Anthony's Interesting Times 2004 travel blog

My Monday morning boat

Pokhara Lakeside below the Peace Pagoda

Early rising, a pedal-rickshaw through the pre-dawn and cold streets of Thamel to the bus station, where thankfully there was coffee. Seven hours on a bus and here I am in Pokhara, gateway to the Annapurna Range of the Himalayas. I did wonder why there were so few hippies in Khatmandu, now I know it is because they are all here. At the moment it is too hazy to see the Mountains. The drive was great, it is such a beautiful country, I already feel like I want to come here again. I have a real nice hotel with a garden I look into, right on the lakeside road. Round here reminds me a bit of Nagin Lake, Kashmir to look at. And my TV shows English films! My hotel guard wears a kukiri (a short sword) and is therefore a Gurkha, so I won't be kicking his gate if I get locked out after curfew. If you're too young to know what a Gurkha is and how feared they are, ask your parents.

Monday: Up early and a pleasant breakfast overlooking the lake, very serene, though not very photogenic due to atmospheric mists. The sounds of the music and singing of the Hindu worshippers at the temple on an island nearby made a nice background too. And then I got this guy to paddle me across tha lake, a very serene expereince also. I even still feel serene now, several hours later! And then I walkled up through this lovely mix of jungle and forest to teh top of the hill opposite, spooking some big strange animal I didn't recognise.

There was one of those Japanese Buddhist Peace Pagodas at the top, like the ones in Leh, Ladakh and Battersea Park, London. And some Japanese monk banging drums and chanting. Another long and mellow walk down through the forest, around some villages and back to town.

I have now confirmed my trekking options. Very early tomorrow I fly to Jomasom on the Annapurna Circuit and then race back here, doing a five/six day trek in three/four days, depending on which route I go, and whether I try to catch dawn at Poon Hill, apparently highly recommended for awesome mountain views. Bad news is I can expect to get 'taxed' by Maoist rebels south of Tatopani, good news is the Maoists shot all the bandits who used to rob trekkers on the same stretch. Sounds an improvement to me. I am not using a guide or a porter, the route should be easy enough to find, and I am travelling relatively light, leaving my big rucksack here in Pokhara. Also the route doesn't go over 3,000 metres, so the altitude should be fine. And lots of those wild Himalayan bridges too. Can't wait.

Bought lots of chocolate for trekking, and got myself another tattoo, a Celtic one on my left forearm (I didn't like any of the Nepali ones). I do like foreign tattoo places, they have a lot of atmosphere and seem to be where all the weirdoes and gangsters hang out. I went in a great one in Khatmandu that was a huge gambling den with the tattooist lurking in the corner, presumably to help all the Yakuza and Triad members keep up their tattoo credentials.

Tuesday: Up very early and to go sit in the tiny and dull airport for six hours waiting for the fog to lift, which it didn't. When this happened to me in Pakistan, it was the landing that was the problem, so at least then I got a free flight round the Himalayas. Weather doesn't look good for tomorrow either, in which case I may just start walking, with the intention of getting a plane back, though there are people stranded up there because of the weather at present.

I nearly considered it blowing it out altogether, mostly fuelled by a nagging fear that I need to get home and soon, stimulated by the lack of news of my youngest. No bad e-mails though when I checked, so I will just have to spend the day loitering in lakeside cafes and CD shops again. Tough job, but someone has to help maintain the Nepali economy. I see such activities as a form of development work, a field I have always wanted to get into. I like this town a lot, and could easily spend an awful lot of time here not necessarily dong much, in the way I did in Yangshuo, Lijiang and Lhasa.

See you in four or five days, if I don't get kidnapped by Maoists. If I do, don't start the campaign until both my kids have a job, that should give me enough time to learn Nepali and raise a new family here.

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