So we made it to Pokhara, taking the easier (although much more expensive option) of flying - 20 minutes versus the 7 hours on a coach!
It was great to be back, Pokhara is so wonderfully laid back in comparison to the seeming madness of Kathmandu. The skies were incredibly clear and the views of the Annapurna mountains were simply incredible as we stepped off the plane. Apparently we have been lucky - most of November and one of the main trekking times, was cloudy and the mountains could rarely be seen. They are simply stunning.
Set on the edge of Fewa Lake, Lakeside is where it is all at in terms of tourists over here. I quite like it. Although it is changing. It has been about 18 months since I was last here and I am amazed how many more motorbikes and taxis are on the roads, plus the amount of building work taking place around town...clearly there has been some economic change for some over here.
Alas the same can not be said about the government as such. I must admit that as much as I try and follow the national political situation, it is rather complicated. There is stuff going on at the moment and I know there is some concern about the UN pulling out on 15 January 2011, with so much still unresolved in terms of political stability on a long term basis (or even short term basis). In any event the public are still suffering as a result of to this unresolved situation - load shedding is still a major issue here and you just never know when there will be the next road strike (which grinds the country to a halt).
This load shedding is ridiculous. Basically there is not enough electrical power to serve the country as a whole on a 24 hour basis. Thus there are only so many hours of electricity available in a day and the times change daily so you never quite know if you will have power or not. Rumour has it that this figure will reduce to a mere 4 hours of electricity a day in the new year, which is just insane.
Imagine for a moment how much you use electricity at home. I mean it is always there right? We just take it fore granted. Here it gets dark at about 5.30pm these days and sunrise is not until 6.30amish, so that is rather a long and dark night without electricity to provide light. And it is cold here too in the morning and evening, but of course an electric fire would be a total luxury.
Many people and businesses now have generators and batteries, at additional cost, to provide power when the national system is off. Just imagine trying to run a business out here. No power means no Internet, which means no email, which is one of the main ways we all correspond these days. Let alone trying to use anything which requires power. This is the reason you always get hand written bills and tickets over here. And the reason you need to be careful about what you eat in terms of lack of refrigeration. Plus of course most cooking is conducted over gas or indeed wood.
I mean you get used to it and it makes you that much more aware, but it is sad for the people as how on earth can they progress their businesses and how can children do their homework by candle flame without hurting their eyes. And how ridiculous that sometimes the reason there is no electricity is simply because Nepal has had to sell some of their supply to India. And how ridiculous how easy it is to control a country by reducing their access to power and making life so much more difficult.
Anyhow. Lakeside is getting busier and more and more houses, hotels and businesses now have generators. WIFI is now a huge thing. All over the place hotels and cafes are offering a free WIFI service, even in our hotel it was installed while we were staying. Which means that the Internet cafes are no way near s busy as they were last time I visited. Funny how businesses affect each other by the services they provide. I must say it is great to get WIFI in the hotel, and the speed is really rather good, no more days of spending hours in an Internet cafe on a very slow connection.
We went straight to the hotel - Hotel Celesty Inn - where I have stayed on most of my previous trips. I am friendly with the staff and particularly Narayan, whose daughter I set up as a pen pal with a girl back home in Guernsey who came to my children's Yoga classes. Narayan was waiting for us and presented us with a welcome scarf and also a tika on our foreheads (red paste with rice). He showed us to our room with views of Fishtail mountain. I have come home.
We pottered that afternoon and went to see friends - Bijay in the cafe, Moniek, a Dutch woman who co-runs Hearts and Tears, a motorbike touring company out here with her British partner, Rick, and Devika and the Project. How strange to be back, it is like I never left. Same people hanging round their shops, the same Tibetan ladies who sit on the pavements and try and sell their Tibetan wares, same guys in the razor shop. Amazingly people recognised me as I recognised them too. Like friends really, all those smiling faces and exchanges of "Namaste and Sanchai chah".
The Project has made so much progress. Devika has sorted a rental on a shop just down the road from the hotel. There are now 7 ladies working with the Project (which is now being registered as a Trust in Nepal) and the products they are making are high quality. It is lovely to witness all the progress and the smiling - and indeed less shy - faces of the ladies themselves.
And how wonderful to sit on top of the hotel roof at sunset and stare at Fishtail and the Lake and just feel really rather content.