Some cities wait for the right time to open their doors to you. Pokhara was one such city for me. I had travelled to Nepal a couple of times for work in the past and had hoped to go to Pokhara, but I did not make it on either of those occasions because the flights were either full or cancelled because of the monsoon. I was stoked when I finally got a chance to go this year, and have to say the wait was worthwhile.
Pokhara is Nepal’s second-largest city, located some 240km from Kathmandu. The easiest way to get there is via one of several 30-minutes flights that ply this route daily. Flights cost between $100-$150 each way depending on the season and can fill up quickly, especially around public holidays. If you are seeking a little bit of adventure, it takes six hours of scenic driving on winding roads to get there. Sometimes this can be a bumper to bumper ride because of traffic, so make sure you are travelling with people you like, as you might be stuck with them for a while.
In contrast to Kathmandu’s vibrant and chaotic vibe, Pokhara is like the shy, timid, younger brother, quiet and unbothered. A quaint city, boasting of a laisser faire charm and charisma. Its greenery landscape and fresh air are the other distinct factors that set it apart from its polluted elder brother.
The best time to enjoy Pokhara’s beauty is between March and June and in October when it is warmer. We went in August and were not so lucky with the weather as it rained during most of our time there. Visibility was not great, which meant the mountains were always tucked away behind the clouds. But, on the flip side, it was not as crowded as it would have otherwise been.
I am not much of a hiker myself, frankly, I tend to stay away from activities that involve sleeping in the wild and peeing in the open while swatting off mosquitoes. So if you are looking for hardcore lifesaving hiking tips this blog post is not for you. Still, I would be remiss not to mention that Pokhara is world-famous for its treks around the Annapurna ranges. If like me your geography is off and you have never heard of the Annapurna, well it is one of the world’s highest mountain ranges with peaks that are over 7,000 feet tall. Its popularity also stems from the fact that its peaks are considered among the most dangerous to climb.
It sits at the base of the jaw-dropping Himalayas, for which it is deservedly known for. If you are lucky and the weather is good, scenic views of the snow-capped mountains can be seen from as close as your hotel room. Although it is mostly known for its iconic hikes, it is also peppered with exciting activities for everyone. Whether you are looking for a brief relaxing getaway, an out-of-the-ordinary thrilling adventure, or seeking dramatic natural wonders and unexplored landscapes, Pokhara has got you covered.
There are many trails to choose from Pokhara, ranging from day-hikes such as the five-hour Australian camp trek to two-weeks treks to the Annapurna base camp. The treks guarantee iconic views of Annapurna’s mighty peaks as well as other peaks such as the equally high Dhaulagiri peaks. But, if you still want to enjoy Pokhara city and are not much of a hiker, here are five things you can do in Pokhara over a two-night stay:
1. ENJOY A FRONT-ROW VIEW OF THE SENSATIONAL ANNAPURNA FROM THE COMFORT OF A HELICOPTER
If risking your life hiking is not your cup of tea, your inclination is going to be to skip the long treks altogether and opt for the luxury of seeing the Annapurna from the comfort of a helicopter. The 30 minutes tour involves landing at the Annapurna base camp and partaking of the sensational scenes the mountain ranges have to offer. This tour will set you back between $350 and $500 per person depending on the season. Note that booking this trip is not always a guarantee as it could get cancelled last minute because of bad weather like it happened to us. You do get a full refund immediately. Note also that you can negotiate the rate of the tour with the travel agency.
2. TRACE BUDDHA’S FOOTSTEPS AT THE WORLD PEACE PAGODA
If you are looking to have a one-on-one with pristine natural surroundings and a glimpse of the stunning landscapes Pokhara has to offer, a popular hike to consider is the 45 minutes trek to the Shanti World Peace Pagoda, an elegant fixture, nestled on top of the Anadu hill at the edge of the city. What is so special about it you ask? Well, of the 80 peace pagodas in the world, Shanti is one of only two found in Nepal, the other being in Lumbini, south of Nepal, the birthplace of Budhha. The stupa is popular with locals as well as international tourists seeking spiritual resonance, as it traces the key events of Buddha’s life, manifested in four statutes.
To get there, a brief boat ride on the serene Phewa lake will lead you to the base of the hill where you can follow a fleet of well-maintained cobalt steps to the top. The trail’s eco-consciousness is evident from the numerous garbage bins and the apparent absence of plastic or litter. Although the walk lasted less than an hour, it felt like we had been walking for half the day thanks to the humidity of the sweltering monsoon. By the time we got to the pagoda, we looked like drained long-distance runners staggering to the finishing line. Despite being drenched in sweat, the spectacular views of the city and Pokhara lakeside below made it all worth it. You can opt to walk down or take a taxi back to the city.
3. GET AN ADRENALIN SHOT PARAGLIDING OVER PHEWA LAKE
Paragliding is probably Pokhara’s most popular tourist attraction, whether you are a novice or an adventure junkie you might want to try this. You can book a slot easily from any of the ubiquitous travel agencies in the city. My irrational fear of heights coupled with an exaggerated concern for safety (especially since I had just watched untouchable a French movie in which the main cast is crippled while paragliding) meant that I was more than a bit anxious about the experience. My fears were however allayed when I learnt that all the instructors (pilots) are very experienced and undergo a rigorous training before getting licensed.
The paragliding itself lasts between 15 and 30 minutes depending on the weather, and everyone takes off from one spot in the hills in Sargkot, which is about a 30 minutes’ drive from the city. If you have never done it, you should! The exhilarating feeling of floating above the clouds is unmatched. You get an adrenalin rush at the onset as you have to run to be able to jump off the top of the hill to set the paraglider in motion. But the rush slowly ebbs away and is replaced by a calming soothing feeling when you start flying. Were it not for the gorgeous view of Phewa lake below and the mountain ranges hiding behind the clouds, I would have probably fallen asleep. If you are an adrenalin junky not to worry, the rush does come back towards the end when the pilots offer to catapult you around like an acrobat– which I um politely declined to partake in.
A 15 minutes crush course on paragliding will tell you that the optimal weather for paragliding is when the clouds are low which explains why flights are conducted at 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. during the monsoon time and thrice during winter. Visibility is much better during winter, which is also the best time to get spell-bound by the surrounding snow-capped mountains. An estimated 300 people paraglide in Pokhara every day during the peak season.
Some logistics information to be aware of: I went with mountain overview paragliding and paid $60, including pick and drop from the hotel. You are not allowed to bring your phone or camera on the flight, but they take a gazillion photos and videos with specialized equipment. Best time to go paragliding is when it is not raining, that is October and November and again in April and March.
4. SOAK IN THE SUN AS IT RISES OVER THE IMPOSSIBLY STUNNING HIMALAYAS
There is something simultaneously unsettling and soothing about gazing at the sun lazily appear over the Himalayas’ highest peaks that can only be witnessed to be believed.
To say the view of the Annapurna massif at sunrise is breathtaking is an understatement. The picturesque scenery comprises of grey and pastel tones of the mountain peaks hovering above the clouds surrounded by the golden hues of the morning sun. The experience is made even more special by the hordes of Buddhist monks travelling from all over the country to pay homage to the mighty mountains. The only downside to this unique and unforgettable experience is the noisy throng of eager selfie-taking visitors interrupting the otherwise low and quiet hum of nature.
Travel tip: You can book the sunrise tour directly at the hotel for about $30. A taxi will get you there for much cheaper. The road is good, and you can easily get there with a small car. Pick up is usually at 5:00 a.m. and it takes 45 minutes to drive to the viewing point at Sarangkot. Note that there are several viewing points.
5. ENJOY A FUSION OF RELAXATION AND STRESS RELIEF OVER A THERAPEUTIC AYURVEDIC MASSAGE
Spirituality is an essential part of the Nepali culture and explains its people’s huge appreciation of holistic approaches to wellbeing. If you are not familiar with the philosophy of Ayurveda, it is a 3,000-year-old principle from India that is centred on the belief that wellbeing is dependent on a delicate balance of body, mind and spirit. An ayurvedic massage puts this principle into practice through a careful technic that uses essential body oils to gently unblock any tensions. If a deep-tissue massage is too brutal for you and a Swedish too soft, then an ayurvedic is the perfect compromise. You will come out exhilarated and blissed out. There are plenty of massage parlours in Pokhara. I went to the Bagaincha wellness resort near the Pokhara lakeside. The average cost of a massage is between $30 and $40.
Where to stay in Pokhara:
Temple tree is a quaint and cosy hotel consisting of cottages surrounded by well-manicured vegetation. It is situated on the lakeside and has an amazing view of the mountains and a nice pool to relax in. The rooms are a bit tiny, but the sumptuous breakfast makes up for it.
Himalaya Front Hotel: Is located close to Sarangkot with the best views of the mountain. The rooms are good, but its selling point is the proximity to activities such as paragliding take-off point and the waterfalls.
The Pavilions Himalayas: I have not stayed here myself, but it comes highly recommended for its amazing view and spacious rooms.
Places to eat:
It goes without saying that there is a wide array of delectable local food on offer, however when it comes to choices of international cuisines, this can really be a game of chance. Tempted as you might be to order beef, don’t do it, it is always either too chewy or just tastes off.
Restaurant med 5 for Mediterranean lovers, this restaurant has got great tapas and a pleasant ambience. The main course, however, is not all that great I would recommend having a drink and nibbles but having dinner somewhere else.
AMPM Cafe, an organic restaurant on the famous lakeside is heaven for vegans. Everything is organically sourced from local farms with mouth-watering local cuisines on the offering. It does not matter how good the breakfast is at your hotel, stop by AMPM even if it’s just for a well-brewed coffee.
Moondance restaurant has delicious food, which probably explains why it is top-rated by Lonely Planet. Their legendary lemon meringue pie is as good as its purported to be.
Shopping: Pokhara’s main street is lined with a stretch of restaurants and bazaars. You can shop for anything from souvenirs, clothing, delicate pashminas and locally designed cushions to getting a custom-made suit or tuxedo done. My personal favourite is the Urban Yeti shop that promotes sustainable fashion through local, stunning apparel including T-shirts, bags and shoes that are not only good quality but also decently priced.
Have you been to Pokhara or are planning to go? Let me know what you think in the comments below.