The Hepatitis Valley
West of the capital, Kathmandu, and geographically in central Nepal, Pokhara has become an almost mandatory stop over for mountaineering expeditions on the way to Annapurna’s summit but has its lake, Phewa, to promote activities related with tourism. It enjoys a subtropical climate few kilometres away from the highest peaks of the Himalayas, but not long ago the place was known as Hepatitis Valley.
There was a time when visit Pokhara was not easy, even being a major trade route stage between Tibet and India when it was part of the Kingdom of Kaski, one of the twenty four kingdoms of Nepal until 1786 when Ghorka king Prithviayan Shah united the country. In wintertime, when people leave the mountains, came mule caravans from Mustang and porters from Butwal. They took advantage of the meeting to trade in a climate more bearable. The first vehicle, a wheeled cart to be pulled by oxen, did not appear in the valley until the fifties, and paradoxically was brought by plane.
The first road that reached the city linked with Kathmandu. It was 1968 and was named Siddhartha Highway. Coincided with Freak Street heyday in the capital. Even so the one hundred and twenty five miles weren’t completed in less than eight hours on rickety buses. No wonder whether after a breakdown, the driver, once spending the necessary time trying to repair the engine poking a piece out and go away with it for to change it... and do not to return until the next day to work out the bus. Passage could choose between sleeping in their chairs or lie quietly on the asphalt.
The Lake Phewa was the first Pokhara vision obtained from the bus. A calm surface than in clear skies days could show the reflection of the peaks that stood after the first ring of mountains of the valley. It reflects the Macchapuchare, the last Annapurna chain summit; due to its shape it’s called the Fish Tail Mountain. It’s almost twenty three thousand feet high are only accessible to Shiva, its sacredness banned climbers off the summit. But Pokhara practically knows no dry season; in the middle region of the Himalayan topographic drastic contrasts in short terrain distance may step from 2300 feet to 23.000, causing extreme rainfall up to 222 inches per year.
In the centre of the lake a small island hosts Taal Varahi Mandir temple where Goddess Durga is worshipped, which both Buddhists and Hindus worship in a two-story pagoda. Many boats are available for rent to reach the temple or just to stroll along the lake. Once the lake was feared by spread of hepatitis A, which recommended avoiding bathing in its waters.
The city is roughly separated into three districts, the modern commercial area of Chipledunga, the Baidam lakeside resorts and the oldest area of Bagar with some medieval temples: Bindhyabasini dedicated to Bhagwati, Durga’s avatar, Bhadrakali, Sitaldevi, and Gita Mandir. A river, Seti Gandaki or the White River flows north to south creating some canyons and waterfalls.
Today Pokhara live basically dedicated to tourism, which stays adjacent to Lake Phewa and practices more or less extreme adventure sports, and the mountaineers who stop here before start their treks towards the eternally snow-capped Annapurna, Himalchuli and Dhaulagiri mountain range awaiting just twenty miles away, in a straight line. They are committed to achieving mythical summits that touch the roof of the world.