Realising that we had neither the time nor the energy to manage the Poon Hill trek, we set our sights on the village of Sarangkot, which sits on a hill just above Pokhara. You can easily locate Sarangkot from the ground by the endless stream of paragliders that launch from the hillside just underneath it. We had heard that the village was notably peaceful and that there were some memorable views to be had, both of the mountains above, and of Phewa lake below, so we had a chat about how best to tackle a quick visit. Using the children’s poor tired legs as an obvious excuse we decided that we would get a taxi up the hill, stay for a couple of nights to absorb the atmosphere, and then walk the track back down to Pokhara. Easy.
The owner of our Pokhara guesthouse recommended getting a taxi with a friend of his who would give us a ‘good price’ for the trip up. When he arrived his ‘good price’ of 1500 rupees (£10) seemed a bit steep to me but we failed to charm him down, so we grudgingly agreed. Initially, I was a bit put out by his intransigence, but I soon changed my tune when the taxi began to climb the hill towards Sarangkot. I have been on some really bad roads in my time in many different countries, but nothing I have ever experienced could hold a candle to the sheer awfulness of the road to Sarangkot. The very best parts were muddy, potholed and broken, but in some places towards the end there was no road to speak of, the taxi driver was merely negotiating over piles of boulders that may have just fallen where the road used to be, or may have been put there in some sort of semblance of a road at some stage. I will never know. By the time our taxi driver had deposited us at the village, he, and his tiny little white Suzuki, had earned every penny of that fare as well as my unending admiration for his superb driving skills and nerves of steel.
Sarangkot is not particularly easy on the eye, but it is peaceful and apparently the views are great. I say apparently because, unsurprisingly, clouds completely surrounded us on most of both days, but we didn’t mind. Our guesthouse came equipped with three small children to play with mine, so the grown-ups got to kick back and enjoy the tranquillity. As in so many parts of the world, this tranquillity may be short lived. We walked along the road until we came across a monstrous hotel complex being constructed just outside the village. The local folks told us that a Chinese company was building it, and planning to bypass the road from hell by installing a gondola to sweep their clients painlessly to the top of the hill.
On our final morning we spent some time watching paragliders launching themselves off the side of the hill, and circling above our heads. At one stage there were so many in the airspace in front of us it seemed inevitable that some of them would get tangled up together and go spiraling down to drown in the lake together. They didn’t of course, they just continued on their slow swooping descents avoiding each other with practiced ease. There would be no such easy decent for us unfortunately, we had to find our way down under our own steam.
It all started very well, we found the handy ‘To Lakeside’ signpost and followed the path, however after about five minutes it just led us out onto a bit of road. We were confused so we asked someone which way to go. He just pointed down a nearby overgrown grassy track that disappeared down the hill and said cheerily ‘they all go down’. And so we went down, numerous tracks branched off here and there and without any other means of deciding, we just took the one that looked the most likely contender. Lady Luck sent us a few helpers in the form of a small girl who pointed us mutely down one path, and a hunched old lady who scolded us back down the path we had come on and onto another. Down and down we went, legs like jelly, with no idea how far we had come or how far we had to go.
At one stage, we stopped to catch our breath and have a drink of water. As we stood amongst trees listening to the birds sing and the vegetation rustle, I started on one of my impromptu lectures on how lucky we were to be experiencing nature so close at hand. As I stood there, boring everyone, my mind ran over the articles I had read, searching for facts about the various animals that lived in the forest around Sarangkot, it ran until I remembered about the rare but occasional tiger sightings. Then I shut up and decided that the rest stop was over.
The rest of the descent was done at lightening speed. I promised ice-cream and fizzy juice like I have never promised them before, and when we came out into the open to see Lake Phewa in front of us, my legs were like rubber bands but my heart leapt to have survived yet another in a long line of imaginary dangers.
Really useful tips for visiting Sarangkot
- Stay in the Mountain View Guesthouse. It is very basic but the family that run it are just lovely and the food is cheap and excellent.
- It will probably take longer than you think to walk up and its really steep and quite slippy. Three young English lads arrived at our guesthouse well after dark. They had stopped for a game of football with some local kids and had underestimated how long the walk would take them. They did the last hour or so by torchlight – not recommended!
- I have no idea if the stories of tiger sightings are real, but just confirm that you aren’t the slowest runner in your walking group to be sure.