Nepal - Getting to know Pokhara
Picture a cobalt blue lake, with a gaggle of colourful rowing boats on the shore. Add in the soaring snow-capped peaks of the Annapurna range behind, their reflections gleaming on the lake's mirror-still surface. And there you have it - picture-postcard Pokhara. Nepal's most popular resort town is in the most gorgeous of settings. Besides its picturesque location, Pokhara is the main hub for trekking in Nepal, offering everything from a multi-day hike to a gentle afternoon stroll. There are all sorts of other activities available too, including rafting, mountain biking and paragliding.
Until the road was built (as recently as the 1960s), Pokhara needed at least two weeks to trek from Kathmandu, with several river crossings along the way. Nowadays, it’s easily accessible via a 30 minute flight from the capital, but Pokhara still feels like a different world. It's far more relaxed, for a start... the perfect place to kick back, soak up the panoramic views of those snowy peaks and sip tea, particularly if you're ensconced in one of the comfy boltholes in the foothills.
You'll certainly want to spend some time in Pokhara itself. It used to be a sleepy little market town, but it's now a bustling city, exceptionally popular with tourists from all over the world. First ‘discovered’ by backpackers several decades ago, it retains a friendly, chilled-out vibe to this day. The town is growing quickly, slowly spreading further around the lake, but it's not hard to find calm among the crowds if you venture off the beaten track a little. There are old shops to browse without the hard sell tactics you often find in Kathmandu. You can take in the views of the mountains over coffee or lunch in one of the friendly cafes that line the lake. And there's a host of atmospheric temples and monuments just waiting to be explored.
What to do in Pokhara
- You will inevitably be drawn to Phewa Lake, which is Nepal’s second largest lake. This serene expanse of freshwater produces some pretty spectacular reflections of the surrounding Annapurna mountains. You can walk or cycle around it, but the quintessential Pokhara experience is to hire a paddle boat and be gently skulled across the mirror-flat waters of the lake to Tal Barahi, a Hindu temple on an island at its centre.
- Take a boat ride to the other side of Phewa Lake, from where you can climb the steep forest trail to the brilliant white stupa of the World Peace Pagoda. Set high on the hillside, it offers magical panoramas back across the lake and close up views of the Annapurna Massif. On a clear day you’ll also be able to see the distinctive peaks of Fish Tail Mountain.
- While we’re on the subject of impressive panoramic views, Sarangkot - a hill on the outskirts of Pokhara - is arguably the most spectacular viewpoint in Nepal. We think the best time to visit is at dawn, to savour the changing colours across the Annapurna mountains as the sun rises, but the views at sunset are none too shabby! There are several hiking trails up here, although if you’re planning to watch the sunrise we won’t judge if you take a taxi, which will drop you around 20 minutes walk from the top.
- Temples worth visiting in the older part of town are the Bindhyabasini and Bhimsen temples. Bindyabasini was founded in the 17th century and is sacred to Durga, worshipped here in the form of a saligram (ammonite fossil). Bhimsen temple is a two hundred-year-old shrine to the Newari god of trade and commerce, and decorated with erotic carvings.
- Culture creatures are well-served by two excellent museums. The International Mountain Museum focuses on - erm - Nepal’s mountains, along with the mountaineers who have scaled them, and the people that live there. The Gorkha Museum concentrates on the stories of the brave and exceptionally tough Nepalese warriors who have served in the British and Indian regiments over the decades.
- For many people, Pokhara is the jumping off point for exploring the epic mountains on foot, in particular the Annapurna Conservation Area. There are hikes for pretty much all fitness levels. Choose from scenic day treks through the valleys and foothills to villages like Dhampus and Sarangkot; or multi-day expeditions to the high altitude Annapurna Sanctuary itself. If you’re short on time, or don’t fancy the trek, a helicopter can be chartered to deliver you to Annapurna Base Camp. The one hour flight includes 15 minutes spent at Base camp, which will surely be one of the most memorable parts of your Nepalese holiday.
- There are four rivers close to Pokhara where you can raft or kayak through swirling rapids. Upper Seti River is one of the finest. With lofty Annapurna mountain views, crystal clear Himalayan waters and a steep gorge with a suspension bridge and fluttering prayer flags, it's a day of guaranteed thrills and spills.
- Begnas Tal and Rupa Tal are two smaller lakes to the east of Pokhara which have hardly been touched by tourism. Begnas is framed by iridescently green, steep rice paddies whilst Rupa feels almost hidden, surrounded by a steep sided valley.
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Head for heights?
To fully appreciate the Himalayan scenery, take a tandem paragliding flight from Sarangkot down to Pokhara.