My last few days in Nepal are spent relaxing at the Pokhara Palace Hotel. By now they’re like family, Raju and Sushmita with their children Riya and Ridesh, with Manju helping out.
The loveable Mr Raju Nepali
If you’re going to be in Pokhara, email Mr Nama Raju Nepali and tell him you’re coming! nraj_pkrpalace2001 at yahoo.com or phone +977 61 541485 or 9856024096.
Riya is waiting for your call. “Hello” she yells at the phone *before* picking it up
Sun setting from Raju’s Hotel:
Macchapulchhare or Fish Tail
Of course the best place in Pokhara to be is on Lake Phewa, so lakeside was always a favourite spot for me.
Old boats lie unused
Very gentle sailing in the light breeze
Unfortunately the day Suresh and I decide to go out on a boat, the greedy b****rds next to Mike’s Restaurant would not give us the boat for less than 700, despite it being quiet. Clearly raking in too much money. I’ve never paid more than 600 for two hours previously. Instead we sat outside at Mike’s Restaurant and enjoyed the view.
Suresh at Mike’s
There seems to be plenty of UN activity too. Perhaps this is due to the upcoming elections. Either way, all the international aid agencies in Nepal have brand-new expensive big 4x4 jeeps, in fact the only people who don’t make do with battered old imported vehicles.
So much for a subtle picture, damn flash went off!
They’ve all been upgraded since last time I was here a year ago. This is where all that aid money goes to. When waiting for my flight to Kathmandu, a large (bigger than all the domestic aircraft) flight arrived, half a dozen people got off and drove away in the UN jeeps. Nice life.
Working for the UN here, like everywhere presumably, is regarded as a super-cushy job. They pay well-above market rates, and I guess job security is good. But you need someone on the inside to get the job in the first place, this is not easy. I suppose exactly the same points apply to the Director-General position. Suresh says he doesn’t like the UN about, as it seems to imply that there will be trouble. As he says, very rarely does international intervention seem to achieve much, vide Rwanda, Afghanistan, Sudan, Yugoslavia, Iraq etc.
It’s quite warm and humid for the last few days, the monsoon seems to have retreated.
Garam’s fan gets a work-out
Effff aaaayyy nnnn Faaaaaan spells clever Riya!
Studying hard, and writing a letter to Leia and Louis!
The Best Dal Bhat in Pokhara
One evening we go for what Suresh suggests is the best Dal Bhat in Pokhara, with my brothers Raju, Ram and Suresh.
Ram, me, Suresh and Raju
What we’re here for
The company and food is excellent, though I can’t say for certain that it’s the best, it is positively tasty.
Down to business
My last evening, Suresh’s family cook for me. It’s always interesting to visit Suresh’ lovely family, as his mother and sister are great cooks, and his father has over twenty year’s experience as a guide, so has plenty of stories. Later Ram joins us back at the Pokhara Palace and we go out.
Raju with Riya
The Old Blues Bar, a well-established, err, reggae bar.
Back home in the dark
Riya in particular is a delight on anyone’s stay at the Pokhara Palace. She’s only 4 or 5, but is very excited about going to school, observes everything that goes on, and even follows our mountain trips. Frequently she’ll find me (even when I’m hiding), will say firmly COME HERE and beckon her hand. I’m then lead up to the top of the hotel, where she’s noticed there’s a good view of the mountains. Or perhaps she wants to demonstrate her swing to me (again!).
The final morning Raju makes my favourite tuna momos with a chilli sauce that leaves me feeling hot and very garlicky for the rest of the day!
Sushmita carries Ridesh, who is rapidly becoming a bit of a pickle!
Goodbye to the mini-monk!
What a wonderful time I’ve had. It seems a shame to leave to Kathmandu. After saying goodbyes, Raju takes me to the airport on the back of his bike. I’m slightly concerned that my ticket is for a later flight, and Raju amended it by hand when I asked to go earlier. Check in works anyway, and I go through to the gate. We wait and wait. There’s a sense of urgengy about my trip to Kathmandu – I want to go to Tibet, and from what I understand the permits are only issued Monday Wednesday and Friday mornings. It’s Friday. If I miss this window, then I’ll have to wait for Monday, and fly Tuesday *assuming there’s availability on the flights*! I tried to check online, but Air China don’t seem to report seat availability through expertflyer.com.
This is all a rush because of the end of year cut off for my RTW ticket. I am flying Hong Kong to Jo’berg and on to Cape Town on the 19th October. That gives me two weeks to go to Tibet and China! Tall order, methinks. Waiting, waiting for the Yeti Air flight, and eventually it arrives, and we go to board, only to be told this is the earlier flight! Groan!! I start to give up hope. We eventually fly, and in Kathmandu I cab into Thamel for 200r.
Thamel is the touristy centre of town, and it’s impressive for a traveller who has been to remoter parts. There are hundreds of bars, restaurants, and now I’ve been here a few times it’s all quite familiar. I’m staying in Holy Lodge, a budget place conveniently located. My room is a big one at the top with en-suite for 10US$ per night. I look for a travel agent first through. Green Hill tell me that it will cost over 700US$, and the next availability will be mid next week. Too late, and too expensive. I know that the flight alone is only 320US$, so what’s the rest of the cost? He doesn’t know, but makes a load of stuff up, saying the airport transfer cost at Lhasa Airport is 150US$ alone. Not true.
So I end up at Wayfarers, a ticketing agency, looking for a b plan. This comes in the form of a flight to Chengdu. He reckons it’s booked up till Wednesday, again a problem, but a phone call to the airline reveals that they have one business class ticket for tomorrow on an extra Air China charter flight, and it’s not much more expensive – 420US$ against 340 for economy. I take it. That done, I find an internet café and email my friend Zac, who is in Chengdu now, to tell him of my imminent arrival! I’m a bit disappointed that I’m not going to Tibet, but it may still be possible from China, though time is against me.
Next I go to the Pilgrim’s Book Store. This is a wonderful place, well stocked, with a café at the back where you can read books. I’ve come here on a mission though, to see if they have anything by H W Tillman, arguably the greatest explorer of his time, and easily the best travel account writer I’ve ever come across. Last time I was here I bought a collection of 8 of his adventures which sadly I didn’t finish before leaving the UK. This time I find a set of 7 climbing accounts, one of which, the Ascent of Nanda Devi, was apparently the source story which Bowman parodied in Rum Doodle! Hurrah! It also includes the Everest 1938 account, which is slightly annoying as I bought this as a separate book in Pokhara. Could have given it to Suresh.
One of the advantages of buying these books here is that you can get officially out-of-print books, especially anything related to mountaineering, which would be nigh on impossible to get home. Anyway, I recommend if you need a gift for someone, perhaps yourself, buy The Ascent of Rum Doodle by WE Bowman and anything written by HW Tillman. You will not be disappointed!
To the Holy Lodge, and I go through finishing the trek blog. It takes ages of course. My plan for the evening is to go to Fire and Ice, the same as the restaurant I loved so much in Calcutta. I walk down, hobbling a bit as the blister under my foot has started bleeding slightly. It’s in a really awkward spot, right between my toes. Anyway, getting there, it doesn’t look like they have wifi and it’s absolutely heaving, so I walk back up Thamel to New Orleans, a restaurant which we tried last time, seemed good, and they advertise free wifi.
In New Orleans I get a table, and fire up my laptop. Almost immediately the waiter makes me angry, as I keep asking him for the wifi password, he says just a moment, then walks off and serves someone else. I’m just standing up to go ask someone else when he asks me if it’s working. Of course it’s not, and you know fully well why, I need the damn password. He gives it to me, and I start on the epic task of uploading a few hundred pictures. It’s slow work.
For food I have the Channerman’s old special – a Jambalaya, a Caribbean rice mix. Not bad, but could be more spicy. When my battery runs low on my laptop, I ask to plug in. There’s a plug across the aisle from my table, but it would be pretty silly to have the power cable running across it in this busy restaurant. No problem, says the waiter, and plugs it in for me. I order more beer and carry on with the chore. I hope you appreciate the time I spend providing all of this to you, dear readers.
At the end of the evening, a nice sting. On my bill, there’s a charge of 50r for “laptop power”. I query it, and he brings over a little laminated card saying there is a charge, and they will not enter into debates about it. Cheeky sods! I’m not so annoyed about the amount, but the principle. He said nothing to me about the charge. I consider disputing it, but I’m tired and have had a few beers so I let it go, instead resolving to “correct” the sign outside of the restaurant saying free wifi. Sadly they’ve taken it down for the night.
It’s still a bit early to retire, so I pop into Tom and Jerry’s pub on the way home and have another beer. I bump into a Swedish guy who was also staying at Pokhara Palace Hotel, and join his small group. When they head off to smoke I finish my beer alone, then walk back to Holy Lodge, where lo and behold I find they all sitting right outside my bedroom on the roof terrace of the lodge!
In the morning I head out for some breakfast at the Bretzel Bakery. You take your pastries downstairs in the bakery, pay for them, then carry them up to the terrace. I feel greedy so go for a chocolate croissant and a piece of apple strudel. The chocolate is a disaster, it goes everywhere, and I have to bat very persistent flies off as I eat it, and write one last postcard. Taxi to the airport, with haggling like this: Airport please. 300r Sir. Nope, 200. 250? Nope, 200. Okay. He gets 220r in the end, you have to tip if they give you no trouble.
I know the drill at the airport too, having spent hours there last time when our flight back to the UK was cancelled (my boss Andre didn’t believe my text message: “Flight cancelled out of Kathmandu, am stuck in Abu Dhabi. Will be late!”). You go in, they wrap that annoying plastic band around your bag, then you go pay your Passenger Service Charge, 1695r (why not a round number guys, really?), then queue up. I look at the board trying to work out where to queue. There’s a flight at the same time as me, but it’s to Lhasa.
Then I twig… my flight is going to Lhasa and on to Chengdu. I’m going to Tibet!!!