May 4: Sanctuary Lodge to Pokhara (3am departure)

The Maoists are now completely controlling all movement around the country. We have received word that we must not stay any longer up in the mountains and proceed immediately under cover of darkness to the nearest city -- Pokhara. The knock on the door offering morning coffee came at 2:30am with the instructions to be all packed and ready to go by 3am. With flashlights and headlamps the group started down the mountain path on foot to a waiting bus an hour away. The only light was that of each individual lamp. It looked like a string of fireflies descending the hillside as we switched and turned through the small villages and fields. The pathway was the same one that we had followed as we climbed that first day into the mystical paradise called the Himalayas. This time however it was eerie and each one of us felt like refugee trying to escape to a better land.

Finally in the distance the light of the small station where our bus awaited us appeared. One last step up and there it was. We were joined by an another group of Americans being evacuated also. Crowding onto the bus we said our goodbyes to the lodge staff that had guided us down the mountain in the dark. Then off we went over the rough road through switchback after switchback descending down into the valley below.

As the sun began to appear so did the beautiful mountain peaks. There bathed in golden rays was our Machha Punchhre again. This time she stood proudly next to her sisters -- Annapurna One and the more of the Annapurna Range mountains. It was like they were saying goodbye to us as we drove away. The beauty of the site is very hard to express in words. It brings a tremendous amount of emotion to the surface as one gazes out over the horizon and takes in such wonder. We are leaving because of a human protest but each one of us in our own way is taking a part of this spectacular wonder of Nature in our hearts.

As we enter the city of Pokhara we are stopped several times by groups of Maoist. The first encounter was a mob scene. A small group of protesters stopped the bus and while our guide was explaining that we had special permission from the "head" Maoist, a mob of young men came running from out of the nearby alley. We had no idea if we were going to be detained or believed. Fortunately, they let us proceed. It is very eerie to drive through a city with no other moving vehicle on the road. Police stand in full riot gear watching as the Maoists congregate. No one seems to want to stop them or is too afraid. We are not sure which side the police are on and aren't going to take any chances.

Finally at 7am we arrive at our hotel, are feed some coffee, given room keys, say goodbye to Preem and RayBan, our trekking guides and told to go rest and be in the lobby at 10am for further instructions. We don't know at this point what our next move is. Do we continue with our itinerary or are they sending us home? Everyone is anxious and just wants to be safe.


And More

Early Morning

Boat Ride in Pokhara

Island Temple