Encountering “The Lake”…

25 Jun

I thought I might start with a few interesting facts about Nepal. For instance, it has the only national flag that is not rectangular in shape. I love it!

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It’s a democracy but with a communist majority government, so who knows where that will take them.

And of course it still supplies the British Army with the gorkha soldiers (you can tell a gorkha – he’s got a really neat haircut and looks like he could disembowel you by looking at you)

And I’m starting to lose touch with my own language – having been surrounded by dodgy spelling for so long, I am not entirely sure how to spell words like ‘accommodation’ or ‘restaurant’.

So, since I am staying at Lakeside, and since Pokhara is built entirely on Lake Fewa (Phewa Tal), I thought I should probably take a walk round it.

Only one problem. I didn’t entirely think it through.

OK, perhaps some facts would be a good thing here

a) Phewa Tal is currently 4.43 square km. Which is pretty big.

b) But it used to be twice that size (which is even bigger) – and that half is still tricky to cross marshland and paddy fields.

c) Lakes (with the exception of places like the Dead Sea) are supplied by rivers at both ends. This means that if you intend to circumnavigate the lake… you are going to have to cross both rivers.

d) Lakes are flat. This means that perspective is a problem, and distances may be greater than you expect.

e) If you look closely, Phewa Tal’s west side has no road. Or path. Just paddy fields. And hills.

f) Just because Lonely Planet says you can walk round the lake doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. Or that it is easy.

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Anyway, hiking boots on, with sturdy socks in case of another leech attack, and I set off up the north side of the hotel. The locals are out in force building some sort of harbour or protection for the lake side – everyone is involved – men, women and children. It all seems a bit hit and miss, but they have succeeded in building a dam wall, draining the water out and then building behind it.

The trail takes me across paddy fields (a bit of a short cut) and up dirt tracks. Buses and motorcycles honk their way around these trails.. the bikes here are often larger than in the cities (I do spot a newspaper feature on the latest 125cc variant – we would never see that kind of full page feature in a broadsheet in the UK). I scramble up a hill to see if the view improves – but I get a view of another hill, rather than the Annapurna massif that I had been hoping for.

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It’s all tiny little villages, with mostly local restaurants and occasional hotels. Hills rise around me and the lake remains a jewel alongside, tempting me with cooling waters.

In the distance paragliders loop lazily around the summits – some of them are parahawking – flying with the aid of birds of prey to find the thermals.

So, I reach the end of the lake, which seems to have taken a longer time than I thought (see (d) above). But of course, I need to continue, because of (b) and (c). Eventually, I strike up conversation with a couple of local students waiting for their exam results. They’re going swimming in the river. And, yes, they would love to help me across the river. So, surrounded by kids leaping off the boat and swimming alongside it, I get towed across the river on a ramshackle ferry.

I wander across the paddy fields built where the lake has silted up, greeting the locals with ‘Namaste’ – they seem surprised to see me, but carry on yelling at their water buffalo.

On the other side of the lake, I find myself wandering through little hamlets – with even more people surprised to see me. I follow the path round the shoreline, in the steps of a buffalo herder and his charges, as far as I can until I am faced with hills and trails (see (e) above). The locals have sculpted the hill into a series of paddy fields in terraces, fed by the waterfalls from above. It looks picture postcard perfect, and leaping from terrace to terrace is exhilarating. Little trails can be found if you know where to look – although it becomes clear that trails that look easy to follow from a distance can be hard to find and even harder to follow when you are close to them.

It’s hard work, coming on the back of four hours of walking that I have already done in the heat of the day, but I resist the offer of a couple of kids who will row me to Lakeside for 1500 rupees (over $20). They tell me that the stupa (and an official ride home) is over two hours of hard walking away.

I continue to bounce from terrace to terrace, greeting rice farmers as I go. The cries of ‘Namaste’ are increasingly followed by ‘where you go….’?’ as I press on. Eventually, one kid comes up with a killer proposition. First, he tells me that the stupa is more like four hours away. Then he offers to take me to Lakeside for 500 rupees. That’s a deal I can live with – huge amount of pain avoidance for a discount price – so we bound down the hill together, leaping from rock to rock, terrace to terrace. I’ve climbed quite a way!

And so onto a boat, a chance to rest my weary legs and get some good photos of the sun hidden behind the rainclouds (rain which doesn’t materialise, by the way).

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After about 45 minutes, we each the other side. Still a mile or so to go – but far easier than 4 hours of clambering through the undergrowth. And back, happy, and definitely ready for pizza…

But I manage the closest sunset picture that I am likely to get here – in the mountains, when the sun sets, all the rosy glows and orange tints get hidden behind the mountain ranges. Sorry, Gill. But if my legs recover, I might take a walk up for some stunning views tomorrow.

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