I love spending a day on two wheels.
I’ve hired a bike. It cost me $12 for the day. Pokhara is a town that stands along the edge of Lake Phewa, and it’s also the gateway to the Annapurna ranges of the Himalayas. As such, most people who are trekking to the mountains will base themselves here. A thriving tourist area called Lakeside has sprung up on one side of the lake, and this is where I’m staying. I’ve spent a couple of days milling around here and now I’m ready to get out and about and see what else lies along the lake.
I’ve a history of my cycling trips going wrong, but I’m pretty confident that this one is going to turn out okay. I mean, all I’ve got to do is cycle along the path that runs around the lake. What could possibly go wrong?
I set off and I head up the road that leads out of Lakeside and out towards Happy Village. It feels great to get the legs pumping and the wind blowing past me. I round a corner and take in the view across the lake. Through the haze I can just about pick out the World Peace Pagoda atop the hills on the other side of the lake. I keep pedalling along. The road surface gets less smooth and more gravelly as I round corners. I was warned by the people in the bike shop that it gets a bit rough out there. Cars pass by and the occasional truck thunders past. The lake is pretty.
I round a corner and see a sign for Happy Village. It’s here that the road gets a lot more challenging. Just like the road from Bhaktapur to Nagarkot, large sections of the tarmac are rutted or missing completely. Some of the path is just rocks and puddles. Other cyclists along the route have stopped and are pushing their bikes along. I decide to keep going, pedalling as hard as I can – I figure that slowing down and trying to thread my way through the holes will make me wobble, so I power on and bump and crash my way along the road.
I stop on the other side of the village for a short break. I’ve gone past the edge of the water, and now it’s flat, muddy land and rice paddies stretching out across the valley. It’s so quiet and peaceful here, and I suddenly realise that it has been quite a while since I was out in the middle of nowhere enjoying the peace and serenity and not in a bustling, seething town or city with thousands of people around.
Out here is paragliding land, another activity for which Pokhara is known. Above me in the sky are tens of paragliders, and nearby is the landing spot they will descend upon. I hear the wind whistling in the colourful sails, and as a glider descends and glides down above me towards the landing spot I can hear someone shouting “woah” in delight. Suresh in Bhaktapur told me all about the paragliding, and I have already made my mind up that I want to do it – after all, this is my year of new experiences and of saying yes to things I would never normally do.
I continue on. I’ve come quite a long way from Lakeside now and there are fewer and fewer towns and villages. I spot several people out on the lake bed, though, and there are a small scattering of houses. I think how funny it is that this feels so remote and yet just a few miles down the road there is a thriving town full of thousands of tourists from all over the world. I pass through a couple of villages and towns and then I see the hills at the far end of the valley, so I know I will have to head over to the other side soon. I decide to stop for lunch and sit and look at the map. There looks like a path all the way around the like, so I should be good.
I cross over a metal rope bridge to get to the other side, and continue along the road. It’s still quite bumpy and rutted, but it seems prettier here because we are in the hills. I begin to pass rice paddies and small houses. The road is a lot more twisty there are more hills to go up and down. A black Audi SUV passes by, which I find interesting – I mean, who out here has the money for an Audi SUV? I watch it descend the hills and twist its way along the roads ahead of me as I begin to make to the other side of the lake.
I start to wonder if I’m going to make it all the way around the lake. It’s mid-afternoon by now, and I’m about as far from Lakeside as I can get. The roads are more windy and hilly. I keep checking the map to see if it’s worth going back the way I came. I figure that I’ll carry on. I come to large hill and I have to get off the bike to push it up – there’s no way my thighs can cope with the steep ascent. I decide to take a break and sit and rest for a while, just enjoying the scenery.
Back on the bike, I find myself facing more ascents. I pant up a hill, and then I see the Audi SUV outside a small cafe on top of the hill. There’s hand-painted sign saying Stupa on it with an arrow pointing along the path, so I keep going. At some point this path should lead me to the World Peace Pagoda. I descend down a stony path and find myself facing an even bigger incline when I get to the bottom. By now the path is stony and rocky and covered in trees and roots. I pant up the hill and decide that I’m done. The path is so narrow that I’m sure it’s not even going to around the hill. I head back and get a drink at the cafe.
The man at the cafe and his wife do their best to accommodate me. They do not speak a lot of English, but I get a black coffee and a bottle of water. Three men from the Audi SUV are sitting drinking a beer with the man and chatting and smoking. After ten minutes they get up and leave. I almost consider asking if I can cadge a lift. I try to ask if there is a way across the lake. They say yes and point me back towards the way I came. We sit and have a chat. They actually run a small guesthouse, it turns out, and they ask me to spread the word for them. The man sees me taking pictures and asks me to take his photo so I can share it and tell people to come and stay with them.
I wave them goodbye and head back the way I came. In one of the small towns there was a little crossroads with a road that went down to the lake bed. I turn that way and see a path across the bed. There are some gullies and channels to get across, so I have to get off the bike. A lady walking up behind me starts to talk to me about getting across the lake. I forget her name, but it started with a G. Every day, she tells me, she walks across this lake bed to her mother’s house. Her mother gives her potatoes, which she carries home for her husband and her children. She is carrying the sack of potatoes on her back but the strap is resting across her forehead. We walk together and talk about her family and life here at the lake. As we get towards the other side more paragliders descend. She asks me if I am going to do it, and I say I would like to. She tells me that her dream is to one day have enough money do it herself and my heart breaks a little.
We make it back to the other side and I am quite close to Happy Village again now. It won’t be a very long ride back to Lakeside – certainly much shorter than the ride coming out. It is late afternoon now and I am so ready to drop the bike and have a rest. I head back to the hotel and book my paragliding experience, thinking of G. I kind of wish there was a way for me to get her a ticket as well.