The Rocky Road to Pokhara
The cheapest way to get to Pokhara is the bus. It takes 7-10 hours and costs less than 1,000 NRS. It’s also nonstop mountains the entire drive. So if you’re like me, then it’s awesome because you can just gawk at the landscape all day. Otherwise, it’s a less-than-stellar experience.
I boarded the bus at 7:00 AM and was shown to my seat by the guy organizing everything. He looked at my ticket and said, “Yes, you sit here.” I was in my seat less than five minutes before a woman came up and just stared at me. Like, she just stood there and watched me. The first guy came back and started telling me I was in the wrong seat and that I was supposed to be one row back. I was confused since he was the one who seated me, but whatever.
My new seat was next to a British woman, who mysteriously was also in the wrong seat and was moved to the back row. The guy came back and once again told me I had the wrong seat. This time, he also moved me to the back. One by one, every foreigner on the bus was relocated from their “wrong” seats, until we were all crammed together in the back of the bus. Hmmmmm.
We set off through the Kathmandu traffic on what was to be the second-bumpiest ride I’ve ever experienced (the bumpiest came a few days later). The road to Pokhara is pretty much the only road outside Kathmandu that’s paved, and even then it’s rocky at best. We flew down the mountain roads at breakneck speeds, each bump ejecting us from our seats. Whenever we did stop, we were tilted at angles that made us wonder how the bus stayed upright as we struggled to keep from piling up against the window.
Standing was out of the question. If we ever tried to rise from our seat for a moment to adjust, it would rise up to meet us instantly from the subsequent bumps in the road. This was also the first day I felt relatively okay after having food poisoning, so food was mostly out of the question as well. When we finally arrived in Pokhara almost 10 hours later, we all stumbled out of the bus and stood in a daze in the clear mountain air.
Hitting the Trail
I decided to delay my departure by a day to trek with some friends I made on the bus and at my hostel. My original itinerary had me hiking straight out of Pokhara and spending the first night in a village called Dhampus. Instead, the four of us caught a taxi to a village called Phedi and trekked up to Australian Camp, which was about an hour’s walk past Dhampus.
When we arrived in Phedi, our driver pointed to an old stone staircase that ascended straight up the mountainside. “That’s your start. Good luck!” We looked at each other for a moment, then back to the stairs. Time to go.
We gained elevation extremely quickly as we ascended through the jungle heat. Every so often, there would be a break in the trees that would grant us a view of the valley as we gained a higher and higher vantage point. Eventually, we left the trees behind for a moment as we passed through a small village on a stone path between rice terraces. Farmers would give us friendly Namaste‘s as we passed by, and the kids would follow along and ask where we’re from. Telling people I’m from America got some pretty lackluster-bordering-on-disappointed responses.
It only took around 10 minutes to walk through the small village, and then we were in the jungle once again. The stone path would criss-cross over dirt roads that wound their way up the mountain towards Dhampus. Sometimes we’d pass a Nepali man or woman with a huge load of straw or gear on their way down or up the mountain, and we’d always get a cheery “Namaste” as we passed.
We paused for a food and map break in Dhampus to figure out how to get to Australian Camp. Dark clouds loomed overhead. We asked a few local guys if we’d have time to make it to Australian Camp before the rain came, and they laughed and gave the Nepali side-to-side head nod that can mean yes or no. Guess we’ll find out.
It was about an hour and a half of steady uphill trekking past Dhampus to reach Australian Camp. By the time we arrived, I was dripping sweat and had decided I had made my pack unnecessarily heavy. When we passed under the arch that marked the entrance to the camp, we went straight for the first guest house we saw and dropped our packs as quickly as possible.
It was foggy and getting foggier when we arrived, and we couldn’t see anything outside the camp despite being at a high enough elevation to see for miles. I wandered around to take a few pictures, but everything was totally shrouded in the thick fog. We decided there was nothing better to do but to head to the tea house and get dinner. Several pints of tea and plates of dal bhat and a few hours later we decided it was time to go to bed. The rain had come and gone while we ate, and the fog was still too thick to see the mountains or the stars.
Nonetheless, we decided to wake early and watch the sunrise. And that was the best idea we had on the whole trek.
We knew that this first view of the mountains was a preview of things to come. Before this trek was finished, we’d be standing on the rocky face of these mountains. Once the sun was fully up, we got breakfast, packed our bags, and set off once again. Our destination was Forest Camp, which was several hours’ trek higher into the mountains.