Monday, July 23, 2012

Final Days in Nepal

Mountain views on the ride to Pokhara

Day three in Nepal, we woke up at 6:00 am to catch a 7:00 am bus to Pokhara. The 7-hour bus ride, traversing through the mountains, landed us in the quaint lake town. The town had  a much different vibe than Kathmandu. Although both touristy and kitchy, it was much quieter and relaxing. Once we dropped our things off at a hostel, we found a restaurant which overlooked Lake Pokhara. The one we chose had a Greek Island/Mediterranean theme, as the tables and chairs were painted white and dressed with blue cushions and napkins. After a 36 hour whirlwind in Kathmandu, we sunk deeply into our seats and absorbed the tranquil scenery surrounding us.

After dinner, we made our way out to the lake and walked around a bit. At least 50 rowboats floated in the water, awaiting passengers to ferry across the lake. We stared into the majestic blue sky and eerily still lake, planning our adventures for the following day. On the way back from the lake, we stumbled upon one of many spas in Pokhara, and decided to get impromptu massages; it’s hard to turn down a 45-minute massage for $6.

Boats on Lake Pokhara
The next morning, we woke up to pouring rain. Although absolutely soaked, we did manage to find Pokhara’s famous organic coffee house. We giggled at our über relaxed waiter over Himalayan plunger coffees and chai teas served in mugs resembling large beer mugs. His totally relaxed demeanor sent us over the edge as we observed him tossing menus to customers nonchalantly and reluctantly dragging himself into the kitchen to relay orders and prepare drinks. We waited the rain out by shopping around, realizing that established tourism also means higher price expectations, despite one’s ability to bargain.

The itty bitty white temple you see at the top
of this picture is the Peace Pagoda.
Finally, the sun came out and we embarked on our hiking adventure up to the Peace Pagoda (temple). When I first saw the Peace Pagoda, triumphantly standing on top of the mountain across the lake, I was shocked to hear the hike takes about 45 minutes; we expected a day-long expedition. We started the journey with a calming boat ride across the lake. Then we began the grueling expedition up the mountain. Although shaded by a forest, the morning rain had dissipated all cloud coverage. We sweated profusely and finished all of our waters before we finally reached the Peace Pagoda.

The white and gold structure was absolutely stunning on the mountain top. Around the temple were carvings depicting the Buddha’s history and captions describing each scene. As I read about the Buddha’s progression toward the meaning of life and inner peace, I could not help but feel like I was on the same journey on top of this mountain. Looking down at Pokhara, it was hard not to think about life’s greater purpose. As for the history of the Peace Pagoda, after WWII, particularly the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, a Japanese Buddhist monk decided to erect Peace Pagodas across the world in order to unite people under the same goal of promoting peace and non-violence. Today, there are over 80 Peace Pagodas in the world.
View from the hike

Peace Pagoda
Before hiking down, we stopped at a nearby café and admired the view for another hour while indulging in the most flavorful momos of the trip. On our hike down, we hoped to find a waterfall called Devil’s Falls, but unclear trail markers caused us to find the main road before the waterfall. We hopped on a local bus and made our way back to our hostel to shower up and prepare for dinner. On the way to the restaurant, we decided another $6 massage wouldn’t hurt after a grueling day of exercise. So, we treated our bodies before returning to the Mediterranean oasis restaurant. As my last meal in Pokhara, I was sure to load up on fresh vegetables, a rare treat in Dhaka.

In the morning, we caught a 8:45 am local flight to Kathmandu. Within 25 minutes, we were back in the city. Having received an email from Biman airlines that our flight would be delayed until 3:40 pm, we headed out into Themal, Kathmandu to do some more shopping and eat one last fresh meal. We stopped at the hostel where we had previously stayed, and the friendly staff graciously stowed our bags for a couple hours while we paraded down the streets of Themal, bargaining our brains out until we had completed our shopping lists. As our last supper, we ate at a famous pizza restaurant called Fire and Ice. It did not compare to my local Minneapolis favorite, Punch Pizza, but it was the best pizza I had had in Asia thus far.
I was so sweaty, but it was worth this nice view of Pokhara.

When we got to the airport, we were not surprised to find that Biman had further delayed our flight. Coincidentally, we ran into a man we had met on our way to Nepal four days prior. This Bangladeshi man, I learned, attends the University of Minnesota! Running into a Minnesotan is always special, especially halfway across the world. Between his charming personality and ability to speak Bangla, we passed the time sharing stories from our trips and keeping tabs on the flight status.

By the time we boarded the plane, I noticed my seat number was 2A. How I ended up in first class, I do not know, but I enjoyed every bite of my complimentary mixed vegetables and chicken curry. I even had a private viewing of Mount Everest out my window as the crew fended off the eager coach passengers trying to get a view from first class. An up-close view of the Mount Everest peak ended my Nepal vacation on a perfect note.   

Mount Everest!

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