Pokhara

For tourists, Pokhara is the second city of Nepal after Kathmandu. It is located 100 km west of the capital, next to a lovely (and remarkably clean) lake with several peaks of the Annapurna range visible on most days. The tourist hub of Lakeside is very similar to Kathmandu’s Thamel district, but it is less cramped and with better dining options.

It was a good place to stay for three weeks, idily pursuing my studies along the lakeside, watching paragliders come down from the Sarangkot hill overlooking Phewa Lake, or browsing at the fantastic bookshops in this city too (where I found a biography of Samuel Beckett and a first edition of Sándor Weöres’s 1958 volume of world poetry translations A lélek idézése).

A walk south along the lake, crossing the dam and then going up into the hills brought me to the World Peace Pagoda. This is a Buddhist shrine set up by a Japanese religious organization in the early 1970s, demolished by a hostile Nepalese government, and subsequently rebuild to a lasting tolerance. From here one has a better view of the Annapurna range than in Pokhara itself, with Lakeside and Phewa Lake below.

The downsides of Nepal’s development are present in Pokhara as well. Once you get outside of Lakeside, the city of Pokhara is just as polluted as any other urban conglomeration in Nepal. I rented a bicycle for a day, and while it was pleasant riding once outside the city, going through two or three kilometres of high-traffic streets first was a lung-burning experience. One wonders what it must have been like here during the era of the hippie trail, when the road had not yet been built and travellers had to walk in from Kathmandu.

The tourism industry in Lakeside seems to have developed too fast too soon, with a lot of businesses for not so many tourists. Walking down the main street in the evening, one usually often only one table occupied in each large restaurant, with the waiting staff outnumbering the tourists dining. For most of my time here I have been the only customer in the large guesthouse in which I’m staying. It’s a wonder anyone makes a profit. The rising amount of Chinese and Indian tourists may yet fill the void, however.