The Enchanted Valley : Pokhara.
I lived in Pokhara for three and a half years in the beginning of the millennium. I came in the middle of 2000 to work at the Manipal college of Medical Sciences and left on the last day of 2003 to come to Sikkim.
Pokhara lies beside the Phewa Tal, the city rising from the banks of the lake to the Kaundanda where the Manipal Hospital lies, at Phulbari, rising above a hill at the bottom of which the Seti River thunders down the valley. The Phewa Tal and its environs is the home of the Tourism industry. Choc abloc with hotels of all varieties and a vast selection of restaurants, it is a paradise for tourists who flock there from all over the world and well they might; to my mind, it is the most beautiful valley in the world. We lived at Phulbari at the bottom of the Kaundada in apartments provided to us by the Medical College. We overlooked the Seti gorge and whenever we lifted out eyes we could receive the benediction of the Machapuchare which overlooks the Pokhara Valley like a benign mother figure. Several much bigger mountains can be seen from Pokhara, these include the Annapurna range and the Dhaulagiri Mountains, but the Machha puchare is the mountain of Pokhara. Its famous fish tail is concealed from here; it is seen as a single peak rising sheer into the blue sky, framed by the Annapurna range of mountains.
When I first came to stay there I could scarcely imagine that somebody was paying me to live there: I would, if I had the means cheerfully paid a king’s ransom to live there. The streets had few vehicles, it was a place meant for walking. In fact until the 1960s it was not possible to reach this staging post of the Trans Himalayan trade except on foot. Even now there were but two basic routes: one ran to the east to the capital, Kathmandu and the other pierced the mountains to the South to reach the Terai. The campus of the Medical College was especially enchanting. Up the mountain was the hospital, in a level below this were the Students’ hostels and the teachers lived in apartments at the bottom of the hill, overlooking as I have said the Seti river whose roar was a constant companion day and night.
Sundays meant picnics: walk in any direction and you could lose yourself in small villages, sparkling streams and green paddy fields. Orange trees abounded and the owners were always ready to let you pick a few to eat. The people were mainly Gurungs , a martial race, but gentle and full of fun. The kindness of the people of this valley was like balm to the souls of our Calcutta scarred souls. We walked all over the mountains, stopping at houses to ask for water or to chat, we ate our food wherever we liked sitting on rocks or while our legs soaked in the streams that rushed down the mountains to join the Seti. And wherever you went, the Machapuchare remained, looking down on us; its benign benediction was the ice on the cake.
Occasionally we took the bus to Baglung, some 30 km away, where atop a hill was the large temple of Bhairav where devout Nepalis sacrificed large numbers of animals principally on Tuesdays and Saturdays. On other days we went to Begnas Tal, less known but a prettier lake about 20 km from Pokhara proper. We have spent so many days lazily drifting down the lake and picnicking on its banks.
Pokhara is also a city of temples: the Bindubashini temple was fairly close to our residence and we walked down sometimes on a Saturday, climbing up the hill to pay our respects to the Devi who has been blessing devotees here from time immemorial. Just opposite the Kaundanada was the Sarangkot, from where one could see the town of Pokhara like a map and the mountains stood in all its slendour awing one with the immensity of their expanse. In our spring we climbed the Kaundanda to see the rhododendrons. These flowers, the national Flower of Nepal painted the hill side red and made us feel young all over again as we picked them from the trees and pinned them to our shirts.
There appeared to be a festival on every day. I particularly remember the Deuso, which presaged the Deepavali festival. The womens' graceful dances remain engraved in my memory to this day.
I remember the time when it became necessary for us to leave. Our daughter was growing up and we felt that she should get a better education than was perhaps possible in Pokhara. The whole of that December had the finest weather imaginable. The days were crisp and cold, the sky its most blue and the guardian angel of the Valley looked down on us, its face never covered by clouds even for a second. I realized that she was trying to remind me of what I would be losing if I left, but leave I did.
I have never been back since: I fear to break the spell that Pokhara has left on me. It remains a love affair that haunts my dreams. I talk about it often but I fear to go back: will I ever be able to recapture the feelings that the enchanted vale has left on me?