to Lakeside.  Seeing us standing around looking lost, we were invited on to a college tour bus which was also heading to Lakeside. We would have to stand but at least we would get there fairly quickly.  After swaying so hard around a bad bend that I nearly fell out of the open door, I was offered a low, wicker stool to sit on near the floor. It wasn’t particularly stable but at least I wasn’t at risk of being chucked out on every corner!

Eventually we made it back to Lakeside and were told we didn’t have to give them any money, so we thanked them and they went on their way.  Handy or what? Top tip learned though: if you’re going somewhere to see a sunset, have a plan for how you’re going to get back home again in the dark!

That evening we went to a restaurant called Moondance which had a large range of dishes.   Despite my promise not to go near curry (or to be more precise, dal bhat) while I was in Pokhara, I ended up with a rather delicious Thai red curry.  And despite my previous promise, that was 2 nights in a row of boiled rice, despite having eaten it twice nearly every day I’ve been in Nepal!

So on to Monday.  This was the big one. PARAGLIDING. 

I had talked about doing this for several months.  However, talking about it and then realising that you’re in a jeep heading up a hill with a pile of strangers to go run off the side and hope the air carries you is a different kettle of fish.  I wasn’t afraid though, surprisingly.  I was excited, and didn’t have much time to spare to get to the ‘WHAT AM I DOING?!’ part of the exercise.  Once we got out of the jeep and out on to a sloping field, I was teamed up with a Korean instructor and told I was going first.  I was strapped into the gear immediately, which was rather like a large rucksack that curved underneath into a soft seat.  A helmet was on my head, straps were being checked and I was being told to take three steps down the field, then take another ten.  By step eight or nine I was airborne.  What an incredible feeling! It felt easy, joining the other paragliders as they sailed around me.  And the views! From the mountains, to the city, to the lake, I took it all in.  It was amazing!  I was able to take out my camera and snap a few shots, but mostly I wanted to focus on the landscape and the experience.  I was smiling like my face was going to split in two, I just couldn’t believe I was up in the air, flying around with the birds of prey.  My instructor handed me a camera on a pole (which I was convinced I was going to drop) and started clicking photos and taking videos.  I’m ashamed to admit, there were some Titanic-style arm movements.  I didn’t claim I was the king of the world though … so, you know, silver lining and all that.  I’m actually gobsmacked at the fact that I didn’t crack into a reprise of ‘Defying Gravity’, but the instructor would have probably thought I was suffering from temporary insanity caused by the altitude and headed back to land.

After whizzing round in circles, mucking around on camera and generally moving around a LOT, I was struck by my old familiar friend, motion sickness.  My companion on long bus journeys, I had neglected to consider motion sickness might be a problem when being buffeted up and down and round and round the skies.  About halfway through, I thought it was going to get the better of me.  I was confronted with a conundrum I never thought I would ever have cause to consider … how does one vomit in the sky?  I had to swallow my pride (my PRIDE!) and tell the instructor I was feeling a little peaky.  Thankfully, the sickness went as quickly as it had come.  We floated down closer to land now, and the instructor handed over controls to me.  I took them calmly, while thinking ‘Wow, that lake’s getting close’, but luckily I was able to steer around fairly easily.  It felt nice knowing that a pull here, a tweak there, was all it took to wheel around whichever direction I felt like.  I brought us down closer to the landing field, before handing back control as we came in to land.  Elegant being that I am, I landed on my feet then straight on to my backside, which I would advise against.  Still, it was an otherwise-smooth landing and I was soon snapped out of the gear and left to sit and watch the other gliders coming in.  I just sat there thinking, ‘Did I actually just do that?!’ and I don’t think it hit me until the adrenaline wore off later that day.  It wasn’t something I would usually do, but I’m so glad that I did.  The location couldn’t have been more perfect, with picture-perfect scenery and beautiful weather.  I would recommend it to anyone, as long as they don’t have a fear of heights and can deal with motion sickness! It’s an experience I don’t think I’ll ever forget!

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