Day 11: Pokhara

Our “extra” holiday in Pokhara. The other two have tucked into breakfast. In fact we’re in danger of missing breakfast, that’s how late we wake up. We scramble to the dining hall and find reasonable leftovers in the buffet breakfast. I spot MShah walking around the garden by herself. Sadly there’s no watermelon juice. I remember veggie cutlets figuring in a big way in that breakfast. Kanaks joins us for a coffee, and MShah walks in a bit later. Slightly subdued hysterics today. At the front desk, I find useful information about Ganesh Kayak Shop in downtown Pokhara and my kayaking hopes are high. MShah takes the initiative on organizing a white water rafting trip for tomorrow, enroute to Kathmandu.

All set for the grand shopping day out. Everyone wonders why Shishir has signed up to escort us on this trip, it’s not as if we need a guide for shopping. He must have got used to hanging out with us, poor sop (even now our hysterical cackling must be ringing in his nightmares). So at a leisurely pace we set off to invade the shops. Books, maps, picture postcards, paintings, T-Shirts, magnets, antique Tibetean silver jewellery… among us we have it all covered. A man approaches me with a dholak and some string instruments. Something familiar about him… aah he’s the man whom I rashly promised 10 days ago, to buy these things from on my way back from the trek. I smile sheepishly at him, apologize for changing my mind. Changing mind – woman’s prerogative – man not understanding. It turns out tricky to extricate myself as he happily stoops to emotional blackmail, but I manage. All our purchases are carried around in various thin black plastic bags – like how bottles of booze are packaged in India.

Pictures under a lovely Jacaranda tree in full bloom – me in my salwar kameez, Nitya in a green Annapurna Trek T-Shirt, and Shishir in his fashionably torn jeans and orange T-Shirt. MShah makes conversation with a homeless old woman who seems to have touched her heart. She buys some trinket from another old woman whom she had promised 10 days ago… she seems to have a thing for old women J. The trinket turns out to be a funky rectangle antique looking metal thing that she hangs from a pant loop – similar to one of those Gujarati women wearing the ancestral home’s key bunch on their waist. Only this looks far cooler on MShah, wearing it over pants.

After much indecision we settle on an Indian Tandoori restaurant for lunch. Beer, of course, and lunch incidentally. In a moment of mushy psentimentality, I have bought the girls a book each – “Annapurna Circuit” (Shiva and Nitya) and Mallory’s Everest story (MShah) – idea being MShah and Shiva can swap books. Full of beer, I proceed to write some sop on the books. Just so they can’t sell off the books and make money. MShah returns the favor by writing me a shairi on the book I have picked up for myself. I get Shishir to write “Resham Phiriri” on my book as well.

We’re finally kicked out of the restaurant at the afternoon closing time. Now langorous and full of food and drink, we totter in and out of more shops. It rains off and on. MShah hires a bicycle and goes around back and forth to the Fishtail Lodge, finalizing the rafting arrangements. She comes back and joins us at some shop, extremely kicked about an American ex-army hunk who lifted her bicycle from the raft to shore. I make noises about my kayaking once in a while, but our wanderings haven’t led to Ganesh Kayak Shop yet. Nitya suggests coffee and we stop at a cute little place. By now my kayaking noises are becoming more and more persistent. MShah takes pity on me, finishes her coffee and offers to go with me. On both sides of the road there are shops. To our left beyond the shops, is the large sprawl of Phewa lake all along this downtown. We find the kayak rental shop on our right, opposite a sort of pier.

A nice old man runs the shop with imported kayaks. I choose something suitable for my size. MShah and I carry it down to the pier. Well okay, it’s not as “right opposite” as we thought – it’s a bit of a walk down to the pier. In spite of our height difference, we walk smoothly with the kayak. We put in at the pier, I crawl into the kayak and just like that, am off. Phewa Lake is quite still thankfully. The broad-bottomed kayak takes some getting used to. I take a while to get into an even rhythm of paddling. I am so thrilled to be on the lake finally in a kayak! I go around an island temple clockwise. I find that I can stop paddling and stay in one place, the water is so still. I relax on the water for a bit. Unheard-of stomach muscles make their presence felt, not to mention my arms. There are several row boats in the water, taking tourists on gentle rides. In all directions there are snow mountains. It’s a beautiful evening on the lake. I have completed my “pradakshan” of the temple, and am wondering where to go next, when I see MShah waving to me from a boat. We row towards each other and have a happy reunion, dashing the boat and kayak. Her boatman is amused. She’s armed with her SLR and clicking lots of pictures. I paddle around in her vicinity for a bit. She’s taken the oars from the boatman. He asks her which college we’re from. She proudly points to me and says “College, ha! She’s a mother of two”. He disbelieves her. Sweet J.

I paddle off around the temple again. The boatman has concerns for my safety and he’s trying to call me back, with MShah assuring him that I’ll be fine. A pleasant hour later, we head back to the pier and my little dream of kayaking on Phewa Lake is also done! No sign of the others till now – they were still at the coffee shop when we left. Now they reach the pier as I am crawling out of the kayak. They also try their hand at carrying the kayak back. There’s a colony of egrets nesting in a tree near the pier. Fluffy babies and all. MShah takes a picture of those, as well as a public toilet advertising “Piss – 1 Rupees”. Nature and nurture juxtaposed. We return the kayak and head homewards. There are further plans to cleanup and come back downtown for a night on the tiles.

Cleaned up, dressed up, and back to Phewa Lake Restaurant. Some of us more dressed up than others. Nitya looks lovely in a necklace she’s bought at Muktinath, my earrings, and a new white top (how can I wear a T-Shirt for the evening, maan?) Her way of saying “Maan” is a contagious disease that must be eradicated. Over dinner today, we all trip on her for several reasons and a good time is had by all.

One incident makes me furious – a scum bag Nepali man with an oily swarthy face, and an oily sticky ponytail, when we walk into his store for Tibetean antique jewellery, stereotypes us and makes racist remarks. I make a few (I hope) cutting remarks to him and walk out fuming. I’m surprised the others are not taking this so badly. MShah later says she too sent him fierce glares and would have liked to pick a fight with him. This man I would have liked to have driven a tank over. And over and over.

We have sat at an outside table at the restaurant. Asok serves us again – now an old acquaintance from MShah and Shiva’s 10 days’ previous meal here. The music playing is quite non-descript. I riffle through their CD collection and come up with “Dil Se” or “Rang De Basanti”… atleast something with peppy songs. Everest is flowing freely, the music’s playing, MShah is soon dancing, and I can’t resist too. The others are happy to just watch as we make a spectacle of ourselves. We even have a local woman stopped on the road watching us. We eventually tire of dancing and get back to our seats. Nitya starts a silly game which ends up making the evening not so light hearted. Nitya and her games, silly woman J.

We head back with subdued chatter. There’s a half moon. MShah doesn’t walk in with the rest of us. She stays on a garden seat for a long while. Long enough for me to go and investigate… She oddly remarks about the beautiful night. I leave her to it. It turns out to be a long night of chatter – of foursomes, threesomes, twosomes and even monologues.

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