Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Sarangkot Peak in Pokhara

One of the main reasons to go to Pokhara is for the stunning mountain views. From the World Peace Pagoda, the vista of snow-capped mountains towering over a shimmering lake is spectacular. Sarangkot provides Pokhara's other premier viewpoint. Tourists flock to this peak for sunrise when the skies are most likely to be clear. They are frequently rewarded with a panorama of mountains painted in shades of pink and orange.

Back during our initial visit to Pokhara in August 2008, the sunrise trip to Sarangkot was essential. Because it was monsoon season, the mountains were entirely clouded over during the day. One's best chance for a clear moment was at sunrise. So to the peak of Sarangkot we went, bleary-eyed at the 5:00 hour. Our first morning was a disappointment, but we were rewarded on our return trip the next day. As we first gazed out on thick clouds, our hearts sank a bit. But with a little patience and perhaps divine intervention, the swirls of haze shifted to reveal the giants hiding in the distance. With no Himalayan treks under my belt at that point, the view was unlike anything I had ever seen before. Years later, it remains a magical moment.

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View from Sarangkot, August 2008

We were not so keen on rising before dawn for the sunrise during our most recent visit to Pokhara, given our already-fortunate history with Sarangkot and the ample mountain views that now otherwise greeted us in spades. Instead, we saved Sarangkot as an afternoon hike. Lonely Planet discouraged us from the most direct route to the peak, describing it as steep, poorly marked, and potentially bandit-filled, so instead we decided on a longer hiking route that would reportedly take anywhere from 2.5 to 4 hours. With beautiful weather and a hunger for the trail, we were game...until about an hour and a half of trucking through the streets of Pokhara before even hitting the trail head let alone any elevation gain. A bit wary of what lay ahead as we craned our necks to Sarangkot's summit, we relented and grabbed a taxi to the top.

Well, almost to the top. Our driver dropped us at a trail head about a 30-minute walk up stairs to Sarangkot's peak. We swear that in 2008 our taxi was able to take us much closer to the summit's viewpoint. When we questioned our driver on this, he claimed that only stronger vehicles were suited for the final climb and that his car was not up to the task. A bit annoyed, we shrugged and headed up the trail (and noted a handful of other vehicles indeed were going all the way -- our tip is to negotiate this detail with your taxi driver before you begin the ride). While the skies had been clear for the morning and afternoon, clouds we rolling in quickly as sundown approached. On our way up, Claudine snapped some photos before the clouds obscured the view completely.

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Alas, the clouds beat us to the punch. Before we could reach the top, the sky became a canvas of whispy grey. Not all was lost, though. The paragliders peacefully floating on air were something to behold.

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We were fortunate to get our fill of views at other points during our Pokhara visit. One thing we noted is that the iconic Machhapuchhre is looking a bit bare compared to its glacial appearance on postcards, posters, and just about anything else that can be screen printed in Pokhara's tourist district. Judge for yourself:

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Machhapuchhre, August 2008

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Machhapuchhre, December 2011

Is this possibly a seasonal difference we are observing or simply evidence of the relatively fast retreat of glaciers not only in the Himalayas, but around the world?

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