Pokhara is a perennial destination for tourists and travellers. Its serene lakes, hollow caves, blue-green hills and snow-capped peaks are unparalleled in beauty and the magnifying glass view of the Annapurna Range and Mt. Fishtail makes it the ultimate go to places when in Nepal. It is easily accessible from Kathmandu and is a favored stop on the Annapurna Circuit Trek or Jomsom/Mustang trips.
Hotels, attractions, restaurants, and all necessary amenities are located in and around Lakeside. It is the metropolitan hub of Pokhara and is centered on music, food, drinks and party, which is open all hours of the day and night. For those who find it too touristy, you can go off the beaten road and explore local villages and stay at basic hotels. It is also the hotspot for adventure sports like Paragliding, Kayaking, Jungle Safaris and the soon to open Skydiving and Zip-lining.
For the faint-hearted there are several light activities like Micro-flights, rowing in the several serene lakes, fishing, cave exploring and hiking through the several well established routes. There are several ashrams that run meditation and yoga classes and those who prefer a quiet and relaxing break can stay at resorts and spas that offer a quiet break from the noises of the city. Today Pokhara is a mixing bowl of cultures, ethnicities and nationalities. Where else can you listen to jazz and eat curry.
Pokhara is an ancient city that was once part of the Chaubise Rajya and in the 18th century became part of Prithvi Narayan Shah’s expanding kingdom. It lies in an important old trading route between India and Tibet that became defunct after the Chinese occupation of Tibet. Today Tibetan refugees have become part of the Pokhareli census which was primarily of Thakuri, Chhetri and Brahmin caste in the 1700s.Later, Newars from Bhaktapur emigrated to the central business locations of Bagar and Tersepatti and the establishment of Gurkha recruitment stations brought in large populations from the Magar and Gurung castes. Also being the gateway to Mustang, since the opening of the air route, it has brought down sizeable Thakali population moving into warmer climate and expanding their hospitality business.
Pokhara was accessible only by foot until the end of 1960’s which helped in preserving its authentic make and unique colours. After the completion of Siddhartha Rajmarga, it opened up to curious travellers and its proximity to the Annapurna Range egged on its rapid expansion, to become Nepal’s second largest city and one of the most popular tourist destinations in South-Asia.
Getting to & Around
To/from Kathmandu– Micro buses leave Kalanki bus station in Kathmandu and Prithvi chowk, Pokhara every 15-30 minutes from 5 in the morning till 6 in the evening. One way ticket comes in at Rs. 450 per person and the journey lasts between 5 -7 hours depending on traffic, frequency and duration of stops and temperament of the driver. Alternatively you can take the tourist bus which comes in at Rs. 350 per person with the added perks of A/C and more leg room. However, it is only available in the mornings and prior booking is preferable.
Yeti, Buddha and Nepal Airlines run daily flights to Pokhara from the Tribhuwan Domestic Airport in Kathmandu. A one-way ticket will cost you between $90-100.
Around Pokhara– All major attractions in Pokhara are located within a few kilometres radius. Public transportation is the cheapest option where the maximum fare comes under Rs. 30. Taxis are easy to find though you will be expected to agree on a fare before the journey as taxis here don’t run on meter. On my first night in Pokhara I found myself in a taxi that didn’t even have a meter. Also, it is okay to bargain on the quoted price. In fact it is expected of passengers and drivers usually quote a higher price at first, in anticipation of a negotiation. The easiest and enjoyable way to get around Pokhara however, is to hire a bike or scooter from any Bike rentals in the lakeside. For anywhere between Rs 500-900 per day, depending on the condition and make of the vehicle, you can have your pick of bikes. A valid driving licence is required and fuel costs are not included.
Sarangkot is a must stop for every traveller who passes through Pokhara. Some 1592 m above ground, it is a short bus ride from Baglung bus station and about 45 minutes hike uphill. Arrive early in the morning if you don’t want to miss the spectacular sunrise or better yet stay in one of the cheap and cheerful lodges overnight to be on the safe side. Sarangkot has the highest viewing platform in Pokhara from where you can almost kiss the mountains above and see whole of the city below. It is also the take off point for paragliders, and the soon to open Skyzip-the world’s longest, steepest and fastest zip wire.
Phewa Lake and Lakeside
Unarguably, the most famous landmark of Pokhara, Phewa Lake is a tranquil haven right beside the hectic main road of Lakeside. On clear days, Mt. Fishtail is perfectly reflected on its waters. It’s location in the heart of the city and the presence of the Barahi mandir in a tiny island in the middle of the Lake makes it an attractive destination for both tourists and Hindu devouts alike. You can take a boat ride to and back from the temple for Rs.20 and an hour long boat trip around the lake will cost Rs 300. If you are up to it, you can self row the boat which will cost slightly less. Also, you can row across the lake and hike up above the forested hill on the southern side to the World Peace pagoda, explore the Gurung village, rest for a few hours and fill up on local Nepali food.
The southeast stretch of the lake which is known as Lakeside is very tourist oriented, with lots of restaurants, cafes, internet cybers, massage parlours, clubs and pubs and shops selling souvenirs, Nepal-made clothes and pashminas. This whole strip is alive and open 24 hrs of the day, a rarity in Nepal, where even in Kathmandu, the restaurants shut by 10. Hang out here in the evenings and bar hop your way through the plentiful options available; meet locals, visitors and seasonal guests, different nationalities brought together by their similar taste in music/food/drink/need to party.
Devi’s fall and Gupteshwor Mahadev
The official version is that a Mrs. Davis was swept away in a flood while showering in the fall and thus this fall came to be known as Davis fall. The more popular tale is about a Mr. David who committed suicide by jumping in the fall. Either way Devi’s fall is a star attraction of Pokhara. The water from the Phewa Lake flows to the fall and disappears underground after falling 100 ft through rock formations formed by years of erosion. Entrance fee is Rs. 20 per person and the fall is at its most impressive during monsoon seasons when the fall swells.
Some 100 metres southwest, just across the road is perhaps the slightly less famous but arguably even more stunning Gupteshwor Mahadev. This cave is accessible in two halves, the first 40 metres which has two temples of lord Shiva for a Rs. 30 ticket.(?) Here pictures are not permitted but the next 100 metres which will cost Rs. 120 on top will take you up close to the bottom end of Devi’s fall where you can take plenty of pictures of the natural rock formations and silhouetted waterfall.
Hotels & Restaurants
Recommended Dish- Butter Naan and Chicken Korma
Cost per person- Around Rs.600 without alcoholic drinks.
2) Laughing Buddha Restaurant: Small-family run restaurant with great food at rock bottom prices. Easily the best deal to be had in Lakeside. Rustic and cosy with very accommodating and friendly hosts. They serve both Nepali and Western dishes.
Recommended Dish- The all inclusive breakfast
Cost per person- Rs. 100
Things to do
1) Paraglide from Sarangkot for a fee of Rs 5000. Fly over the terraced slopes and Phewa Lake with the majestic Mt.Fishtail as your backdrop. The same bird’s eye view can be enjoyed by those less trusting of the glider/harness, through micro-flights operated by Avia-club Nepal.
2) Hike up to the World peace Pagoda. Either take a boat across the Phewa Lake and hike up the short route through thickets to the top or take a bus ride to Chhore Patan from Mahendra Pool and soldier uphill for an hour to get to the top. Traditional houses made of mud with tin roofs, women in cholo-fariya carrying fodder in their dokos and men ploughing fields with halo; a rare chance to see the village way of life.
3) Hire a taxi or take the local bus from Prithvi Chowk to Begnaas Taal some 30-40 minutes drive away outside Pokhara in Lekhnath. Much less frequented by tourists and visitors alike, enjoy a serene boat ride in Begnaas and savour the local delicacy- fish curry and fried fish.
4) Take a walk along the newly constructed walkway on the Lakeside end of the Phewa Lake. Enjoy a coffee and a good read in any of the numerous cafes that litters this footpath overlooking the water.
5) Keen shoppers should make their way to the Mahendra Pool/Chipledhunga area, where they can shop for both western and traditional apparel, gadgets and electronics. Stop by Saleways for food, toiletries and miscellaneous.
Average highs are between 22-27 degrees Celsius from March to October, but with warm weather also comes cool downpour which can turn the evenings chilly even in high summer. Carry a light shawl or cardigan and mosquito repellent’s your friend. Winters are mild with average lows of 5-10 degrees Celsius. Like everywhere in Nepal, bargain and stand your ground when it comes to prices. Either you will get a good deal or there won’t be a deal at all. In the latter’s case, move on and find new vendors. Avoid touts and pushy middlemen and go straight to the main seller/tour operator for good deals. When possible book tours/activities in advance. Most businesses don’t like turning away custom so they will probably try and squeeze you into their existing and already packed schedule. You will be rushed or have to wait long hours for your turn. In short you might not get your money’s worth or the experience you were promised.
Pokhara is very travel friendly and most people can understand if not speak English. Stay in one of the hotels at Lakeside where most amenities are conveniently located within a short stroll. Prices are slightly dearer here than elsewhere in Pokhara but a little extra goes a long way in ensuring comfort and safety during your stay. Budget travellers should check out the hotels in Damside, which though is quieter and less frequented by travellers is not too far away from the central hub. Do a little research before hand and if possible coincide your trip with local festivals and events. They have big celebrations on Shivaratri when they roast sugarcanes by the road, drink bhang and burn big effigies of Rawan. Similarly Holi is colourful and wet, with streets filled with the young, carryinglolas and colour. Everyone is welcome to join in and no one is spared. The English and Nepali New Year sees the start of a three day street festival that draws in big local and national crowd.
Pokhara is a wonderful destination year round and capable of accommodating most of your travel needs. Just keep your wits about you, as always when travelling, and you will have a wonderful stay in this delightful city.