We left Kathmandu on the 7:30am Greenline bus, on an arduous and bumpy trip across Nepal to Pokhara. It took 2 hours to escape the sprawling urban mass that is modern day Kathmandu. Roads strained with traffic, great colourful trucks squeezed through narrow gaps, buses drove side by side, every hill a bottleneck. All stop for a cow in the road. We turned up the aircon and tried not to get travel sick.
It took 8h30 to cover 125 miles. Outside the city the roads became a sluggish procession of buses and trucks around the winding hilltops. No terrain in Nepal is easy.
An alternative to a coach is to take a speedy minibus. They’re nicknamed death-buses. Travelling at speeds too fast for a thin mountain road and alongside a perilous drop, they treat the roads like a racetrack, overtaking everything and hurtling into oncoming traffic, zipping back into lane just in time to avoid a fiery death. At night some drive without using headlights.
We welcomed each rest break, and were surprised at the quality of service station coffee. Our free buffet lunch was good too. A couple told us about their trip to Bhutan.
At long last we were in Pokhara. The drive hadn’t been a scenic one. After 20 minutes waiting for the coach to refuel we arrived at a bus station — but not the one we expected. Unsure of the distance (we could have walked), we paired up with another couple and clambered into a tiny Suzuki taxi, our luggage thrown onto the roof, nothing strapping it down.
Hotel Middle Path is the number one hotel on Trip Advisor. It’s also very cheap. Priding itself on service, it felt like a no-brainer to book for our first couple of nights.
As the bashed up silver Suzuki left, the staff started lugging our bags up the stairs. We booked the cheapest room in a cheap hotel, perhaps we shouldn’t have been surprised to find a room with windows that wouldn’t close, and the din of building works outside. Echoes from the stairwell made it worse. For the top rated hotel we expected more. We almost checked out there and then, but tired from travel we endured and tried to nap before dinner.
Thankfully when we asked to move rooms the next morning they obliged us. Switched to a deluxe room with a lake view, away from the construction, it was like another place and we were very happy.
The hotel is a short walk from Lakeside, the epicentre of tourism in Pokhara. Guides and tour companies sit between North Face outlets and all the world’s food in cheap to pricey restaurants. It has paths and paved roads, popping to the shops isn’t a death wish. It’s probably the most upmarket street in Nepal.
Vendors sell fresh orange juice, cows wander the streets, and locals offer boat trips on the lake. Hills surround the water, and high above is the World Peace Pagoda, white against green, it looks over everyone.
Tonight we followed the curve of the lake around the street lit road to Caffe Concerto, for an excellent stone baked pizza and milkshake.
Our itinerary was intentionally left open, we wanted to be flexible once we’d reached Pokhara. After 2 nights at Middle Path nothing else was booked. Top of the list: start a trek, and maybe some paragliding too. And decide where to stay next.
Under blue skies and fluffy clouds we strolled through town. I booked an ultralight flight into the Annapurna range with Avia Club Nepal — fingers crossed for good weather tomorrow morning, and Sam found the Nepali fiction she was after. At Boomerang, a cafe and garden besides the lake, we ate fried rice and borrowed wifi. Crows tried to steal our carbs.
Paragliders circled on the thermals, like birds of prey they clung to the sky. The clouds in the North had cleared, and from nowhere the mountain peaks of Machapuchare and Annapurna appeared. We hadn’t expected them to be there, these views of distant snow capped peaks were a delightful surprise.
We hunted online for good local trekking agencies, and spent a couple of hours making enquiries at their offices. So many options. But Sam didn’t feel well, and the thought of starting a trek while sick meant we postponed our search. We’d get around to it, but next - perhaps some luxury and relaxation, we booked The Pavilions Himalayas hotel and forgot about sweaty exertion for a while. We also picked up a local SIM card at an Internet cafe.
Tired from staring at maps and Trip Advisor reviews, we crossed town to natssul, Sam’s first Korean restaurant. Over a wooden table with hot lemon and chopsticks I introduced her to the wonders of bibmibab and kimchi.