Tag Archives: pokhara

Monkeys on the Runway

30 May

I am fortunate to have travelled quite a bit in my life.  I have napped on beautiful white sand beaches, navigated through the back streets of Europe, seen the ruins of Machu Picchu, drifted along the Amazon.  I have seen the Andes, the Alps, the Rockies.  But none of these compares to the Himalayas.

We took a short 25-minute flight from Pokhara to Kathmandu, flying along the mountain range.  The Pokhara airport is tiny, and the metal detector in the “security” section was broken.  The flight announcement we were told would be made was actually just a man running around telling passengers it was time to go through security.  While waiting for our flight, we saw a small Buddha Air plane take off.  We were told that was our plane.  The small propeller plane made its way to Kathmandu and back in one hour, getting us in the air just in time to see the Himalayas peaking its white tips high into the sky.

The two curtains behind me block off the security rooms at the airport.  There are no x-ray machines and the metal detectors weren’t working, so the men and women were taken into the separate rooms for a pat down.

After we landed in Kathmandu, someone pointed to small figures running across the runway.  I turned and saw dozens of monkeys running from one end to the other and over a high fence into the trees.  I shouldn’t have been so surprised to see them.  Animals run free all over Nepal.  In fact, Chitwan, in Southern Nepal, has a large National Park that houses Bengal tigers, leopards, pythons and the second largest population of Asian Rhinoceros.  In Kathmandu, large cows with fresh marigold wreaths around their necks sleep unharmed like center dividers in the busy streets.  But for some reason, the monkeys on the runway completely caught me off guard.

Dozens of monkeys ran across the runway and climbed over the fence.

We arrived back in Kathmandu around noon, and seeing the drive to the hotel in the daylight gave me a completely different perspective of the city.  Our first time there, it was pitch black when we arrived, and my mom joked that it was a good thing I couldn’t see where we were going.  This time, I saw the back alleys, the rubble on the side of the road, the pothole-ridden street that led to our hotel.  I was thankful that I had already seen Kathmandu in the daylight, because if this were my first impression, I would have asked the driver to turn around.

The Kathmandu baggage claim.  The men stand on the carts waving the luggage until someone claims it.


La Bohéme

6 May

Pokhara couldn’t have been more different from my first impression, and it quickly turned into one of my favorite cities.  It’s a small (by first world standards) town nestled on the Phewa Lake blockaded by the Himalayas.  It is actually the second most populated city in Nepal, after Kathmandu, and is a popular tourist destination.  However, it is difficult to even call it a city.  Walking along the lake, we felt like we were in on some sort of secret, like we were being treated with this unspoiled treasure that the rest of the world had no idea even existed.

Phewa Lake at dusk

It is likely that the types of tourists who visit are the reason that Pokhara has maintained its charm.  Although the street signs are in English and the restaurants serve hamburgers, the trekkers and the hippies, not always mutually exclusive, respect the landscape and genuinely love the country.  Many vagabonds stop in Pokhara on their way to another place and end up spending years there, lured in by the bohemian luster.  Dreadlocks and flowing skirts float past you with cheery far-off smiles as you make your way to the next shop with hanging scarves and colorful woolen rugs.  Caught somewhere between 1840’s Paris and a Moroccan bazaar, this little city entranced us too.

We spent two days in Lakeside Pokhara, basking in our post-valley luxuries.  We relished the air conditioner, refrigerator, and wifi, and even the 14-hour long government-inflicted blackouts everyday couldn’t hamper our moods.

Dad and Mom at Phewa Lake

On our first night, I ordered pizza at a wonderful restaurant called Moondance.  I devoured it, thankful for the break from our twice-daily daal bhats.  But after that night of satisfying my Western cravings, I continued to enjoy the Nepali cuisine, which is delicious.  I had had Nepali food before our trip, but I was not prepared for how much I would love every dish I tried.  There are many different types of Nepali foods, the most common of which is daal bhat, but the flavors resemble everything from Indian to Hawaiian.  Some of the spices are familiar; they use garlic and onions in almost every dish, with cilantro, ginger and cardamom permeating even the smallest serving of pickled vegetables.

Even after we left the valley, we continued to enjoy the local foods.  Our daily lunches consisted of chicken momos, a Nepali-style dumpling, and garlic naan.  We soaked up the laid-back hippie lifestyle, feeling comforted to be surrounded by English-speaking Americans and Europeans again, but thrilled by the unique Lakeside Nepali culture.  We spent our time in Pokhara wandering the streets, in the hot sun, visiting the small shopkeepers with their windows draped in cashmere and prayer beads.  Beautiful dilapidated but colorful rowboats floated on the lake like petals on a pond, and the entire Lakeside seemed to be enveloped by a sense of calm.  Our time in Pokhara was absolutely perfect.

Goodbye, Rupakot!

27 Apr

As it usually happens when you’re on vacation, the second half of our week in the valley went by too fast.  On the morning we left, I remembered back to the first few days when I annoyingly asked my parents why in the world we needed to be here for one whole week.  I told myself that if I could make it until Tuesday, half way, the rest would be easy.  I was right.  As the days went by, I got used to seeing everyone eat with the their hands.  I got pretty good at squatting to go to the bathroom.  And we learned what to do during a standoff with the buffalo (which happened more than you might think).

I really enjoyed my last few days there, and cursed the close-mindedness I once had.  Our Farewell Ceremony was even grander than our Welcoming Ceremony.  My dad was presented with a “topi,” a Nepali-style hat that the respected men of the community wear.  My mom and I received beautiful Nepali cloths to be worn as shawls.  We were thanked for our visit and for our contributions to the village.  We were called things like “honorable” and “distinguished”—descriptions that certainly don’t fit us.  That is how the Nepali people speak.  Every white person is “a wonderful personality.”  But we couldn’t help feeling unworthy of all of the hoopla.  We tried as best as we could to explain that they had touched us as much as we touched them.

My dad, mom and me following the Farewell Ceremony.  My dad also received a “mala,” the gorgeous wreath around his neck.

Saying goodbye to Shailee and the children (Jenisa, their 4 year daughter, and Babu, which means “little boy,” their 2 year old son), was much more emotional than we had expected.  For the last week, they shared their food with us and shared their lives with us.  These two children touched us immensely, with their beautiful smiles and infectious laughter.  When I hugged Shailee, I saw tears in her eyes and all the efforts I had made to suppress mine were futile.

My mom with Jenisa, whom we nicknamed Princess, and Babu

Nabaraj and Jenisa accompanied us to Pokhara, our next stop, because Jenisa goes to school in Pokhara where her grandparents live.  She sat in the backseat with my mom, dad and me during the long car ride, and fell asleep spread across our laps.  We were all secretly happy that we didn’t have to say goodbye to her until the next morning.

The ride to Pokhara was similar to our ride out to the valley from Kathmandu, except for one strange occurrence. We took a “jeep,” which is really just an old pickup truck, and when we arrived at the river to cross, the driver stopped and asked us to get out.  This was the car wash.  We stood to the side for 30 minutes as he splashed water into the bed and behind the wheels.  Sure enough, the truck was clean.

As we drove into Pokhara, the streets were packed with people dressed head-to-toe in red, and busses drove past us with red flags.  There was a Communist Convention.  The Maoists took control of the government a few years ago, and were gaining support from the impoverished Nepali people.  These conventions happen every once in while to ensure that their commitment doesn’t waiver.  Throughout the city, hammer and sickle signs were abundant.  This must have been the first time I had seen such outward support of Communism, and I was scared.

The Princess.  Photo taken by my dad.