Chilling by the Lake

In overlanding, like life, there are bad days as well as good. The day we arrived in Pokhara was definitely one of the bad ones. In the morning we'd tried to get an early start out of our parking spot at a hotel, only to find that the petrol station and road we needed to pass through to get out was totally jammed with trucks and buses as they had at last received a diesel tanker. The main ring road around Kathmandu was a total mess due to earthquake damage so we frequently questioned whether we were actually on the road or not. Another worrying thing was that every kilometre or so the police were out wearing riot gear, should we be worried? Everyone seemed to be going about their daily business but we decided not to linger. Then we got bad news about our proposed routes home (see Steve's previous posts) an email saying that due to fighting in the Shan State of Myanmar meant our route to China was looking unlikely. Another email came soon after that telling us that it would be almost impossible for Steve to get a Pakistani visa in time to go that way to China. The shipping agent in Mumbai, our backup option, kept on promising to send us the schedule but never actually did. The truck's windshield fogged up as the rain started to fall and we debated, yet again, our options. On arriving in Pokhara in the driving rain, several hours later, we took the narrow road out of town along the side of Fewa lake. We hoped to camp at the only overlanders campsite, that we know of, in the country. When we eventually found it their neighbours told us it was closed and had been sold but they said we could park there for one night. Trying to get in the gate, we scraped the side of the truck on the post. We retreated to the lay-by in front of the neighbours house to assess the damage. It was time to put the kettle on, break out the emergency chocolate and get out in the rain to seal the wound with yet more bathroom silicon.  But looking at the wider picture our silly niggles are nothing compared to others who are living with the problems that are thwarting us. The Nepalis unable to go about their normal business due to earthquake damage, fuel shortages and political uncertainty; the twenty thousand people in Northern Myanmar who have been recently displaced by regional fighting; and the Pakistanis who live life in fear because of the Taliban. It definitely puts our irritations into perspective. As often is the case, in the morning the world looked a lot brighter even if the rain was still falling. We backtracked to the outskirts of town, found the grassy parking lot of a completely empty hotel and paid to park and use their loo. The August hotel turned out to be a great spot for us, the few little local shops provided everything we needed and the parking lot was used by a bunch of friendly kids as a playground. Overhead scores of paragliders drifted down to their landing spot in front of us by the lake. In town we met Raju (our neighbour) again in a trekking agency, we hadn't realised when we had chatted to him that morning that he was a guide. He was able to sort out a porter and permits for our trek. Just the other side was a cool little cafe-bar owned by Wendy, a Canadian married to a Nepali, perfect for an afternoon coffee and relaxed night out chatting to interesting people. It was a few kilometres into town but still surrounded by rice terraces with a view of the lake. On the morning of the festival Holi, the local kids were out squirting water and throwing coloured powers. Too much fun to not join in. The girls reminded me that the coloured powers and water are to remember some of the antics the god Krishna got up to when he was a boy. They ran off in their old clothes to join the neighbourhood kids squirting water at everyone.  We could see the weather forecast for the following morning looked good, so we hiked up the steep paths for a couple of hours to the village of Sarankot. But the weather was miserable at the top. We hunkered down in the dining room of the small hotel we were staying in, warming up while the friendly owner cooked us veggies from her garden and a chicken from next door. At dawn next morning it was perfectly clear, we could still see the full moon as we hiked up in our layers to the viewpoint. We sat in awe at the first rays of the rising sun lit up the peaks in front of us. The whole Annapurna range was spread out in front of us Dhaulagiri (8167m), Annapurna II (7937m), Lamjung (6983m) and the unclimbed holy Machhapuchhare (6997m). The hike up to Sarankot whetted our appetite for getting into the mountains, we needed a few days to prepare and wait for a window of good weather at the highest altitudes. We have decided to do the Annapurna Sanctuary, a 10 day trek up to Annapurna Base Camp at an altitude of 4130m, at the moment there is quite a lot of snow up there. Back in Pokhara we picked up the last few bits of warm kit ready for the trek. I had to modify a pair of crampons, ready for the snow, for Lucy's tiny hiking boots. Both girls are very excited about the prospect of going up closer to the mountains. Hopefully with all the preparations, we will make it safely to base camp to enjoy the splendour of the mighty Himalayas.

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