A tale of two cities. Or at any rate two cities that held much in common for both of us. Nepal is known as “the birthplace of Buddha”, but for us it was “the land of odd coincidences”. Each one served as “book ends” to our travels; Kathmandu coming & going from Nepal all together & Pokhara was our launch & landing site for our Annapurna adventure. Both cities are uniquely different while being vastly similar. Ben’s opinion, spending more days than I in each city with his additional Langtang trek, compared the two; “Pokhara, if starting over, would be what Nepalis would want now in their capital city.” At one time, it was even thought to move the capital to Pokhara from Kathmandu though it was never realized. We loved both cities equally & something about them, or Nepal in general, or even more likely the company we met & kept here, made it almost feel like a comfortable home.
I loved Kathmandu, more specifically the Thamel neighborhood. Perhaps it was the fact that, despite writing about this so much later, it was our first stop out of Rishikesh & in being so was completely different than how I had spent my last month. It felt weird to be amongst loud music, thriving bars (Beer! Woot!), there’s something intoxicating about Nepal & its people; incredibly welcoming & friendly. Instantly, I felt like I could just stay there forever & enjoy it. It’s loud & bustling, overcrowded & dusty, much like India, but with some sort of magic feeling in the air; it just felt happy. Tons of shops line the crowded streets, selling everything from knickknacks to beautiful artwork. The capital has a variety of beautiful temples to explore as well, Hindu & Buddhist alike.
Our first night we went out to explore a bit & finally settled on a little place called “The Black Olive” for dinner. It was crowded, people gathered to hear a local band play, & the waiter asked if it be ok to join another couple that had been seated at a 4-top; not particularly caring, we agreed & so did they. Well in about 10 minutes’ time we realized we had basically just met ourselves… Daniel & Kimberly were a couple from the U.S. who were also in Nepal to embark on multiple treks. They, like us, had also taken a leap of faith & sold or stored most of their possessions deciding to travel all over the globe for 18 months (lucky, I was jealous as we only have 11!). Funny, since we hadn’t met anyone else from the U.S. doing such a thing. Well chatting a few more minutes & we learned Daniel was a Virginia Tech grad, just a few years older than us, & they had also lived in D.C. for several years. What a small world! Talking about VT lead to chatting about where everyone had grown up…Daniel had lived not far from me & spent many a summer working a local sandwich shop right next to my dad’s office, where he probably ate almost daily & I must have been there 100 times. Ben & I had a few pre-wedding festivities at the marina as well - really weird. I almost never come across anyone that close to where I’m from & certainly never in Nepal! We ended up spending a good deal of time together; chatting, swapping travel stories & trekking tips, we even decided to ring in the Nepali New Year & made plans to meet up.
Apparently, we weren’t the only ones with the ideas to pop up to Nepal from India. I never expected to be walking through the streets of Kathmandu on (Nepali) NYE & hear my name shouted out in the street yet that’s exactly what happened. Turning I saw two good friends from my “yoga camp” days strolling through the crowds to join us! Of all the random things in the world, we rang in the Nepali Year 2074 with two new (very close to home friends) & my recently made yogi friends from Sweden at “Tom & Jerry’s” a well-known backpacker bar in Thamel. What a weird world?
Where Kathmandu can be the local, rough & crowded capital city of Nepal, Pokhara is its sweet sister city that graces the edges of Fewa Lake. The Lakeside district has a very western, laid back adventure town feel to it, with a never-ending supply of adventure supply stores with “north face” or “arc’teryx” gear available for a surprisingly good deal…
There more than enough local shops & bars to keep you busy, most with a great atmosphere & several along the lake shore for an evening water breeze or beautiful views of the sun setting behind the mountain. Plus, if you just walk up & ask for the “happy hour” deal almost anywhere will give it to you regardless if you’re within the time window, not sure why but it was a happy discovery. Busy Bee is a well-known bar that typically boasts a live band most evenings. It was here of all places that we heard “country roads” being belted out of the mouth of a young Nepali man, a clear majority of the bar singing along with him. I think I can count on one hand how many times I’ve heard that song outside of the American South, nevertheless anywhere outside the country.
Remember that “weird world” from Kathmandu? Well it got weirded because as we settled into our little lodge house after ending our trek, who should walk into our lobby but, yup, Daniel & Kimberly! None of this had been planned & we hadn’t come across them in Annapurna as we were trekking different routes. There must be hundreds of lodges to stay in Pokhara so the chances they strolled into ours, at that exact moment is almost incredible to consider. We figured we’d had such a lovely time the first time we threw a random group together, why not continue? We welcomed them out to a lakeside happy hour & dinner, joining our little band of 6 from our trek & now it was the 8 of us who all sat around at twilight, throwing back local brews & chatting away like there was no reason in the world to think less than 10 days ago we never knew one another.
Unfortunately, as it does, time marched on & we were among the first of our group to head out to our next location. We were legitimately sad to be leaving such a fun & diverse group of people who had all managed to be brought together by a random chance of fate. One last beautiful day in Pokhara, we rented a boat & made our way out onto the lake. Watching the sun dip behind the mountains & finally crack open the beers we had so longingly joked of during the long treks up & over the mountains.
I look back at both Kathmandu & Pokhara as some of my more favorite memories of the time we have spent in Asia so far. No doubt because meeting or running into so many people made it feel a bit more like “home”. For once we had people to make plans with! We got to know local bars & restaurants & even yoga studios! I finally could manage my way around the winding streets & not get lost! And, as fate would have it, as if the universe wanted to wish us farewell on our final day in Kathmandu before flying back to India, we shared a morning breakfast with two other “yoga camp” friends who happened to be in Thamel. Apparently, if you want to test your 6-degrees of separation, all you have to do is go to Nepal.