Pokhara’s bewitching beauty has been the subject of many travel writers. Its pristine air, spectacular backdrop of snowy peaks, serene lakes and surrounding greenery make it ‘the jewel in the Himalaya’, a place of remarkable natural beauty. With the magnificent Annapurna range forming the backdrop and the serenity of three major lakes – Phewa, Rupa and Begnas – Pokhara is the ultimate destination for relaxation. Pokhara Valley, gateway to the Annapurna region where many a trekker finds his Shangri-la, sits high on the list of ‘must visit’ places in Nepal.
Pokhara once lay on the important trade route between India and Tibet. To this day, mule trains set up camps on the city outskirts, bringing goods from remote Himalayan regions including Mustang. Gurungs and Magars, who have earned world-wide fame as fierce Gurkha warriors, are predominant here. Thakalis, indigenous of the Thak Khola region of Mustang, are known for their entrepreneurship and run tea houses along the trek routes in the Annapurna region.
Pokhara is blessed with stunning panoramic views of the Annapurna range which forms its backdrop. The mesmerizing Machhapuchhre also called Mt. Fishtail dominates the scenery because of its proximity to the valley and can be seen from anywhere in Pokhara. Stretching from east to west, the Annapurna massif includes Annapurna 1 to IV and Annapurna South. Further away are seen the giants, Dhaulagiri (8,167m) and Manaslu (8,163m).
Pokhara owes its popularity to the enchanting Phewa Lake, and along its eastern shore has grown the Lakeside or Baidam, a thriving resort town of hotels, restaurants, bars and souvenir shops that allow travelers to relax and enjoy. Phewa Lake is the largest and most beautiful of the three lakes, attracting a large number of visitors who enjoy boating on its placid waters. Boats can be hired, and many visit the island temple of Barahi in the middle of the lake.
Located in the middle of Phewa Lake, Barahi Temple is one the most important monuments in Pokhara. The two-storied pagoda is dedicated to the boar manifestation of Ajima who represents the female force, Shakti. Sacrifices take place here, and the largest crowds of devotees are seen on Saturdays.
An amazing aspect of Pokhara is the vanishing river, Seti, which goes underground and disappears in many places along its route through the city. At various points Seti is barely 2 m wide but its depth reaches an astonishing 20 m! A good spot for watching the river is Mahendra Pul at Bhimsen Chowk, a bridge near the old Mission Hospital. Here the river can be seen in all its ferocity gushing down the deep gorge that it has carved over millennia.
Locally known as the Patale Chhango (Nether Fall), Devi’s Fall is a fascinating waterfall located about 2 km south-west of Pokhara Airport on the Siddhartha Highway.
This is a large limestone cave at a two-hour walk to the north of Pokhara. Locally known as the House of Bats, it is famous for its stalactites and stalagmites.
World Peace Pagoda:
The World Peace Pagoda can be seen on top of a hill on the southern fringe of Phewa Lake. It has four images of the Buddha facing the four directions. The dome-shaped pagoda is an impressive sight, and its hilltop location commands a great view. It is a great vantage point which offers spectacular views of the Annapurna.
The Old Bazaar:
A stark contrast to Lakeside Pokhara, the old Pokhara Bazaar, 4 km away from Phewa Lake, is a traditional bazaar and a colorful gathering place for an ethnically diverse group of traders. The temples and monuments bear a close resemblance to the Newari architecture of the Kathmandu Valley. The old bazaar is also home to one of Pokhara’s most important shrines, the Bindhyabasini Mandir, a white dome-like structure atop a hill.
Pokhara Valley has in recent years grown as a destination for adventure sports such as paragliding and ultra-light aircraft flights. And with boating, bird watching, trekking and mountain biking as other attractions, Pokhara has it all.
Nothing quite compares to the thrill of exploring the valley on a motorbike. With natural beauty abounding around Pokhara, the ride is adventure packed with thrills and excitement. The friendly locals make the trip delightful and one can venture anywhere in the unrestricted valley. All you need for a great time is a good bike and a reliable map.
Pokhara’s Phewa Lake naturally draws visitors towards it. Easily the best means of recreation, boating is a favorite pastime which one can enjoy any time of day. The other two lakes, Begnas and Rupa, are located 15 km out of Pokhara. Less visited but no less beautiful, both these lakes are excellent for boating and fishing.
Go up in an ultra-light aircraft and get a sweeping bird’s eye view of the entire Pokhara Valley. It is an exhilarating ride that allows unhindered views of the mountains and the scenic lakes far below. Ultra-light flights are operated from Pokhara Airport beginning September through June.
Paragliding is perhaps the most rewarding of short duration adventure sports given the fact that there is nothing between you and the scenery unfolding before you. In the distance lie the majestic Himalayas and down below are the villages, monasteries, temples, lakes and jungles, a truly bird’s eye view and a fascinating one at that.
Pokhara has the space and climate suitable for golf, and the sport was introduced here many years ago. There are two world-class golf courses in Pokhara.
It is a delightful way of getting around Pokhara. Rides are organized by operators for valley and the surrounding hills.
Nepal’s rivers rank high in the world of white-water rafting, and Pokhara is ideally situated for raft trips along its rivers. The most popular river for rafting is the Trishuli River, which flows along the Kathmandu-Pokhara highway. Equally good with plenty of exciting rapids are the Kali Gandaki and Seti rivers.
Take to the countryside where you can ride through lush green fields, delightful little hamlets, up and down the hills, along river banks, around temples, over suspension bridges and along the highway. Mountain bikes can be easily rented from any of the numerous bicycle rental shops in and around the city.
HIKING AROUND POKHARA:
There are hiking destinations around Pokhara for those constrained by time to go on longer popular treks to the Annapurna Circuit.
It (1,592 m) is a former Kaski fort atop a hill 5 km west of the old bazaar. Overnight visit to Sarangkot offers a grandstand view of sunset and sunrise over the Annapurnas.
It (1,500 m) lies about three hours from Sarangkot or 15 km west from Pokhara. It is a soft walk through green hills and ancient ruins with good views of Phewa Lake, Pokhara Valley and the mountains.
KAHUNDANDA (1,520 m):
To the northeast of Pokhara, is a ruined fort on the summit with a view tower that offers spectacular scenery. It is an opportunity to walk though deciduous forests and savor rural life. Spectacular views of the Seti River and sunrise and sunset are the high points.
A five-hour walk to the north of Pokhara, is a typical Gurung village and is one of the region’s oldest settlements.
It is a small village nestled on the southern slopes of a ridge at 1,700 m. The village is a 5-hour walk from Pokhara, about 20 km to the northeast. The village inhabited by the Gurungs is small and compact with neat and clean trails connecting the mainly stone and slate-built houses. Sirubari won the PATA Gold Award in 2001 for its initiative to preserve heritage and culture.
Located between the bus stop and Mahendra Pul, the museum showcases ethnic mosaic of the diverse cultures that thrive in western Nepal. The lifestyles and history of the Gurungs, Thakalis and Tharus are attractively represented by models, photographs and artifacts. Of much interest and also a major attraction are the more recently discovered remains of an 8,000-year-old settlement in Mustang.
Annapurna Regional Museum:
Also known as the Natural History Museum, it is located at the Prithvi Narayan Campus, east of the old bazaar. Run by the Annapurna Conservation Area Project (ACAP), the museum showcases exceptional collection of butterflies, insects, birds and models of wildlife found in the area.
International Mountain Museum (IMM):
The museum, situated 1.5 km south of Pokhara Airport at Rato Pairo, has on display historical documents, records and chronicles on mountaineering. It has three main exhibition halls: Hall of the Great Himalaya, Hall of Fame and the Hall of World Mountains. There is also a library, a prayer room and an audio-visual room. The museum, managed by the Nepal Mountaineering Association, was established with the theme “Man, Mountain and Mountain activities around the world”.
Gurkha Memorial Museum:
Situated at Pardi, Pokhara, the museum displays a collection of uniforms, medals (including the Victoria Cross), pictures of the Gukha infantry regiments, Gurkha engineers, signals and transport regiments and Gurkha Contingent of the Singapore Police Force.
Pokhara is warmer than Kathmandu. Summers are warm and humid while winters are mild and pleasant.
One can fly directly into Pokhara from Kathmandu. One can also take a bus or drive to Pokhara from the border towns. Accommodation in Pokhara ranges from luxurious world-class hotels and resorts that provide modern services and amenities to comfortable lodges with basic amenities.