Waking up, I threw off the blanket that kept me warm overnight as the sun poured into our small room. It took a few squints and rubs to my sleepy eyes in a silent moment to gauge where I was – Pokhara, a tucked away city in Central Nepal famous for its spectacular scenery.
On the previous evening, my friend Kasturi and I had hired an old, navy blue Maruti 800 to drive us to the outskirts of Pokhara. Our cab trundled past the hustle and bustle of the city into the traffic-laden narrow roads running through green paddy fields. We detoured from the main road and ascended an unpaved, dusty road with a steep climb. The engine purred and roared past tall trees that stood shoulder to shoulder. Before I’d even began to grasp the landscape, the cab halted on a side road. We had reached our destination.
I was at Panchbhaiya, a village 9.5 miles from Pokhara, that’s perched on a ridge between Rupa Lake and Begnas Lake. I pulled out my cabin-sized luggage from the taxi and stood at the village entrance. I was so captivated by the cacophony of birds chirping and the clouds casting a misty sky over Begnas Tal. I was taking a sneak-peak of the iron-clad bells of the Deorali temple when Dinesh (our host) called out.
Dotted with scarlet sage flowers, Dinesh House had a warm and cozy feel. I immediately felt I was in a home away from home. Sipping my welcome drink – a warm cup of ginger lemon honey tea, I allowed myself to be one with the wilderness. Jackfruit, gooseberry, bamboo, and banana trees crowned the vegetable garden at our homestay. The yellow flowers promised mustard. The overcast sky promised rain.
Anxiety had worked its way under my skin with the trip planning. In my quest for calmness, I only hoped Panchbhaiya would put my mind at ease. At that moment, when I sat there overlooking the grandeur of Begnas Tal, I experienced what I was after. Was it tranquillity? I cannot say for certain. But it was an indescribable feeling, one I hadn’t experienced in months.
The sun rays coming from my window on that pleasant March morning brought me back to reality as I unbolted the wooden, creaky door of our mud-walled room. What greeted me next were scattered rags of clouds casting a shadow over Begnas Lake, glistening in the morning sun as the crisp air blew across my face. It didn’t take long for me to realize that I could see an endless chain of snow-capped peaks – the Annapurna and Mardi Himal – right before me. I was even more elated when Mori, our companion at the homestay, offered his binoculars for an unparalleled view.
I closed my eyes to embrace this profound moment. Like birds that drift with the wind, I was drifting in my thoughts. I did a simple exercise: breathe in and breathe out. Later I’d realize the importance of this vivid moment, and that it made a huge impact on me. Panchbhaiya was turning out to be that rare opportunity that allowed me to step outside modern life distractions, and reconnect with nature on an equal footing.
“Thank you for choosing Panchbhaiya”, I said, turning towards Kasturi, as I satiated over a home-cooked breakfast of buckwheat pancakes and honey. Concerned about safety and COVID measures in place, I was not keen to visit Panchbhaiya. Yet, I was eager to explore Pokhara beyond the regular tourist routes. Entrusting Kasturi, I tagged along on her adventure.
I strolled along cobbled paths framed by blue wildflowers pausing to soak in quaint corners of the village — empty houses, firewood racked up in corners and the faint scent of bougainvilleas.
That is when I also noticed a more grim side of the village— deserted trails and empty guest houses. What a stark reminder of the ongoing pandemic. A reminder of two summers without tourists, I thought to myself. Just then, my strong senses picked up a strong, unpleasant smell coming from around the bend. Basking in the morning sun, creases on her face like wrinkled clothes and a cigarette in hand, I spotted an old lady releasing puffs of smoke into the air. “Aji (grandmother),” I called out, grabbing a spot near her. “Smoking is bad for your health,” I continued.
“I am an old lady, and this is a bani (habit),” replied the 80-year-old Bishnu Maiya Gurung. Into a casual conversation, I learned she had spent 40 years in Panchbhaiya— raising children, farming, and tending to her cattle. I realized she was happy and content with her life. Was it because that was her purpose in life, her Ikigai?
These observations stayed with me until my last few hours at Panchbhaiya. I followed the trails leading to Dharma Chakra Gumba — the village monastery guarded by flowering mango trees at the entrance. Colorful prayer flags fluttered in the wind, as if acknowledging my presence. I took the spiral staircase leading to the Gumba’s terrace where I stole a moment or two for myself. In the unpretentious charm of both Begnas Lake and Rupa Lake, I found a balance between my rumbling thoughts and reality.
Related: The Raute: Kings of the Forest
Reminiscing about my two nights here, it feels like ages ago that I made this trip. A trip where two friends enjoyed the snap and crackle of Panchbhaiya. It offered a unique sense of oneness with nature and cozy corners to curl up with cups of tea, home-cooked meals, and deep conversations.
The irresistible drive to get out of my comfort zone, squash preconceptions, and quench my thirst for curiosity, had taken me 330 miles away from home. I hope that drive eventually leads me to my purpose in life, just like Bishnu Maiya Gurung. One that can keep me nurtured and nourished in challenging times. My Ikigai.
What is the most impactful adventure you’ve ever had? Let us know on Twitter!