Pokhara, Nepal: The Gateway to Annapurna

October 9, 2013 by

Asia, Things to Do, Travel Advice & Inspiration

Though it’s the second largest city in Nepal after Kathmandu, Pokhara doesn’t feel like a metropolitan area. Instead, it has a laid-back atmosphere that warmly welcomes the throngs of visitors it receives during trekking season.

Located about 124 miles (200 km) west of Kathmandu, Pokhara is an hour-long flight or seven-hour bus ride (be prepared—it’s curvy and bumpy) from the capital and is the starting off point for hikers exploring the Annapurna Conservation Area. But instead of rushing through Pokhara, consider stopping for a while to explore the many attractions of this town.

History

Pokhara

Pokhara. Photo credit: Svetlana Grechkina via Flickr.

Pokhara lies on an important old trading route from China to India and, as a result, has a diverse population of various indigenous peoples including Khas, Gurung (Tamu), Magar and Newari. Additionally, since the occupation of Tibet, more than 50,000 Tibetan exiles live in Nepal; four Tibetan settlements are located around Pokhara and, as a result, Tibetans have become a visible presence in the town.

Accessible only by foot until the late 1960s, Pokhara was considering a mystical place until the Siddhartha Highway was constructed in 1968 and become the first major road into town. After the road’s completion, Pokhara quickly became a hub for tourists due to its proximity to three out of the ten highest mountains in the world: Dhaulagiri, Annapurna I and Manaslu. These mountains are located within 30 miles (linear distance) of the city and the northern skyline of the city offers amazing views of the Himalayas.

Lakeside

Phewa Lake

Phewa Lake. Photo credit: Svetlana Grechkina via Flickr.

After arriving in Pokhara, head towards Phewa Lake. Most of the hostels and hotels, restaurants, shops and attractions are located in the Lakeside area, which hugs the lake and creates commercial area in town. It’s easy to walk through Lakeside or, if you’re in a hurry or tired from trekking, there are plenty of cabs.

As the base area for the multitude of hikes in the Annapurna Conservation Area (ACAP), including Annapurna Base Camp, Machhapuchhre Base Camp, Poon Hill and others, Pokhara has developed the Lakeside area with tourists and trekkers in mind. Forgot a base layer or jacket? Not a problem—there are plenty of gear supply shops that will be happy to sell you anything you might require. Souvenir shops abound, selling postcards, prayer flags and t-shirts.

In addition to the ‘essentials,’ Lakeside is also home to restaurants ranging from Italian food to Indian and Chinese dishes to classic Nepali fare to American standards. The ubiquitous dal bhat, the rice and curry classic that every Nepali eats daily, is offered everywhere. Check out Lake View Resort if you’re interested in seeing a ‘Traditional Nepalese Dance Show’ featuring ethnic dances such as the Nepali wedding dance, Sherpa dance and Tamang Selo.

For late night entertainment, there are several bars with live music and later hours. Busy Bee is a long-standing favorite on the lake with an open-air bar; the Old Blues Bar has pool tables and sometimes hosts bands. For those who have no fear of being on stage, Silk Road welcomes musicians from around the world and often an impromptu jam session will break out with locals and visitors performing together on the small stage.

If exploring Phewa Lake with a bit of paddling is of interest, rent one of the primary colored wooden boats called doongas. There are several boat stations, one near the city bus station and another near Fewa Hotel, that will rent you a boat—with or without a boatman. Other options include plastic pedalos, canoes or miniature sailboats. Be sure to visit Barahi Temple, a two-story pagoda that sits on a small island that is only a few minutes’ row from the shore.

Activities in Pokhara

World Peace Pagoda

World Peace Pagoda. Photo credit: Svetlana Grechkina via Flickr.

Though most travelers arrive in Pokhara with one goal in mind, there’s plenty to occupy your time that doesn’t require lacing up your hiking boots.

For an in-depth look at the mountains of Nepal and the mountaineers who have climbed them, grab a taxi from Lakeside and head to the International Mountaineering Museum. The museum features mannequins dressed in the traditional garb of the various indigenous inhabitants of not only Nepal, but of mountain cultures around the world; a picture gallery of famous climbers, first ascents and various expeditions; displays illustrating the vast improvements to climbing gear and clothing and an explanation of the Yeti. The Yeti mannequin, handmade and definitely one-of-a-kind, is almost worth a visit to the museum by itself.

Golfers will be pleased to find one of only two golf courses in Nepal about four miles (seven km) east of Pokhara. The Himalayan Golf Course is an 18-hole course that has some of the most visually stunning scenery in the world. A championship course with a par of 70, the course includes the world’s only natural river island hole and is framed by the Annapurna range. Completely authentic, the grounds are mowed by the free-roaming buffalo and cattle.

Weary hikers will find respite in Pokhara for both the mind and the body. Massage parlors abound, ready to knead and pummel those sore muscles. If you’d like to give back while you’re receiving, consider booking a massage at Seeing Hands. With a location in Pokhara and one in Kathmandu, each employs a team of professionally trained blind therapists. Treatments can be deep or gentle, depending on your preferences and needs; part of the fee you pay helps fund the training of disadvantaged young blind people.

Yoga and mediation classes are also very popular in Pokhara. The Ganden Yiga Chopen Meditation Centre holds three-day yoga and meditation retreats or you can sign up for a single class. This center features views of the lake. There are also yoga treks that leave from Pokhara, if spending several days hiking and practicing yoga is on your bucket list.

If zipping along mountain trails, the wind whipping through your helmet as you guide a classic motorbike is a particular dream, Hearts and Tears leads a variety of tours on classic Royal Enfield bikes. For motorcycle newbies, the Zero to Hero tour teaches you the ins and outs of riding the bike, and then leads you on a tour of central Nepal. Hearts and Tears also offers day tours, lessons and other options around Pokhara and Nepal.

Perhaps the best views of the Annapurna range and Pokhara can been seen from the air. Paragliding is a popular option for visitors to Pokhara. Every day is different with the wind conditions, but most paragliding companies take off Sarangkot. Guests ride tandem with guides and float over lakes, rivers, monasteries, villages and the Nepali jungle, getting a bird’s eye view of one of the Nepali countryside.

Mountain biking has become more popular in Nepal and Pokhara has many options, from single-track around Phewa Lake to longer options, like traversing across the face of the hillside underneath Sarangkot. While you can rent a mountain bike and strike out on your own, hiring a guide is recommended as it can be difficult to find some of the smaller tracks on your own. A map and GPS is recommended.

Of course, there’s also plenty of hiking in Pokhara. A short 3.2-mile (5 km) walk from town takes you to the World Peace Pagoda and offers panoramic views of Pokhara. There are also limestone caves to explore (you can take a taxi or rent a bicycle to get to the caves) as well as the longer treks to Poon Hill or Annapurna Base Camp that draw most visitors to Pokhara.

– Katie Coakley

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