Mixed day. Unsettling at times and great at other times.
I woke up early yet again. I can’t go back to sleep when I do, because I’m afraid to sleep through a clear sunrise on the mountains. At around 530 this morning I walked to the hotel roof. At first it looked too dark or cloudy. Then I realized I was looking at the dark forms of Annapurna and Machapuchare. The sky started to turn pink through Pokhara’s haze, and the tops of the peaks changed slowly. Then bright sunlight started at the top of the highest ones and started stretching down. When that happened, I noticed another bright spot to my left across the lake. In the distance, it was Dhaulagiri, the first time I’ve ever seen it. I snapped a bunch of pictures, then headed downstairs for breakfast.
After an egg and veggie scramble and masala chai, I went back for another look. Still a bit hazy, but Annapurna South made for some good pictures as the morning’s first flight to Jonson crossed it on its way up the valley. It was all beautiful.
I then packed my day pack and headed out of town in the direction of Sarang Kot. It was about an hour before I found road that headed up. I had missed the trailhead described somewhere online as being across the street from the Pokhara-Baglung bus station, so I walked up the road.
Near the top the trail left the road, and I climbed steps from there the rest of the way. Took pictures of Pokhara from above and the couple dozen parasailers up there catching thermals, then descended a littler to an empty restaurant and ate an early lunch.
I left around noon and lost my way immediately. I had found the more direct route down to the lake on my way up, but I couldn’t find it again, and it isn’t on any of my maps. I resolved to head back down the road, but before getting too far I found someone and paid him to show me to the top of the steps.
800 meters of descending stone steps later, through open sun and humid jungle, I finally got down to the lake and the road to Lakeside, my legs quivering from the descent far more than the ascent. The way I trained, it really is true that getting up is only half the job, or less than half perhaps.
The unsettling parts were at the beginning of my walk and higher on the hill. Someone asked me on one of the non-tourist streets in Pokhara where I was from. I’ve always answered honestly and not had a single problem. Last time around, I recall most answers of “US” or “America” being greeted with interest and questions about older musicians. Not this guy, who went off about something to do with China. Could have been positive, I guess, because I could understand only a few sentences, but I didn’t get that impression.
The second was up in Sarang Kot. On the way up I talked for a while with a local. He was nice, spoke good English due to guiding and living along a popular day hike route, and showed me his treasured marijuana plant. His house and field looked well kept. On the way down, though, the guy who wanted to talk was very different. He asked for money; I gave him a cigarette instead and lit it for him while he talked.
“Fuck America” was the topic, his words. Why we come here and give money to the rich and the government and not to the poor? Understandable, as a lot of foreign aid is wasted and the rest concentrated in certain areas, as is tourism. A man living again alongside a route for daily hikes by tourists wouldn’t seem the most likely to complain about this, as his town gets a lot of tourist money simply due to its location, elevation and view.
Well, not just those things. It’s also due to the government developing roads and nice trails up to Sarang Kot. So his complaint about our paying government fees, including one to walk up that trail, and that money just going to the govt isn’t wholely true (along with the obvious factor of them determining their corrupt govt members, not me). Were we not to come to Nepal, he and his village would be poorer and without even their basic infrastructure — he just wouldn’t realize it much.
I could argue with him like this, but he is right in that he lives in poverty — probably far from the worst in Nepal, but horribly far down the food chain from the people like me he sees everyday — and that my money isn’t doing anything for him. The divide between middle/upper class and the poor in Nepal is huge, not just with regard to money to buy things and education but to more fundamental issues like health, nutrition and education. Yes, the West has has, sad, horrible poverty; no, it is not fucking anything like the worst here. Nothing.
My money here goes first to hotel owners, shop keepers, cab drivers and their employees (if any outside their own family), then to the government. Little of the wealth and comfort walking past daily will ever serve to improve the life of someone without capital to open a hotel or otherwise provide to tourists. So many offers I hear for guides, because that is one way they can get in on my spending without significant money of their own.
And regardless of the facts and specifics of the problem, this man was frustrated and expressing it in pretty good English, complete with properly utilized swearing. His feelings were pretty clear, and I couldn’t take them lightly. Right or wrong, or somewhere in between, he isn’t making it up or changing his mind. Without veering into politics that are not my own, it’s well known what has changed here while I was gone. Perhaps that is what has led this man away from worship of the rich West and its visitors and into blaming them for his lack of opportunity.
Maybe frustration that will lead to real change here, not simply substituting one upper class for another, still possessing all the power and opportunity. I hope it does, because anyone that loves coming here would like to see happier, healthier people throughout this country. We’d like the money we spend to see this beautiful place with its wonderful people to improve the place as a whole.
In the meantime, though, what do I say to this frustration? “I voted for Obama, and though his so-called socialism is nothing of the sort in relation to this issue, he’s the most likely one to ensure our country directs foreign aid to help the poor”? Or, “I’m from Canada. Nunavut, actually. Never heard of it? Kilos, kilometers, eh?”