Narayanghat to Pokhara, days 1–3
Our vacation really began at around 4:00 a.m. in Narayanghat on Sunday, October 6 (day 1). It was our last day in the Terai before we escaped to the crisp air and mountain views of Pokhara and its beautiful (we had been told so) Fewa Lake. But the Terai is a harsh mistress.
We had decided to stay at Shana’s place in Narayanghat instead of a hotel and slept en masse on the floor of the extra room. And for some reason Shana’s Didi (the land lady) came into the room at around 4:00 a.m. and turned off the fan, effectively turning the room into a toaster oven. We awoke on the first day of our vacation medium well, still a little pink in the middle.
We were a group. No, we were a mob. We were aware, from the beginning, that we were the mischief-makers of Peace Corps, doomed. We were Andrew and Liz, both serving in Jhapa (known as Team Jhapa).
We were also all the volunteers from Rajbiraj: Tony, Laurel, Kara, and André. We were Moser from Ilam, Naomi from Parasi, Colin from Nepalgunj, and myself from Birganj. We were ten. Again, we were doomed.
Before we knew it, though, vacation had begun and we were on the road and stuck in traffic just north of Narayanghat. Drew and I engaged the locals to kill time. First, we walked up and down the line of Tata trucks and buses saying hello to folks and buying baked goods.
Conversation entertained us for maybe half an hour until Drew and I found a place to rent bicycles. We rode through the traffic to the police checkpoint where we met the Major, the police managing the security checkpoint.
Drew took point.
Do you believe Osama bin Laden is in Saptari district? Drew asked with a straight face. (It’s a theory that I had heard before.)
Perhaps, said the Major with an equally straight face.
What do you think of Saddam Hussein? asked Drew.
He is not good. He supplies arms to the Maoists, replied the Major.
Soon that conversation was exploited, though it was interesting to find out that the Major had been in the Balkans with the UN peacekeeping forces.
What did you think of the Balkans? asked Drew.
It is awful place, said the Major, both stoic and smiling,
but the women are . . . friendly.
After about an hour or so and an argument over the cost of renting the two bicycles without bells for 20 minutes had finished, I mean, really, if we were rich Americans, would we really be renting bicycles from a shack on an anonymous road for 20 minutes while taking public transportation?
Never mind. We were on the road headed to lakeside Pokhara. The rest of the trip was uneventful. When we finally arrived on the outskirts of Pokhara, we were all a bit disappointed. Alas, Pokhara was not heaven. The buspark was as terrible a place as the likes of anywhere else in the Terai.
This next part of the story isn’t so much fun to write about, but it must be mentioned. I’m currently filling insurance paperwork and I’m going to be careful what I mention at present. But what I can say is that a Nepali is quite happily in possession of my camera or its cash equivalent, which is about a gabillion rupees.
After arriving in Pokhara, my day was spent flying through Pokhara in a taxi in search of a bus and its driver and conductor. I found the bus, but the other two individuals were elusive.
So it goes. I didn’t dwell on the loss too long besides the four hours I spent on Monday morning (day 2) in a Nepali police station trying to secure a form for my insurance.
Even though I had the police form in my hand, I couldn’t relax. I felt the acute loss of not having a camera and being on vacation is a truly beautiful place. In the end, we were sort of wrong about our initial impression of Pokhara. The scenery improved the farther we moved from the poor.
The difference between Pokhara and Birganj is that the poor people are everywhere in Birganj, there’s no zoning. How are you going to forget the horrors of poverty during dinner when a rickshaw slum is directly across from the nicest restaurant in Birganj? With no rickshaw slums in sight, I should have been able to enjoy myself.
After a tuna sandwich and a pep talk from my friends, a group of us decided to go for a nice boat ride on Fewa Lake.
I plead the Fifth. I’m not going to incriminate myself or my friends, though Team Jhapa conceptualized our final solution.
I will say that five of us (Laurel, Kara, Drew, Liz, and myself) were on a boat that sank in the middle of Fewa Lake. It wasn’t anything sudden. The sinking of a large wooden canoe takes some time (around three hours). And we did it. We sank a boat. It sunk.
There we were, on the middle of a large lake with nothing but our clothes in hand. Actually, Kara had our clothes in hand as we’d been swimming just prior to the sinking.
It was something to behold. I looked back and there was Liz, holding onto the aft of the boat, completely underwater. Kara had a panicked look on her face as she stood on the sinking boat, holding cameras, shoes, whatever, high in the air while descending into the water.
Kara seemed to believe that the boat would cease its sinking, which didn’t happen. Not too slowly, Kara descended into the foul waters of Fewa Lake to no avail.
As this happened, Andrew yelled,
Save yourself! Swim for your life!
After a moment, we were back on the dock, unsure of what to do. It didn’t matter what we said. We were on a boat that sank in the middle of a quite large lake in full view of the high season’s tourists. Guilty. We decided that we should pay for the boat and walk away.
Right then. No haggling over the price. Just pay up and go home, which we did. Now I have a deed for a boat that is sitting on the bottom of Fewa Lake. It belongs to us, the chosen five. The walk from the dock to the hotel shall be known as the Walk of Shame.
We were all drenched. Andrew had lost his shirt. The girls had all their clothes, but a pair of shoes had gone down with the boat. We told ourselves that completely drenched people walk down the streets of Lakeside all the time. Yet we knew that people knew. They didn’t see victims, only boat sinkers, which is what we were.
The next day, Tuesday (day 3), we spent getting ready for our trek. We had to buy ACAP trekking permits to enter the Annapurna conservation area.
I also had to buy a camera, which I wasn’t sure how I’d do. I had managed to get in touch with my parents who were wiring some money to my bank account so I could draw some money to purchase a camera, except on the day before we were supposed to leave and the money still hadn’t cleared.
I wasn’t sure what to do. I was thinking I would wait a day for my money to clear and then start the trek a day late.
It wasn’t until Akash, a Nepali we’d made friends with in Pokhara, came and sat with me at a café on Lakeside. He had the misfortune of being along for the ride when we crazed Americans sank a boat. The first thing he said when he saw me the next day and sat down with me was,
I can’t believe we sank a boat in Fewa.
When I told him that I was planning on being in Pokhara for an extra day to wait for my money to clear and then catch up with my friends Akash asked quite frankly how much money I needed for a camera.
It was an awkward question, because unless I bought a point-and-shoot camera that I would just make redundant with another camera, I would need a lot of money. It seemed excessive to ask a Nepali I barely knew, who I had just met and then sunk a boat together, for a loan of that size.
But I did ask! And he gave me the money! I ended the day severely in debt and ready to get the hell out of Pokhara before any more boats sank or I lost another camera.