This past weekend was a whirlwind of adventure and excitement, but also of relaxation and beauty. My long weekend started on Friday when I began my journey to Pokhara with the other two volunteers from the orphanage, Andrew and Yifei. Pokhara is the second largest city in Nepal, and it’s famous for Phewa Tal, a stunning lake amidst the Himalayas.
The cramped and stiflingly hot five-hour bus ride wasn’t pleasant, nor was the cockroach-infested hostel we stayed in. It was kind of funny, though, sharing a room with two dudes who were just as terrified as I was, hurling obscenities and shoes left and right. We managed to kill a couple, but eventually decided to call it quits and pretend they weren’t there. But for $4 a night, including a hot shower and eggs and toast for breakfast, it was worth sharing the room with a few creepy crawlies.
Once I overcame my phobia, the rest of the weekend was incredible. We met up with a couple other volunteers from our program on Saturday morning and headed over to the Bat Cave. The Bat Cave is exactly what it sounds like: a slab of rocks and series of tunnels with, of course, some slumbering bats dangling from the cave roof. The cave itself wasn’t anything spectacular, but the conclusion of our self-guided tour was quite an experience.
We decided to brave the darkness on our own rather than pay for a tour guide, and we did pretty well finding our way until we reached what appeared to be a dead end. It was strange because there was a handrail, but it led to a rocky wall with no way to go but up. As we soon learned, up was the way out. A tour guide came along 10 minutes later with a couple Nepali guys, and he pointed out our escape route.
Have you ever seen how kids climb up door frames by placing a foot on one side of the wall, one on the other, then inch their way up? Well, it was kind of like that. After climbing to the top you reach an extremely narrow hole, where you have to contort your body – while your legs are still straddling two sides of the wall – hoist yourself up and wriggle through that godforsaken hole into the light. I was the first one to go through, and everyone laughed at my plight, which included a lot of holy shits and Jesus Christs (sorry Jesus, I know you didn’t have anything to do with that cave). Like I said before, in Nepal there is no such thing as a “safety hazard” or “liability.”
After that ordeal, we opted for a relaxing day of boating on the lake. It was beautiful. Peaceful. Serene. The pictures will sum up the rest.
Up the wall...
...and through the hole...
That evening, at sunset, we took a taxi to Sarangkot, a lookout point where the Annapurna Himalayas can (sometimes) be seen. It’s usually too cloudy to see the mountains during the monsoon season in summer, but luckily, we caught a glimpse of Fishtail peak poking out behind the clouds. It was almost a religious experience seeing something that enormous towering over the city. A sight like that really puts life in perspective.
The next day, we set out for Peace Pagoda, a Buddhist monument built by the Japanese in the Middle of Nowhere, Pokhara, Nepal. There are 100 peace pagodas in the world, all built to spread the message of harmony and, well, peace. But there was nothing peaceful about the one-hour, all uphill hike to get there. I huffed and puffed my way up those thousands of rocky steps, feeling like the Little Engine That Could, and sighed a breath of relief when the Pagoda was finally within sight.
Just like the Bat Cave, the Pagoda wasn’t anything exceptional, but I made a conscious effort to shut off the tourist part of my brain – that snap-a-shot-and-go mentality – and instead searched for some meaning in that giant white structure. After about an hour of peaceful contemplation at the Pagoda, it worked; I had achieved enlightenment, or at least I managed to figure out why the Peace Pagoda is more than just a place to say you visited. I’ll be writing the next part of my travel series about just this – symbols like the Peace Pagoda – so I will post the finished result when it’s published.
After that hike, we all took much-needed showers and then sought our next set of thrills at the piercing shop. I’ve never been crazy about tattoos and piercings, but seeing all the Nepali women with their beautiful gold nose rings made me want to get one, too. In Nepal, it is almost expected of women to undergo this mark of beauty and rite of passage (it is a symbol of marriage, but younger girls get their noses pierced, too). So I thought, why not? It’s culturally significant, and it’s just a tiny stud anyhow.
The piercing wasn’t bad at all, but it was a little more painful than my last piercing (I stupidly pierced my belly button when I was 16, and now I have a hole there forever), because it was done with a needle rather than a piercing gun. It took a few seconds longer than a gun, but it was still over and done with quickly. I’m happy with the way it looks, and it’s nice to know that I’ve adopted part of the culture. Andrew also got a second hole in his ear, where he put a small gold hoop, which is common amongst Nepali men. Yifei watched in horror as both of us got poked with needles and wondered aloud why we Americans enjoy such things.
Last but not least, Andrew and I decided to conclude our trip with a paragliding excursion. I’m one of those strange people who really love heights (I’ve gone parasailing and skydiving), so I was pretty excited. On the way there, the owner of the paragliding company – who later turned out to be my pilot – said, “Driving is more scary than paragliding.” In retrospect, he was right. To get to our takeoff point, we had to drive up a winding, rocky cliff with lots of bumps and ruts, and no guardrails. If our van had tipped and tumbled down a cliff on our way to jump off a cliff – all while the speakers blasted outdated American pop songs like Fergalicious – it would have been an embarrassingly ironic way to die. So, I’m quite glad that didn’t happen.
The only scary part of paragliding was the anticipation of jumping. At the pilot’s command, you are told to begin walking down the hill, then run, then jump off that cliff and pray to Mother Nature that the winds will carry you. They did, or else I wouldn’t be updating my blog right now. It was a beautiful experience, and my pilot was a lot of fun. He unhooked my camera from the harness and started snapping shots of us, all while maneuvering the parachute. Talk about successful multi-tasking. I got a bird’s eye view of farmers in the rice fields and a monkey leaping from one treetop to another.
Now that my trip to Pokhara is over, I’m back to the old grind of interning and working in the orphanage, but I don't mind. My next adventure is just around the corner.