From Lumbini to Pokhara
The road to Lumbini
Before reaching Pokhara. Typical for Nepal, the road from Sauraha to Lumbini took me almost one day. Nevertheless, there were less than 200 kilometers between the two locations. In the morning, the Nepali man from the travel company gave me a ride to the bus stand, located in the middle of the field. He patiently waited next to me. Finally, the bus for Lumbini appeared in the so called ‘bus station,’ leaving behind a smothery cloud of dust. After a long wait, we finally left Sauraha. The bus gradually filled up with people, luggage, and chickens imprisoned in cartoon boxes with small holes.
During the long bus ride, a Chinese named Qi adopted me and literally shoveled me with bananas and peanuts. The night before, Qi had slept on a terrace on the riverbank of the Rapti River in Sauraha. After visiting Lumbini, he wanted to go to India for a couple of days and he had only a small backpack. He was traveling with another Chinese, who was an acupuncture doctor in Algeria. His companion didn’t like the Nepalese food, and in consequence, he ate only chapatti (Nepalese flatbread) with wine. In Bhairawa, all the three of us changed the bus. For another hour, we rode a poky bus to Lumbini Bazaar, just 12 kilometers far. As a Nepalese rule, the bus stopped every 300 meters, whenever someone wanted to get on or off the bus.
When we arrived in Lumbini, I urgently went to the Lumbini Garden Ecolodge. It was the guesthouse recommended to me by the French man I had met in Sauraha. There, I found a cheap and clean en suite room, with hot water for shower. I would have never dreamed of such a great room in Nepal. After checking-in at the guesthouse, I crossed the street to the Three Vision Restaurant. Meanwhile, Qi and his friend rented two bikes. They wanted to go to the Royal Thai Buddhist Monastery and try to stay for free there. Before leaving, they came to have a cup of coffee with me at the restaurant. We chatted for a while, and Qi put a compassionate arm around my shoulder when I told my sorrows to him.
Lumbini is a pilgrimage place with a special meaning. It is listed as a UNESCO heritage site as Buddha’s birthplace. The Lumbini Bazaar had only one street with restaurants and guesthouses, lined up along the dusty unpaved road. On the opposite side, the religious zone spread over a larger area, at least a few kilometers in length. It was interspersed with Buddhist monasteries from different schools, countries, or influences. The west monastic zone gathered the monasteries of the Mahayana School, while the eastern monastic zone grouped the ones of the Theravada School. A water canal separated the two monastic zones. A tiny ship transported pilgrims along the water canal, from one side to another of the religious zone.
In the morning, I crossed the street and ate again at the Three Vision Restaurant. The generous breakfast had omelet, mashed potatoes, coffee, juice, and fruit. While I was having breakfast, I watched a huge monkey that walked on the roof of my guesthouse.
Later, I went to the complex of the Maha Devi Temple, built on the place where it’s supposed that the Buddha might have been born. Inside the complex, there was a lake where Maha Devi would have bathed before giving birth to the Buddha. Ruins of former monasteries could be seen all around the temple and the lake. Inside the complex, one could enter only barefooted, after leaving the shoes outside in a special place. Tourists had to pay for their visit to the religious complex. Once I entered the complex, a queue of pilgrims waited to worship at the temple. In the garden, a lama lectured to a group of people fascinated by his teachings. While I was waking throughout the religious complex, a few young Nepalese insisted on taking a photo together with me.
After visiting the religious complex, I went toward the monastic zone. There, most of the monasteries had been built in the middle of a large green area. I turned down all the bike rickshaw offers, although the route of the monasteries spread along ten kilometers. I preferred to walk slowly among the temples. The Vipassana Meditation Center Panditarama was in a deep forest, Karma Samtenling Monastery in a park, and Thrangu Vajra Vidhya Association in a large, arranged garden. In the same monastic zone, the Linh Son Temple, Lama Yuru Meditation Center, and Drigung Kagyud Lotus Stupa were situated by an artificial lake with water lilies.
Lumbini Museum was a modern one, but it was closed. Close to it, the Thai Royal Buddhist Monastery was entirely composed of white wooden temples that dazzled in the sun. The Monastery of Cambodia was under construction, the Golden Temple of Myanmar was luxurious, and pilgrims circled the Lokamani Cula Pagoda. When I reached the Goutami Nuns’ Temple, I smelled cooked food that made me remember it was about lunch time.
Back in Lumbini Bazaar, I suddenly heard Barbara calling me. She had just arrived from Sauraha with a bus. I accompanied her to my guesthouse, where she decided to stay too. In the afternoon, we went to eat chicken chowimen (Nepalese spaghetti) at Buddha Regency.
Early in the morning, I had a bus from Lumbini to Tansen. In the bus station, a Nepalese yelled at me to go and buy a ticket. At the counter, the women selling tickets charged me more than normal, but I didn’t want to bargain at that hour. She didn’t want to give me a ticket, so I had to yell after the man that asked for a ticket from me. He came and yelled at the woman from the counter. Eventually, I received a ticket with my personal seat written on it. I went to the bus and occupied my seat. We crammed into the bus when we passed Bhairawa and Butwal but I relaxed as I had a ticket with my own seat. After that, the road snaked through the mountains and followed an exposed path along impressive gorges.
I got off the bus at the main crossroads for Tansen, and there the jeeps literally jumped on me. A kind Nepalese whispered the correct price of a jeep ride to me. One of the jeeps quickly filled with people and in ten minutes I found myself in the crowded and dusty bus station of Tansen.
I had a collaboration at the tourist center, I spoke again with Man Mohan, but he confused me too much, so I changed my mind right away and went directly to the Royal Regency Guesthouse. There I negotiated a basic room, without a bathroom, more expensive than I expected. But having a room allowed me to get rid of my luggage as soon as possible. I quickly gulped two eggs with chapatti and gave back the milk with muesli because it had only one spoon of muesli sprinkled over the milk. I ordered another portion of eggs, appeased my hunger, and went out for an exploration in the historic center of the town.
In the afternoon, I explored Tansen, which spread out over several hills. The main landmark was the Sitalpati Square, while a few temples and the former royal palace were the highlights of the town. I discovered the Jama Mosque hidden in a backyard and the tailor shops lined up along the main street. From the main square, a few steep streets climbed to a lookout point from where I could see the whole region of Tansen.
I came back to the city center and spent the rest of the afternoon at a respectable restaurant in the main square, and by dusk I went directly to the bus station where I decided to buy a ticket to Pokhara for the next day. I announced at the front desk of my guesthouse that I would leave early in the morning and asked the staff to leave the door opened.
From Tansen to Pokhara
In the morning, the door of the guesthouse was open, and there was nobody at the front desk to pay for my room. I quickly calculated how much I had to pay, left the money behind the front desk, wrote a small message on a piece of paper, and ran to the bus station nearby.
The bus for Pokhara filled with a group of teenagers that were going on a trip with the whole class. They would sing, yell, and shout all the way to Pokhara – almost six hours, of which three hours the bus stopped for a pee (in the middle of the road, at a bend of the road), at a tiny eatery for a quick lunch, and anytime someone got off or on the bus. The serpentine road snaked through enormous gorges for a couple of hours, and all the bus exclaimed full of admiration when we approached Pokhara and the Himalayas appeared on the horizon.
In Pokhara, the bus helper told me to get off the bus at the crossroads toward Lakeside. There I changed the bus and activated the GPS in order to find the closest bus station to my hotel. I found the Lotus Inn Hotel, where I had a booking for the following day, but they accommodated me anyway. From the balcony of my room, I enjoyed the view of a courtyard decorated in a European style, with grass perfectly trimmed and stones carefully arranged.
Lakeside is the tourist quarter of Pokhara and it spreads along the Phewa artificial lake. After a long time, I saw luxurious shops, massage centers, and countless restaurants that alternated with travel companies every here and there, very similar to the Thamel quarter from Kathmandu. Finally, I felt spoiling myself after the never-ending bus trips full of Nepalis that spitted every minute, and played loud music.
In the afternoon, I went to several travel agencies in order to find a porter for a shorter trek in the Annapurna region. It seemed that the Ghorepani Trek lasts three to five days. For a couple of hours, I negotiated, sounded out several treks on the market, and tested the agencies’ staff. Eventually, I agreed to pay an advance to a Nepali that was able to answer a basic question. “What is the average difference of altitude for each day of the trek?”
After paying an advance to him, I constrained him to write on my invoice what “all inclusive” meant for him. Accommodation in a single room, three meals per day, tea and coffee for breakfast, guide-cum-porter, trekking permits, and transportation by taxi to and from Naya Pul. After such a great achievement, I went for a walk along the Phewa lakeside. In the evening, I ate chowimen again but at a Tibetan restaurant this time.
On the first day in Pokhara, I walked around the tourist quarter of Pokhara Lakeside and relaxed in the afternoon.
I walked along the Phewa lakeside and went only to the island where the Varahi Mandir Temple was located. The temple was dedicated to both Hindus and Buddhists. The Phewa Ghat pier was very crowded, I could hardly get on a boat, and I had to pay a roundtrip to the same boatman, although I would come back with another one.
Back to the Lakeside, I tried at least ten bank machines until I could withdraw some money. Afterward, I decided to have a Deep Tissue massage after receiving a ‘lunch discount.’ Nishal was my masseuse, she was 19 and kept telling me how beautiful and young I was. At the end of the massage, she climbed with her feet on my back and carefully stretched me.
On the second day in Pokhara, I made a hiking loop to the World Peace Pagoda, leaving from the Damside area and coming back to the main pier by crossing the Phewa Lake on a boat.
In the morning, I enjoyed the breakfast offer from the Pearly Gate Restaurant, which was just across the street from my hotel. I gobbled eggs, toasted bread, hashed potatoes, milk coffee and a banana. As I decided to walk to the Japanese Pagoda, I had to take a bus to the Damside. From there I activated my GPS and walked along a street without losing sight of the world peace pagoda’s white peak.
A few Nepalis guided me toward a pack of stairs. I crossed the Pardi Khola (the small stream that comes out from the Phewa Lake) where the Nepalese women washed themselves and their clothes. There, I talked with a cyclist who was confused because he didn’t know which path to follow. Afterward, I turned right on the path that had never-ending stone steps.
I quickly reached two Belgians and a British and most of the way I walked with them. We lost the path for several times, but we kept going uphill until we met a Nepalese guide with two tourists from the Netherlands. We abruptly climbed endless stairs, I sweated a lot, and we finally reached a pass with restaurants. From there I saw a panoramic view of the Annapurna Range. From the pass, I walked for another 15 minutes and reached the garden of the World Peace Pagoda.
The World Peace Pagoda is a Buddhist stupa, entirely painted in white, situated on a high base where people climbed to spin the prayer wheels clockwise. The Japanese monks that had built it wanted to dedicate it to the peace of the whole world. For one hour, I sunbathed in the garden of the stupa looking at the Himalayas. Eventually, I decided to follow the advice of the Nepalese guide and come down on the footpath toward Phewa Lake.
I went down along the Stupa Walkway, first through the woods, and then among traditional households, lodges, colorful flowers and banana trees. Surprisingly, many Nepalese people wanted to take photos with me. Soon I reached the small bay of Pumdi Bhumdi. From there I rented a boat with my own boatmen and crossed the lake to Phewa Ghat.
On the third day in Pokhara, and the last one actually, I made a riding loop with ponies up to Sarangkot mountain.
Two ponies waited patiently in front of the travel agency – one for me, the other one for my horse groom. We rode our ponies throughout the Lakeside. After we left Pokhara behind, we turned right at Bulandi Khola and went up along a dirt road to the villages of Gupha and Mathland. From up there I saw the whole Phewa Lake and Valley.
In Gothadi village, I climbed a hill to see the panoramic view of the Annapurna Range. After that we passed below Sarangkot peak from where dozens of paragliders soared in the air and swarmed the sky.
We came down through Horedanda and reached the lake at Happy Village, although I knew we would ride a longer route to Pame. However, I wanted to walk normally after six hours of riding and get ready for the upcoming trek in the Himalayas.
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