POKHARA, Exploring The Great North: My First Hand Experience.
By Shannon Wolf
What they don’t tell you about travel is that you will leave your heart in the most unexpected places. Once foreign streets and strangers transform into familiar places and faces; your guesthouse will become your home and you will know every road and the best-hidden places to go. It’s sensory overload (but in the best sense) and apart of you will never be the same again.
Over the last four years of travel and countless countries stamped in my passport, I have experienced and felt at great lengths what it means to understand different cultures but after 4 months in Nepal; I understood what human connection really encompasses, how important it is to live amongst nature and how you are truly capable of anything you set your mind too. In other words; Nepal changed me and I will be forever grateful.
Falling in Love with Pokhara
At the beginning of 2017, my bucket list for the year started off with going to one of the places in Asia that every traveller I had met continuously raved about: Nepal. A few months prior, I had spent 5 months travelling solo throughout India and the country was a whirlwind of every emotion and experience (all within in a 24 hour time period.) I had no idea at the time what was in store when arriving in the bustling capital city of Kathmandu as I paid for my two month visa when arriving at the airport but when two months of falling in love with Pokhara and it’s surroundings flew by as quickly as I blinked - I extended without hesitation for another two months knowing full-well that I would return again some day.
“Make sure you stay in Lakeside!!!” my friend preached over and over again before arriving in Nepal. “I know you, and I know you’ll love it. It’s the gateway to the great north.” He said over Facebook messenger the day before I landed. Of course; he hit the nail right on the head and after I had arrived and found the perfect guesthouse along Lakeside – A large room with an equally large, white vintage desk perfect for writing, drawing and creating overlooking a beautiful garden which also had a rooftop with magnificent views to watch the sun set over Fewa Lake I thought “What more could I ask for? I’ll stay for two weeks.”
Guest House Turned Home
Two weeks transpired into two months where my guesthouse turned home cost me a mere $3/night playing with their two dogs named Moon and Sun, hearing a knock on my door only to be greeted by the smile of a mother inviting me each night for family dinners consisting of the best home cooked Nepali dishes I have ever ate and by day; meeting strews of the most warm hearted and interesting locals and travellers I have ever met in all my years abroad who became not only my friends but my travel family exploring the country from the north to the very south.
My friend Joseph whom I had met in India had arrived in Pokhara a few days after my arrival and moved into an equally beautiful guesthouse up the road called Namaste where long-term travellers stationed and an alternative travel community was formed while we lived in the small area of Lakeside. From then on, our travel community lived on and we all posted in Pokhara for the same duration of time.
It was like living in your own personal version of Neverland with no concept of time; only living by the moment and the sun. You would walk down the streets and everyone knew your name. You would have your early morning breakfast together at Wheat to Sweet Bakery or Sabina Momo’s – filling up on chocolate covered pastries or banana, cashew, chocolate momo’s you knew weren’t good for you but loved anyways.
We would go religiously to Café 17 after trying a handful of coffee shops to get our morning buzz and then rent a colorful wooden boat filled with our friends and local beer to float along one of the worlds most beautiful lakes to talk about life; to jump off into the glimmering water below smiling and cheering “This is paradise!”. We had dinners lit by candlelight; peering out into the snow capped mountain sky that hosted what we knew was the road to trekking the great north; another adventure that would soon unfold in the coming months living in Pokhara.
Each day was a new venture of exploring different villages or day-treks to places like Bahun Dada taking us up 200 stairs for a striking and iconic lookout of Manang Monastery where 70 Buddhist monks live and a viewpoint of the Himalayas that took our breath away. As night fell in paradise; we danced to trance music along the lake and learnt to sing along to the most beloved Nepali songs or relaxed at the free rooftop movie nights at The Blind Tiger (or the occasional late night beer at our favorite secret/late night bar’s called “The Office” and “Friendship Café Restaurant and Bar” which I probably shouldn’t mention but will anyways!)
From day trips exploring Old Town Pokhara by foot, Davis Falls with 500 feet long underground tunnels to Begnas Tal – a mere 15km to the east of Pokhara by local bus that hosts a sparkling and quiet lake perfect for escaping the tourist trails of Lakeside to spending the afternoon strolling leisurely around the lake and into the forest or swimming in the clear waters; we had everything we could ask for and then some.
Trekking From Pokhara
After we had explored all that Pokhara had to offer; we soon loaded up on our trekking gear; our bags packed with tears in our eyes as we said goodbye to our guesthouse family and ready to hit the road (not so far ahead). We trekked the easy 3-day Panchase Trail coming up at 2100m bringing us through remote, quaint villages; nights with our guesthouse families who took us in as their own; sitting around a campfire as we spoke about their lives, learning how to cook Dhal baht and homemade paratha as we sipped on homemade chai.
As we reached further heights, we were rewarded with dazzling views of Fishtail, Ganesh Himal, Annapurna Himal, Manaslu Himal, Dhaulagiri Himal and Himchuli only to reach the utmost peak with little sleep to watch the sun rise over the land.
But the best we saved for last…
An 8-day trek to reach the Annapurna Base Camp was said to be easy but given the time of year we started proved to be nothing far from an adventure. It uncovered not only the beauty and the power of Mother Nature but for first-time trekkers such as myself; that your mind is your most powerful tool.It was rollercoaster of 8 intensive days of what I refer to as “the stair master from hell” (but gave you a damn good looking figure by the end and a grand sense of accomplishment). I had my ups – walking along magical mossed forests looking like something from a fairytale to starring in awe as I saw the Himalayas become closer than I had ever seen before. I had my downs - blue feet from freak rainfalls and snowstorms, coming face to face with an avalanche and mostly; battling my own mind which was the hardest of all. However; in my 29 years of living; trekking in Nepal was one of the most uplifting and beneficial experiences I’ve had to date.
As the days and stairs continued; I thought to myself “If I can make it to the top, this is proof that I am capable of anything I put my mind too. My inner voice whispered "You can do this...just one more step.” And so I took a step; and another and another and although my heart flung to my throat each time I slipped on ice and hit the ground, I got right back up, wiped away the slush and moved forward. One foot and then another.
Along the way, the fog had begun to clear and the sun warmed my skin as I neared the mountains edge and I stopped dead. "My. God..." I whispered in disbelief that this was in fact real. I was staring out into one of the most beautiful landscapes I had ever seen. I don't know how long I had stood there but for a moment I forgot all about my soggy and aching feet, the thousands of stairs I had climbed or falling through snow and instead I thought "this is what it means to be alive.”
At that moment; even if I didn't make it to the top, that moment would have been enough I thought but now more than ever I didn't want to stop.
Reaching Annapurna Base Camp from MBC
When we had reached the second last teahouse of MBC before reaching the Annapurna Base Camp, the few trekkers we had met along the way warmed up with cups of creamy hot chocolate and enough Dhal Bhat to feed a small village before deciding at 4am we would make the final trek together to reach the base.With tired eyes and anticipation, at 4:30am, we began our 2-hour trek to reach the base for sunrise. Every ascending step seemed to awaken our bodies and the sky transformed from the blackened star filled sky into a haze of purples and pinks. As we reached the last peak, the sky revealed a golden hue over the land and to our disbelief; there it was.
Everything we had gone through: mind and body in order to see those vibrant prayer flags waving in the distance with a 360 degree view of the most beautiful mountains we’ve ever bared witness too –it was all worth it then.We screamed at the top of our lungs hugging with smiles and tears of happiness you will never be able to emulate. This was it. We had made it.It's these moments where you feel a sense of unity with the world and yourself - like everything is aligned and although the moment and the feeling may be impermanent; the memory remains forever and reminds you that you truly are capable of anything you set your mind too.
From that moment on, my old self and mindset had been replaced by all of my experiences in Nepal. One year later and I am continually living the life of my dreams with a clear sense of where I’m going and what I want out of life. A line I have repeated day after day is this: “A comfort zone is a beautiful place but nothing ever grows there.” This is my sentiment to Nepal; To Pokharha and the incredible people you cross paths with throughout your journey. I can’t wait to be back where my heart has stayed.
About: Shannon Wolf
Shannon Wolf has lived out of a 30L backpack, travelling nomadically around the globe over the last 4 years as a freelance travel writer, photographer with an open itinerary and no intent of stopping. Shannon’s work focuses on comical yet heart felt first-hand narratives mixed with valuable information for readers to uncover the best hidden gems of each country.
Her objective is to delve into local life as if it was her own and show that jumping out of your comfort zone will reward you with the most beautiful experiences you’ve ever known. Over the years her work has been featured and published both in print and online in various publications across the globe.
Shannon has travelled over 50+ countries, is an avid food lover, adrenaline enthusiast and artist of many calibers. Upon arriving in Nepal in 2017 with a planned 2 month visa, she was captivated by Nepal’s rich beauty – both in landscape, culture and it’s people that an extension was indefinite and her plans of returning to her “home away from home” are right around the corner.
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