Sorry about the delay in posting, Pokhara has been filling up our time quite nicely. We spent the last 3 days going trekking, and will continue to do so tomorrow. We are planning a 2-3 day trek, nicknamed the "Royal Trek," since we have time for one more warm up trek before we go for at least a week-long journey into the mountains around Annapurna. Our first day of trekking we visited the nearby World Peace Pagoda, which overlooks the town. We rode across the Phewa Tal on a rowboat in order to make the hike a circuit, but then trekked home through the town (Damside into Lakeside). The Pagoda is a massive white structure (currently mostly closed) with golden Buddhas installed in the sides, built by Japanese monks up in the hills. A nice walk, with some nice lake views, though a bit anticlimactic.
Yesterday, then, we trekked up to Sarangkot, a lookout point north-west of town. Our ascent took around 5 hours, 4 off the road. Definitely the long way, we found out today, but we our trying to get used to walking, so the longer distance is undoubtedly better for us. We went to the Sarangkot lookout point 3 times, once at arrival, sunset, and then sunrise, since we stayed up on the lookout point, at one of several lodges perched above Pokhara, most with amazing views. Sunrise was well worth the early rising, we could see all 9 peaks of the Annapurna Mountain range that are supposed to be visible, despite a slight haze. Pretty amazing being surrounded by snow-capped peaks in the peace and quiet... until the package tourists (fortunately) showed up a bit late for not-as-prime photo ops! A small blemish on a spectacular morning; we rarely get up early, only for good causes!
Today then we journeyed back down the mountain, via a different (and much faster and easier) path, so that getting all the way back to Pokhara only took us 2 hours. Still a sweaty and tiring workout, but 3 hours fewer than our journey before made a big difference... The rest of the day we have spent reading, Liz trying to finish "City of Joy" by Dominique Lapierre, and Anderson reading a book about recent Nepali politics. We're happy to take the rest since our schedule is somewhat voluntarily busy, though all with trekking, but we will be walking a decent amount tomorrow, although a bus ride out of Pokhara seems inevitable to escape the city limits. But that should only be about 40 minutes or so, and then we'll be in the unadulterated woodlands... at least pretty close to it, since while there are small villages and subsistence farmers, even just outside of Pokhara the way of life is essentially unchanged despite modern infringements/advancements. Though the reality is that is mostly economically imposed, and not necessarily by choice, although everyone we meet is very nice and friendly to us, despite the fact that our governments do not necessarily agree on things right now (partially because Nepal doesn't have a fully-functioning ruling body, but is in a transitional stage between a monarchy and a democracy). The US has funded the royal government in the past, and views the Maoists as a terrorist group. But a coalition government has formed, with a Constitutional Assembly (1/3 Maoist) slowly (hopefully) figuring out a solution to the situation, but if that fails a referendum to the people is the likely next step, which would presumably remove the king (possibly into exile) or else leave him solely as a figurehead - which in many ways it seems has already been rendered. Maoist activity is in the papers every day, but so are front-page headlines about the latest progress with the constitutional discussions.
Western media has heavily distorted (and is probably still distorting) exactly what things are like here: they are calm. Really, other than a bus-strike (bandh) that meant we couldn't go to Nepalganj on the day we wanted (which ended up being beneficial to our overall plans), we have in no way been effected, nor have we met or heard of any tourists who have any difficulties. Nepal is certainly as safe as wherever you are, at least for we whities (sad but so, we don't exactly blend in on the subcontinent - not when Liz is of average height!), and the mountain views are probably more impressive (Colorado people might have some room to argue, but really not much at all :-).
That's enough politics for now, but as Westerners, Nepal urgently needs our tourism dollars, the five-year-long decrease in tourist numbers has definitely taken its toll on many a tourist-entrepreneurs dreams, so people are enthusiastic and most kindly. In Thakurdwara, our hotel owner had had 5 guests all season...
Pokhara is definitely still-touristed, but rarely is a restaurant even busy, never mind packed, and the bar scene isn't exactly hoping, despite our ever-decreasing hopes. One night, after walking out on a terrible Nepali culture and dinner show (doubly terrible: unenthusiastic/bored performers, and awful service - we waited around 15 minutes and got no help from anyone), we went to listen to a Nepali cover band play at an empty bar. They sounded pretty reasonable, though the singer was for sure the weakest link, and their repertoire was all rock covers - the Pink Floyd they played as we walked in was as good as it got.
Food here is good, typical tourist fare, but after fulfilling some cravings (steak, ice cream, Mexican food, Japanese food, pasta that's not chow mein) we are mostly back to the daal bhaat (lentils & rice) diet, which is readily available and very affordable. The cheese here is also quite delicious, tried some local fruit wine this afternoon with 150g of cheese - a tasty post-hike reward.
We also had some great (water) buffalo the other night, a restaurant was running a cheap special (40 Nepali Rs = around 60 cents) for buffalo momos (stuffed dumplings), chow mein (noodles), thukpa (noodle soup), or fried rice (fried rice). We stuffed our faces, it was simply scrumptious, though at times a bit chewy. We joked that the restaurant probably lures in water buffaloes off the street with food when they need a fresh supply!
Speaking of food, we're headed to dinner shortly, since we are attempting to begin our day somewhat early tomorrow.
The Royal Trek is pretty flat, so we can cover a lot of ground quickly, which is a nice change from the nonstop climbs we have done before. We'll be staying in small tea houses along the way, so it's only limited roughing it :-)
Will post again before when we return from this trek, before heading on the Gandaki 6-day trek, which we may extend mood dependent. We are planning on going on that trek starting on Friday, once our friends Claire & Iain - who are from South Africa but whom me met in Greece (and then again in Hampi) - arrive from Kathmandu.
Peace from Pokhara,
Anderson & Liz