Early Friday morning I went to the Trek Nepal travel agency to meet Bharat, our guide, and three of the other travelers in our trekking group: Elie, a 56-year-old from Belgium, and Shawn and Penny, two 21-year-old friends from Denmark (who, in English-speaking crowds, were kind enough to use easier-to-pronounce versions of their real names, Søren and Pernille). After quick introductions the five of us walked from the travel agency to the bus station and left on the seven-hour ride to Pokhara.
Penny limped when she walked and both her feet were wrapped in bandages. It turns out she and Shawn had just been bungee jumping and in a fluke accident Penny tore up her feet. “In three years no one had ever been hurt jumping there,” Penny said. “I was the first.” A doctor told her that strenuous hiking wouldn’t cause any more damage, so Penny decided to load up on pain killers and go ahead with the trek.
The window entertained me for all seven hours of the bus ride. Our driver rarely slowed down for the almost-constant sharp turns, and after witnessing several extremely close calls with oncoming traffic I confined my viewing to the side of the road. Just out of Kathmandu we began to catch relatively smog-free views of white-capped Himalayan mountains framed by a bright blue sky. Outside of one small village we passed a Western-looking man, dressed like Jesus, who was wheeling a 15-foot wooden cross along the highway.At every stop we were surrounded by vendors and beggars. Halfway to Pokhara a tiny girl hopped on the bus to work the aisle for handouts. The girl’s striking green eyes reminded me of the famous National Geographic portrait of the green-eyed Afghan woman, but she vanished before I managed to get out my camera.
Pokhara is a beautiful town with sweeping views of the Himalayas. We arrived in the late afternoon and took a minivan to our hotel. After a quick conversation with the hotel staff, Bharat informed me, Eli, Penny and Shawn that the hotel didn’t have room for the four of us, so we needed to walk down the street to a less-nice hotel. In another country I might have wondered why the travel agency hadn’t made a reservation for us, but a few days in Nepal had already taught me this was par for the course. We settled into our rooms and then met back up again to go rent sleeping bags. The last light of the day happened to be hitting the mountains as we went through the (frustratingly disorganized) process of renting the bags, so I darted out of the store for a few shots.
The five-day Nepalese festival called Tihal had recently started, and as part of that day’s celebration groups of young girls were going around the neighborhood performing dances and asking for money. A household’s bad luck is thought to leave along with the money, which is used by the children to pay for a picnic or fund some kind of community project. On my way home from dinner I passed several groups of girls dancing in front of houses illuminated by candles that are intended to draw Laxmi, the goddess of wealth, into the home.
Girls Dancing During Tihal (Video)
The next morning I woke up before dawn to photograph the mountains reflected in Phewa Tal, the lake that borders Pokhara. Clouds, unfortunately, blocked the view, so I had to content myself with snapshots of sunrise scenes from around the lake – freshly-painted blue and red boats in the water, a dog that had been decorated with a bindi and a necklace of flowers for Tihal, and two people playing an early-morning game of street ping-pong.
The night before I’d asked Bharat what time our group should meet in the morning. He smiled and said we’d be taking a minivan to the village where we’d start our trek, but he didn’t mention a time. “OK, so what time should we meet?” I asked again.
Bharat laughed at the anal-retentive American, always concerned about time. “Oh, maybe 8:00 or 9:00?” he half-said, half-asked. We split the difference and agreed on 8:30am, but when we arrived promptly at our meeting place Bharat informed us that the minivans were all busy so we would need to wait two more hours. Another lesson in going with the flow…