Howl by Alan Ginsberg begins with one of the most iconic lines in American poetry:
My search for breakfast again took me along the touristy Lakeside strip. I didn’t much mind though—after a month of having the “local experience” in Taiwan, I was more than happy to play the tourist for a little bit.
And the Nepali love tourists. Not in a snide, disparaging way like you might find in some other places— the Nepali genuinely love their visitors, and are happy to help them experience the culture and natural beauty of their country. This is the only touristic place I visited on this trip where I didn’t feel any sort of tension between the tourists and the locals. So if you’re going to be a clueless tourist looking for a piece of home, Nepal is as good a place as any to do it.
My search for familiarity led me to the Pokhara branch of Himalayan Java. I had spent some time at the Himalayan Java in Kathmandu.
Apparently it’s a chain, I thought to myself as I spotted the signs. Maybe not a chain, could just be a second location. After all, the Himalayan Java in Kathmandu hadn’t seemed particularly slick or reproducible. And although Nepal’s a wonderful country, there probably aren’t too many opportunities to open a western-style coffee chain. Kathmandu, Pokhara, maybe Chitwan, I mused as I crossed the road and headed to the coffee shop.
It was early morning in Pokhara, Nepal. I was standing atop the roof of the Hotel Snow Leopard, breathing deep, taking in the view, and trying to come to terms with my life. A life which had brought me on a whirlwind tour of seven Asian countries, torn up my relationship of two and a half years, and spit me out here: 23 years old, alone, standing on a rooftop in Nepal. Gazing towards the Annapurna Range, hidden behind a thick layer of haze. Looking for something which didn’t seem to want to reveal itself to me.
I walked to the edge of the roof. Put my toes over the edge. Looked down.
I had just been accosted by a stranger on the streets of Pokhara, Nepal. This man was no tout though, and his offer intrigued me.
“Do you like chess?!” The man had yelled at me, from the stoop of a nearby cafe.
“Love it!” I’d responded.
“Would you like to play??” He asked.
Before I had even given it a second thought, my legs were taking me across the potholed street and up the steps, where I shook hands with my new friend: an old Malaysian man with an impressively white beard.
[this is an ongoing series about travel in Nepal. To get the full effect, I suggest you start at the beginning. But you do what feels right, friend.]
The Hotel Snow Leopard was located at the south end of Pokhara’s Lakeside district, a touristy area the Lonely Planet book described as “an extension of Kathmandu’s Thamel neighborhood.”
But when I ventured out of Hotel Snow Leopard that first night in Pokhara, I didn’t see many similarities to Thamel. The streets were wider, and emptier than in Thamel. No touts hassled me, and I wasn’t once offered drugs. The cool, crisp mountain air didn’t burn my throat upon swallowing. The full moon serenely lay on the surface of Fewa Lake, casting a calming blue-white light across everything.