Annapurna:
10th highest mountain in world

What I see to the north is awesome

Saturday 7th ... gearing up in Pokhara
What I see to the north is awesome. After a couple of days of rain, not steady rain but morning and evening downpours, well ... now we have some clear skies. Those mountains are a chiseled white. Those are some of the highest mountains in the world and only a few km away. A straggling cloud, wisps of clouds sit between the green hills and the white mountains. Gorgeous. I'm getting pretty excited. It'll be something to be in the middle of those hills ... named for the goddess of abundant harvest (Annapurna in sanskirt).
Today is a big day. Pokhara is super spread out. The population is about 200,000 and while an Indian city of the same size would be about an acre, here its big. Everyone lives in a single family dwelling. Most of the yards are big enough for a garden, and a couple of places had grain crops growing. Wonderful. Imagine the odd small fields of barley replacing lawns at home and a few water buffalo staggering about.
Two, no, three days ago on the drive north in India, so many ugly homes. Bricks that are crumbling, none putting a protective or attractive stucco layer on the outside. Garbage strewn about the house, any yard just a rubbish tip or weeds. What catches my eye is that Nepalis have made the front attractive. Some thousands of rupees have been spent on some attractive tile and goofy windows. A bright spot. Similarly, the next day plowing up through Nepal, a row of homes set back from the road. The meanest little shack ... just a run down, one storey, one room concrete box, but a flower garden in front that was beautiful. Others had some cabbage and greens, and everywhere reds, yellow, and green foliage.
What I appreciate most about the tourist scene is a bakery. The fact that there is a place called the German Bakery makes me happy. So maybe the cheese cake is a bit sour ... a bun, a cinnamon bun, these are treats I love. That was my second breakfast though! The first was traditional: popped corn and curd. Bizarre to have popped corn as an actual meal. Where are the film previews? Over breakfast I met a Nepali exactly my age. Fine English, western manners, baseball cap on top of which rest his designer glasses - chic. I'd think he was a masters student at the University of Toronto. At 27 he is a happening business man. Since the age of 17 he's been in town working. He's run a hotel, a restaurant, and now has a string of three supermarkets. Wild. He is so pleasant, playing the host. It brings into sharp contrast the lack of entrepreneurial spirit seen at home - people standing about waiting for a job, never dreaming of creating their own.
First, a map from the tourist office. I have the feeling the fellow doesn't get many visitors since everyone here is the tourist office and they all have maps for sale. The office is right across from the airport. Little twin engine planes can be heard and seen regularly - makes a fine contrast with the buffalo. Most people use taxis to get around, and any young man with a car paints the roof yellow and goes into business. [The clouds are billowing up the valley, starting to obscure the mountains.] The one novel means of transportation is the mini-tractor. These units are really just big rotto-tillers. Usually a man walks along behind as it churns up the paddy field. Now they have a wagon and they putt along, usually with three or four burlap sacks of potatoes in the back.
Next stop the immigration office where one gets the trekking permit. What we have here is multiple lines where we have an opportunity to hand over multiple piles of bills. There is a few to go into the park, there is a few for each week - $5. It niggles me that everything is quoted here in dollars ... the gorgeous carpets I've seen, hotel rooms, guides, package deals. Of course it makes sense. It is easy to understand if someone says the price is $350 for that beautiful carpet of green. Why am I such a weak fellow for any wool product? It is an important point though, that Indians will tell you the price in rupees. The Nepali seems very plastic ... moulding themselves to whatever. Filling in the forms I'm confronted with my ignorance. Where will I start? What is the name of the route I'll take? Where will I finish? I borrow a book and guess ... the permit comes forth no problem.
I'm pleased. I walk away singing to myself. People in their yards or on the street smile back at my pleasure. I pass two men shoveling a pile of sand. One man holds the short spade, the other pulls on a rope tied just above the blade of the shovel. Like a mini steam shovel. I give it a try, much to everyone's pleasure. Certainly it is easier with the string-pulling-man Another example of surplus labour.
Nepalis love to say hello. Namaste is heard from everyone, often. It is very pleasant. And old woman is walking towards me, I put my hands together and say "Namaste." She is pleased, verbally she returns the greeting. The congregations of young men who are on every corner are just as likely to say "Namaste."
With permit I go in search of wool. I walk the length and breadth of town looking for a sweater, some socks. For some super strange reason I can't find em. Then I walk out of town to the Tibetan refugee settlement. Near a river which has some impressive sink holes, one hole so deep I can't find the bottom, anyway the tourists have drawn a number of vendors. I find hat, mitts, socks and a sweater. The sweater I'm wearing now. It is gorgeous. Red and blue and yellow and brown. Gorgeous. The vendor woman's mom knitted it. Nice. I'm so pleased I keep stroking the sweater. The rest of the gear I've rented: a sleeping bag, down jacket, fancy waterproof pants, gaiters, and shoes. Super service really, all this stuff. At the same time two young Germans are buying the fleece, jacket, shoes. Super, except when a Gortex jacket costs 1000r you know its a ripoff, and the quality may be the same. Laden as I am I'm as happy as a pig in shit. I've unearthed a Nepali restaurant. I have the staple and a glass of the local home made wine - rakshi.
Town, being spread out, I rent a bike. My one speed mountain bike makes a squeak with every revolution, but as long as no hills present themselves I'll be fine. As soon as I have the bike the sky declares it will rain off and on. Regularly I find myself seeking shelter in a bus stand or just under a shop overhang. I visit a couple of the local temples. They put them upon a wee hill, which is nice. I happen across an older part of town and am enchanted with the four storey brick buildings lining the road. What grabs my attention is the wooden frames around the windows ... dark wood, exquisite carvings, maybe a young girl in the window looking down on the street.
My next destination is a Tibetan monastery. From below it looks like a couple of apartment blocks. And, after ascending the stairs it still looks that way. One building, a bit fancier and without individual rooms, is under the brush. A dozen men are balanced on scaffolding under the eaves, and they are painting ... some with brushes having but a dozen horse hairs on them. The paintings are amazing ... colours so vibrant, characters many and wild. I watch a man painting scales onto a curvaceous dragon. Fantastic, both in effect and in subject. The inside hall has had the ceiling painted. It is a feast of patterns and symbolism I don't understand.
One of the older buildings has horrible noise coming out of it. The monks are beating on drums and blowing wild sounding horns. Such noise must be for keeping the evil at bay, or maybe it is to keep everyone at bay. I approach the man at the kiosk, planning to ask a few questions. Nothing doing! He has a folder in front of him, and in the folder are a series of papers which he is reading from - aloud. He does not intend to be interrupted. Put off, I go down to a shrine, or at least a structure with some statues in it. There are a monk, a man, and an old woman, walking about it. All around there are these cylinders mounted, and as you pass you give them a spin, which speeds the transmigration of souls in their path toward enlightenment. Prayer wheels. They go around and around, like everything else. The other sign I see of Tibetan religious culture are the prayer flags. Blue, white, red, green, yellow, their five colours on top of each other, with each flag covered in characters. And all fluttering in the wind.
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