I spent 5 days after the earthquake wondering if this planned trip to Pokhara 200km west of Kathmandu would actually happen. The road condition was the main concern. I had not been able to reach my travel agent in Thamel. He, like so many others, had simply disappeared to tend to his own concerns. But when the day came, I was prepared. I showed up for the bus and it was there, ready to go. So here I am.
It was a long ride through the Seti River valley, crossing the river a number of times and winding through villages and stunning scenery. The gorges are deep, the mountains are steep, climbing 500-800-1000M or more straight up from the valley floor. The vegetation is thick and lush, the terracing climbing impossibly upward. Waterfalls appear in shallow canyons along the way. The cultivation includes corn, rice, cabbage, cauliflower, oranges, a very common vegetable that’s like a cross between a cucumber and a zucchini. There are also very poor areas, where minimal living space is on rare occasion carved out of the stone hillside. The road this day was packed with busses and trucks. And every bus looked full, some with riders on top. There were four stops along the way for rest, food, including a sumptuous buffet at The Blue Heaven Resto.
It was mid-afternoon by the time I arrived and took a taxi from the bus depot to the Lakeside area. I was immediately struck by the contrast to Kathmandu. This place is quiet, relaxed, slow paced and clean, with very light traffic. I would compare the lakeside ambience to the riverfront area of Luang Prabang, with the commercial feel of the old city of Chiang Mai. Very appealing in some ways. All the conveniences are here. In fact, right now I am sitting outside on the terrace area of a place called the Byanjan Grill with Carribean jazz in my ear. I am overlooking the lake, where kayakers paddle by, people are strolling or being shuttled to the island temple. I am sipping a cappuccino and snacking on chicken mo-mo with a kick-ass tomato chili sauce, now with a flamenco version of “Autumn Leaves” playing behind me. This is so far from Kathmandu it might as well be the Spanish Riviera.
I climbed the hill to the Peace Pagoda this morning, thinking all the way that Nepal has an equally steep climb ahead of it. The Old Story of Nepal and its governance has been pulled up by the root. I don’t know if anyone is thinking this or saying this, but there is an opportunity here for an amazing and restorative way forward to a New Story, the message of which is now being carried almost entirely by the local NGOs and civil society of Nepal led by youth groups. On the other hand, if the current government fails to deliver what is necessary, who knows what could happen here.