Daily Archives: April 8, 2013

The Jewel of Nepal

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I looked into staying at the Banana Lodge overlooking the lake and just beyond the glitz of the main strip. However, and as expected (Lonely Planet guide recommended), it was fully booked. Closer to the road but without the view of the lake was the ‘Quiet Place’ hostel. It looked ideal for a cyclist with individual rooms opening onto a small garden area. There was an Enfield motorbike parked in the middle and belonging to an English guy. He had bought it for a song from a friend and was travelling, almost permanently, around India and Nepal.
A room at the hostel was, at just under £3 a night, an absolute bargain. The owner lived with his wife, son and daughter in three of the rooms. He also ran a shop and Enfield motorcycle rental business in the commercial centre of Lake Side.
I was quite relieved to have found somewhere to stay so quickly. The camping ‘chowk’ had a great location but was not ideal. I had the only tent there and did not feel comfortable leaving it unattended for too long in such a busy place.
The hostel was better. Slightly off the beaten track and very close to the lake, It was a lot quieter than the main Lake Side area with its busy roads, hotels, shops, bars and restaurants.
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Pokhara is Nepal’s second largest city and a major tourist destination. The idyllic location and proximity to the Annapurna mountain range make it a big magnet for trekkers and holidaymakers. Curiously it was only accessible by foot prior to the late 1960s. With good road and air links it now combines its position as a major trading centre with a playground for tourists enjoying the beautiful scenery and activity sports.
The Lake Side or tourist area is a sight to behold in itself. The shops deliver the kind of alternative ethnic hippy chic that caters for every aspiring counter culture aficionados. Whole food restaurants mingle with Ayurvedic massage centres. Hemp clothing shops rub shoulders with boutiques selling Tibetan singing bowls and prayer beads. There is jewellery galore and dozens of shops selling ethnic crafts of every kind. Something like Camden meets Glastonbury there is something for everybody. Adding in to this a surplus of trekking, sports and adventure shops; Pokhara Lake Side is highly developed to cater for tourism and leisure activities.

My fast decent into Pokhara was not without some cost. A rear brake pad had rubbed into the sidewall of the Schwalbe XR tyre. It had weakened and began to bulge with the tube pressure.
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I popped a Park Tools tyre boot inside the tyre and applied some rubber cement to the outside. I do carry a slightly used Schwalbe Supreme folding tyre. If push comes to shove I could move the front XR to the rear wheel and pop the Supreme on the front. As another option I ordered a folding XR from Kingsway cycles in Cambridge and which could be posted out to me. The repair looked okay and although still bulging looks like it will not get any worse. Time will tell.

I took the bike along a route that scouts North West around the lake. The poor surface of the road was quite punishing and tested my tyre repair. It is not easy to go all around the lake. I was keen to see the northern shore which is mostly hidden from the city. it provides interesting views across the lake and has some restaurants and peaceful retreats. There is one large modern hotel for well heeled tourists.
The lake is undoubtedly beautiful. Paragliders circle above but the lake itself has not been spoilt by water sports and has a glassy appearance. On a hill to the South is a white domed ‘Peace’ stupa. Perched high above on the Northern side is the village of Sarangkot with its panoramic view and paragliding clubs.

From the central point of Lake Side and close to where I had camped, the main road heads East uphill towards the city centre. The road climbs past ‘The Bullet Basecamp’ where I could not resist having ‘chunky vegetable broth’and chatting with a few ex. pat regulars out front. I learnt that to get around visa stay restrictions some people have several passports. A little like juggling credit cards it is possible to do the same with passports. The owner of the cafe is an Aussie biker and spent a fair amount of time creating a relaxed bikers club complete with pool table. Hanging from the ceiling inside the cafe is an old Enfield Bullet motorbike that has seen better days. Nice place, cool people.

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The road leads past several junctions before finally reaching the main crossroad and centre of the city. The Prithvi Highway (04) continues East towards Kathmandu. To the South is the airport and familiar road to Butwal.
The Northern route climbs a little through the main shopping centre and follows the Seti River towards the Annapurna range conservation area.
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The ‘old’ town lies in the North Western area. Following the Simal Chaur road North from the second junction up from the Bullet Base takes one past beautiful shrine after shrine some of which are in the centre of the road. At the same time the wooden buildings alongside are decorated with intricate carvings and fine workmanship.
Ultimately the road leads to the Bindhyabasini Temple with commanding views in every direction. Bearing back towards the river is ‘Nature Park’ with a good view of the Annapurna mountain range. Together with local meat, fruit and vegetable stalls this area represented Pokhara ‘proper’ to me and a world away from the tourist drag along the lake. Most days in Pokhara I visited a place by one small temple on Ram Krishna Tole road for food and drink. They looked after me! Also the open vegetable markets and meat stands provided supplies for my own home made curries. My water buffalo curry was tough to eat..
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