My suggestion for the town motto of Pokhara
06.11.2014 - 24.11.2014 20 °C
As you may have gathered from the start of my previous entry, the atmosphere of Pokhara is to Kathmandu like the Gold Coast to Nimbin- though while Kathmandu lacks the golden beaches and bikini-clad revellers, Pokhara does draw several parallels with its Australian cousin. The second biggest city in Nepal sure doesn't feel like it at street level, especially in Northside, a sleepy cluster of guesthouses, cafes, tailor stores and yoga centres. I set up camp on a balcony in Banana Garden Lodge (overlooking rice fields and indeed a huge garden) and Northside has been my stomping ground ever since.
Pokhara sprawls along the shores of Fewa Tal- a huge lake that at any one time you'll see local ladies washing under sarongs, lads fishing with bamboo rods, Chinese tourists squealing as they are paddled around in bright blue boats by able Nepalese seamen, kayakers practicing their rolls and paragliders skimming over the top to land on the shore. Pokhara definitely has two distinct 'scenes'- Northside chills under an ever-present fog of weed smoke, lazing around in hippy pants creating elaborate structures from its ample dreadlocks, heading off to meditate on a hilltop- while Central Lakeside is yang to its yin- stores tout white-water rafting, the World's Most Extreme Zipline Experience, paragliding, trekking (Pokhara is the jumping-off point for most Annapurna hikers), food is considerably more expensive and westernised (if I get a hunkering for steak I have innumerable options) and I'd challenge a monk to meditate in the midst of the cacophony of 'taxi? taxi madam?' 'come, look, don't have to buy, no worries' and the general hustle and bustle of the tourist trade. While I have certainly spent many hours watching the paragliders spiral around the heights of Sarangkot and considered selling a kidney to fund spending my last few weeks completing my paragliding licence, I've managed to steer very clear of activity-laden Central Lakeside and fall instead into the pace of Northside- a slow reggae groove, with organic breakfast to start.
However, as my parents discovered on their recent holiday to visit me in Cairns, I'm not very good at just 'relaxing'- Mum speculated that perhaps I'd developed ADHD in my old age. Well. After I'd had my fill of et-read-eat-wander-eat-sleep-repeat, I gladly availed myself of the opportunity to trek into the hills a little and spend a week with a Nepalese family- 13 people, 11 cows, 3 buffalo, 1000 chickens, many vegie plots, and, temporarily, me. The farm is about an hour walk from Northside, perched on a hill in 'Lovely Hill' village, blissfully quiet and peaceful though still overlooking the urban sprawl of greater Pokhara. To start with there was only one other volunteer, an energetic Spanish lad named Juan, but we were soon joined by a globetrotting German/Danish couple, Ollie and Ditte, and together we bumbled through Nepalese farming life. Our adventures included teaching-ourselves-how-to-use-a-power-tiller (quickly followed by) fixing-it-when-it-broke, clearing fields (which would have been considerably less exciting were it not for the bamboo stems contriving to slice our hands to pieces), hand churning butter, milking cows, preparing the chicken shed, and, for us lucky ladies, washing clothes, preparing food and always, always, washing dishes. The farm's main source of income comes from selling the milk of the cows and buffaloes, and the chickens, who and kept for 45 days before being sold for meat. Days began at 4am with milking, but the volunteers didn't begin until 5am- starting with hot, sweet black tea, and packaging the milk. One of us would jump (helmetless) on the motorbike with Ashok (the head of the family) and deliver the milk to around 30 households, before more tea at home and commencement of the morning's work. You may have noticed that I did not, at any point in the above description, mention food. Breakfast. Breaking-the-nightly-fast-before-the-day-begins. That, my dear friends, is because there wasn't any. In Nepalese life you eat two main meals, both dal bhaat, at 10:30am and 6:30pm (approx). You normally have an afternoon snack (often popcorn) at about 2:30pm, and tea to start the day. As a lady who loves my food (and plotted a new elaborate food-worshipping religion with a food critic I met this weekend), I found this very difficult. There were several other aspects of Nepalese farm life that I found very difficult to reconcile myself with (in regards to being both a passionate vegan and feminist) but I'll spare you all the several-paragraphs-long rant I've been musing on and simply say it was an incredibly valuable, enlightening, educational experience- and for every moment that was a trial there were moments of hilarity (have you ever seen a power tiller running madly up a slope with a Spanish guy barely holding on?), Nepalese language lessons and beautiful sunrises.
I'm not normally one to withhold a good rant, and I can attribute this new reflectiveness to a Tibetan Buddhist retreat I've just completed- my time at the farm enabled me to save enough to attend an introductory course in Tibetan Buddhist teachings, meditation and yoga at Ganden Yiga Choezin; the Pokhara Buddhist Meditation centre, which is under the Kopan Monastery in Kathmandu. Myself and 27 other curious souls from all walks of life perched on piles of cushions for 2 1/2 and begun to delve both into our own minds and values and what makes the minds and values of a Tibetan Buddhist. While I found more questions than answers in the teachings I certainly enjoyed the chance for reflection and some personal internal spring cleaning; and also the chance to bump brains with like-minded people.
I'll be leaving my Nepal entries here- I've only a week left before I'm back in Aus, where I'll be working in Melbourne for the summer, on the beach at St Kilda teaching another season of kitesurfing. After that, who knows where I'll be writing from!