Dadu Aur Madak

The evening before leaving Bandipur, the young guy who ran the Inn had mentioned to us that the Maoists had announced that they would be "collecting donations" from tourists on the road into Bandipur. We asked if they would be collecting on the way in or on the way out, but his suspicion was that it would be both ways. The number that he had heard mentioned was 80 Nepal Rupees per person, a sum equal to about a dollar and a half. When we did actually encounter them on the way out, they were holding a rope across the road with a red banner. Again they had a van stopped and there were some negotiations going on. They handed me a notice in English which I folded up and put in my pocket. This seemed to anger them because apparently I was supposed to read it but not keep it. I handed it back to them and offered them 70 Rupees for both of us which they refused. Theyinformed us in english that they wanted at least five dollars per person. I pointed out that their literature said it was a donation, but if I had no choice it wasn't a donation it was robbery. I asked them if they were robbing me and they said no. I again ofered the 70 Rupees, but nobody was willing to take it. I held up the money and said "yes or no" but nobody would respond. I kicked the bike in gear and told Karen "let's go." When they had finished with the van they had to lower the rope. They tried to do lower it just enough that just the van could get through but we just bulled through along side of it. I really don't mind the donation concept, but this really is more like extortion.

Our last stop in Nepal was Pokhara. While it is Nepal's second largest city next to Kathmandu, it has none of the polution and bustle that you find there. The tourist area is pretty much confined to the area along the lake, Phewa Tal, at the western edge of town. The main drag that parrallels the lake about 200 meters from the shore has all the shops and outfitters that you would expect, but it doesn't seem to have the pressure you find in Kathmandu. The fact is that if this is the second largest city in the country it almost makes you wonder if there is a third. One of the nicest features of the town is that when the weather is clear there are spectacular views of the distant Annapurna range. Pokhara is the best place to gear up for the trek of the Annapurna circuit.

We found a nice little place with a pool for under $40 a night with breakfast, and on the day we arrived Machhupuchhare, the areas most recognizable peak also known as Fishtail, was just visible below the clouds.

There is a great vantage point near an old hilltop fort about 15 kilometers north of town to view most of the Annapurna range. It is crowded with tourists with cameras each day at sunrise, but unfortunately the weather had been cloudy for most of the morning each day. We waited patiently, but the mountains were only willing to reveal themselves in bits and pieces. The photo above shows Fishtail just peaking out of the clouds (yellow arrow). On the left are actually two peaks, the one at right is Annapurna I (red arrow). Annapurna I is actually the highest of these peaks at around  26,300 feet and Fishtail is the lower at around 22,800 feet. The appearance is due to the fact that Fishtail is the closest to the camera and Annapurna is much further away.

Above is a closeup of  Annapurna I with clouds both above and below. We had just about given up on being able to get a glimpse of Fishtail so we started down the road to town when suddenly the clouds seemed to dissolve enough to get this shot of Fishtail and the valley (below).

We had a leisurely row around Phewa Tal with a visit to this island in the center. The Island has a small temple and the water is amazingly clear. Locals come to the island to make offerings and to enjoy a casual picnic.

A few miles southwest of town you can visit Devi Falls. The waterfall (above) just disappears below the earth, and then emerges again about three kilometers away (below).

I really can't begin to say enough about the hospitality of the Nepalese people, but our last evening there was a good example. We were worried because there had been no gas in town, but locals seemed unconcerned most of them saying there should be gas today. It seemed like everyone was tuned in to the delivery schedules. Around noon we went to the petrol pump and we were told there would be gas around 5:00 or 6:00-- the same time as some of the locals had been mentioning. We returned to the station at 5:00, and were told that gas would be there at "6:00, I hope". We asked if we could wait, and they ushered us to a spot between the office and the pumps. What we hadn't noticed when we pulled in, was that in the opposite direction was a line of more than 100 motorcycles parked on the sidewalk, and nearly an equal number of cars along the curb lane. There were only a handful of drivers present, most of the group having only left their vehicles to reserve their spot. We questioned whether people would be angry about us going to the front of the line, but they told us it should be that way because we were guests. About 5:45 they started to run ropes to seperate the cars from the motorcycles to corral them each onto their own side of the pump, but drivers didn't star arriving for another ten minutes. Fianally at about one minute to six the tanker arrived and was backed into the unloading area behind a locked gate. A bit later they came out with a five gallon pail of gas to prime the pump, and in a few minutes they were in business, with us at the head of the line.

By the time the gas arrived this line extended for nearly two blocks, but once they started things proceeded as orderly as is possible in this part of the world.