Our story continues with Part 2, in the northern town of Pokhara, nestled at the base of the Annapurna Mountain Range in Nepal. If you’d like to figure out how we got here, I’d suggest starting with Part 1.
PART 2: POKHARA
We arrived in Pokhara around 4 p.m., heart rates elevated but otherwise unharmed.
My bus pulled into a big dirt lot, which apparently served as the local bus terminal.
I shook myself awake from the light sleep I’d been enjoying, and gathered my things.
I went through a brief panic when I thought I’d lost my hat, before realizing it had just fallen on the floor, probably when I shifted while asleep. I picked it up, put it back on my head, and shouldered my backpack. I was the last one left on the bus.
The touts were on me immediately as I stepped off the bus, grabbing for my bags and yelling offers for lodging.
I had done almost no research before getting on that bus this morning. I had no idea where I was, what there was to do in this town, or where I should stay.
So I took a tout up on his offer.
“Hotel Snow Leopard,” the man said, handing me a card.
“How much?” I asked.
“1,000 rupees, private room,” the man said.
I handed him his card back, shaking my head. “No thanks.”
“How much?!” he exclaimed, desperate.
“500 rupees,” I said, continuing to walk away.
“Ok, ok,” he said. “I can do 500. Come,” he said, waving me back towards him.
Should have started lower, I thought. But five bucks a night still sounded good to me, so I followed.
“You know how to ride a motorbike?” the portly little man asked me.
“Good,” he said, hopping aboard a bike and starting the motor. “Hop on. Is not far.”
I readjusted my luggage, tentatively, and hopped onto the back of the scooter. The man took off immediately, and I reflexively grabbed the bike’s “oh shit” handles.
Usually, I’m totally comfortable riding or driving a motorbike, but I was wearing a big backpack. Wearing a large pack while riding as a passenger on a bike generates a tremendous amount of drag, creating the rather unsettling sensation that you’re about to be blown off the bike. Going even a small distance in this fashion requires a strong set of core and lower back muscles, as well as a healthy disregard for fear.
I kept it together as we drove the short distance to the Hotel Snow Leopard.
Hotel Snow Leopard turned out to be tucked away down a back alley, and largely devoid of guests.
I confirmed my price with the owner – “Yes, yes, 500 OK, just do not tell the others what you are paying, ok?” – and took a room on the third floor. It had no view, and the mattress was rock-hard, but there was wi-fi, a tiny TV, and a shower. Same as the Annapurna Guesthouse, at a third of the price. I couldn’t complain.
I dropped my belongings in my room and sprinted up the stairs to the roof. I climbed to the tallest point on the building, and cast my eyes around, looking for the Himalayas.
I may not have done much research, but I’d at least seen pictures of Pokhara. The Annapurna Massif should have towered over this city, but I couldn’t see anything. Just stout guesthouses and hotels, stacked one on top of the other, for as far as the eye could see. There was a hillside nearby, but no sign of the massive, glaciated peaks.
It’s tough to overstate the disappointment I felt here.
I’d journeyed halfway around the world, left my girlfriend in the airport, struggled through the shithole that was Kathmandu, and ridden 8 hours on a terrifying bus on some of the worst roads I’d even seen, all to see these mountains. I was alone, I was tired, I was full of existential questions, and I just needed this one thing.
And the stupid fucking Himalayas weren’t where they were supposed to be.
I thought of Sujan, the young kid who had walked me around Kathmandu two days ago. What was that he’d said?
“What is there to do, brother?”
I smiled, and took a breath.
The mountains would be there. Tomorrow, or the day after tomorrow, or even the day after. When the smog cleared, I would see them. I had made the choices; paid the price. A day or two wouldn’t make a difference now.
I went downstairs to the lobby, got a Lonely Planet guidebook for Nepal from their small community bookcase, and took it back up to my room.
There had to be something to do in this town.