Pokhara, Peace Pagoda and Paragliding

We picked up our bikes from the bike shop today. Yesterday we took the train to the package depot, so finally it is here! We are almost ready to start our cycling trip, and the weather has turned nasty :(. But we’re very eager to get going!
The city of Pokhara was our “home base” for most of our time in Nepal. It is about 200km from Kathmandu, but driving between the two takes over 7 hours! Its population of 265 000 makes it Nepal’s 2nd biggest city (my dad met someone on a trek who said that in 1990 the population was 50 000). Its proximity to the mountains also makes it a place where lots of tourists start their trek. It’s right next to the beautiful Fewa Tal (Fewa Lake), and there’s so much to see and do in and around Pokhara. So much of Pokhara’s (and Nepal’s) economy is based on tourism, so even though many of the activities we did seem very decadent, they helped employ a lot of people. I’m sure that now after the earthquake, Pokhara must really be struggling.
We first went to Pokhara with Yadav and Hira from Solar Sisters on the “Tourist bus”. But, since there was a change of plans and only my dad could go to the village to do the solar install, Jake, my mom and I had some time to explore Pokhara.
We stayed at the Hotel Fewa, a very nice place, right on the lake. The Solar Sisters organization brings their clients there every time, so they get a good deal. The tourist area of Pokhara is called Lakeside, and is pretty much a nicer, safer and more laid-back version of Kathmandu’s Thamel district. For example, Lakeside has wide sidewalks, Thamel has none. Crossing the street in Lakeside is very simple, whereas in Thamel it’s a life-theatening activity. Lakeside is on a beautiful lake with mountain views, and Thamel is in the center of a very dusty, dirty and polluted city. The street vendors in Lakeside are usually quite pleasant, but the ones in Thamel are very pushy.

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We got our first view of the Himalaya in Pokhara! At one point, we were in a taxi when they popped out from behind the clouds, and we all started freaking out because we were so excited! The driver was a bit confused at why we would be so happy to get a view of mountains.
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Early morning light on Fewa Tal

Our first adventure in Pokhara was going to the World Peace Pagoda. It’s at the top of a hill on the other side of Fewa Tal. Most people hire someone to paddle them over in a boat. A man came up to us and said that he had a restaurant across the lake, and if we agreed to eat lunch at his restaurant, he would give us a free ride across. So, we agreed.

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Half pedal boat, half party boat!

At the other side, we started the climb up. It was pretty steep, but we got some nice views along the way. One hour later, we arrived at the top.

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So our first glimpse of the Peace Pagoda was quite an ugly one. First we were thinking that they cut down the trees for a better view, but then at the top we saw a sign saying that a landslide occurred in August last year, and the Peace pagoda is now in danger. The monsoons come in June, and one more landslide could make the soil under the Pagoda fall away. They were asking for donations to help build supports for the Stupa (local name for temple). Another interesting thing is that at the end of our time in Nepal, we were in Boudhanath at a very big stupa, and even there they were raising money for Pokhara's Peace Pagoda! We are worried about the effect of the recent earthquake on the Peace pagoda... because Pokhara was hit.
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This is the stupa. You always walk around them clockwise, and we saw a few Buddhist monks when we were there.
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This was our view of Pokhara from the top.

There are a handful of little restaurants at the Peace Pagoda, but we had agreed to eat at the one near the bottom, so we headed back down. At one point, Jake and I were ahead of my mom, and we accidentally took a wrong turn. Then, we decided to wait for her, and we got a bit worried when she hadn’t caught up 15 minutes later. So we went back to find her, only to see that we had made a wrong turn! We ran back down to the restaurant, and she was there waiting for us. We ordered a very yummy lunch there. Then, we took a boat back to Lakeside.

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This one wasn't as nice as the boat we took going the other direction.

The next thing we did in Pokhara was go to the International Mountain Museum. We didn’t have much time there because it was close to closing time, but there were some good exhibits there. One of them compared the mountain people of the Himalaya and the Alps. There were pictures showing that their lifestyles are quite similar, including their houses, the way they carry things and the way they herd animals. It was a very neat comparison! Another exhibit showed the evolution of climbing gear, and displayed the gear that Edmund Hillary and Tenzin Norgay used to summit Everest in 1953. It looked very heavy. But then the museum closed, so we found some things to do outside.

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We rode a yak!
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They even had a mini mountain we could try and climb!

When we got back to Lakeside, my dad was back! We spent a few more days in Pokhara finding a guide for trekking and getting organized. We always ate at restaurants, because the accommodation didn’t have cooking facilities. The restaurants always had the traditional Nepali food, some western food, and a page with Indian curries. That was where we normally ordered from, the curries. Our favourite restaurants were the Tea Time Bamboostan restaurant and OR2K, and our favourite cafe was Perky Beans.

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This is OR2K. It's a totally vegetarian mid-eastern restaurant. We ate at the one in Kathmandu, loved it so much, and went back to the one in Pokhara. The food is amazing, and there is a really cool ambience. Everyone sits on cushions and eats at low tables. They play cool music, and there is neat artwork on the walls. It has a very "namaste-ish" kind of feel!
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Jake and I loved Perky Beans, because they had HUGE milkshakes!

Cows are very sacred in Hindu and Buddhist culture, so Nepalis always respect cows. If cows are on the road, drivers will always drive around them very carefully, so cows have learned that the streets are a safe place for them. They don’t care a single bit about the cars around them.

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So who owns these cows? Why do they live in big cities? Why do they sleep on the road? We asked a few people these questions, but we still don’t understand.
We headed out on our trek with Prakash, then 10 days later we came back to Pokhara. This time, we stayed at Hotel Khukuri, cheaper than Hotel Fewa because it wasn’t on the lake. It was run by a very nice family.
By far, the very best thing we did in Pokhara was paragliding. Pokhara is one of the best places in the world for paragliding, and it looked absolutely amazing. We first watched it from the Peace Pagoda. Every day, we kept watching the paragliders, and finally, we decided that we just had to do it. Jake and I received money from our uncle Craig before the trip, and we used it to for paragliding.
First, we went to Open Sky paragliding to sign some forms, blah blah blah.

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Then, we did the 30 minute drive from Pokhara to Sarangkot. The pilots were from all over the world: Turkey, Brazil, Romania, Russia, just to name a few. Jake’s pilot, Richard from Brazil, was telling us about different paragliding races there are in the world. In one of them, you trek/paraglide from Austria to Monaco over 20 days! He has even won an international competition in Argentina!
The drive to Sarangkot was very dusty and windy, and Jake was starting to feel pretty carsick. Finally, we arrived there, and by now we were practically fainting with excitement! Sarangkot is at the top of a hill overlooking Fewa Tal, and it’s where all the paragliders take off. Our pilots set up the equipment, and then we waited our turn to launch. Everyone had to wait for an updraft.

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My mom went first...

Then Jake took off…

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I was next. First, they lay the "wing" out on the field. When they feel an updraft wind, they say "run!". But by the time my pilot, Ziya, told me to run, I was already floating! We didn't have to run at all and the wind already carried us off.

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The first second was the best one, the one when you realize that you are flying for the first time without any motor.

My dad took off last so that he could take pictures of all of our takeoffs. Some of these pictures are taken by him, and some are taken by our pilot’s GoPro cameras.

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That's me!

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To watch a YouTube video of me flying, click here.

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Jake flying over Fewa Tal

And to watch a video of Jake flying, click here.

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We were so high above the ground! It was a warm day, and hot air rises, so it was a great day for flying. The only thing that could have been better was the view – it was quite clear, but the mountains were mostly hidden behind clouds. Still, it was such an amazing experience.

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My dad and I were circling around each other and when he caught an updraught he took this photo of me.

One hour later, it was time to land in the field (full of cows) beside Fewa Tal. Jake started feeling sick at the very end, and he threw up in a cup. But, he says that it didn’t ruin his experience at all, and he’s glad that it was only the last 3 minutes of the flight.
The landings were very smooth. Mine was a little less smooth, but still pretty good.

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The landing field
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The pilots quickly packed up their wings/chutes to get ready for their next flight. See the cows in the background.

Of all the adventure stuff we’ve done on this trip (ziplines, rafting, canyoning, caving, ect.), paragliding beats everything by far. It was just indescribable. If you are considering it but think that it’s too expensive, do it! It’s worth it! Thanks, uncle!

Our favourite Nepali snack was momos. Jake described them in his post about Kathmandu, but in case you’ve forgotten, I’ll describe them again. They are little dumplings, filled with either vegetable, chicken, or “buff” (buffalo meat, Nepalis don’t eat cow beef). They’re always served on a plate in groups of 10. They’re delicious!
We were actually quite obsessed with momos, and asked the family who ran our hotel if there are any places in town where we could learn how to make them. They told us that we could go to their friends, at the neighbouring little restaurant to learn.
The kitchen at the All in one Cafe was pretty tiny, but we all squished in. They had already made the momo dough, but they told us that it’s basically flour and water.

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They are very efficient in their tiny kitchen.
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First, you chop the vegetables very finely.
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Then, you make a mix of different vegetables and spices.
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Next, you wrap the mixture in the dough. This part was harder than it looked! The Nepalis make momos look so beautiful, I couldn't make them as nice as they could, but I tried my best. Finally, you steam the momos for 5-7 minutes. Then they're ready to eat!

Making momos is something I’m going to practice we get home. I hope to experiment too… how about fruit momos? Chocolate momos? It’s worth a try!
Nepal is notorious for selling very cool, funky clothes. They weren’t exactly Jake’s style, but the rest of us went a bit crazy.

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There are a lot of embroidered shirts. Some of them have neat Nepali designs, some say namaste, some have mountains or say "Nepal" or "Pokhara". My dad and I really liked these shirts, and we each got one.

First I went and chose my shirt. I loved the Namaste expression, and the man at the shop said that he could sew that on the back for me.

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First, he traced it with chalk, then he "freehanded" sewed it on with his sewing machine!

Here’s the full outfit:

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The design on the front is very special, and really represents Nepal for me. Firstly, the Lotus flower and and the wheel are Buddhist symbols. The little yellow characters are called "Om", and they are a Hindu symbol. Om is the sound you make while meditate. Finally, Namaste is a very common expression in Nepal. It literally means "I admire the divine in you", but it can be used as hello, thank you, or anything positive. This shirt really represents Nepal for me!

My dad also got a shirt like that:

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That is the Lotus flower and the Buddha Eyes.

Here are the rest of the shirts that my dad bought:

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For every shirt that comes home, one will disappear from my small wardrobe. These shirts are great souvenirs for me, because every time I put them on, I am reminded of the country they come from. When people ask me about my shirts, I will have many stories to tell them. I have many shirts from Africa, and I wear them all the time. -Cameron Douglas, PhD in Shirt Studies.

Nepalis wear beautiful and colourful clothing. To give you an example, we saw a wedding ceremony with both bride and groom dressed extravagantly.

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My mom loved the clothes that the women wear, so one day we went on a little trip to downtown Pokhara to see what we could find. We took a very crowded city bus to a neighbourhood called Mahandra Pul. My mom walked into a tailor and found some colours she loved. They measured her, then they told us to come back in a few days when the outfit would be ready. When she did come back, it didn’t fit, but when we went back a third time… Tadah!

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I loved seeing the local women wearing sequined, colour-coordinated outfits while doing their daily chores. -Yvonne Leicht, model of the clothes

Some more clothes we got:
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Nepal is famous for its meditation and yoga. Peace, serenity, happiness and clarity are the core of Buddhism. We heard that a place offered free meditation in Pokhara, so we decided to try it. None of us knew what to expect.
We went into the meditation room. The instructor came in, but she thought that everyone knew exactly what meditation was, and explained nothing. “Hello, Namaste everyone. We will start with five minutes of silence”. We sat quietly for five minutes. Then, she had us chant “Om, Om, Om, Om…” for the rest of the class, about 30 minutes. We didn’t know how long the class was, and we were worried that we would be chanting “Om” for an hour! My dad struggled not to laugh.
We left the class no further ahead on the question of “what is meditation?”. More on that in an upcoming blog about the Annapurna Eco-village. Here’s a picture of me meditating:

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But one thing I’ve learned to love is the “Om” symbol. It means peace and serenity in Hindi. Here’s what it looks like:

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Our last adventure in Pokhara was a very fun rafting trip. We chose the Upper Seti river, a short but intense two hour trip. The drive to the start took about 40 minutes. Then, we got a short safety briefing. The last time we had been rafting was on the Inka Jungle Trip in Peru.

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In the raft, it was the four of us and our guide, Santos. There were also two safety kayakers.
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It was a very fun ride! As you can see in this picture, I kept slipping!

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At one point, we got out of the raft and jumped off a cliff! The water was very cold.

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Lying down in the raft at the end

That was an exhilarating time!

Pokhara was a great place to spend time in. We met so many nice people there, and we just have to hope that they are okay. We heard that Pokhara wasn’t hit too badly in the earthquake, but we wonder if the Peace Pagoda is still standing. We hope that Pokhara and the area will recover quickly. Be brave, Nepal. Namaste.
Kaia

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