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Cloud castles

Pokhara Travel Blog

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Today is the day to change the vibes around. My head is still spinning a little from ketamine and lack of sleep, so we take it easy in the morning and when I've had enough caffeine to restore me to humanity a little, we get a taxi down to the power station.

The power station, it seems, is a bit of a local secret. Alison only found it when she was living in Pokhara and some of the Nepali girls she was teaching took her down there for her birthday. Very few tourists seem to know about it. I guess this is because it is exactly what it sounds like - a small hydro-electric power station - and who the hell wants to go there? But it is absolutely beautiful. A steep stone staircase leads down into a small valley, surrounded by hills, where several lovely little waterfalls feed into a series of perfect turquoise pools, linked by little rivers. Round the edges of the pools are white rocks for sunbathing, thickets of trees and flowers, and a few open grassy areas that, to me at least, cry out to be danced on. The power station itself blends unobtrusively into the background, and any noise it makes blends in completely with the noise of the waterfalls.

We climb down the rocks to the first of the pools. Sadly there's a little rubbish floating on the surface, but the water is so beautiful it hardly bothers me. It is a surreal shade of aquamarine - the colour of the sea in those photos they put up in travel agents, the ones you feel sure must be photo-shopped. It is deep and clear and exactly the right temperature. We dive off the rocks and swim or float in the water for ages. It's so long since I've been swimming, this feels like heaven. And when we get tired we climb out onto the rocks to talk, smoke, and bask like lizards in the sun.

After a while we wander over to explore the waterfalls, and me and Alison run to stand underneath them, asking Ste to take photos. We want to strike ridiculous poses like a shampoo add, but this proves a little difficult. For one thing we're swimming in all our clothes to avoid unwanted attention from the Nepali men, which spoils the effect a bit, for another the water is hammering down on us so hard we can barely stand up, let alone pose sexily. How do these women do it? How??? Standing in waterfalls is not a sexy thing. It's just not. But it's still a lot of fun and we stagger out laughing like idiots. I feel the way I did when I left Thamel to cycle to Tibet. Here, out in nature and away from the tourist bubble, the weird vibes just evaporate and I am ludicrously happy again.

We spend the rest of the day floating in the turquoise water and staring at the clouds. As always in Pokhara, the clouds are an endless source of amazement. They seem so close and so beautiful I can't stop staring at them. Every time you look at the sky it's different - no two views or two sunsets are ever the same. The way the sun slants through the clouds, creating visible rays of lights and golden pools on the hills, looks like the coming of God. Me and Alison spot cloud shapes for hours, feeding off each others' imagination to describe trippier and trippier visions. I feel completely at peace with myself in this place.

As we finally walk back to the road to get a taxi back, the sun is setting and the clouds are even more surreal. One massive, bulbous lump behind us is both deep, bruised purple, salmon pink, bluish white and golden - four completely different colours all in one cloud. Another one looks exactly like an enormous whale surfacing for air, blowing out a cloud of pinkish spray from its blowhole. Ahead of us, bits of the Annapurnas and the peak of Maccapuchre can be seen behind surreal veils of gold. It's so beautiful I feel like laughing, and crying, and dancing, and hugging people, all at the same time. Now I know why I came back to Pokhara - just for the sky.

After dinner we lose Alison to the internet yet again, so I go and sit with Ste in Busy Bee, where we run into Marco. I have no idea what to make of him tonight at all. He doesn't seem so creepy any more, just completely fucking whacked. He can't stop talking about energy, and reikki, and chakras, and his token animal, and all this sort of thing. It seems he has either had some massive spiritual revelation or completely lost his mind - I'm not quite sure which. When he gets onto token animals I find it hard not to be sceptical - to me the concept seems just as dogmatic and limiting as horoscopes, why classify yourself like that? Why not allow your mind to be free without feeling you need to be catagorised to understand and accept yourself? But then he moves his hands over the chakras in my head and I feel energy pulsating through me - it's a thousand times stronger than when he tried to do it before, and now I'm not even high. Very odd. And it certainly doesn't fit in with the whole 'weird vibes' thing. I am so confused I stop talking much, just sit, smoke spliffs, drink beer and think. Marco doesn't seem to mind - he is dominating 90% of the conversation with his newfound spiritual insights anyway. All in all it's a pretty trippy evening.

The next day we have a plan - we will finally do the traditional Pokhara tourist thing and take a boat out onto the lake, row across, then walk up to the World Peace Pagoda. Although as usual we spend all morning and early afternoon lazing around and eating a very leisurely breakfast (shanti shanti - this is Lakeside after all, it drains your energy like a fucking leech) so we don't get going til about 3 in the afternoon. By the time we get the boat out onto the water and work out how to move the bloody thing forward in a roughly straight line, the sky is already darkening for the afternoon storm. This is the build-up to monsoon season, and there is a pattern to the weather - beautifully hot and clear up to 3 or 4, then a massive storm for a couple of hours, then a clear evening. We know this, but we are not to be deterred, so we paddle out onto the lake, straight towards the wall of rain. I figure that as I'm going to be soaked to the skin in a few minutes anyway, I may as well do it properly, so I slip off the end of the boat into the lake. The water is surprisingly warm compared to the air, which has suddenly grown very cold, and when I look around I realise the lake is actually steaming. It's quite an impressive sight.

By the time we reach the far side of the lake it is absolutely pissing it down, and Alison and Ste are just as wet as I am - and quite a bit colder. I pull myself back into the boat and laugh at them then, remembering the bus ride to Kathmandu, start singing - "picture yourself in a boat on a river, with pouring down rain and iron grey skies..." We finally reach the far bank and drag the boat up onto the shore, then run laughing and dripping wet into the little cafe there. We are badly in need of hot drinks and cigarettes.

We wait there, reading and playing cards, for two hours until the storm clears up, and by the time it does it is clear we're not going to make it up to Peace Pagoda and back before dark, so we decide to row back. I don't mind. I tend to take a strange joy in things not going to plan - somehow the experience always seems richer for it being unexpected. Instead of seeing the Peace Pagoda, we see a Pokhara post-storm sunset on the lake. The whole valley is blanketted in surreal swathes of pink and gold, reflected below us in the steaming surface of the water, and above us we can see Maccapuchre at its most beautiful. It's not clear - it almost never is at this time of year - but the bits of it we can see behind the clouds are glowing gold in the sunset, and the fading light behind it wraps it in a halo of pink. And between the hills and the mountains is a small but unbelievably bright rainbow, guiding us back to shore. I feel I could stay in this place for a thousand years but could never get bored of just sitting and watching the sky.

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Pokhara
photo by: Makkattack