It is 6 am when James and I receive our wake-up call. We pile bleary-eyed onto the bus for the journey to Pokhara. The heavy traffic in Kathmandu makes it slow-going escaping from the city, but we are eventually away and grinding up the hill that takes us out of the Kathmandu Valley.
After about an hour, we reach the watershed and more traffic gridlock. On a roundabout just ahead of us stands a man in white robes written all over with red Hindi text. In a case-study of futility, he is trying to direct the traffic. We lock horns with a bus just next to us as the two lanes filter into one between police cones.
Finally we break free and begin our descent. The road is perched on the edge of the valley with many hair-pin bends, and frequently we have to queue for traffic coming up the hill. The drops to our right are alarming, but there are not too many places where the road surface has been destroyed by landslides and we have to detour worryingly close to the crumbling edge to avoid the larger rocks.
Still, we pass through Mugling where the Trisuli River and the Seti River join forces, cross the single-file suspension bridge (one vehicle at a time) and in due time make it to our lunch stop, an open air buffet-style café where they serve a rather tasty vegetable stir-fry. The garden where we eat is full of butterflies, and also, as Alex finds later, leeches.
Back on the road, we continue along the valley, now climbing gently, and make Pokhara by 3 pm. The main street along the lakeside has changed greatly since James was last here. The wide, rough, unsurfaced street bordered by hastily-constructed shops give it the appearance of a frontier town. Views of the lake have been almost completely obscured by the buildings now. I walk until I find a small gap in the buildings and sit down on a wall. There is haze over the lake and a distant but insistent rumble of thunder in the air.
Further along, the crowds diminish and there are more openings from which to look out over the lake. Pokhara lakeside seems to offer little more and I return to the hotel to sit on the balcony and read.
Sure enough, an hour later the downpour begins. Water cascades off shop-front awnings and down the dirt street in torrents and lightning flashes around the low cloud in the dusk sky. Then, all the lights, save for the headlamps of passing cars, go out. Our hotel is one of the first to restore power minutes later with its own generator.
We meet up again for dinner in a lakeside restaurant. Siling recommends the ‘Sizzling Steak’, and is thoroughly vindicated when it arrives, garlic sauce bubbling and steaming. We are entertained with Nepalese dancing on the stage at one end of the restaurant.