A trip to the city by the lake
The journey began on a sour note. My name wasn’t on the list of the
passengers that the bus assistant was clutching that spring morning in
Kathmandu. The Nepali New Year 2071 was approaching and the slick bus
oddly named Swiss Travels, which had more Nepalis than foreigners, was
brimming with holiday makers. I myself was mixing work and holiday
and was looking forward to my trip to the city by the lake.
After shoveling a meal of boiled rice, vegetable curry and fish curry on the banks on Trishuli River, we cruised along the Marshyangdi River and arrived in Pokhara late in the afternoon. As soon as I disembarked from the bus, I was subjected to a hard bargaining by the taxi drivers, one of whom finally agreed on a reasonable fare of 200 rupees to Lakeside. The hotel booked by a friend of mine turned out to be similarly occupied. I was lucky enough to get room number in the modest three-storey hotel in this tourist district, the owner, who wore a tuppi (tuft of hair) told me while his wife ran the counter. A group of Western tourists were having momos on the table next to mine. I was having a mild headache, was alone and with my friend busy with his work, feeling increasingly lonely. I almost felt like returning to Kathmandu, cancelling my weekend retreat.
But then, in the evening I strolled along the Fewa Lake and was immediately charmed by it. I hadn’t even walked for about five minutes from my hotel, I was enchanted by what I saw and the lake began to bewitch me. A young man, whose hair sprawled over his ears, was strumming a guitar, singing ‘I can’t live’ in fake English accents. I found myself in the sea of tourists eager for a piece of Pokhara, an ounce of Fewa. A couple of young families, their younger sons and daughters in tow, whom I had seen at a restaurant during a brief stopover on our way to Pokhara –where after braving humidity and thirst, I bought an expensive bottle of Sprite–were part of the crowd. Already, this was pretty reassuring. The parents took pictures while their kids gave stylish poses. No one rode the wooden, colorful boats anchored to the lake, which nevertheless formed backdrops to countless pictures.
On a small platform at the edge of the lake, more than a dozen tourists were looking at the ripples. Last year, when I visited the
city with my wife, it had been windy and we had to leave the platform early. A cool breeze brought the fresh evening air while a lanky teenage girl in one piece checked her photos on her SLR camera. “Ramailo Chha Hai” (We are having fun, right?) were the words often heard in the gathering dusk. Already, a family of five was reviewing their day’s outing to Chamere Gufa (cave). Someone shouted: “Maya!” Was that a name of a girl? A boy? An illusion?
People seemed reluctant to leave the place. They were enchanted by the lake and seemed to want to savour this joy! An endless, still expanse of Fewa Lake spread ahead in blue, an occasional wave its only movements. I took a stroll on the banks, trying to take in every bit of the pleasant evening. Smoke bellowed from a green hill across the lake–it could a forest fire, could be slash and burn. The hills people, whose only transports are the rickety boats, live there, precariously. On my way, I found Tibetan refugees selling trinkets, young Nepali girls angling for best shots, to be posted on their Facebook pages.
While the majority of tourists were undoubtedly Nepalis, some Chinese and Bengalis added to the multi-cultural mix. In the hazy glow of the evening, it was hard to identify people but you may well run into your old friend or an acquaintance. Already, on the road from Kathmandu, I stumbled across two acquaintances. Yet, Pokhara never ceases to surprise you: As dusk was falling and I was retracing my steps, I heard a familiar voice. “Hi”, I said to her, surprised at myself. A friend with whom I hadn’t met in ages was here. She was here for convocation at Pokhara University, her young son was with her; her husband stayed at the hotel. We exchanged pleasantries and parted.
Back at the restaurant, I heard waiters taking orders from western tourists in their broken English. My hotel owner himself didn’t seem like he felt himself as part of the hospitality business. His restaurant was run like a family business. The items listed in the menus were rarely available. The rooms lacked basic amenities. When I told a friend who works at tourism and nature conservation about my visit to Pokhara, he suggested me to explore the issue of encroachment of Fewa Lake. The increasing pollution was gnawing away at the beautiful city, he told me.
Such are the vagaries of a city which is picture perfect. There are problems aplenty. But despite all this, I love Pokhara. I don’t know why, but every time I come here, I feel rejuvenated, re-calibrated and re-energized. If you want the same experience, please visit Pokhara!
Pic courtesy: Krishna Mani Baral