The valley town of Pokhara is located some 125 miles west of Kathmandu. It is the hub of the central mountains, used as a base by trekkers because of its proximity to several popular hiking routes. Day and night busese run frequently to and from Kathmandu.
When the road is dry and not soaked by rain, it takes about six hours to reach Kathmandu from Pokhara, which includes the typical lunch stop at Mugling. The ride is bumpy but an interesting one that passes through picturesque villages, river gorges, and pretty terraced fields. Some choose to fly one way and bus the other, or vice-versa.
Pokhara and its valley is the largest in Nepal, but its perennial problem is its shortage of water for irrigation. The city is situated 3,000 feet above sea level at a lower level than Kathmandu and is only 20 miles south of the central Himalayas. This gives residents great close-up views of the mountains, as well as an astounding annual rainfall of more than 150 inches caused by clouds dumping their rain as they crash into the peaks.
Pokhara is a popular destination mostly because of its rich natural beauty. It is home to several lakes and mountains, but also offers the customary Nepalese temples, ethnic communities, and bazaar shopping.
Tourists are drawn to the Pokhara district of Baidam, the lakeside area of Phewa Lake. Every year, the lake is lined with more hotels, restaurants, bakeries, and souvenir and clothing stores. Numerous lodges also surround the lake. Hotels have sprung up particularly at the southern end of the lake below the dam. Renting a boat is pretty easy, whether it’s a dinghy sailboat or a large row boat. You can cruise leisurely and enjoy unobstructed views of the unclimbed Machhapuchhre (Fishtail), which rises 23,000 feet high. The best way to explore the lake area, however, is by bike. Along the lakeside strip, mountain bikes and push-bikes are available for rent at rates comparable with those in Kathmandu.
In the middle of the lake, there is a small island with a Temple of Varahi. Once you arrive, you can look back across and spot the villa and compound of the Royal Family.
A few steps south of Phewa Tal is the Patle Chhango waterfall, also known as Devin’s Fall or Devi, which is the name of a Nepali goddess. No one knows how the falls got its name, but it is here where the water from Phewa sinks thunderously below a channel, causing a monsoon. A western woman, supposedly, once drowned here while skinny-dipping.
Lake Begnas and Lake Rupa
There are two other lakes, Begnas and Rupa, located about 10 miles east of Pokhara. The lakes are nestled in a ring of hills. You can retreat to these refuges by biking up the hills, which is probably the most quickest and enjoyable way of getting there. Or, you could take a bus running from New Road to the lakes, which takes about 45 minutes.
Pokhara gets cloudy often by mid-morning. The best views of the mountains are enjoyed at dawn when the sky is clear.
The most popular mountain destination in the area is Sarangkot, which is nestled high up on the north ridge of Phewa Tal. The mountain stands 5,220 feet above sea level and takes three hours to hike. Ruins of the fort built by the Kaski kings, who fell to the Gorkhalis in 1781, are found at the summit. There are also lodges up there where you can stay to enjoy the views at dawn and sunset. Plan a full day’s excursion for the trek.
Kahun Dada is another mountain, although it is not as high as the Sarangkot, reaching only 5,000 feet above sea level. The mountain takes about three hours to climb. While the Kahun Dada is not as spectacular as the Sarangkot, the trails of Kahun Dada are more serene. There is also a lookout tower at the Kahun Dada’s summit.
Tourists are also attracted to the town’s main bazaar, located a few miles north of Phewa Lake, beyond the highway to Kathmandu and its airstrip. You can bargain over the price of the jewels, trinkets, backpacks, blankets, and other goods sold at the bazaar.
Temples and Museums
You should also visit the Bindyabasini Temple. It is located on the north side of Pokhara. It will provide a glimpse of what the city was like before the development of the ubiquitous concrete box buildings. A short way’s south of Bindyabasini Temple, you’ll also find the Bhimsen Temple.
North of Bindyabasini and Bhimsen, you’ll find the perfect vantage point for views of the Seti River’s narrow gorge. Nearby is the British Pension Camp where the Gurkha soldiers are stationed. You’ll also find a museum run by the Annapurna Conservation Area Project on the Annapurna. A bit further beyond is a Tibetan refugee camp.
Near Pokhara are two Tibetan settlements, Tashi Palkhel (or Hyangja) and Tashiling. Both are famous for producing large quantities of carpets for export. You can reach both by bike. Tashi Palkhel is larger than Tashiling, home to about 1,000 residents. Tashiling is half the size of Tashi Palkhel and is only 2 miles on the other side of the dam. Both settlements have their own schools and gompa. Tibetans have settled both towns since the past three decades. Some operate souvenir shops by the lake while others work as peddlers.
Pokhara is famous for its budget-style “international” cuisine. Its array of eateries specializing in this cuisine is second only to Thamel. New restaurants continue to pop up. Most of them serve entrees that include steak, pasta, rosti, momo and thukpa, vegetable concoctions, and a diverse list of varied desserts.
Pokhara has grown by leaps and bounds. It was not until 1958 before the city saw its first vehicle arrive on a plane. There were no roads leading to Kathmandu until the early 1970’s. In the past 25 years, many people have moved down the hills from Kathmandu to Pokhara, tripling Pokhara’s population.
Burbank, Jon, Rosha Bajracharya, and Kesang Tseten. Nepal. New York: Prentice Hall Travel, 1993. ISBN: 0671879138.
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