Why Pokhara is Nepal’s tourism capital

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.

Uphill girl
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.

Food factory
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.

Fact file
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

 

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