Four Days in Pokhara
By Jewel Zhu
To get to Pokhara, there are several options—take a tourist bus, drive, take a flight, raft down a river or ride a motorbike. Among them, I rode pillion on a motorbike to get there. I have to credit Dhiren, my dear friend for this perfect journey. 215km from Kathmandu, it took us almost 6 hours to get to Pokhara at the average speed of 60 kph. But those six hour of traveling were more than just sitting on the motorbike; the journey full of surprises had begun.
Starting at 6am, I was just half-awake, struggling in the very first hour of my waking-up process. In and out of consciousness, I heard Dhiren say, “Say goodbye to Kathmandu.” Half-dreaming, I squinted into the blowing wind, the boundless mountains, the fog, the dust flying on the roadway and the bustling traffic. As the sound of sirens getting clearer and louder in our ears, I was back to reality little by little.
Gradually, the sky lit up. People started to show up on the road, students in uniform were rubbing their eyes fogged by sleep; a woman in plain clothes was carrying a heavy basket supported by her forehead; people of different ages were singing and playing music in a small parade. All forms of human life were on display, showcased in the open-air, like a movie.
With nature playing a key role, the colorful trucks with graffiti were playing an indispensable part as well. Different from the ones we see in China, the trucks in Nepal is are more like art work, showing the driver’s values and thoughts; he finds a voice. Some of the trucks have deities painted that the owners worship while some stand out with different shapes drawn in an impressive combination of colors in harmony. Not to mention the simple but powerful slogans in black, “I love my life.”
Bathing in the strong sunlight, we were finally in Pokhara. I got up, stretched and rubbed my numbed butt. Cracking my neck, I thought, “Hi Pokhara, massage business will definitely work here.” I could barelyI pull my socks up after a long sleep, but listless again as soon as I heard the rain. It was so heavy that we couldn’t get a chance to walk on the streets along the lakeside. Sit down in a random restaurant. Let the local order.
“Try this one,” Dhiren looked at me with expectant eyes. Nothing came in mind even after I tried two cubes of the meat, but a blurry familiar feeling.“It’s pork,” out came the ans wer as well as the spark in my eyes. It had been over a month since I ate pork in China, which is such a long time I’d even lost the taste. I then took one more cube and savored it, trying to remember the taste of it and the very first night in Pokhara. The night fell. Lights off. Happy Birthday to me! All the best in life, well at least in Pokhara!
At the break of dawn, buckets of rain was still dropping from the sky, hitting everything with no mercy, and dampening my enthusiasm for paragliding scheduled that day. It was on and off the whole morning, the appointment had to be canceled. As the saying goes, “Good things never come easy.” I had faith that the next day would be perfect for adventure. And it surprisingly was—well this story is coming later, now let’s go back. My second day was not completely ruined by the rain as it stopped cleverly before I lost my temper. “Let’s go boating on Phewa Lake,” Dhiren suggested.
Moist and fresh air was hugging me, soothing me like a hot bath after a long day at work. Water in the river was flowing in quietly just like Regina and I were laughing out loud because of hilarious jokes. Sitting on the bow, Dhiren was trying to capture us on camera. There was one second that I forgot I was in a foreign country, for everything seemed quite the same as it had been—talking with a friend in our own language and laughing non-stop.
“Hey, enjoy the view,” Dhiren reminded. Well, we were indeed in Nepal. Phewa lake was like the priceless gem, surrounded by a myriad of mountains, ornamented with colorful boats. Each boat has its own story.
A warming scene of a mother and her child—a pure smile was on the child’s face which added color to the scene in the mother’s eyes. Laughing burst out among three men more or less of the same age. Guess joy is infective, and I couldn’t help smiling even though what they said made no sense to me.
The experience had already begun when I sat in the paragliding company’s office, waiting for the pilot to pick me up. Time passed at a snail’s pace while my heartbeat was racing with the second hand of the clock. I was getting nervous. After a while, a lady came in and sat down beside me, whispering. Within one second her voice pulled my mind back from wondering—she was speaking my mother language, Cantonese! Here was a complete stranger asking me, “Are you also a Cantonese?”
“Yes. I am from Guangzhou,” she was too surprised to close her mouth. “Me too!” Then our conversation went on and on. Noticing the nervousness through my face and my crossing hands, she tried to comfort me by sharing her experience, “Don’t worry, it will be great fun.”—it would have worked if there there was no “but” after that—“But I threw up after I landed…because of the Coke and air in my stomach.” I couldn’t help worrying about the Momo I just ate until the lady showed me the photos and videos of her in the air. She was there, above the city, the lake, the mountain, everything but the sun. I was stunned. But it turned out that the adventure was way more wonderful than I could had imagined.
Up in the middle of Sarangkot hill, my pilot Prem was preparing for takeoff, checking his parachute, suspension system, and his passenger, me. “Don’t worry, you don’t need to do anything except for helping me to start off.” “Now stand still.”Prem was adjusting the parachute, opened by the wind. “Now just walk.” I was getting nervous since I had to confront the opposite force from the parachute, caused by the wind and I couldn’t help stumbling. “Now run.” That was not running, but just walking faster, due to the force pulling us back. When I was about to accelerate, my feet left the ground. No sense of weightlessness, no tension, and no thought at all… I was walking in the air!
We are not the only ones there. Colorful parachutes seemed to scatter at random locations until I got closer and noticed that they were moving in spiral orbits. They were drawing the power of the thermals to fly higher, as Prem explained. The spiral queue depicted a rhythmic staircase that ascends to freedom. Only with spinning, and flexible turning can one rise to the ideal. Before long I noticed, nobody else was higher than us. Holding a GoPro in his hand, Prem shouted, “Say hi (to the camera)!”
“Hi!! We are now the highest one up in the air.” “Whoa!” GoPro circled around us, putting everything in the frame, the rolling mountains, broad Phewa river, vivid Pokhara city and the sky that is too far to reach though we were already 2000 meters above sea level.
“We are high enough to do a stunt now. Are you ready?” “Yes, I am.” My voice wouldn’t stop trembling. “You can hold the belts at your sides if you want. Now go!” Prem started gliding down steep peaks before I could grab the belts. I tried so hard to suppress the tension and excitement; of course, I failed.
No one can cope easily when facing huge drops and stomach-wrenching curves that stopped my breath and my heart. I never knew what to expect. The very next second after we rotated, we were crushing gravity, diving and pulling off the air. I couldn’t help screaming, out of fear and exhilaration. Those few minutes are like forever.
Finally, I came got back my breath, “Oh my goodness. That’s… more than fun!!” We both burst into laughter. It became so quiet again that I could hear my blood slowing down as the sound of wind faded and I was calming down. My mind started to wander with the clouds, and my soul floating with the wind. We were lingering without direction, talking in a desultory way.
Prem has been a paragliding pilot for eight years. He likes flying. He is flying almost every day, taking off and landing, “but it is always different every time.” The wind changes, so he has to estimate all the time; passenger changes, he connects a different soul every time. Also, the destination depends on his mood—he has been to the top of Mardi Himal by flying, which others need to spend 4-7 days trekking to get there. There is uncertainty during the journey at all times.
“Look at the building over the mountains,” Prem sounded so surprised that I can hear the spark. Then he controlled the parachute to get closer, close enough for me to recognize those two people who were taking pictures of us on a balcony, waving. We waved back and squealed in excitement. Circling above them, we greeted each other like we had been friends for a long time.
Back to our journey: we encountered another friend, a hawk. It came, and it went—sometimes I could see each of the feathers on its wings then it shrank to a point and disappeared at last. Suddenly a constant vibration brought my attention back. Dhiren was calling me, which reminded us that we had been in the air for almost 40 minutes, longer than scheduled. It was time to return from heaven.
We flew over the hill, crossed the busy city, and arrived above Phewa lake. Again, we played with gravity and the wind, looking for unbridled stimulation. Ecstasy seeped from every pore. Every time I thought we were about to touch the surface, we rose again. Closer and closer, we landed smoothly on the shore. Even after an hour, I was still smiling from ear to ear with my eyes lingering on every photo. Every detail in the brain was more precise and clearer.
All movies must come to an end. And it was always a bitter-sweet moment. For the second time, we were riding on the same roadway while it felt completely different. Fresh or clean air became a memory. I missed Pokhara already before the departure. “Make sure to get your whole body covered,” Dhiren advised in the very beginning. I should have taken that advice seriously—I didn’t realize it until the sun left a mark on the exposed skin within a few hours. The sun was burning my whole body up. Dhiren drove fast to the sound of the sirens as if we could avoid the sunshine if we were fast enough—somehow, he got himself into a race. Some of the bikes left behind speeded up and outran him.
“Oh really? You want a race?” whispered, Dhiren waited for the vehicle on the other driveway to pass and overtook the one in front of him riding nearly 80 miles per hour. Chances never slipped through his hand. He overtook smoothly again and again, till he won.
When I was waiting for the next race with interest, the bike slowed down beside a waterfall with no name. The adventure was still going on. The pool was full of people laughing and screaming lost in play—children were splashing water over each other while adults were enjoying the falling cool water on their face and head.
Climbing up over 10 meters, we reached another big pool. Wait, it was not as easy as it sounded since these were slippery and steep rocks to deal with. The waterfall was much bigger than the one below, making loud noises which sounded like an invitation for me. With every cell on my body simmering, shoes off, I got myself submerged. All cells opened up.
What a life. One more slice of cucumber to refresh, time to go back on track. “This is Seti River, a popular place to do rafting,” Dhiren introduced when we were driving along with it. Coming from the Annapoorna Range, melting of snow on the mountains contributes to it, not to mention the great amount of rain during the monsoon season. Huge rapids and surging torrents speak of its extraordinary character.
“On your left hand is the Manakamana Temple,” one of the holiest Hindu shrines in Nepal. Its name Manakamana combines two words, “mana” meaning heart and “kamana” meaning wish. It’s believed that the goddess will grant the desires and wishes of those who make the pilgrimage to worship her. Hence, hundreds of devotees visit the temple daily, despite the long queues.
With the help of Dhiren’s narration, I started to review the whole trip, from what happened on the first day, on the same roadway. At that time, we stopped at a restaurant on the side of Seti River, the same big river rushing in all its glory under the same shining sun. “Happy birthday,” the same person said to me. I knew from that time this trip was going to be very special.
Adventure awaits everywhere, but all scenes in Pokhara could be my favorite one. I love the speed, the feel of the wind hitting my face, the rush I feel in my body and the bumping heartbeat, making me feel alive. I love the peace, the touch of the wind going through my fingers gently, the smell of nature and the freedom in the open, trapped by nothing. I’ve finally run out of words.