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Monday, 05 May 2008

Battling Buffalos in Pokhara

Written by Carolyn Bonello
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It all started to go wrong when a moment of sheer impulse led me to jump into the murky lake.

Together with two girlfriends, I had been travelling around Nepal for a month or so, and, finally back in Pokhara after a grueling Annapurna trek, plus a suicidal bout of amoebic dysentery, I decided it was time to give my miserable body a break.

Battling Buffalos in Pokhara, funny travel stories, travel nepal, travel Pokhara, Phewa Tal LakeSpreading down a warm, lush valley to the Phewa Tal Lake, Pokhara, with its unobstructed views of the Machhapuchhre (fish-tail) summit, is the number one place to chill out in Nepal.

‘And this is exactly what I plan to do’

I snigger convincingly to myself, as I close my eyes and picture myself gliding along the lovely lake, dressed in nothing but a skimpy sarong, basking in the sun and catching up on some serious Marian Keyes reading.

Down at the water’s edge, the sign reads:

Dungaa (rowing boats) – rent from here, best price in Pokhara. RS130 for 1 hour, Rs400 for whole day’

Oozing with self-confidence, I move towards the little man at the boat-hire stand, and mastering my newly-discovered haggling talent, I recite my mantra:

‘Four-hundred rupees, too much. Give me good price.’

Sure enough, I manage to squeeze the price down to a shamelessly cheap Rs300 (around 4 US$) for a dungaa for the whole day.

Looking like refugees clinging on to precious belongings for dear life, we walk to the lake’s edge laden with a picnic lunch from Pumpernickel bakery (a selection of the freshest, softest bread, a handful of buttery chocolate-chip cookies and a dozen or so still-piping-hot cinnamon rolls,) some reading material, sun block, a hat, sunshades and more. Ignoring the rude glares and giggles coming from a group of local teenage boys who watch in amusement, we struggle to step into the ridiculously small, unstable red and blue wooden Dungaa. After a few tense moments of balance and equilibrium testing, the exact spot where each of us would sit and not dare budge for the whole trip is found - one wrong move would tip us, together with our precious picnic lunches, into the murky lake – not on the agenda.



Quickly mastering an efficient rowing technique, the three of us pick up speed as we glide smoothly across the lake, laughing and chatting, amazed at how effortless this is turning out to be. I love rowing. I was born to row. The day is progressing well.

Sore and aching triceps and pectorals, plus overuse of abdominals to maintain a stable posture, soon call for an urgent break.

‘Right girls, lets pull over here,’ I instruct, pointing confidently at a shallow bank, as we enter a beautiful, deserted cove, ‘The perfect spot for our picnic lunch.’

Unanimously agreeing to this supposedly wonderful plan, we unpack our picnic lunches and ravenously delve in to our feast. Half way through a divine tuna roll, I come up with a bright idea.

Stripping shamelessly to my underwear, (why not? after all who on earth can see us here?) I decide that it might be nice to take a refreshing dip in the lake.

It’s not so murky after all. I can’t understand why no one is swimming.’

Taking the plunge, I jump clumsily into the subtropical lake.

‘Whoa, this water sure is cold’, I screech at the top of my voice, disturbing any form of peace that was once present, ‘but it’s so refreshing.’

I perfect my freestyle technique around a small circumference of lake, when suddenly, I realize that the ripples I spot in the distance are not caused by my erratic splashing, but by another foreign body that must have invaded the otherwise peaceful lake.



Battling Buffalos in Pokhara, funny travel stories, travel nepal, travel Pokhara, Phewa Tal LakeBefore I can even begin to perceive what is happening, the water around me begins to bubble like a natural geyser, and, unbelievably, a dozen or so buffalos slowly surface - big, black, bulky buffalos, or bison, or whatever they are known as in Nepal. One by one, they rise to the surface of the lake, moving curiously towards me, scrutinizing my now-green, shell-shocked alien- looking face. Feeling incredibly out numbered and submissive, I realize that my body seems to be moving towards the ‘flight’ rather than ‘fight‘ response to this threat. The idea of a bloody fight, ripping off buffalo horns and victoriously walking ashore carrying the remains of buffalo guts, somehow doesn’t feel right to my body, which by now is a clammy mess. My skin has turned yellowish, my pupils are dilated, and I mean, really dilated (at least that’s what my friends say), and I know I’m breathing way too fast.

I have two choices – either engage every single muscle in my body and swim as fast as I can to the boat, (which by now is bobbing up and down uncontrollably since a couple of buffalos decide that it might be fun to explore its underside), or swim ashore, in my underwear, and shock the naive buffalo herder, who by now has come to the water’s edge to see why the usually peaceful afternoon dip had turned into a scene from Jaws.

Buffalos have a sweet tooth, we discover, and it is the chocolate-chip cookies that eventually save me. Throwing large pieces of nibbled cookies ashore, the buffalos follow greedily, giving me a few precious moments to climb back into the boat.

Back at the lakeside in Pokhara, shivering uncontrollably, and still in my underwear, I finally understand why nobody swims in the lake at that time of day!

©Carolyn Bonello

Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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