Nepal POKHARA Day#3

by - October 28, 2017

We had heard that, weather-permitting, the sunrise view from Thani Mai (our sunset spot from yesterday) is well worth a 5.30am alarm clock.  Walking through town before dawn we passed shopkeepers opening their shutters and locals passing the temple and ringing a bell for good fortune before heading up the same steep steps that we had climbed less than twelve hours before.  Unlike the sunset, barely anybody was around for the sunrise, which we were able to watch from a little shelter on the hill side.  Alas, the Himalaya were still shrouded in mist (a disappointment as we weren’t able to see them from Bandipur at all), but the views were still beautiful and it was worth us getting up.

After one last tranquil breakfast on the hotel patio, we packed our things and said our farewells – having signed the guestbook the manager gave us both a small scarf and smeared a red dye dot onto our foreheads, which is a traditional good luck and bon voyage custom.  In order to continue to keep the itinerary packed I had arranged for another driver to pick us up and take us to Pokhara, the next town – at a mere £35 for the two hour journey, it seemed far better than faffing around with the intermittent bus service.  The scenery en-route was much the same as we had seen from Kathmandu, as we followed the country’s main arterial road along a steep-sided gorge.

As the gorge flattened out we were able to see Pokhara for the first time – a sprawl of a city surrounding a large lake.  There is nothing like the historical pedigree of Kathmandu in Pokhara, but as the main gateway to the Annapurna mountain region it is a major tourist town and the bars, restaurants and hotels along the shore of the lake are amongst the liveliest area of the country.  There are two main mountain areas in the country, the Everest region near Kathmandu and Annapurna near Pokhara, and while the former is the more famous, the latter is more accessible to the average climber and is therefore where the majority of visitors get their fill of trekking.
Having left Kathmandu immediately, we needed Pokhara as an administrative base for the afternoon – visiting the local tourist/trekking information office to apply for the relevant permits.  All trekkers to Nepal need a “TIMS” permit which basically registered us as a hikers and took down basic personal information (such as next of kin), practical information (like insurance details) and logistical information (like areas we would be hiking and noting the fact that we would not be taking a guide).  In addition to this, we needed an “ACAP” permit which registered that we would specifically be entering the Annapurna Conservation Area and again taking down specific details of the hike.  The permitting system, in place since 2008, seems like a bit of a bureaucratic annoyance at first but is actually an excellent idea – the costs of the permit go into maintaining the areas of hiking (as well as development projects) while the information recorded ensures that the government knows where all visitors are in case anything goes wrong.
The permit office is surprisingly far out of town (a 25 minute walk from the lakefront) and while the staff spoke excellent English and were extremely helpful, their ATM was broken and the exchange office was shut (the permits were 2000 rupees each per person) so I had to run along the street looking for somebody to change my dollars.  Amusingly when I got back it turned out that I didn’t have the requisite number of passport photos (two required per permit), but the staff were happy to take free photos for us – and as I was still wearing my scarf and had my red dot on my forehead from the hotel in Bandipur, this is how I appeared on my trekking permit…
With the main administrative task sorted, we wandered back towards the lake front.  Pokhara doesn’t have any particular sites in the town itself, but the lake is an attraction and after a quick lunch of “Mo-Mo” dumplings (Sophie’s new obsession), we decided to hire a row boat and take it out to a little temple on an island – along with hundreds of locals who had had the same idea and were out on pedalos.
After managing to squeeze our boat in at a landing we had a quick nose around the island temple before turning back towards the boat house.

On our way back, Sophie noticed a group of Chinese tourists on another boat all pointing and taking photos back over the top of the town – and following their finger she was able to spot, for the first time on the trip, the mighty Himalayan peaks in the distance.  Only a few patches appeared at first where the cloud was thinning, but we optimistically dropped the boat off and rushed to the nearest rooftop bar and from there we were soon treated to the whole panorama.  

The revealing of the mountains after several days of knowing they were there was a relief – but to say that it was worth the wait is an understatement.  I have never seen any mountains in any range dominate a skyline like the Himalaya do above Pokhara.  The area is mountainous anyway, but the big guns like Annapurna, Machhapuchhre and Lamjung Himal are true titans and watching them appear through the clouds, tint orange in the sunset and then disappear again in the dusk was a profoundly moving experience.

Thoroughly impressed, we settled up for our beers (for what better activity can there be for witnessing the mountains for the first time than drinking beers) and then headed back into town for dinner at a pizza restaurant (Pokhara has everything and we had had a lot of Nepalese food thus far).  In the evening we put together our rucksacks – for in the morning we would be heading up into the mountains we had just seen for three days of trekking.

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