Me: “Which one is Everest?”
My helpful tour guide, Joe: “Pick one”
Flying Everest and Pokhara
I sleep hard and wake at 5:15. It’s getting harder and harder to get out of bed. I call Jayanti downstairs to make coffee (her request the night before) and have a bowl of cereal while Joe scowls at me. I sense he is already missing me. We get a photo together in the living room and I give Jayanti a big goodbye. She gives me a huge bag of oranges from the family farm. I cannot deny them, but I will give some away. She says my time with her made her holiday so much better. I feel same about her company and hospitality. In the car and off to the airport, it is unusually quiet by Kathmandu standards. We reach the airport in 15 minutes (compared to 30-45). A quick farewell and I’m out the truck and into the domestic terminal.
Flying Around the Himalayas
I get my ticket, leave my suitcase with Yeti Airlines clerk, and head out to the gate area. The domestic side of the airport looks like a subway terminal in Philly…dirty, bad lighting, ugly decor. Rates 10th worst airport in the entire world. The plane arrives on schedule at 6:45 and I board a 50 passenger plane with about 15 others. The windows are icy and tough to see outside. This worries me…did I get my money’s worth? Shortly after takeoff, the wind blows all the ice off and we are up, soaring among the worlds highest peaks. The views are stunning. The size of these mountains is simply hard to comprehend without the aid of tiny little villages popping up here and there at the foothills. Midway through we are offered a chance to photograph from the cockpit and I see Everest. Then they out us champagne. What a flight!
Flight to Pokhara
After landing I pop back to the arrival terminal to receive my bag and get my 10am ticket to Pokhara. The man at the counter is surprised to see I am so early and asks if I want to get on the flight leaving now. Heck, yeah! The 25 minute trip offers more amazing views of the Himalayas. We land and exit he plans to see beyond the terminal a breathtaking view of the Machapuchare peak of the Annapurna range. The weather is absolutely perfect at 65 with sunshine. I offer some oranges to a mom and her two daughters, despairingly awaiting a ride sitting on the curbside, the children running around like crazy. The taxi arrives and we head to the hotel, driving through the city around Lake Fewa. Pretty town. A lot like Jim Thorpe, PA, or any other lake town in the mountains. The hotel is nice and so is the staff. I get my room and freshen up a bit then head out to grab a bite to eat and maybe see the lake and other things. Lunch at The Lemon Tree is quiet, overlooking the street from the 2nd floor deck with a bit of Caribbean flare. I order a couple of appetizers and Everest beer (650ml..the only size beers seem to come in). A western family is playing cards in the corner and soon leave.
Meeting Charlie…Finding Buddha Man
Otherwise I’m alone…until this loud, tall, lanky, blond-haired Brit comes walking in Namaste-ing the hell out of everyone. He loudly orders a beer. Then he loudly asks for the wifi password. Then he loudly asks the staff to watch his stuff while he runs for some smokes. He comes back and lights up, then…finally…sits quietly.
But suddenly I can’t help but feel the occasional urge to say hello. I head to the toilet and, after coming back out, feel strongly pulled to ask him for one. The temptation to resist is overridden by something else…and I go over and say a quick hello. He asks me to join him. Oh…what the hell…let’s find out just why this guy is so obnoxious, I think (while I am in desperate need for some solitude and relaxation after days of running around).
Charlie is his name. I quickly learn that he just landed from a paragliding trip minutes before walking into the restaurant. “Alright,” I think, “This could explain why he’s so damn hyped up…worse than me, even!” Then he shares how he has just been to Lumbini, birthplace of Buddha, only days before. Now I’m intrigued. I was considering visiting there, but I didn’t have the chance–now I can hear about it from him. A practicing Buddhist for 8 years, Charlie is on a month-plus excursion to document his Buddhism, calling it In Search of Buddha, Man. He tells me how he met a Canadian nurse named Coranne Plummer he calls the “Mother Teresa of Elephants” (his phrase), and shows me his video blowing up an effigy of Donald trump for Guy Fawkes Day in his town of Robertsbridge (see below). Then he tells me all about Buddhism for about 45 minutes.
Charlie’s quote: “Go for the impossible and work your way back to the possible.”
Eventually he asks where I’m staying. I say Middle Path. He exclaims, “Hotel Middle Path?! No shit! That’s where I’m staying!” We talk about chance encounters being more than coincidence (karma, I like to say).
We exhaust ourselves of the Lemon Tree, having shared 5 beers and plenty of conversation while overlooking the colorful and bustling main street of Pokhara. After he goes to the toilet, I pay both our bills as a thanks for the conversation.
In a year where I decided to follow the US election closely, I made a huge (YUGE) mistake I could not have foreseen…Donald Trump ran for president. Then he won. It sucked. But people all over the world came together to fight the fucker, and this video was a brilliant display of protest against America’s worst ever presidents (courtesy Charlie and his buddies from Robertsbridge UK).
Temple in the Lake
We decide to visit the lake temple together. We do this and I see Charlie is quite loud and spirited at every turn. I am now growing accustomed to this since I know deep down he means very well and is only spreading his energy everywhere…whether folks like it or not (most find it entertaining). “Hey Buddy…lake temple?!” he yells at every passer-by until we arrive at the boat entrance (even though I already assured him I was fairly certain how to get there…but he doesn’t know me from Buddha, man).
We buy life jackets and board the boat (two canoes with a deck, seats, and a roof) along with several families. Charlie talks a lot. Asks a lot of questions. Very jovial guy, he just can’t stop for a moment–and for once I don’t have much room to talk! We arrive at the temple and walk around. Nothing exciting. The boat captain (a short young Nepali with cap and yellow jacket) comes to us and asks for 1000 rupees ($10) apiece to allow us to board the same boat again. We feel like we’re being ripped off or something, but since neither of us speaks Nepali that well, or fully understands the meaning behind their gestures, we decide we have no choice. I suppose $10 isn’t too awful to get a ride out to the island, but in hindsight we should have bartered.
Devi’s Falls and the Caves
Back on land, where to next? We find an eager taxi driver and Charlie starts right in with a “namaste” and loads of questions about Devi’s Falls and caves and peace pagoda. The driver says he can take us to Devi’s Falls for 1000 rupees and wait one hour. We get him down to 600 with a little negotiation, but I suspect we still paid too much.
Devi’s Falls was relatively uneventful aside from the shop owner I was haggling with. He tried selling me 2″ tall statues of gods for 100 rupees each (roughly $1) when they are worth no more than 10 cents apiece. The bartering wasn’t going in his favor, so he took the pieces out of my hand and threw them madly onto the massive pile of trinkets. We laughed out loud and left immediately.
Back to our driver, I suggest we skip peace pagoda since the sun is almost down. We easily cross the street for the caves (which will now cost us another 200 rupees for the driver to wait). To get to the cave, you pass a large cement gazebo and climb down a narrow winding staircase. Literally the moment you arrive at the entrance to the tunnel, you are struck by a wall of hot air pouring out of the cave. Down another flight of stairs, past a crumbling temple with a shiva snake, through a 4.5′ tall rock tunnel, past a cairn village, you arrive at a metal staircase that takes you down to the river formed by Devi’s Falls. We took photos, Charlie some video for his documentary, then got out of the heat of the cave after a steep and somewhat exhausting climb back up.
We got back to our taxi and headed into town. The driver dropped us at the hotel where Charlie and I agree to meet up around 6:30. I need to recharge my phone (and myself) and Charlie needs to book a bus to Kathmandu.
Out for Music…and Some Billiards…Up All Night!
I laid down for a short rest…and fell fast asleep for 40 minutes. So tired. Downstairs by 6:30pm exactly, and no Charlie. He arrives 10 minutes later, apologizes, books his bus (a cushy one for the 8 hour ride) and we head out to find Harbour Cafe Restaurant that plagued him so badly the day of his arrival (he couldn’t find the place to save his life, but I wonder if he realizes it’s because he was asking Nepali people, in his British Englishaccent, where is “Hawbuh Caf?”).
Charlie doesn’t trust my sense of direction despite the fact that I have a map open on my phone with a little blue dot indicating exactly where we are by GPS. We successfully arrive–Charlie doubting me in the final minutes, asking every other bloke where is “Hawbuh Caf?”
The restaurant is very nice, but very western. We sit outside in the cool evening air, a propane heater overhead. We both go for the Everest beer and the lamb chops. Coincidence or karma? More talk about life and people and the way things are. Charlie says he wants to work to help the world become a moneyless society.
We enjoy dinner but Charlie is itching to go hear some music. We split and head down toward the Busy Bee cafe. Along the way, we hear live music playing from some unknown club and go inside to check out the scene. The place is pretty dead, but we grab a table near the front and see guys playing pool. We decide to play next game and they agree.
We play a few games of billiards with Ross and Nick from Australia, two young guys looking pretty worn. Turns out they’ve been trekking Nepal for almost two months, including Everest base camp, and it’s their last week in the country. Aside from the Nepali rock band playing classics like Ozzy, Pink Floyd, and Lynyrd Skynyrd, the only slightly amusing bit is trying to figure out if Charlie and I are both called westerners, are Ross and Nick called southerners because they are from Australia? “We’re from the east, mate, but I suppose you can’t get any farther south!” Ross replies. The pair are quite hungry and want to get out of this place. We ask if they want to meet us at Busy Bee and they agree, but leave ahead of us as Charlie is pulled aside in conversation with a local. I find out later he needed rescuing from the guy, though I mistakingly saw it as a mutual discussion. I guess what should have given me a hint was how the guy kept hugging Charlie and walked away with him, his arm tightly wrapping his.
On the way to Busy Bee, Charlie was expectedly chatty. He asked nearly every by-passer along the way “Busy Bee?” On arrival, we see that Busy Bee was quite busy…at nearly 10:00pm. Filled with mostly young foreigners, we step up to the round bar, the bartenders working in a pit-like area, and order up two beers then look around for a place to hang out and maybe find Ross and Nick. They are nowhere to be found but we find more pool tables and hop in. Between the two of us, we become immediate friends with everyone in the room. A knucklehead from Chicago; a couple of danish girls; a guy from Dublin with a huge beard and wicked thick accent; a few people from Germany and Scotland. And Charlie’s favorite: a very pretty and sweet blond-haired girl from Honolulu who I introduced him to.
Charlie and Rachel chatted things up while I took his turns at the table, getting whooped by the locals.
Lights Out, Already!
The Nepali I played several rounds of pool with unexpectedly put down the pool cues and turned off the lights and the end of our game. Then he encouraged Charlie and I — as well as others — that it was time to go. Very hard to convince Charlie to leave — he was in love! The three of us (Rachel included) did a quick film on his go pro and we said goodbye…a long goodbye. Once outside, he immediately started ranting about the big dope she was with. I asked if he got her info and he basically said it didn’t really matter much to him — he was recently broken-hearted and noticably bouncing back strong.
We walk quickly down the quiet streets of Pokhara, once bustling and brimming with energy but now a ghost town at 11:30pm. I find myself longing to feed a stray dog, which properly amuses Charlie seeing that I haven’t got anything to offer the mangy pup (though I’m sure he could leave me with a hell of a disease).
We arrive to our hotel, say a fond farewell, and I crash hard.