It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood.
My hotel, The Vardan Resort, is near the end of a side street off Lakeside Road, the main road stretching the length of Phewa Tal (Lake Phewa) in the tourist section of Pokhara. This side street possibly has a name, but to me is know by its tree. Yes, a really old, fat-trunked tree growing right up through the road, at the juncture of my street and Lakeside. Many of these side streets are marked by old trees, to which are tacked cheerful signs pointing the way to various establishments down the road. Because Lakeside Road itself is just one identical looking tourist joint after another - trek shop next to pashmina shop next to restaurant next to souvenir shop next to trek shop next to pashmina shop next to restaurant next to souvenir shop ad infinitum -it's easy to get lost. The key to getting home is to identify myself as lakeside - by the World Peace Pagoda atop a hill across the lake or its lights by night - or opposite (my street is opposite), and then look for my tree.
|The Vardan Resort. My cottage is the last one on down the lane.|
Lining the curbs of my street - if there were curbs, which there are not, just the slice of space where the dirt of the road hits up against patches of dry grass - are small tin or block sheds housing family-run restaurants - the epitome of the term "hole in the wall" - and tiny little dry goods stands offering short selections of cigarettes, orange soda, candy and snack food, maybe a few warm bottles of beer on a back shelf, the occasional vegetable stand. I haven't been brave enough to venture into a neighborhood cafe, even though the prices would be far better than Lakeside Road, and the food will be fresh home cooking of the sort I enjoyed along the trek path and in the hill villages.
This is my neighborhood for these fourteen or so days, and I'm trying to be brave enough to make friends. My first attempt occurred the day I came down from the hills, and laundry had to be done. I brought about a week's worth of clothes for twenty one days of travel. It lasted longer than I'd guessed, because everything here, including the people, are covered in dust, and you just stop worrying about how dirty you are. But there comes a time...
So as I returned along my street from my adventure, toward The Vardan, I inquired in each of several locations sporting a painting of a washing machine, "How much to do laundry?" The friendly women all asked the same, 80 rupees or about 95 cents a kilo. At a ruddy orange building near my hotel, a man identifying himself as Miya also charges 80 rupees per kilo. He, however, invited me to sit down. He asked me the question most asked here: "How long [have you been/will you be] in Pokhara?" This is the entry point for finding out whether you need a guide. Everyone in Pokhara is or knows a guide, and many, it turns out, will drop whatever they are doing and leave with you to any place you like! Why not? The money is better than taking in laundry - though a truck pulled up to Miya's shop with a bunch of hotel sheets while I was there, so I guess his laundry business isn't that bad. Miya had excellent English, and found himself becoming a guide rather unexpectedly after befriending an older German couple from one of the street hotels. They invited him - or more likely he imposed himself on them in a jolly sort of way - to join their Annapurna trek. Juggling a feisty, runny-nosed two-year old who climbed on and off his lap, Miya told me about his first trek as a guide, and also about his rude awakening when some of the guest lodges along the way would not let Miya - any guides or porters - in to sleep. To Miya's additional disappointment, his German couple did not do well at altitude. They turned back before reaching the Annapurna base camp. Miya is really eager for a second shot at the apple. He won't be getting that shot from me, but I did enjoy his story and his hospitality. I think he enjoyed having someone to hear his tale. Later in the day, I brought my laundry back. He hung it from a little hand scale, finding that I had a full two kilos of clothes and dirt combined, but he discounted me 10 rupees - eight cents - for my friendship. That amused me.
|From the top left, honey (maher), ginger (aduwaa), |
tangerines (sintala) from my neighbor down the block.
Three or four times each day I pick my way up and down this street, stepping around boys with bats, babies and buff poo, to get food or exercise or to buy some little thing I want - honey, a used novel, more tissues. By now, many of the people who spend their days at the edge of the road tending hotel gates, the stands and the little cafes recognize me. They smile and namaste me as I walk by, and encourage their babies to do the same. For now, they have come to see me as part of the neighborhood too, even though I do not yet recognize all of them. Mr. Rogers' heart is surely warming, wherever he is.