This was the first Christmas that I ever spent away from my family, and boy, was it awesome.
Now, before you get the idea that I am some cruel and unusually ungrateful child, let me clarify: being away from my family for the holidays was heartbreaking. But, rather than allowing myself to be crippled by heartbreak, I was blessed to have a lovely vacation with a group of amazing young women.
Not too much of note happened this day. I had school, where one of my coworkers gave me a lovely teal poncho as a Christmas gift—which I promised to wear on Christmas day. After classes ended for the day, I hopped on a bus bound for KTM. Then I hopped on another bus bound for my favorite café. This ended up being a double-edged sword. Yes, it was the nicest public conveyance I have experienced in Nepal. However, it had a silly rule: the back door is for entering, the front is for exiting. No exceptions. Of course I was at the back of the bus, and the aisle was filled—FILLED—with people. As I am blessed with the gift of height, at least when compared to Nepalis, I was able to hoist my twenty-pound backpack over everyone’s heads and escape.
I did fall down the stairs. But at least I made it off the bus.
(As a comparison for my immediate family, picture the Mohonk lemon squeeze, except horizontal and made of people rather than rock.)
After spending the night at the Fulbright-Clinton girls’ apartment (such luxury: Wi-Fi! Hot water! A space heater!), I departed with one of them, Rebekah, for the fanciest damn bus I’ve seen here. It’s amazing: at 6:30 in the morning, Kathmandu is wide awake, and nobody is carrying coffee cups.
The bus ride was very nice: lunch was included in our ticket price, and there were no chickens in the overhead compartments. It took about 7 hours to reach Pokhara, but pleasant conversation made the time fly by. Ellen arranged for a very nice hotel, and it was there that we met her, Emily, and Lisa. We didn’t accomplish much on our first day, but we did have a nice Christmas Eve dinner at a place with tasty pizza and pasta selections. My serving of pesto gnocchi was a bit small for my large appetite, but the pizzas were a bit large for the other girls, so it evened out.
Christmas Day! And what a Christmas it was. The first matter of business was a 10-minute, 400 rupee max Secret Santa, and then on to breakfast at Mike’s Restaurant, a derivative of the very famous Mike’s Breakfast in KTM. We taped a paper Christmas tree to a real tree as we sat by the lakeside. Ellen got me a felted penguin pen snuggy, for when my hands are too cold to write properly, and the other gifts were equally as unique and fun (Lisa’s new giraffe hat being a highlight for everyone). Lisa distributed candy, I distributed friendship bracelets, and that was the extent of gift-giving.
Breakfast was followed by a hiking adventure. Pokhara is home to the World Peace Pagoda, a famous hilltop site that can be viewed from all of the lakeside properties. However, we discovered that while the pagoda is highly visible, the route to it was anything but obvious. Due to Emily and Lisa’s Nepali speaking skills, an old lady gathering firewood led us halfway up the hill. Her path of choice was a narrow footpath that skirted several dry waterfalls, and probably would have been better for say, goats, or elves, but we made it.
We then had an amusing incident (for everyone except Lisa) where, in attempting to embrace a tree for a photo-op, Lisa accidentally patted a spiny caterpillar. I was thrilled, because it meant the tweezers on my Swiss Army Knife came in handy. Lisa was fine, thank goodness – no venom or anaphylaxis or sudden desires to eat leaves. We also met a woman from Spain who asked to walk with us.
The Peace Pagoda was a really lovely, some might say peaceful, spot, and it was worth the trek. I brought Indiana Mouse along and got a few nice pictures with him.
Christmas dinner was at a restaurant called Moondance. Our new friend from Spain, Berta, joined us—it was fun to chat in Spanish, and Rebekah, who spent two years in Spain, made Berta feel very welcome in our group. Emily and I splurged on the Christmas dinner special: roast chicken. We got pumpkin soup, roasted veggies (including a whole roasted garlic bulb), the aforementioned bird, stuffing (which I stopped eating after Emily casually mentioned it had liver in it), apple crisp a la mode, and Nepali milk chiya. All in all, the day was a really enjoyable blend of American and Nepali experiences.
We woke up at 5:30, but for a good reason. In fact, we were up and out so early, we had to break out of our hotel on our quest to find a taxi. Why did we need a taxi? Why, to see the sun rise and illuminate the Himalaya, of course! There is a very famous spot in the hills overlooking Pokhara called Sarangkot which has an unmatchable view of the Annapurnas and Machhapuchchhre (so many h's in there), some of the most famous Himalayan peaks. After watching the rising sun gild the mountains in rose gold, we did what any self-respecting Americans would do when confronted with a jaw-dropping panorama: take jumping photos!
The rest of the day was filled with shopping, errands, and boating. Emily and I also got massages, which I am still trying to decide whether it was a relaxing or highly awkward experience. Probably a mix of both. Ellen and I finally found a real Japanese restaurant (this has been a goal of ours for several months), and dinner was a shared meal of Indian vegetarian curries and garlic nan.
Rebekah and I had to go to bed early so as to be ready for our early bus departure in the morning, so we said goodbye to the other girls that evening. We certainly wished that we could have stayed a few more days, both to enjoy such pleasant company and to explore more of the beauty of Pokhara. I, for one, would have loved to go parahawking: that is, paragliding with a hawk.
They say that there’s no place like home for the holidays, and that home is where the heart is. Well, my heart is in my rib cage, and my rib cage is in Nepal, but to end this really convoluted simile/metaphor mashup, trust me when I say that this was a truly wonderful Christmas.
|Pizza. Also traditional Nepali food.|
|What is "Xmax"? Actually, don't answer that.|
|Pig? Boar? Delicious?|
|The sailboat that would be Lisa's.|
|Showing off Christmas finery.|
|Not pictured: extra crispy bacon.|
|How could you not want to go paragliding with a view like that?|
|Typical Christmas greenery.|
|Oh, heck no.|
|Actual Christmas greenery (and red-ery?).|
|Read the top line.|
|The World Peace Pagoda.|
|Rocking the new poncho.|
|Indiana Mouse feels right at home.|
|Literally the first recycling bin I have seen in the whole country.|
|Alanna's favorite food group.|
|I can't believe I ate the whole thing...|
|Our breakfast companion.|
|A video showing nothing but the sun rising over the Himalaya.|
|View from a canoe.|
|Lisa and Rebekah cruisin' along.|
|The bird we dubbed "Blueberry Muffin."|
|You know you're in trouble when you break out the paddle...|
|My new Nalgene bottle. Matches my color scheme.|
|Where is Maxico?|
|Well, if you insist.|
|Apple butter pie. Mmmm.|