The next morning it was an early start, but the wake up call was somewhat softened by the fact that we were heading straight for the van. It was a driving day, meaning we could sit back and relax all we wanted as the driver took us all the way from Kathmandu to Pokhara, a journey normally done by flight. I say relax – but by that I mean if you are able to sleep, shut your eyes or even rest your head, sat in a van going over the bumpiest of gravel roads adorned with potholes every other second, cliff drops leading to deep ravines on one side and sheer high cliff faces on the other no doubt prone to frequent and dangerous rock fall.
In my younger years I’d never been one for napping or sleeping on any sort of transport. I’d never be able to fall asleep on planes or trains and would be baffled at people who could have 10 minute power naps. However in my recent years of travelling, I’ve become quite accustomed to it. I’m not sure if it was a mixture of exhaustion from the long international flight the day before, the new time zone, the hazy heat, or the steady rocking of the van (probably a mixture of all of the above), but I managed to doze for the majority of the journey. This was much to the amusement of my fellow travellers who, once I got to know them better over the next few days, admitted they were absolutely bemused by 1/ the fact that I had slept for pretty much that whole duration (about 7-8 hours) and 2/ the fact that I had even managed to sleep one wink whilst they, on the other hand, were frantically alternating their gaze between the dubious road ahead and the dramatic drop off the side of the cliff just a few centimetres from the van, with all their energy taken up by gripping on to the edge of their seats trying to stay alive. It became quite a joke for the rest of the trip, where anywhere we stopped for a quick sit down or lunch break, they jokily expected me to whack out my pillow and take a quick nap!
Anyway, feeling quite refreshed (speaking for myself anyway), we finally arrived in Pokhara late afternoon. We had time for a very quick stroll around the village. Pasang, our guide, inferred it was probably the last place of reasonable civilisation we’d see for a while, so to stock up on anything we needed for the road, although I think everyone agreed that as we’d only arrived the day before, we felt quite prepared already. Pokhara seemed like a lovely little town from what we saw, but although we only had a short time here, we weren’t perturbed as we knew we had plenty of time to explore the town on the return journey after our trek.
We jumped back into the van for a final drive to the small village Birethanti, before jumping out and continuing the short journey by foot to our first teahouse where we were to spend the night! It was early evening now and dusk was slowly approaching, so we made our way up the slightly steeped gravel road, past a small village where young kids were playing on the streets outside their modest homes and where chickens ran freely in the yards beyond. We continued over a small steel bridge and arrived at our first real accommodation of the trek: New River View Lodge & Restaurant.
First impressions of the place were as expected – tiny rooms which we shared between two or three of us with minimal lighting (a dim bulb hanging loosely off a wire in the wall), cold concrete walls and minimal space to put our backpacks – let alone unpack. But this was all part of the fun and the anticipation, excitement and adrenalin of new places, new people and new experiences would definitely keep our spirits up! It was hard to cast my gaze away from the elderly lady crouched down washing cups and plates in the literal gutter coming out of the wall on my way to dinner…but what could you do? This was mountain life.