Pokhara valley, the ‘Jewel of the mid-west’ is a favorite of tourists from around the globe. With the magnificent Annapurna range of mountains as a backdrop and the serenity of the three lakes of Phewa, Rupa and Begnas, Pokhara is the ultimate destination for relaxation. Yet the valley has grown in recent years as the destination for adventures sports such as paragliding and ultra-light flights. With boating, bird watching, trekking and mountain biking as the other attractions, Pokhara has it all.
Pokhara sits high on the list of ‘must visit’ places in Nepal. Tourists on extended holidays in Nepal make multiple visits to this famous valley of the three lakes. The tourist district of Pokhara better known as ‘Lakeside Pokhara’ is quite distinctly separate from Pokhara city. Lakeside sprawls beside Phewa Lake and is reminiscent of Thamel except for the ample space and miniscule traffic which makes Pokhara so much more enjoyable and relaxed than its counterpart in Kathmandu. The enchanting Pokhara valley with the dominating presence of Mt. Machhapuchhare (Fishtail Mountain) in the background is the gateway to the Annapurna region where many a trekker finds his Shangri-la. Pokhara is also ideally placed for adventure sports such as: rafting, paragliding and ultra-light flights. The relaxed atmosphere on the shores of Phewa Lake gives a trekker a much needed respite from days of hiking up and down the hills and mountains on one of the popular Annapurna treks. The crowded bars and restaurants are the places to seek companionship, where tall stories and real life experiences are shared with perfect strangers. The friendly Nepalese make a tourist feel at home to the point where many stay on for extended periods and come each year to seek those friends he’s made and find peace of mind.
Pokhara’s bewitching beauty has been the subject of many travel writers. Its pristine air, the spectacular backdrop of the snowy peaks, the serene lakes and the surrounding greenery make it ‘the jewel in the Himalaya’, a place of remarkable natural beauty. Mt. Machhapuchhare (6,977 m) has a mesmerizing effect on any nature lover and the Phewa Lake creates an ambience of peace that is magical. Warmer than Kathmandu because of it lower altitude, Pokhara is pleasant in the winter and has a rich flora and fauna making it ideal for bird watching.
Pokhara once lay on the important trade route between India and Tibet. To this day, mule trains arrive and set up camp on the outskirts of the town, bringing goods from remote regions of the Himalaya including Mustang. The people of this region are predominantly Magars and Gurungs, hardworking farmers who are known for their valor and have earned world-wide fame as fierce Gurkha warrior soldiers. The other well-known ethnic group found here are the Thakalis. Known for their entrepreneurship, they run many tea houses along the trek routes in the Annapurna region.
Places to see
Pokhara is blessed with stunning panoramic views of the Annapurna range which forms its backdrop. Although not the highest in the range, Machhapuchhare dominates 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 enchanting Phewa Lake and along its eastern shore has grown the Lakeside town where tourists gather. It is the largest and most beautiful of the three lakes attracting a large number of visitors who enjoy boating on its placid waters. Boat can be hired and many visit the island temple that lies out in the middle of the lake. The other past time is sailing. Lakeside or Baidam, is a thriving resort town of hotels, restaurants, bars and souvenir shops that allows travelers to relax and yet have all they need.
Located in the middle of Phewa Lake, the Barahi temple is the most important monument 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, the official holiday in Nepal.
An amazing aspect of Pokhara is the vanishing river. A natural wonder, the Seti Gandaki goes underground, vanishing from sight in many places along its route through the city. At various points the river is barely two meters wide where its depth reaches an astonishing 20 meters! A good spot for watching the river below is Mahendra Pul, a small 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), David's Fall (known variously as Devin's and Devi’'s Fall) is a charming little waterfall located about 2 km south-west of the Pokhara airport on the Siddhartha Highway. Many years ago a trekker named David or Devin is said to have been washed away by the river Pardi Khola and disappeared in an underground passage beneath the fall.
A major attraction of Pokhara is the Mahendra Gupha, a limestone cave reached after a two-hour walk north of Pokhara. Known as the ‘House of Bats’ owing to a number of bats living within its walls, the cave is an interesting labyrinth of stalactites and stalagmites. Visitors will be well-advised to bring their own torches to closely inspect the formations. There is another deep cave called Bat's Cave known as the ‘House of Bats’ owing to a number of bats living within its walls.
World Peace Pagoda
World Peace Pagoda can be seen on the top of a hill on the southern shore of Phewa Lake. It has four images of Buddha facing in 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 is 4 km away from Phewa Lake. It 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 Kathmandu Valley. Except for the large concrete buildings that have cropped up, the market place retains much of its original charm. It makes for a pleasant walk; there are shops selling anything from edibles and clothing to cosmetics and gold. The old bazaar is also home to one of Pokhara's most important shrines', the Brindhyabasini Mandir. Perched on a shady hillock, this white dome-like structure dominates a spacious stone-paved courtyard.
The Pokhara Museum is worth a visit. Located between the bus stop and Mahendra Pul, it showcases the 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 is the recently discovered remains of an 8000-year-old settlement in Mustang. Open daily from 10 am to 5 pm, except on Tuesdays and public holidays.
Another interesting museum in Pokhara is the Annapurna Regional Museum which is also known as the Natural History Museum. Run by the Annapurna Conservation Area Project (ACAP), the museum has an exceptional collection of butterflies, insects, birds and models of wildlife found in the area. Located at Prithvi Narayan Campus, east of the old bazaar, it is open daily from 9 am to 5 pm except on Saturdays and public holidays.
International Mountain Museum
The International Mountain Museum (IMM) has an impressive façade. It was built with the objective of recording, documenting, exhibiting and chronicling the entire past up to the present day, the development of mountain and mountaineering activities in the world. It has received much support from the many mountaineering clubs and associations as well as individual donors from around the world. The museum was established by Nepal Mountaineering Association (NMA) with the theme ‘Man, Mountain and Mountain activities around the world’. Accordingly, the entire display area of the museum has been divided along the theme. The exhibition Halls are:
Hall of Mountain People: This hall exhibits the customs, traditions, heritage, culture and way of life of the mountain people.
Hall of World Mountains: This hall showcases all fourteen peaks over 8000 m. and displays geological facts related to the origin of world mountain systems. The hall also exhibits and explains the flora and fauna of the Himalaya. Another aspect of the museum is the focus on great personalities like Kumar Khadga Bikrum Shah (founder president of NMA), Dr. Toni Hagen (Renowned geologist and lover of Nepal, who published the first pictorial "Nepal"), Reverend Ekai Kawaguchi (The first Japanese to visit Nepal in 1899), and Dr. Harka Gurung (Renowned scholar, geographer, development planner and first Tourism Minister of Nepal).
Hall of Mountain Activities: Highlighting historical ascents and explorations in and around the mountainous regions, this hall is dedicated to mountain activities such as mountaineering and trekking. Interestingly, it also showcases the development of climbing gears and other essential mountaineering equipment.
Pokhara is where some of the most popular treks in the Annapurna region begin and end. Among them, the highly recommended treks are the intensive Annapurna Circuit and Jomsom Treks. For those with limited time on their hands, there are a number of short treks that are equally fascinating like the Sarankot, Naudanda, Ghandruk or Ghorepani treks. The Sarankot (1,592m) trek is popular for its bird’s eye view of Pokhara and the spectacular panoramic view of mountains. It lies west of Pokhara and the hilltop was once the location of a Kaski Fort.
Things to do around Pokhara
Nothing quite compares to the thrill of exploring the valley on a motorbike. With natural beauty abounding around Pokhara the ride is an 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 past time which one can indulge in according to whim any time of day. The second largest lake in Nepal, the Phewa measures approximately 1.5 by 4 km. Its eastern shore, also known as Lakeside or Baidam, is the center of tourist activity in Pokhara while the opposite bank remains pristine and uninhabited. The other two lakes, Begnas and Rupa Tal are located 15 km out of Pokhara at the end of a road that turns off the Kathmandu highway. Less visited but no less beautiful, both these lakes are excellent for boating and preferred by those seeking serenity and peace. A boat can be rented easily for a number of hours and one can head out to the middle of the lake or the other banks where there is much greenery and tranquility. Taking a swim on a warm sunny day can be the highlight of your stay in Pokhara. It is also possible to hire a boat for the day or on an hourly basis. An interesting option is to do away with the boatman and go on your own for a more adventurous time.
When it comes to choosing a time, the best time for boating in Pokhara is in the winter months between October and February, when the skies are clear and the mountains cast their shadows on the lake's tranquil waters.
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. They can take off and land on a field or even a dirt road, and in areas where other planes fear to tread. With a limited capacity, it seats only two, a passenger and the pilot. Ultra-lights can fly for hours and ascend to a maximum height of 5000 meters.
Paragliding is perhaps the most rewarding of short duration adventure sports given the fact that there’s 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 true bird’s eye view and a fascinating one at that.
For anglers, the lake has a special meaning; it could mean his/her biggest catch. Fishing rods can be rented from the shops around lakeside.
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.
Pony riding is a delightful way of getting around Pokhara. Rides are organized by operators for rides in the 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.
Pokhara is the perfect place for relaxing before and after a trek, and for the avid trekkers, a respite between treks. But there is much to see around Pokhara as well and some yearn to explore the sights and sounds around Pokhara. The usual sightseeing tour lasts about 3-4 hours but can be extended by several hours to spend more time at places that hold special interest.
For those seeking a more physical challenge, mountain biking provides just the means as there is no better way to enjoy an exploratory trip in the urban centers of Nepal. Take to the countryside and there’s endless possibilities leading to unlimited fun. Ride through lush green rice fields, delightful little hamlets, up and down the hills, along river banks, around temples, past the stray cattle, over suspension bridges and along the highway. Mountain bikes can be easily rent for the day or even longer from any of the numerous bicycle rental shops in and around the city. For a better understanding of the local culture, rhythm of village life and to visit the cool spots, take a guided trip.
Access (Getting there)
Pokhara is located roughly 200 km west of Kathmandu. Getting to your destination is the objective but even the journey between these two famed cities is part of the Pokhara experience. The easier and quicker means of reaching there is to fly out from Tribhuwan International Airport (TIA) in Kathmandu. Flying on a clear day gives one the thrill of catching an incredible panoramic view of the snow-capped mountains that stretch from east to west of Nepal’s boundary with Tibet. The changing landscape from the icy Himalaya in the north to the rich green Mahabharat range to the south and the sweltering sub-tropical jungles in the plains make this flight fascinating. There are daily flights and bus services between Kathmandu and Pokhara.
Pokhara offers a wide variety of accommodation and for all kinds of budgets. Luxury hotels are also available with beautiful views of the Himalayas. There are roughly four accommodation areas around the Bus Park and Bazaar, by the airport, Damside (Pardi) and Lakeside (Baidam).
Pokhara enjoys mild tropical temperatures where the winters are not severe and the summers are not as sweltering as in the hot plains of the south. Given its proximity to the gigantic Annapurna massif, one would expect an extremely cold winter but their impact is minimal. Pokhara’s at 827m, enjoys a favorable warm climate making it such a haven for tourists. During summers, the heat and humidity dominates life in the valley while winters are pleasant especially from October to December. Monsoon in Pokhara begins from early-June to September though rain may come sooner as pre-monsoon showers from April or May. The valley’s maximum temperature can go up to 30-32 degree Celsius in the summer and a minimum of 6-degree Celsius during the winter. Days remain perennially warm through the seasons, except for some days during the monsoon and winter.