Having visited Phuket, Thailand twice in a span of six months we can safely say that this island paradise is not just about beach lounging, turquoise waters, trips to Phi Phi islands, strolling past strip bars and shopping streets. Phuket is also home to some very interesting local cuisine—this mountainous island located in the Andaman Sea has its fair share of tourist traps as well as hidden spots for every kind of holidaymaker—so, forget about calories and think Pad Thai, delectable curries, stir fry everything, mango sticky rice and…drumroll….hand churned coconut ice-cream.
My bags came in through a window at Pokhara’s tiny airport, I identified, claimed them and traipsed out in under five minutes of landing. I’d even touched down earlier, due to a couple of empty seats on an earlier flight from Kathmandu. Throw in the mountaintops I could see from the airport – and you could pretty much say I was in heaven.
If tourist reviews and Wikipedia pages are to be believed – Pokhara, the tourism capital of Nepal pretty much is heaven. A 30-min flight from Kathmandu, it’s home to a nest of lakes and offers views of the Annapurna mountain range on a clear day, not to mention, is the base for trekkers on the Annapurna Circuit. What Pokhara also has is lakefront cafes, endless rows of shops selling everything from tourist memorabilia (hi, prayer flags, come home with me) to climbing gear, world-class continental food to suit its largely European tourists and little spots for some R&R.
I almost didn’t get to any of it though. A seven-minute drive away from the airport, and a two-minute walk from the main street, The Temple Tree Resort and Spa with a mountain-facing pool, bar and spa, did all it could to keep me in the hotel. And so did its super hospitable staff. My first day passed in a blur as I made the most of the *tropical day-time weather in the pool with a piña colada and bundled up at night, but the next day it was time to explore Pokhara’s many many tourist spots.
When in Rome…
I’m not a devout practicing Hindu, but one of the ways I feel connected to a place I’m visiting is by doing local things, so I headed to the famous Bindhyabasini Temple – one of the oldest in Nepal. The little temples were pretty but I preferred gazing at the panoramic Himalayan views from the courtyard. Keeping in vein with the suddenly spiritual vein of the trip, my next stop was the Gupteshwar Mahadev Cave – where a huge stalagmite is worshipped as a Shiv Ling. As much as rock formations fascinate, it was the story of the Davis falls that intrigued me – the water forms an underground tunnel after reaching the bottom, virtually disappearing. Back in 1961, a Swiss couple called Davi went swimming here but the woman drowned in a pit because of the overflow and stories say her father wished to name it “Davi’s falls” after her. And it was here that I stumbled upon a wishing pond, where even a cynical heart like mine was tempted to toss a coin in and wish for the best. After a visit to the Seti River Gorge, my patience with tourist traps had waned and I sought refuge at Caffe Italiano – its outdoor seating, and park view was the perfect setting for the world-class pizzas that warmed my heart after a day of mingling with way too many tourists and is ideal for those with a slightly Western palate. My last stop for the day was Basundhara Park, a pleasant little patch of green which was barely occupied – leaving me and my new puppy friend in peace.
Looking to escape the crowds, I made friends with a server at the hotel who volunteered to take me up to the World Peace Pagoda (constructed by Buddhist monks from the Japanese Nipponzan Myohoji organisation). On foot. We set out the next day at about 7:30 am, walked down to Phewa Lake, took a short boat ride and started our hike up to the pagoda that is at an altitude of nearly 1,000 meters
The nearly 45-minute super uphill hike blessed me with views of the lake, Sarangkot Mountain, a few frightening missteps, and a tan that I’m still living with – but the views of the gorgeous white pagoda, the whistling wind and the flower-filled courtyard made it well-worth the trip. I came home with a happy heart and rosy-cheeked from the rays of sun – feeling more like a swiss maiden in my floral dress than a girl who’d just hiked up to a pagoda in Nepal. While the trail is fairly simple, it’s safest to hike with a local who knows the area well – or you know, just drive up. I did get lucky – Pokhara is known for its daily rain – but while I made it to my pagoda pretty much dry, rain played spoilsport for the three days I was there, and I couldn’t make it to Sarangkot for sunrise or sunset, a half hour’s drive away from Pokhara, for the panoramic views of the Annapurna Himalayan peaks – but the day I woke up for my trek, the sun shone long enough for me to sneak a peek, at the peaks in the distance. And that was more than enough for this mountain lover.
The rest of my short time was spent sauntering around the main street, strolling in and out of the shops and popping in for a snack whenever my heart desired. With its range of low key cafes and creperies (think the chilled, stoner vibe of cafes in India’s Himachal Pradesh – Manali, Kasol, before they got over populated) and local shops, it felt super familiar to someone who’s spent many a holiday up in North India, where the hill towns have a similar feel. The food in Pokhara however? World class! Nepali Kitchen, across from my hotel had the freshest momos I’ve eaten, and I was served the Nepali Thaali by the shyest, sweetest young server. Med5 with its sun-strewn interiors and views of the lake was a perfect spot for brunch and post-trek, I made the most of its extensive menu – from momos to pizzas, and even the best burgers, this side of the border. Another great spot for a meal is Moondance Restaurant, dimly lit and full of secluded corner tables, its Chinese fare was quite a good break from all the continental food I’d been consuming. And with that my three days in the lake city came to an end.
My 30-minute flight back may have been delayed by five (excruciating) hours, I didn’t see everything I wanted to see in Pokhara, I didn’t get to do all the things I wanted to – but I did meet a sweet boy who juggles work and college, who took me on a trek, the day of his exam (he made it in time); I did see my beautiful mountains even if not as close as I wished, and I did get the time to sit back, relax and watch the sun set in one of the prettiest, most hospitable places I’ve been to recently. The birds chirped, and I smiled. And for now, that is more than enough. Until we meet again, then, Pokhara.
Location: Pokhara, Nepal
Getting there: Direct flights from Kathmandu (30-minute flight), driving distance from Ktm 204Kms approx
Best time to visit: September – November
Visit: Sarangkot, Tal Varahi Temple, Rupa Tal, Barahi Temple, International Mountain Museum
To do: Trek to Annapurna and Ghandruk from Pokhara, Paragliding, Skydiving, Ultra-light Flying, Rafting
*The city has a humid subtropical climate, the elevation makes the temperature moderate. It rains frequently through the year
A cat adopted by the Dalai Lama wrote a book and introduced the world to the basic tenets of Buddhism— I read it, and its sequels. Buddhist monks chanted for positivity on youtube – and became the un-official soundtrack of my life. Prayer flags deck my bedposts in Bombay – transporting me to the mountain states of India where they flutter in myriad corners, as if making silent music. My anxiety-prone mind and I have been gravitating towards Buddhism for a while now, so I’d be lying if I said the idea of my holiday in Nepal, the birthplace of Buddha, didn’t give me rather lofty ideas of finding peace, happiness and myself in the mountainous kingdom. But my first stop, Kathmandu – had other lessons to offer.
With its brushed blue skies, blossoming lilac Jacaranda trees, a nip in the air even in May, the comforting momos at every corner and of course, the omnipresent prayer flags — the capital city, set in the Kathmandu Valley, appeared as the antidote to the frenzy of my home city — a starting point, to relax my anxious mind. But the biggest lesson I learnt from Kathmandu was that nothing is ever as it seems; or as promised. The Hyatt Regency Kathmandu set amidst 37 acres of lush greenery – with a view of the mountains in the distance, was a pure oasis and my temporary home. Plus, it is happily situated within short driving distances from the city’s most famous cultural spots – Boudha, home to the largest stupa in the valley and the Pashupatinath temple, one of the most important sites dedicated to Shiva, the guardian deity of the largely-Hindu nation. I was convinced between the hospitable people I’d heard so much about, dozens of spiritual as well as holy sites and the idyllic mountain stories my parents told me from their visit, I would find the balm to calm my millennial mind. If not, I’d find it at Durbar Marg Street – the shopping hub. Because, retail therapy.
But Kathmandu wasn’t the same spirited city of casinos, cafes and culture that my parents remembered from their honeymoon 30 years ago. Since air travel was established in 1956, tourism began to grow – and Kathmandu, both a pilgrimage spot and hippie-haven in the 60s and 70s, saw an influx thanks to its cultural significance and chill vibe. Today, however, crowds (of tourists), chaos and cynicism seemed to have infiltrated the metropolis. Devastated by an earthquake in 2015 that resulted in thousands of casualties, Kathmandu also lost many of its heritage, religious and cultural sites. Along with the physical loss, perhaps the soul of the spiritual city took a hit too. Not able to rebuild as quickly as they hoped and facing population saturation common to an urban metropolis, presently, a few streets still lie in disrepair, streetlights, including those immediately outside our hotel, are few and far between. A spirit of indifference seems to have permeated the consciousness of even those still knee-deep in the tourism business – I witnessed fewer smiles, more aggressive altercations, endless sad stories of the ravages of mother Nature and the inability of many to rebuild their homes three years later.
Perhaps even a nation so rich in faith, can lose it when faced with such seemingly permanent devastation. And while foreign aid was provided, the cracks left in the bustling city and the hearts of its people understandably, seem to be far from being filled, no matter how many tourists toast to Kathmandu’s resilience. I did learn a lesson – perhaps one of the most pertinent Buddhist lessons of all, that of impermanence, that *“one of the reasons we’re all able to continue to exist for our allotted span in this green and blue vale of tears is that there is always, however remote it might seem, the possibility of change.” And while Kathmandu may not have been the spiritual epicentre I expected, when I saw its “Welcome to The Land of Buddha” sign at the airport, or the welcoming city that my parents remembered—instead, it was a city physically rebuilt, but in its heart still inching its way to recovery, in spite of and because of its circumstances. Mirroring the resilience of the human spirit… and perhaps, reminding me of mine, as we both inch our way to being whole again, cracks and all.
Location: Kathmandu, Nepal
Getting there: Direct flights from major cities in India, Stop-over flights from the US, UK and more
Best time to visit: September – November
Visit: Hindu and Buddhist religious sites: Boudhanath, Pashupatinath Temple, The Living Goddess, Budanilkantha, Garden of Dreams; Thamel and its hotels, cafes, shops; Casinos: Casino Shangri-La and Casino Tara at the Hyatt Regency Kathmandu
*An excerpt from Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
Traffic. Loud screeching noises. Your face in someone’s armpit. Mumbai may be our hometown, and we love it but it can be too crowded and chaotic even for us sometimes – especially in the slick summer heat. So when we found out we could drive 2-hours away (an hour and 45mins, if you leave early enough) to enjoy ten acres of seclusion, spa sessions and silence at Anchaviyo Resort – we jumped in a car and took off. In the Palghar district of Maharshtra, its strategic location through a nearly 7km long isolated path of vegetation makes it an ideal hidden, yet accessible gem.
How to do absolutely nothing & everything when on an island vacation
How many times have you pictured yourself floating in the tranquil blue waters of an ocean breathing in the salty fresh air wistfully musing “I could stay here forever”. The thought crossed my mind only every dayum day as I spent 12 days in the Dutch Caribbean islands of Aruba and Curacao.
Aruba, only 15 miles north of Venezuela is one of the “ABC” Dutch Caribbean islands known for its laid-back island life and friendly faces. Nicknamed ‘One Happy Island’ Aruba prides itself on its immaculate white beaches and turquoise waters so clear you may not even need a snorkel to see eye-to-eye with the colourful fish swimming by.
If Curacao bring to mind the legendary blue drink, it’s because the island of contrasts is in fact home to the legendary blue Curacao liqueur that’s guzzled all over the world. An island that seamlessly blends history and culture with gorgeous beaches and untainted waters, Curacao has something to offer to every kind of holiday-maker.