Pokhara. The city that Nepal tourism loves touting as the most beautiful city in the country, with its lakeside setting and snow-capped mountain backdrop. But after 4 days of hiking through the country, the full immersion experience back into tourist central was a shock to the system. And with full on haze as the flavor of the week, the number one city started losing points in the polls quickly.
The next day we spent perusing what seemed like hundreds of trekking stores, trying to decide what knock-off outdoor gear we should buy. After a couple hours we opted on a smallish backpack which we had seen offered as two different brands, and learned from the storekeep that it was actually a knock-off of a knock-off, probably made in Nepal, copied from the Vietnamese version, based on the Chinese version. Still, we were pleased with our purchase, had a few more coffees, recovered our bag from the Frenchie, and were pretty much finished with the city.
Being the tourist hub that it is, we knew that we had a chance to rent real mountain bikes to power the next leg of our journey and redeem our last, uh, abbreviated effort on the bikes. We got set up with some Scott bikes with front suspension and hydro disc brakes – they seemed legit, and a world apart from the Indian lead weights.
The second we started going uphill, the visions of heavenly ascending came crashing back down. Certainly there was some blame to place on us for underestimating the roads after hiking for several days.
But pretty quickly, both bikes started screaming like banshees, the chains wailing and bottom brackets squeaking like giant rodents trying to escape from a cage. We made it a measly 15 miles to our first stop, Begnas Lake. It was a great stopover. We ended up staying two nights because of the homegrown coffee, the homegrown organic vegetable dishes, and the homegrown honey (from the coffee bushes.) The next stop was 45 miles away, the ancient hilltop trading town of Bandipur.
Here’s the thing about maps in Nepal. They all show roads and trails differently, and certainly none of them are complete. What appears to be a major thoroughfare ends up being a slightly improved goat path. What we thought were going to be 10 easy miles to start ended up turning into a grinding slog that was no better uphill or down. The vision had been effortless gliding over terrain on mountain bikes, the reality was that the whole width of the roads were the most annoying bike trail we’ve ever ridden, completely scattered with fist sized rocks, enormous potholes and thick sand reminiscent of a freshly fallen silent shroud of snow. We found all of this impossibly frustrating devoid of any measurable rhythmor fun. When we finally made it to pavement, we gave thanks to some deity and praised the DOT for having at least one percent of the country paved. By the time we made it to the main highway, the day was getting late. We hung our heads and took the bus. We got dropped off at the base of the climb to Bandipur, which was 8km away. After the long rest we thought, “sure, no problem!” But the road was a legitimate Cat. 1 climb in the Tour de France. At 3km to go after an hour of the squealing bikes and multiple fitful breaks we hung our heads lower and crammed in to another bus, bikes and all. We wondered why anyone in their right mind would put a major trading route through the top of a mountain. Regardless, we had a great time in the lovely little town and celebrated Abbey’s birthday.
That night we splurged on some nice digs in a beautifully renovated 17th century mansion. The clouds even parted on the final morning for us to see the glorious high peaks! We got back to Pokhara, returned the squealers, and had a final coffee.
The best two things there, as far as we can tell, are Asbin restaurant, run by a wonderful woman with an infectious laugh, and the movie garden across the street.