Playing Tourist

Lakeside Pokhara and the Annapurna Range

My hotel in Pokhara was the Trek-O-Tel. The room was reasonable but it seemed quite luxurious. It was just nice having my own bathroom with a flush toilet and a shower again. Driving into Pokhara it did not look like that nice a city. But the hotel is in an area known as Lakeside - because it is right on the shore of Phewa Lake. It is the main tourist district and was actually pretty nice. There was one main street that wound around the lakeshore that was filled with hotels and restaurants and bars and shops.

I spent two days in Pokhara. Most of the time I just stayed in Lakeside and wandered through all the shops. I bought a lot of souvenirs since they no longer had to be carried everywhere. A painting of Machapuchare. Lots of hiking clothes for both Sandy and I - they were really cheap here. A couple of mountaineering books. Various Nepal crafty things. And of course several tshirts.

I found one restaurant that I ate at all three evenings. It had a patio right on the street. It was a good place to see people going by. Since Pokhara is filled with tourists it is a great place to people watch. Their happy hour had free pizza when you ordered an Everest beer, so that was my dinner. Their pizza was quite good.

Machapuchare and Annapurna III from Sarangkot

Phewa Lake is a pretty lake surrounded by forested mountains. Although Pokhara is right on the lake it is on the wrong side for a view of the big mountains. But I found a bridge across the outlet stream and got far enough around the lake to get a good view. The Annapurna Range was quite spectacular, especially Machapuchare.

One morning I took a taxi to the top of Sarangkot, a viewpoint about a thousand feet above Pokhara. The view from there was even better than from the lake but certainly wasn't as good as the views that I had been living with for two weeks on the trek. I guess I'd been spoiled.

For the trip back to Kathmandu I took a tourist bus. It was a nice air conditioned coach. The bus company office was about two blocks away so I hauled my duffel bag down the street. Where was Sarkey when I needed him? We left about 8:00 am. It was a five or six hour drive with a lunch stop along the way. For lunch we stopped at a nice riverside resort that had a pretty good buffet that was included in the price of the ticket.

Bouddanath - largest stupa in the world

It was interesting to see more of Nepal on the bus ride. Whereas in the hill country the people are Buddhist and are related to Tibetan culture, in the low hills the people are Hindu and closely tied to India. Villages still had a water source in the square - most houses don't have indoor plumbing. Nepal is a very poor country.

We reached Kathmandu about 2pm. Tasi was supposed to meet me but I didn't see any sign of him. I recognized where we were - only about six blocks from my hotel. So I threw the duffel bag over my shoulder and walked to the hotel. I was getting this sherpa thing down. Shortly after I got there Tasi appeared looking to be in a real panic. The bus had been early and he had missed me and thought I was lost. He was quite relieved to find that I had made it to the hotel on my own. It doesn't look good on your mountain guide resume if you lose clients, even in town.

Before leaving for the trek I had checked a bag at the hotel. It had extra clothes and a book that I didn't need on the trek but could use back in Kathmandu. I gave the claim check to one of the hotel staff. I thought this would be easy. He took me to a large room filled with luggage. There were over a hundred bags piled up all over the place. We spent a long time going through the piles but couldn't find my bag. No problem he said - and took me to another room filled with bags. Another long search and we still couldn't find my bag. He was puzzled but finally thought of another place to look. A third room filled with bags. Eventually we found it. It took us almost an hour. I'll bet they still have stuff from when Hillary climbed Everest buried in those storage rooms.

Monks in the Temple Square at Bouddhanath

The next day I met Tasi. He had volunteered to be my tour guide. I wanted to go see two famous temples in Kathmandu. Tasi had arranged for a taxi (he was a driver in the offseason after all). Our first stop was Bouddhanath. It is the largest stupa in Nepal and fills a square off of a main street. Around the square are many Buddhist temples as well as book shops, restaurants and souvenir stores. Bouddhanath is about 1500 years old although it is not known for certain who constructed it or when. It is one of the most sacred sites of Buddhism in the world. Tasi said that his home is only five minutes walk away and that he visits every day to pray. There was quite a variety of monks, worshipers, pilgrims and tourists all around the square. As we entered the square to walk around the stupa Tasi was careful to steer me to the left. It is important to walk around it clockwise. To go counterclockwise would be very bad karma. All around the base of stupa are prayer wheels set into the wall. They are inscribed with a poem or prayer, usually Om Mani Padme Hom and spinning the wheel is the same as saying the prayer. If you spin it clockwise. To spin it counterclockwise is the opposite of a prayer. It's like a curse that brings bad luck.


I thought Bouddhanath was impressive and very beautiful. Two weeks before on my flight to Pokhara we had flown right over it on takeoff and I had a spectacular view of it from the air. Definitely a sight worth visiting.

Next we went to Pashupatinath, the most important Hindu temple in Kathmandu. It is along the river close to the airport. Besides being a major temple for worship, it is the place where the Hindus of the city go to hold funerals and to cremate the dead. Because of that there is always a pall of smoke over the temple when you see it from a distance. When we went in there were a number of funerals going on with bodies either being burned or being prepared. There were also many Hindu holy men wearing strange clothes and makeup. They didn't want their pictures taken but they didn't take my telephoto lens into account. Although considered a very sacred site by Hindus, I wouldn't really recommend a visit. I thought having tourists all over while the funerals were going on was kind of creepy. And the cremations and worship generated a lot of debris so the river and the temple grounds seemed pretty trashy. There is a hill with a park on it above the temple that is quiet and peaceful and quite pretty. It has a nice view over the temple grounds.

Hindu holy man at Pashupatinath

After the tour we dropped Tasi off near his house and the taxi driver took me back to the hotel. I spent the afternoon doing some leisurely shopping.

My last day I decided to venture out on foot. I walked to a set of temples in Durbar Square in the Patan district of Kathmandu. They are in the far south of the city and it took me about two hours to get there. I had a map but navigation was a challenge. Very few streets in Kathmandu have names, so don't bother looking for street signs. And even with a map there are lots of small streets and alleys that don't show up. There are really no major through streets either because Kathmandu grew out of a series of smaller towns and villages that filled the Kathmandu Valley and eventually just all ran together. So there is no rhyme or reason to the road network. It's a mess. Kathmandu is not really a nice city to walk around either. The air is very dusty and filled with exhaust fumes. The city is dirty - there is a lot of trash everywhere. The walk was more of a challenge than a pleasure. It was much nicer in the mountains. Eventually I got there though.

The square and the temples were interesting. I also bought some stuff from the street vendors there. Then it was back to Thamel and my hotel.

I did find a good Italian restaurant right across the street from my hotel. I found a good pizza place too - I went to both of them twice. I ate at the Rum Doodle, the forty thousand and a half foot bar (named for a famous parody of mountaineering literature). It is an interesting place because all Everest summiters put their autographs up on the wall. You can find some famous climbers names there. I did ask them for one of their trademark footprint coasters as a souvenir.

Temples in Durbar Square in Patan

The next day it was off to the airport. Although I was there three hours early I thought it still might not be enough. I was fourth in line to check in and it took half an hour. The Singapore Air people were using laptops that were connected to phone lines to check us in. Hard to imagine that there is still an international airport that doesn't have computers. Then when I got through to the departure lounge there was only one monitor that listed all flights for the day. It wasn't working right either. The horizontal synch was out so the display was all wavy and you couldn't read it. When it got to within an hour of my time I just went through the security check and went to the gate. I was glad to finally get on board my flight. Tribhuvan is NOT my favorite airport.

That was my trip. It had been absolutely wonderful. But now I was glad to be heading home. I was anxious to write about the trip in my blog.