Twelve hundred rupees handed over to the bus employee secured my turbulent 6 hour ride to Pokhara. The 200 kilometers, or about 120 miles (which would only take a family of four in a van to cross about 2 hours) was to take at least 6 hours because of the primitive highways and multitude of hills, valleys, cliffs and narrow bridges the bus had to cross. Making a few stops in a few small villages, the effect of tourism on these once-remote places was very evident.
Arriving to the outskirts of Pokhara, some new sight came into view. Hills I had seen, yes. Great river chasms wedged into the hills, also I had seen. But this new view began as what seemed to be a collection of triangular clouds pointing upward together in unison. It wasn’t until a few moments later that I realized these were actually the Himalayas. What baffled me, however, was the funny way in which the hills in my foreground were looking up to these behemoth mountains in the distance, and some of them took on the unique shapes that only mountains can truly assume, in a way of honoring them. The hills acted as waves splashing upward and upward until the entire landscape became a foundation for the mountain range’s deep roots. Something had to support these stone structures rising over eight-thousand meters. These are the tallest mountains in the world.
After arriving to the massive bus station and grabbing an expensive 1 mile taxi ride, I instantly got a feel for the layout of the city. Every street is just another layer running parallel to the shores of Phewa Lake, the iconic postcard lake that reflects the distant peaks. I arrived to my hostel, checked in, and ran to the lake where I rented a boat for myself. That night, after my 2 hour paddle across the lake, I visited a pizza shop and a coffee shop and by 9pm I was ready to fall into a heavy sleep.
The next day, I woke up early and rented a bicycle for the day. 1,000 Rupees. The shop owner told me it would be a difficult ride up the side of the hills leading to the World Peace Pagoda and then back down and around the lake. In total, including climbs and descents, it would be about 50 kilometers, or 31 miles. I decided to do it anyway. Within 30 minutes I was walking my bike uphill.
When I reached the entrance to the World Peace Pagoda, it was only stairs. But the sign also said, “Downhill Bike Trail This Way”. I decided to lock up the bike, visit the Pagoda, then come back to walk it up the steps.
The Peace Pagoda, locally known as Shanti Stupa, was an incredible white wonder on the top of the hill. It is one of over 70 stupas built around the world since 1947 by the Nipponzan-Myōhōji Buddhist Order. Directly North of it, overlooking the lake and hills in the distance, a panorama of the Annapurna mountain range filled my view. These looked like massive clouds at first; I really didn’t believe my eyes.
I retrieved my bike. The downhill descent was much, much harder than I had expected. Although there was a path, it was not smooth in the slightest.
Just when I thought I was almost to the bottom of the hill, a new hill had to be climbed first. It took over 2 hours to reach the lake again, and several times the path was blocked by cows or buffalo.
I finally reached lake level and came upon a hidden flood plain. Cattle were grazing in the sun and the wind blew softly. My palms were ripped from clutching the handle bars. At the very corner of the deep valley now shaded by the hills, I rode in silence through a small neighborhood of farms.
In the corner of my eye, I saw a man coming to greet me. I slowed. We said “namaste” and he invited me in for tea at his family’s home. He was about 28 years old, and he called himself “Kumar”. Inside their small little hut, his mother and him made me a cup of fresh milk tea. Kumar and I briefly discussed school, life in Nepal, and his farm. He is studying mechanical engineering. We finished our tea and I asked if I was going in the right direction back to Pokhara. He said yes, just follow this road for another 45 minutes and you will be there. I thanked him for the tea and hopped on my bike to leave.
Crossing through a small town called Pame (Pom-Eh), some school children stopped me and asked to ride the bike for a second. They smiled and waved at me until they couldn’t see me anymore when I rode away. To my right the lake came back into view. Paragliders were landing onto little islands of grass. People boated. The sun was going down. Within 30 minutes I was back at the bike shop.
After the first day full of adventures and some real workouts, the rest of the week was spent eating, shopping and sleeping. I found a group of people from Holland the third day, and we all explored new restaurants and spent time playing cards on the edge of the lake, telling each other stories of our Nepal experiences, and making fun of accents.
On the morning of the 5th day, I hopped onto my bus and rode 8 hours back to the Kathmandu Valley, well rested and ready to start building schools.