Katmandu is in a valley with such dirty air, that the distant Himalayan range is mostly obscured. Rising in an airplane out of the valley and above the layer of smog, the immense mountain range appears like a distant mountain wall blocking half of the horizon. The flight to Pokhara takes only around half an hour, while a bumpy bus ride takes over six hours to cover the same distance. We chose to fly.
We were met by my Nepali friend, Shashi, who lives in Pokhara. I first met Shashi twelve years ago in Columbus, Georgia, where he was working as an elder-caregiver. He took care of my father during his last months, as well as sitting with an aunt of mine before her death. So Shashi and I are bonded by that family connection.
We traveled by taxi to a hotel I had booked in advance online. On its website, the hotel advertised itself as having the best view of any hotel in Pokhara. That superior view is because the hotel is located twenty minutes outside Pokhara at the top of a mountain ridge accessible only by a muddy uneven dirt road. This relative inaccessibility would have justified staying in its isolated location. However, it was cloudy and raining when we arrived, with this inclement weather persisting until our morning of departure three days later. The rooms had no heaters, and there was no hot water. We decided to leave this hotel after one night.
Shashi was very keen to take us to a mountain village called Dsampus north of Pokhara, which would give us much better views of the mountains than in the city. The road to Dsampus was even worse than the one to our first night’s hotel. The drive was made worse by the rain and resulting mud. The big disappointment was that the mountains were totally shrouded in clouds and thus not visible at all.
Our visit to Dsampus centered on a visit with a poor Nepalese family that Shashi knew. Shashi is a committed Christian, and works mostly as a missionary while promoting better health and hygiene in isolated villages. Shashi confided that this family had been born as poor low-caste Hindus. Shashi’s message of Christianity was that everyone is equal before Jesus, such that the family should not suffer because of their low-caste Hindu roots. Islam promotes a similar message. This message of salvation and equality is very appealing to some Hindus. In fact, Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world, based on its successful proselytizing.
Shashi had bought some chicken and buffalo meat, along with a number of different vegetables to bring as a gift to the family. The mother proceeded to prepare a meal of the gift food, while we sat and watched, which took several hours. The kitchen was open on one side. Considering that the temperature was in the forties and raining, we crowded into the kitchen and attempted to keep warm. The “stove” was a hole in the floor. The fuel consisted of tree branches collected from the surrounding wooded hillsides. We made small talk with Shashi’s help translating. Our western lives are so far removed from those of this poor farming family, that I cannot imagine what they thought of Christian and me. Christian and I observed the cooking of one dish at a time, fretting about the lack of running water and potential for poor hygiene. But after about three hours, we shared the delicious food freshly prepared with no adverse after-effects.
A Better Hotel in Pokhara
After shivering through the previous night and through the day in the village of Dsampus, Christian and I decided to check into a much more expensive hotel, one with hot water, a room heater, CNN, and internet access. Shashi had hoped we would spend the night in a modest (and cold) hotel in Dsampus. Luckily we didn’t, because even the next day the rain continued, and we would not have been rewarded by the hoped-for mountain views.
On our second day, we visited the Mountain Museum, which had sunny photos of all the highest mountains in Nepal. It was very interesting because one exhibit compared photos of typical contemporary villagers in Nepal side by side with photos from mountain villagers in Switzerland taken over sixty years ago. The similarities were striking! There were photos of Swiss girls herding cattle, just like Nepali girls do today. Small Swiss village churches were compared with Hindu and Buddhist temples. The technologies of their farm tools and household items were very comparable. That begged the question: In sixty years, will Nepal be modernized to the level that Switzerland is today?
Shashi invited Christian and me to be guests in his home for a meal cooked by his wife. His living situation was far more modern than the villagers in Dsampus, but he lives very modestly compared with American standards. In general, traveling in Nepal constantly reminds one of the relatively lavish standards of living we enjoy in America.
Christian and I walked through the tourist-friendly commercial district of Pokhara in the evening. Christian was particularly enthused to find a ten-year-old Mynta CD for sale in a music store. Later, we found a second Mynta CD for sale in a different store. Were these bootleg copies of the original Indian pressing? Who knows? The fact is, Christian and Mynta do not receive any royalties from these CD’s which must still be on sale in music stores in India and Nepal.
Magnificent Visual Reward
Finally, on the morning that we were to fly back to Mumbai via Katmandu, we saw the mountains. Words are inadequate to describe the incredible feeling one gets looking at the largest mountains in the world. I’ll let the photos tell the story. The recent rain storms had left a layer of fresh snow on the mountain peaks, making them especially beautiful.
While the Pokhara airport was closed for several hours in the morning due to lingering fog, we managed to depart almost on time, with time to spare to make our flight connection from Katmandu to Mumbai. We checked back into our usual hotel in Mumbai, and then we had to get up early the next morning to fly to Calcutta (Kolkata) for Mynta’s final concert of the tour. I expect to write one more blog about this concert and my last few days in Mumbai when I return to Reno tomorrow.