“I think we need to go this way,” I said as I pointed down a narrow street that ran parallel with the river.
We had been walking for about 45 minutes, unsure if we were still headed in the correct direction or if we were going to continue wandering aimlessly around this section of Pokhara.
We set out with the intention to hike to the Peace Pagoda. But if you can’t even find the start of the trail, how successful are you really going to be at navigating your way to the end?
We pressed on regardless.
I had noticed a small bridge that went across the river and then cut back the way we were coming but heading the direction of the pagoda. Mind you, it was about 1000 feet (300 m) up a hill to get to it, and there was nothing but lush forest that I could see leading to it.
Kaitlyn had found this hike earlier while searching the internet. There hadn’t been much posted about it, and she could only find a couple of websites that mentioned the route, though they didn’t explain it very thoroughly.
To be honest, they barely explained anything at all apart from where it started. And even that, as you can see, wasn’t explained the best.
“Don’t worry, I’ll get us there with no problems,” I said, a touch too confidently.
We strolled across the bridge that we had seen, assuming this had to be the one mentioned on the website.
What made me so confident in that assumption? I don’t have the slightest damn clue. I wasn’t convinced, though, that this bridge would stay in one piece as we walked across it.
The bridge was long and thin, dangling across the river. It was wooden, with long slats of waterlogged wood running the entire length of the bridge vertically. Smaller planks went across these horizontally, in no particular pattern that seemed to give you any confidence in this being a well-built structure.
In fact, if I didn’t know any better, I’d think some man had strolled across this bridge, the planks of wood falling out of a bag he carried as he walked.
Wherever they landed, he just hammered them down and carried on his way.
We decided to cross the bridge anyway.
Thankful to have made it across, we carried on walking. Up ahead, we could see two people standing, a man and a woman.
The woman seemed to be carrying on, not paying any mind to the man, and she had walked away by the time we had reached them.
The man was standing, smoking a cigarette, staring back the way we had come. Maybe he was the one who had built the bridge, and he was admiring his….craftsmanship.
“Hello!” I said to him when his gaze finally made its way to us. He responded with his own hello.
“Is this the way to the Peace Pagoda?” I asked.
“Oh, yes, yes. Very beautiful place. You keep following that trail,” he said as he pointed through some iron gates that resembled something you would see in jail. Ignoring the bleak view, I thanked him and began to walk on.
“Wait, wait,” he said. “Do you know the way?”
“Sort of,” I said. “But, we’ll figure it out.” I began to press on again.
“My name is Manish,” he said as he reached out his hand. “I am from here in Pokhara.”
I reached out my hand and shook his. “I’m Kyle,” I said. “Nice to meet you,” again, turning to carry on.
“I am from here in Pokhara,” he stated for the second time as if I was supposed to be amazed that somebody I’m meeting in Pokhara is actually from this place.
I looked back, unsure how he wanted me to respond to this, but I realized he didn’t. He carried on.
“I have lived here a long time, and I went to school in Kathmandu. I studied business. That was about five years ago. Now I hope to open a business one day.”
I stared at him curiously, trying to figure out why he was telling me all of this. I couldn’t. So, I simply responded, “Oh, cool. We were just in Kathmandu two days ago.” This didn’t seem to knock him from his script.
“My father and mother live here, too. They have a beautiful house next to the lake. But, when I went to Kathmandu to study business, and I had to leave them.”
I am always a patient person in other countries and the locals have grabbed my ear and are refusing to let go. I look at it this way. This is undoubtedly why I came to travel, to get to know these people and hear their stories.
But, sometimes, you aren’t really sure there is a story, and you’d really like to carry on with your plans.
“I can show you the way to the Peace Pagoda,” he said, transitioning to a completely unrelated subject as if it were clearly the next step in our conversation.
“Ahh, that’s alright,” I responded. “I think we’ll be able to find the way. We have a map.” This was a lie.
“But there is a lot of trees and leaves. Very easy to get lost. And some people sometimes hide in the forest for tourists who are hiking,” he told me.
I paused for a moment at this thought, but I thought again and realized it was just a swindle. He was going to escort us up there on a straightforward path, then expect money in return. I’d had it happen to me multiple times, I think I’ve learned my lesson.
“Nah, that’s alright. I think we’ll be okay. Thank you, though,” I said as I turned to give the clear message that this conversation was over.
He continued walking with us as we made our way through the jail cell gates, heading toward the stone steps leading up the hill. Finally, after realizing that he wasn’t going to take ‘no’ for an answer, I accepted and continued walking on with him.
As we walked, he continued talking about the business degree that he received in Kathmandu. I’m not sure what confidence he was trying to instill in us as a tour guide with a degree in business, but he seemed to emphasize this point.
After ascending about 100 steps, we noticed two men sitting on the steps, facing our direction. When we got closer, they both got up and moved off to the side. However, this wasn’t a move to the side like, “Oh, top of the morning, sir, here, let me get right out of the way for you.”
No, this was more like when you’re playing hide-and-seek with a three-year-old, and they know they’re caught, but they still just stand in the wide-open, acting like they can’t be seen.
Hmm, strange, I thought, but I kept on walking, listening to Warren Buffet next to me, carrying on about something that I had stopped listening to five minutes ago.
After we had passed them, and we were about 100-200 feet ahead of them, I glanced over my shoulder. Both men had rejoined the steps and were walking up them, following us. I realized what was going on.
I stopped, thinking quickly of an excuse, grabbing the first one that came to mind.
“Ahh, man, I’m not feeling so well, Manish. I think it’s the altitude,” I said, doing my best to look a little wobbly.
“What? But you were just fine? Let’s carry on toward the Peace Pagoda, and maybe you will feel better,” he said.
“No, I don’t know if that’s a good idea. I think we will just come back another day and do the hike when I’m feeling better,” I responded.
Kaitlyn, who was unaware of what I had noticed and why I was doing this, stared at me curiously. I shot her a look to emphasize the message to not interfere with this charade. This is ‘Look C701’ of the ‘Facial Expressions You Use to Send Messages’ handbook.
Manish called my bluff. “No, I don’t understand. The altitude? You said you were just in Kathmandu. It is higher than Pokhara.”
Shit. He got me there, and on a super easy thing to spot if you’re a person from Nepal. Think of better excuses, you idiot, I thought to myself. But I doubled down.
“No, I know. That’s why I’m confused, too. I just know that I’m not feeling well, and I’d like to go lie down,” I responded.
The two men following us stopped and stood off to the side, about 200 feet down the steps. They were acting like they were looking out at the view of Pokhara. They definitely wouldn’t win an award for their acting skills.
Realizing that Manish would not let us stop easy, I just started walking down the steps. His protests continued.
“I… I don’t understand. You were just fine, and now you don’t feel good. That makes no sense.”
I shrugged my shoulders. “Yeah, I don’t know. I just don’t feel good.” I figured I would just keep saying this repeatedly since he had called out my last excuse.
Realizing this, he switched playbooks and started walking down the hill with us, seemingly accepting that we just weren’t going to do the hike. I was shocked. Then he started speaking about a completely unrelated topic.
“You said you are from America, right?”
“Look, I have this American money.” He pulled out a five-dollar bill and held it as if it’d start glowing whenever an American saw their money in a foreign country.
“How much is this worth in Nepali rupees?” He asked.
“I think around 500-600 Nepali rupees,” I said.
“Well, here, I don’t need this American money. It’s no good in Nepal. I need rupees. How about you give me the money in rupees, and I will give you this five-dollar bill?”
He said this with a slight quiver in his lip that indicated he was holding back a smile. But, I wasn’t stupid. Well, I’m usually not stupid. But, I realized what he was doing now.
“Nah, that’s okay,” I said. “I already have American money. I don’t need it.”
Getting more flustered, he responded as if I didn’t understand what he was asking me to do, and quite frankly, like I was a dumbass.
“No, no, no,” he said. “You take this American money. You give me Nepali rupees. I don’t need American money.”
I laughed at this, fully aware of the game he was playing, “Bud, I don’t need American money either. I’m not in America. I’m in Nepal. I need Nepali rupees, too.”
He continued on, the aggression becoming more evident in his voice.
“I don’t understand you. Up there, you were fine, now you are sick. I try to give you American money. You don’t take it. You are American. I don’t understand.”
We kept on walking. I knew he was trying to locate where my wallet was. I knew he wanted me to take it out of my pocket. He didn’t know that I had put our room key between my knuckles.
I carried on. At one point, his phone begins to ring. He takes it out of his pocket, pressing the ‘ignore’ button repeatedly.
I glance back, the two men who were following us in the beginning stopped. I look closely at one of them. He is standing there, looking off, with a phone up to his ear.
We eventually reached the bottom, with more or less of this the entire way. When we stepped through the jail gates, I began to walk away.
As I did, I looked back and said, “Sorry, Manish. Maybe another day. Thanks for the help. See you next time.”
His voice was biting. “No. I don’t want to see you. You people come here and think we’re all bad people. You think we just here to steal and cheat. I never want to see you again.”
Sheesh. Harsh words from someone who, 10 minutes earlier, was going to take my girlfriend and me up a path that didn’t lead to the Peace Pagoda and, with the two men who were following, mug us.
I know this because, besides picking up on apparent signals, this blog detailed how we were being led up the wrong path and how people are often robbed in the area. This blog post did not exist before we did our hike.
The sad part is, what he was saying about my views toward Nepali people couldn’t be further from the truth. Nepali people were overwhelmingly generous and hospitable.
A few days prior, a Nepali man named Binod—whom I now gladly call a friend—came to where we were staying and invited us out to celebrate Holi, an important holiday in Nepal. We would be joining his friends as we walked around Kathmandu, enjoying the colors being thrown everywhere.
It was the first time we had met him. And he owed us nothing. If that’s not welcoming and not generosity, then I have no idea what is.
The issue was that this man was setting a bad example for the Nepali people. After all, imagine if that had been one of the few Nepali people we had interactions with during our time there. We wouldn’t have formed the greatest opinions about the country, probably.
But, there are bad people everywhere. It doesn’t matter what country you go to. Overwhelmingly, though, people in all parts of the world are friendly people.
You always have to be aware. Often, you only have yourself for protection. If a situation seems strange, or you’re getting bad vibes, then get away from that situation because your intuition is often correct.
But, don’t allow this to fall into outright fear and mistrust. You will miss out on many experiences if you do not let your guard down from time to time.
Typically, the most unexpected experiences come to be the ones you remember the most.
After that, Kaitlyn and I walked home, realizing that we could have been hurt and thankful we weren’t. As we did, we passed many Nepali people, all of them smiling, saying hello, and carrying on about their business.
How could we let one bad apple spoil the basket?
Thank you for reading this story! I’d love to hear any comments or stories you may have about Nepal, Pokhara, or just scary/nerve-wracking moments during your travels! Let me hear them in the comments!
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