Thursday, December 4, 2014

Day 11 Exploring the Pokhara Hills...

Pokhara Rest & Plan Day

I woke up around 7 am.  Pokhara was enshrouded in mist.  I thought that maybe the weather was still going to be rainy.  I pulled the covers over my head and rolled over to try to sleep some more.  No luck.

Got up and spent a few hours writing about the ride back to Pokhara from Tatopani.  I decided that I wasn’t ready to move on, so I told Divya I’d be spending another night.  I’m telling you this girl has a smile that could end wars, or start one.  Simply incredible.

I packed up my computer and remaining cameras and headed out to the breakfast place I’d hit a few days earlier with the real coffee.  Sitting on the iron deck looking over the lake was a nice place to do some work.  This time of year inventory acquisition is a daily process.  Making sure we can get the right amount of bikes for the season with constantly changing allocations and BMW’s secret production schedules can be quite the challenge for a small seasonal dealership like Trail’s End.

Fried eggs and fried potatoes with fresh roasted tomatoes and onions hit the spot.  I worked on yet another blog post, another daily routine, until the wifi quit working.

I decided that it would be a waste to let the mighty goat sit around idle.  Since the interwebs were being stubborn, I figured I’d head into the Pokhara backcountry to find out what lies beyond the overwhelming tourism of Lakeside.

I grabbed my backpack and camera gear, now a bit lighter without my trusty G15.  I was going to have to make do with the low res Canon 300HS and my iPhone.  I mounted a GoPro on the handlebars and set out of the guesthouse and turned up valley when I hit the road from the alleyway.

The road wound along Fewa Lake past some restaurants and quickly turned the corner into agricultural land.  Dozens of paragliders soared around Sarangkot peak making for a surreal contrast to the farmers separating chaff from grain, plowing fields and planting crops.  Just a short distance further I came to a little tourist offshoot, where paragliders were landing and cyclists were lunching.

I kept pushing along up the valley thinking that maybe I could make a loop around the lake.  I stopped for some photo ops and a young girl walking down the road looked at me quizzically.  She seemed very interested in me but hesitant to say anything.  Finally her curiosity outweighed her timidity.  “Where from?” she asked.

“Alaska.” I said, and added, “America,” when she didn’t recognize the place.
“America,” she repeated. “California?” 
“No California, Alaska.”
“Oh. Whas your name?” she asked, excited to practice speaking English it seemed.
“Justin.”  She repeated it struggling…  “Jus-tin,” I said slower this time.
“Justin Bieber?” she said smiling big.
“No, Justin Timberlake.” I answered back.  She giggled and climbed up on the rock seating area with a spindly tree growing out of it.  These rock resting places seem to be everywhere, some newer and some seemingly ancient.  They seem to be as much a part of the landscape as the terraces, stepped walkways and now, the road itself.  I’ve gathered that they are simply resting places, places to wait for passing busses, etc.  I’m not sure if they have a greater purpose; places of worship, meeting, etc. but they are everywhere, usually under the shade of a big tree.  This one seemed more recently built and its tree yet to grow into a bearer of shade and protection.

I made some photos of the area terraces, paddies and lagoons.  I watched fisherman in wooden boats casting nets into the water.  And old ladies with cane poles waiting for the wayward fish to grab hold of their line.

The young girl was sitting there watching me as if I was the most interesting thing to happen in her day.  I felt compelled to continue our conversation that had only fallen idle a mere moments.  “What is your name?” I asked her, speaking slowly and annunciating clearly.

“Rosie.”  I repeated it back to her surprised, since it didn’t seem very Nepali.  She nodded, smiling.  I stepped a few feet over to the rock platform and extended my hand.  She reached out, shaking it gently. “Nice to meet you Rosie.”

“Nice to meet you to,” she replied back.

“How old are you Rosie?” I asked, making small talk, figuring this would be in her capacity.

“Fifty,” she said.  I laughed a little.
“Fifteen,” I corrected gently.  She giggled.
“Yes, fifteen,” nodding still smiling, “How old you?”
“Forty,” I responded.  She laughed and said, “Fourteen?” giggling smartly.  I repeated, “No Forty.  I’m old.”

“Yes,” she said nodding.  So much for any comforting on her part.
“Rosie can I take your picture?” I asked.
“Yes.”  She tilted her head slightly and smiled big.  I pointed the iPhone in her direction wondering if it had the ability to catch the soft light on her face.  I pushed the button hoping for a stunning shot on the first try.  I looked at the screen as the app “processed” the image.
“I look photo,” she asked.  It had just popped up on the screen.  I double clicked the image making it larger, and showed it to her.  She smiled, pleased with the image.  So comforting.  Any westerner would have found some fault to dislike their recorded visage.
“Very pretty.” I said looking at the picture with her.  She beamed. “Where does this road go Rosie?” I asked pointing up the valley.  Quite aware that wherever she told me would be foreign to me and wouldn’t really tell me what I’d like to know, which was whether I could circumnavigate Fewa Lake and end up back in Pokhara.
“Up.” She answered.  Well now… there’s an answer I can understand.
“Ok Rosie, I’m going up then.”  I smiled and turned for the mighty goat.  I waved back to her as I rode along up the road.

I bumped along further and further in first and second gear and quickly the road started switchbacking steadily.  Rosie was right, it went up… and up and up.  Soon I was a thousand meters above the valley floor, it seemed, and I was looking out over hundreds of terraces spread out wrapping the contours of the valley below me.  I passed small sign sticking out of the vegetation that was written in Nepali and in English that read simply, “Broom Grass Plantation.”  As I came around the corner there was a train of haystacks moving steadily toward me on a winding footpath and under each haystack was a Nepali with the customary cloth and rope forehead sling bearing these massive loads of hay, or I guess, broom grass.  And it wasn’t just men either… women and men were moving these loads up the terraces in a steady unslowing pace, accompanied by a few dogs trotting alongside.  I stopped, making a few short videos.  The hay train came up stone stairs only a few paces ahead of me and continued on up a steep stone staircase to some brick buildings perched above the road.

An elderly man with a sickle tucked in his cloth belt, that I’d passed on the road a few minutes before, stopped and looked me up and down with his beady golden eyes glowing from his deeply wrinkled face.  There was a smile there in those wrinkles that got brighter when I said, “Namaskar” from inside my helmet.  I was there, camera in hand and frozen, unable to point it at him.  I struggle with these moments.  This is the quintessential photo that tells the story beyond so many words, but I was paralyzed in the moment.  I didn’t want to shatter our brief time of connection by jamming a camera lens in his face.  But as I thought about it… he couldn’t even see my eyes.  Here I was literally an alien in his world…  I may as well have been in an astronaut’s suit, hidden away in my Arai helmet with a neckerchief up over my nose, covering my face and mirrored sunglasses covering the rest of any insight into my soul.  He nodded, mumbling “namaste” and continued on, leaning on his walking stick with every other step, and followed the hay train to the unseen hay station above.

I closed my eyes, wishing I’d just asked in charades if I could photograph him.  But since I hadn’t, I kept my eyes closed a few seconds longer hoping to burn this beautiful wise image into my mind.

I fired up the Enfield and continued to motor further up into the hills.  The temperature dropped a few degrees with every switchback and soon I summited a ridge and the road dumped off down into the the next bowl in the valley.  Sun rays sublimely cut through the clouds sticking to the high ridge top and shone down upon the terraced valley below like an incredible godly painting of a time standing still unchanged for hundreds of years.  

I could see the road winding around the next valley and climbing for the ridge way off in the distance.  I realized that I could ride and ride and ride and likely never end up anywhere but beyond.  I stayed here on the ridge for awhile soaking in the sun rays until the clouds closed back up hiding the godly light for another time.

I turned the mighty dirty goat around and headed back down into the valley retracing my route, occasionally standing on the foot pegs to absorb the bouncing and bumping.  Unfortunately for my back, the setup of the Enfield doesn’t take well to stand up riding and I could only manage this for short periods of time.

The view heading down was big and expansive, very different than my ride up.  About an hour later passing through a little village, Rosie was standing on the side of the road with her mother.  She waved shyly.  I waved back.

Shortly after, I was flagged down by a Nepali man standing on the side of the road waiting for a bus or communal taxi.  I stopped, knowing exactly what he was after.  I obliged.  I put my backpack on and flipped down the passenger pegs.

Himlal was his name and he chatted to the back of my helmet the whole way into Pokhara.  I nodded occasionally, and answered his questions.  When I told him I really liked Nepal, he said, “I can find you a Nepali wife…” and continued, “a nice young one.”  I pondered that... wondering if she would come with some terraces and a shack as well.  Maybe a couple goats.  Probably could come up with some dogs on my own.  And I’d need a water buffalo, or two, to plow my terraces...

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