There were no English-language announcements in the Kathmandu airport. At first, I was rather frantic that I would not know which of the two very small planes on the tarmac that I should take. I developed a strategy – watch my bag (clearly visible) and get on the same plane that it was put on.
Thus, I started my trip in 1971 to Pokhara, a lovely lakeside village northwest of Kathmandu which had an air of peace and relaxation, compared to the chaos of Kathmandu. I arrived in Pokhara on a small plane that landed on a rather large, almost flat field sprinkled with small rocks – or large pebbles – rather smoothly.
As I got out of the plane, I was struck dumb by the very tall snow-covered mountains – the Annapurna range of the Himalayas.
Collecting my bag and my senses, I became aware that I had to locate my hotel. The hotel, Fish Tail Lodge was on an island in the middle of the Phewa lake. At one of the few huts, I was pointed to the direction that I should walk. I girded my loins and started walking. At each step the bag got heavier. I don’t recall how far I walked but it seemed forever. When I got to the side of the lake, I could see the hotel but could see no way to get there. But lo – I spied in the distance on the landside, what looked like a dock. However, as I approached, it turned out to be a raft that had a lot of rope I figured that I could pull myself across to the hotel.
The fanfare of trumpets that I expected as I arrived in the hotel did not happen. The clerk didn’t even congratulate me. He only said “sign in please.”
Pokhara offers the magnificent views of Machhapuchre (fishtail shape), 5 peaks of Annapurna, Dhaulagiri, Himalchuli and others. Machapuchare or “Fish Tail” in English, is the most beautiful. It is revered by the local population as particularly sacred to the god Shiva, and hence is off limits to climbing.
Machapuchare has never been climbed to its summit. The only attempt was in 1957 by a British team who climbed to within 164 feet of the summit via the north ridge, but did not complete the ascent; they had promised not to set foot on the actual summit. Since then, the mountain has been declared sacred, and it is now forbidden to climbers.
The view from the hotel is one of the most perfect in the whole world.
The hotel bulletin board noted several treks that could be taken in the region. I thought that it would be nice to take a three to four-hour hike but upon closer perusal, the treks advertised were 7 to 10 days. So much for that.
Instead, I opted for the all-day jeep trip to the Annapurna base camp which stopped at a Tibetan refugee camp along the way. The jeep trip was exciting. There was no road so we took a dry river bed that was only rocks – some were boulders. I had to hold on for “dear life.” Rough cannot explain the ride. We went at a snail’s pace, trying to avoid the biggest of the boulders.
The Tibetan refugee camp, recently established, had been established by Tibetans escaping the Chinese takeover and the destruction of most of Tibet’s more than 6,000 monasteries which occurred between 1959 and 1961. There were several such camps located in Nepal with one being close to Annapurna base camp. The camp was one of unbelievable squalor. These poor people were scratching out an unbelievable existence here at the top of the world. The government of Nepal did not help but kept a hands-off policy. These poor people were trying to eek out an existence in any way that they could. One of the ways was by weaving rugs. I ordered two small rugs which were mailed to me when completed.
Back at the hotel, I spent hours sitting outside on the patio just looking – spaced out – until it was absolutely dark and only the white tops of the mountains were visible.
Leaving Pokhara was another unforgettable experience in that as I was seated in the small plane, a man got on with three large fish on a line – he sat in the seat in front of me.
P.S. I later learned that my hotel was completely destroyed by flood waters coming down from the Annapurna peaks.