I arrived in the beautiful lakeside town of Pokhara 3 days ago, on Sunday afternoon. This was after a somewhat long and uncomfortable bus from Kathmanu. My hosts helped me find my way onto a minibus (which is basically just a big van) and I had to wait until the bus was full until we could leave…and that took about 2.5 hours, which was annoying. Anyway,after arriving at the bus park at 7:30 AM, I finally arrived in Pokhara around 3 PM. I spent the first night finding a room, buying some basic supplies, checking the internet, and just getting a vibe for the place.
On Sunday morning I got to explore the whole town by foot as I ventured to the Nepal Tourist Center to pick up my trekking permits. You quickly realize how isolated the tourist area of Pokhara is. Once you walk about 10 minutes, the town is completely different. At Lakeside, where I was staying, everything is super clean and everything is in English.
After my first afternoon paragliding flight was cancelled due to whether, I ended up renting a mountain bike and heading to the Bat Cave. The Bat Cave was great, but I probably enjoyed the bike ride even more. I was such a great experience riding through the streets on my own, encountering yaks, almost getting run over by buses, and seeing the outskirts of Pokhara where there are basically no tourists. I also enjoyed the few hours of strenuous physical activity, as I haven’t really worked out since getting here. At the cave itself, I payed th 15 rupee entrance fee and got a guide to show me around. There really were a bunch of bats! The cave was pretty small, and after crawling my way through the small exit passage, I finished the 20-minute tour.
Afterwards, as I was leaving my guide tells me, in a hushed voice, that I needed to pay my 500 rupee (about $7) guide fee, a fee which my Rough Guide to Nepal didn’t mention. I was suspicious, so I went to the check-in counter, and asked what this fee was about. There they seemed suspiscious too, generally agreeing that there was this fee, but unable to tell me how much it was supposed to be. Eventually they said it was ‘maybe around 500 rupees’. At that point I just wanted to hand over the money and go one my way, which I did.
I mention this story because scenes like this are becoming a trend on my trip. Frankly, I don’t mind giving a little extra money to these people who clearly need it, but the problem is that I keep giving a few extra dollars here and there everywhere I go – and I’m starting to notice the difference in my pocket book. In hindsight, I realized that I overpaid for my hotel as well as my paragliding trip. I am TERRIBLE at bargaining and I have a hard time saying no.
That evening I had dinner at the Punjabi Indian restaurant for a second night after having gotten to know one of the servers, Dev, the night before. We again were able to chat throughout my meal and this time he invited me to have breakfast with him the next day. I really happy to have made a new friend, especially a real local, and I jumped at the offer.
So on Monday morning I met him at a cafe, where he shared with me his life story. From what I could pick up (because I couldn’t always make out his English) His mother left him when he was young and his father was never around. So from about the age of 10 he’s had to largely take care of himself, with a little help of his older brothers. He grew up in Southern India with 4 brothers (3 older, 1 younger) and 2 sisters, and at about the age of 17, he decided to hop on a long 3 day train to Nepal. He found his way to Pokhara where he now works 13-hour shifts every day at the Punjabi restaurant for about 50 dollars per month. He tried to both work and go to school for some time, but he couldn’t maintain it. He would like to start his own business some day, but he just doesn’t have the resources for it.
While he told his story, I could tell that this was a really sincere and intelligent person. He wasn’t complaining, but he did want to tell his story. There was a look of understanding and acceptance in his eyes.
Establishing this kind of tourist-local relationship is always tricky. I wanted to communicate with him and learn from him while maintaining a peer relationship. But, as a I have a lot of resources and money behind me, it’s difficult to maintain that peer relationship. Eventually he talked about wanting to take me around the lake and up to the World Peace Pagoda the next day, and then he even mentioned how he wanted me to come back soon and take him to India with me. These were all nice gestures and offered in the kindest way, but I could feel how I was becoming less of a friend and more of a resource. I really didn’t know what to do. I thought that travelling the lake with him would be nice, but once he started talking about all the other things, about how I might help him in going back to India and all this other stuff, I worried that I might not feel comfortable any more.
I left breakfast with a vague promise to visit the Punjabi restaurant sometime later that night to set up our plans for the next day. I never returned. I couldn’t bring myself to further enmesh myself in a relationship that might get really difficult. That, and my day was completely consumed witha whole other set of events…
I arrived at the paragliding center at 9 AM for my flight, and I quickly started chatting with the other tourists who were going to be on the same trip. I met this really lively, funny, mildly innapropriate Italian guy, a cool and suave male accountant from Paris, and a really earnest female student from the Netherlands. We all hopped in a Jeep to head up to the mountain from which we were to jump. The normal chit chat ensued and I really enjoyed my first opportunity to get to know other travellers.
So we arrived at Sarangot, the town at the the top of a nearby mountain, waited for the right conditions, and lept off. I ended up being paired with the owner ofthe paragliding company, the man who started Sunrise Paragliding, the first Nepalese paragliding company, and the First native Nepali to learn paraglding. He was fantatstic. I had signed up to do a aerobatic trip, full of twists and turns and trick, but as there wasn’t enough wind, I had to settle for a nice relaxing overhead tour of the Pokhara valley. I got to see terrace farms from 100 ft. up, wave to kids on the grouns, and see all the amazing scenery of the Pokhara valley from hundreds of feet in the air.
I was interested to see how I would like the trip. Something that I think about and worry about way too much is my generally flat emotional affect. In general, I just don’t get upset about things that most people get upset about, but I also don’t get excited by the things other people feel exhilarated by. On our jeep ride up the mountain, everyone was talking about how scared/excited they were. I felt completely calm. At take off, I just did as I was told and thought nothing much of it. In the air, I thought, ‘Oh, that looks pretty cool,’ but I can’t say I really ever felt ‘special,’, or entered another kind of excited state. So, all in all, I’m glad I did it, if just for the views. But I was reminded by how easily I shrug off things. I don’t know if that’s good or bad.
Afterwards, the other three travellers and I exchanged thoughts about the flight and then decided to go get lunch together. We ended up meeting another person on the street, a girl from Israel who was friend with the Dutch girl, and we all headed to lunch at this really interesting lounge called Sweet Dreams. There, we had great conversation, learning all about each other, exchanging travelling tips, playing some guitar together, and just hanging out. It was the quintessential backpacker moment. Afterwards, the Italian guy and the French guy had to leave, but the Dutch girl, Liz, and the Israeli, Mika, headed to a nearby cafe. There, we ended up discussing all sorts of things that were, if I may say so, more meaningful than the normal surface level conversations. By now it was about 4 PM, so I went back to my lodge, but we had all agreed to meet up again later that night. That night, everyone brought friends and new people they met and by the end of the night, we were a group of 10 – 2 American, 2 French, 2 Dutch, 1 British, 1 Australian, 1 German, 1 Israeli – a bona fide international diplomatic envoy. I particularly enjoyed talking to the other American and the German, both men in their late twenties who had just returned from the Annapurna Circuit. They told some amazing stories and gave me fantastic advice.
I relished this opportunity hear from so many people from a diverse array of countries. But I started to wonder about how diverse this group actually was. We all came from upper middle class backgrounds in Western nations and, because we all decided to do this kind of travel, most of us were of the liberal-hippy variety, or at least had sympathies with that world view. I can’t say I felt perfectly at home. I might have to write a dedicated post about this, but I’ll leave it at that for now.
One related issue that was talked about were the kinds of relationships you make while travelling. You meet incredible people and just getting to know their stories is amazing. However, the kinds of relationships you develop are limited in important ways. These people are single-serving friends with an expiration date. Some people after travelling for a year or more come back home and are foreigners in their own country. They’ve traded long term relationships at home for a string of temporary relationships abroad. A few months away doesn’t make a huge difference, but one guy I met has been travelling for two years. The friends he had back home will have changed so much and developed other relationships, that they might not really be the same friends any more.
Anyway, enough editorializing for now. After ending the evening with the always-fun political and religious discussions, I headed back home after a long evening.
This morning, I was supposed to go hiking up to the world peace pagoda with Mika, but I ended up waking up too late and instead had to spend the morning packing, making travel arrangements, checking out, writing this blog, etc. We did, however, meet up for breakfast together and we met this British man with huge beard and turban that had been ‘travelling’ for many years. He had to be about sixty and he said that he had been travelling over half his life. He told some great stories and it was certainly enlightening to hear about his perspective on travelling and on life. But he was the absolute perfect example of someone who had never established any permanent relationships with people.
…Okay…I really need to stop writing and catch a cab to Begnas Lake. I think that covers everything I wanted to talk about. I’ll report back again on July 12.