Sarangkot: A Jewel of Pokhara

BY Ujjwal Acharya

The greed of seeing the sun rising as a golden ball is always an elusive offer and when there are mountains tops that are glorified by the early morning rays, it’s surely a life-time experience. And, that dreams became a reality when I had a chance to travel up to Sarangkot, a must-not-forget destination in the scenic city of Pokhara in Western Nepal.

Leaving the warmth of bed early morning, traveling the dwindling uphill road for more than half-an-hour and then walking for another half-an-hour for the agonizing wait for the sunrise in the cool breeze were all but forgotten when the outlines of the Annapurna Range with the famous Machhapurchhre Peak becomes visible on the north.

From Sarangkot, the Pokhara city looks like a sky with twinkling stars before the dawn and then when the visibility increases the mountains looks standing smiling – so near that I felt like I could touch with an extended hand.

The mountains were white and then glow in red as if there was a fire. And there were lots of clicks from the foreigners and Nepalis standing for long for the view. No body was speaking as everyone looked so engrossed in the view. “Will it turn golden now,” someone asked me. “It should.”

And I then realized I was so much looking at the mountains that I have forgotten to look east. There was half of the sun – as if floating – something that reminded me seeing the sunrise on the sea. The flickering sun rose slowly in the misty view and then the mountains began growing yellowish – and golden in color.

“That’s it,” someone shouted in ecstasy. And, it was probably the most beautiful scene visible from Pokhara – the Annapurna I peak at 8,091m and Machhapuchhre at 7,993m glowing in golden color.

From Nagarkot in Bhaktapur, I had seen a similar scene but the mountain tops looks so distant there when compared with Sarangkot and here the virgin peak shaped as a fish tail looked a beautiful girl modeling for gold jewelries.

[Originally written on Jan 18, 2007. I just forgot to post it then.]

Continue Reading

Everything for Nothing!

(Or Maybe Something Irrelevant)

On Monday, May 28, 35,000 schools re-opened after 12 days of shutdown! For the records, 8,000,000 children across the nation were affected.

The reason behild closure, then continuation of closure and then re-opening were all but thrash reasoning. A kind of joke!

Let first have a look at the chronology of events:

May 13 – Institutionalized Schools’ Teachers Union (ISTU) began protests that demanding the salary scale equivalent to that to government teachers and appoitment letters

May 16 – ISTU, including the Nepal Educational Republican Forum (NERF) and All Nepal National Free Students Union (Revolutionary) – two Maoists organizations – annouced shutdown of schools

Private and Boarding School Assocaition of Nepal (PABSAN) and National-PABSAN (NPABSAN) too annouced closure of schools with PABSAN president Umesh Shrestha saying that the schools neither ask fees with students during the closure nor pay the teachers

May 17 – Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala expressed concerns

May 18 – Ministry of Education formed a talk team led by spokesperson (Minister Pradeep Nepal was in Maldives participating in the anti-doping conference), NERF refused talks with non-ministerial level team

May 20 – Minister Nepal returns and in harse words says he is not able to fulfil the demands as it not educational but political (however, during closure the demands included immediate annoucement of republican state)

May 23 – NERF says it won’t sit for talks until minister apologies for what he had said

May 25 – Police brutally beat teachers during their sit-on at the ministry, they immediately annouced two-hour of transports shutdown for the afternoon

Minister and state-minister express conerns and say they were not involved

May 27 – Valley was shutdown in protest with MERF and Revolutionary taking the lead

In afternoon, Revolutionaly annouces that on request of guardians, students and NGO/INGOs they ended the school shutdown giving one-month ultimantum to ministry to fulfil their demands or face more protest

Let me ponder on some questions:

  1. The shutdown of schools was called by ISTU, NERF, Revolutionary, PABSAN and NPABSAN. But when Revolutionary said the shutdown ended, it ended. How? Where were ISTU, PABSAN and NPABSAN?
  2. The protest began demanding something. But it ended without any demands fulfilled. Why the shutdown was then for?
  3. Why do we find Maoists organization involved in every protest against government? And, then they always put up pure political demand (mostly immediate annoucement of republican state) and ends the protest for nothing. Why?
  4. How come ISTU, the main body that began the protest find themselves lost in the middle of the protest?

I don’t have answers to all. The only thing I believe is the Maoists organization try to gain three things from such protest. First, they want to establish their sister organizations as strong ones, second they want to put pressure on the government for pure political reason and third, they want to gain faith of people by ending the protest.

I am opposing the idea of school re-opening but what I pondered is why are we seeing protests (affecting the everyday administration and people) for nothing!

Continue Reading

Mount Everest, Sherpas and Foreigners!

Mount Everest lures every mountaineer – that’s not surprising. Every year, many foreigners reach atop the world’s highest peak, return their countries with fanfare and become heroes. Every year, a few films are made on Everest – and they are popular. Every year, a few books are published, and they are best sellers.

Among all these celebrations and buzzes around the world, there are quiet Sherpas. Every year, more Sherpas summit Everest than foreigner altogether. Yet, when they return home quietly, their family, almost always, ask them to stop because Everest is too dangerous.

I have heard people saying, if you have enough money to keep Sherpas happy, then they will virtually carry you to the top. Apa Sherpa had summated 17 times, Pemba Sherpa reached the top thrice within nine days this season, and there are many Sherpas who had climbed to the top more than five times.

Yet, Sherpas do not get credit they deserve.

In almost every films made, Sherpas are almost absent once they mountaineers leaves the base-camp. In every documentary, the role of Sherpa is to cook food and carry loads.

Yesterday, I had an opportunity to hear Kami Sherpa – the Nepal Television cameraman who summated the peak for third time. The second Nepali journalist atop Everest (first being my colleague Ang Chhiring Sherpa who recently launched his book Dateline Chomolungma) looked sad on all these issues.

Who wouldn’t?

Apa Sherpa led an expedition this year with all Nepali Sherpa climbers called Super Sherpa Expedition and filmed a documentary. His aim: to tell the world about Sherpas and their contribution in each Everest expedition.

“Since we are a lot, we can’t hope much financial support from the government,” Kami told the journalists other day. “What we ask is the identity card as the Everest summiteers and insurance for Sherpas.” His demands are okay as government charged US$ 70,000 per expedition.

Let’s hope Sherpas get their credit and support!

Continue Reading

The Buzz Catching Up

Two things I noticed during the last fortnight was pleasantly surprising – both related to Citizen Journalism.

First is the question paper of Masters in Mass Communication and Journalism of the Purbanchal University. The Advanced Concept of Electronoc Publication paper for the students of the second semester carried a question on blogs.

Explain blogs as an alternative journalism mean in Nepalese context.

The five-mark question is, I believe, a proof that blog buzz is catching up in Nepal.

Second incident was a few days ago during the Training Techniques for Experienced Trainers workshop organized by Federation of Nepalese Journalists (FNJ) and International Federation of Journalists (IFJ). The course was meant for the journalists of various executive level in FNJ and was conducted by Jacqueline Park – the Asia Pacific Director.

I was there as the interpreter for Park and on the final day was a group project for the participants. One of the group comprising of experiened print journalists came up with the idea of citizen journalism. Although more of their session focused on how citizen can use the traditional media, I was impressed because I hadn’t hoped print journalists of that experience would came up with such an issue.

Their defination to citizen journalism: direct reach and participation of citizens in journalism which citizen use by directly sending news, views and opinion in the media.

They listed out benefits of citizen journalism. Some of the major benefits were active participation of citizen in journalism, citizen’s true feeling is raised, citizen’s love for media increases, newspapers do not need many staff reporters and increased sale of media.

Though throughout the discussion, blog was never mentioned, I loved the feeling of knowing that citizen journalism is not a very new concept and even the established journalists have begun feeling the need to integrate it for their benefits.

Continue Reading

Amazing Experience of Paragliding

Friday, May 11, 2007 at 10:30 AM: I jumped off a slope at Sarangkot, Pokhara to glide freely on air. As I jumped off the slope, I was on air, flying freely. After a few minutes, as I looked down, I could see the whole city of Pokhara and famous Fewa Lake under my feet.

I looked up, afraid that I may fall down the long way and my stomach twitched. ‘Are you alright?’ my pilot Damodar Parajuli asked me. ‘Ya’. Why should I tell him that I was little afraid and my stomach was kind of twisting.

‘No twitch on stomach?’ Either this man is a devil or knows all about paragliding. ‘Little bit,’ I answered as he swirled around the Sarangkot hill making cold air pass through my body. It was really an experience worth life-long cherish because although I was in a tandem flight with pilot controlling the flight and everything else and I was just hanging to him looking around for hills and city.

‘Are you enjoying?’ What an absurd question? ‘Surely, it’s a big fun and I have never imagined that paragliding was such an amazing experience.’ He chuckled for he has been flying like this for five years – first two years solo and then piloting enthusiatics like me through air. As one of the few Nepali pilots working for Blue Sky Paragliding of Pokhara, Damodar had heard such answers for many times.

‘Mostly foreigners, Nepalis are increasing,’ he said adding that more females are interested in paragliding than males. [I thought maybe that’s true or maybe he is using his position in his office to allocate females to his flights]. The half-an-hour flight costs Rs 4500 for Nepali and US$ 75 for others.

I wasn’t flying in the season and my off-season flight costed me the view of the beautiful Ananpurna range. ‘You should have come during September-October,’ he said and I consoled myself thinking that I wanted the experience of paragliding, not seeing moutains from paraglide.

After a pleasant 20 minutes flight around the hill [of course letting photojournalist Chandra Shekhar Karki click a few photographs on flight], we were ready to decend. On the smooth decending flight, Damodar showed me the his village, his house and other things of Pokhara.

Once we were above the Phewa Lake and just about a few minutes away from landing, he asked me ‘if you are not afraid, I can show you some tricks.’ Why would I be afraid. He somehow manageed to slant the paraglide and then swished giving me the feeling of freefall of bungee jumping.

He did it twice and I was enjoying. On the third try, my stomach twitched and I told him so. He just instructed me to vomit on my left if I feel like and on the fourth swing, I vomited a little.

Then he instructed me how to land and I did that well, ran to the lake water, washed my face and sat on the ground thinking how pleasant the flight was.

Continue Reading

Top 5 Joys Nepal Offers

I am going to Pokhara once again! Hopefully, this time I will be able to do paragliding. For me, the biggest attraction in Pokhara apart from usual scenic beauty and lakes is paragliding.

Nepal, though more known for its beautiful mountains, lovely people and cultural heritages, offers more. Rather than going through the usual things tourist guides usually recommend in Nepal, I have here my top five list of the things that a little bit adventurous people should do in Nepal.

Some of them, I have already experienced; some other I dream about.

Trek to Everest Base Camp
Not easy, but this is something you will cherish lifelong if you accomplish. The routine: fly to Lukla (usual dangerous looking hilly airport), trek two days to reach Namche – the gateway to Everest, and leave behind the usual life to embark a trek of a week to reach Everest Base Camp and return.

You will not only see mountain tops so near that you feel like you can just casually walk on the top of it, but also will have time to think about what life exactly is (that thinking comes as you see the hard lives of the people living happily in the remotest areas). I have done that and here is my diary of it.

Bungee Jump
This is something, that looked daring! The second highest bungee jump of the world, 500 feet drop, from a suspension bridge. My experience says, once you are on the jumping deck, you see all white (nothing else) and when you jump, you feel like everything inside your body is bundled, then there is the feel of the rope and you have that exciting feeling never to forget again.

Paragliding
I don’t know how it feels but its something that I believe is a fun. From Sarangkot, the view point of Annapurna range, you are with a pilot thrown into air flying like a bird. A good view of Pokhara city. Here is more.

Rafting
Nepal’s rivers flow quick in mountain and hilly regions, turning and twisting making a lot of rapids for rafting. Rafting in the natural rivers that offers the joy of rapids is something everybody shouldn’t miss. I had rafted in Trishuli and found it more exciting than anything else. Within a short time, the joy you get from rafting – the cool water hitting you and the raft that twists and turns creating a kind of feeling mixed with excitement and fear, is unforgettable.

Visit a Temple
This is somewhat weird looking for quite interesting as far as I am concerned. The best time to visit any popular temple of Nepal is in the morning because I am asking you to witness the people visiting temples and their faces more than the temple or the art in it. I love visiting Pashupatinath temple, not because I want to pray but I love roaming around amidst the sounds of pray and looking at the people – most of them happily chatting, with tikas on forehead and flowers on head.

Have to done any of them? Share your experience!

Continue Reading

Junket to Rasuwa Part II

The World Cup turned out to be an one-sided affair. A few of our trip friends joined us for a round of drinks and World Cup. The game was decided in the first 20 overs and I continued watching until 2:00 AM in the morning in a desperate hope of magic – that didn’t come.

In between, we had laughter particularly because one of our friends was too drunk and had to be carried to the room. We later found that he was sleeping in a odd way covering two beds and it was fun laughing at mid-night.

Soon, I found we, Bikash being the other, were left without a room. We couldn’t enter the room that the drunk friend was covering for it was too smelly. I almost decided to sleep on chair but Bikash managed somehow to get a floor in the room for me and put two beds together for three people to sleep (two were already there!)

Next morning was the race – the event that I was there to cover. I barely slept for two hours and had to wake up.

After seeing off the 21 cyclists from the starting point, I decided to hike up the hill. It looked easy as the locals were saying it would take around one hour for us. Krishna Thapa, the Kantipur reporter there, Annapurna Post’s Rajendra Shrestha, Prateekshya and Trishna – the two female journalists, joined me.

After half-an-hour uphill, Rajendra and Trishna decided to stop and rode on the bus. We continued, as a few points thinking we too should have stopped. It was steep uphill for almost two and half hours before we reached the Bhanjyang. From there, 20 minutes uphill to the View Point which we didn’t missed though Krishna decided to stop.

Then a downhill walk for 20 minutes to Goljung village. The village was nice and people smiling all over. The children were somewhat dirty but were shying smiling.

The race had been already decided. After a round to talk with the winner, it was time to the prize distribution and that was to be held at tha school premises 10 minutes away.

Walking again! Oh My God!

The program was as usual. Speeches. And, there was a welcome song-dance. It wasn’t a professional performances and girls singing and dancing were doing it like they were playing with each other. I really liked their rawness – something only visible in remote areas (I think)!

During the program, the guests were served with Makai Bhatmas (surely, a delight).

After the program was the lunch. We were given a coupon, asked to form a group of 10 and go to a house for the homestay lunch. The lunch was good, the hosts were nice and as went to the rooms designated for the tourists and I found it better than the Shree Ganesh Hotel.

But we had to return as there wasn’t internet or fax to send back the news. Though I had confirmed with the organizer that they would be able to provide me the vehicle for returning to Syaphru, I could not get that service as they took all the vehicles for the village trip to VIP guests.

I wasn’t happy. I had to send the news and were left with almost no other option than walking the whole distance again. Luckily one of the organizing officials found us – four journalists – seats in a vehicle of Chilime Hydro Power Project. The vehicle meant for eight passengers were cramped with 14 passengers and it was not easy sitting on it.

Riding on the vehicle proved good for us as we befriended officials from Chilime and they let us use the excellent speed internet at their office. After two hours, we all along with those three guys from Chilime would walk down to Syaphru for a splendid round for drinks.

The evening spent nicely. Despite not finding rooms in three hotels we managed two in the low cost one and sat for rounds of drinks joking with each other and talking about of course media and hydroelectricity.

We would only sleep at 11:00 PM, happily!

Continue Reading

Junket to Rasuwa Part I

A thing good about junket trip for journalist is you don’t have to worry about the expenditure. A thing bad about it is you sometime have to work hard for sending news.

When Nepal Tourism Board (NTB) invited me to be a part of the trip to Rasuwa for a cycling event to promote the Tamang Heritage Trail as the newest trekking route, I did everything possible to avoid it. Hadn’t I received repeated phone calls (or had I got anyone else for the trip) I would have avoided it for I was fearing that I may not get a chance to watch the Cricket World Cup final.

I had to go! The bus trip was smooth till we reached Trishuli and had a nice lunch. Thenafter, it was the daring travel – winding gravelled roads with curves and corners every now and then.

At Dhunche, the headquarters of Rasuwa, it looked nicer as there were people welcoming us. I trekked for about an hour from there until our bus picked up on the way. The daring road became even more dangerous with slopes extending maybe kilometers in height.

My first reaction to a big slope and the U-turn of the gravel road was to look at the driver. “Is he experienced enough to take us safely?” I asked myself. He was smiling amusingly thus I concluded unless the man is eccentric, he would take us safely. His one mistake was enough for our deaths deep down the slope where I could see the lining of the river.

At evening, we were at Syaphrubenshi (or Syaphru or Syafru or Syabru). It was the gateway for the trekkers treking to Langtang region. After receiving the traditional welcome from the Tamang girls (they give you a palmful of drink – mostly alcohol but here it was Coca Cola, and put a shawl around your neck), I went to the guys who were busy telling us the hotels.

“I need one with TV and cable,” I demanded. He said, “Shree Ganesh.” Other journalists went to other hotel designated for media while I started looking for mine. “Shree Ganesh?” A guy asked. “Yes.” He called me in and it turned out the hotel was without signboard and not very good.

“TV?”
“Yes. 21-inch color at the eating place.”
“Foreign channels?”
“Yes.”

Aha! That was a relief and through I felt like the passage of the hotel a little narrow, rooms smaller and the eating place with 21-inch color TV smelling alcohol, I was happy.

The hotel owner, Dawa, turned out to be the owner of the Langtang Cable TV and he proudly showed us the control room on the ground floor. And, I wouldn’t sleep much that night, because Sri Lanka was playing Australia in the final of the World Cup cricket. (To be continued)

Continue Reading