I intentionally took the scenic route to the Japanese-built World Peace Pagoda perched above Pokhara on fancy, forested real estate. My only directions were the ballpark ‘south of the dam, take a right’ kind of directions that Lonely Planet often provides. Which should be fine. I don’t want my hand held completely, but I have a bad habit of thinking I have a much better sense of direction than I actually do.
After discovering the general path past the southeast end of the strip of Whiteytown, three young Nepali boys insisted on guiding me for a mere one-thousand rupees, about $15. I told them it was big money (“big money?” where the hell did I learn English?) and I was happy to be alone and get lost in the woods if I had to.
“Many ways. Tourists always get confused. Paths are confusing. You will be lost.” Eventually they let me go on my own, though I continually heard laughs followed by warning cries of “Wrong way! You go wrong way!!” as though I were about to fall into a tiger trap.
They chased me down and demanded I let them join me to be my guides. I asked why they weren’t in school. They said it’s a holiday. I ate them. And that was that.
As it turned out, the three- or four-mile meander was indeed confusing. The hillside consists of former terraced farmland, so there are constantly dozens of misleading trails. I made many coin-toss decisions leading down broad avenues of dirt that would slowly weaken to high-grass rumors of a purposed direction, and by the cobwebs I kept walking through, it seemed clear this was not a well-trodden way. So I’d backtrack and try again. Often reaching toward a clearing full of hope and a sentiment of “there we go, that wasn’t so bad,” only to realize it was just the top of another hill that gave a gasp of blue sky and then collapsed back down into the greenery.
It really shouldn’t have been any kind of adventure. Only a few miles barely in the forest—the sound of paraflights not far above and distant views of Pokhara never more than a couple turns away.
But not seeing anyone other than an old man mending a net at a fork in the middle of the woods (to catch lone hikers I have to imagine) made it all feel more isolated. Alone on one particular long quiet bend along the hillside, I saw a hard rustling in the path a dozen meters head pushing loudly through the bushes. I knew immediately it was a tiger. It had to be. I mean, there are hardly any left in the wild in the entire country but one of them was bound to be bloodthirstily roaming the woods just outside an urban center.
And so I would be devoured. I was carrying a simple camping knife and it occurred to me I might be able to somehow stab him in the throat and take him down. Wow, that would be a hell of a story. I saw myself relaying the tale to Matt Lauer. “Were you scared?” “Well, Matt, funny thing is in that situation you don’t really have time to be scared.” I quickly recognized if it were in fact a tiger, odds were heavily in his favor.
After vividly considering my impending demise for a few minutes and measuring the movements that were becoming more numerous and more prominent in the higher branches above, it became obvious that these were the actions of fellow monkeys.
Several little ones were wrestling about and a few big-dog sized badasses were stumbling and swinging by, occasionally giving me a glimpse that intimated “you’re an idiot,” before returning to the other Ewoks.
All the same, these were wild, woodland creatures, so I grabbed a firm but flexible length of stick and began to sing as I will, making my presence politely known. I’m not sure though what I’d do with the stick if there were a confrontation. Possibly bend the fellow over my knee and throttle him like a naughty schoolboy.
Within another 20 minutes I could hear voices and following a slick path straight up I found lodging, food, drink, and pagoda. I took the much faster, more populated route back after a few photos, a coke, and a smile. I figured the monkeys needed some time alone and all that.