Pokhara has everything an adventurous soul can wish for; spectacular scenery, nature walks, plenty of healthy food choices, a laid-back atmosphere, great outdoor activities and close-up mountain views. Completely different from the hectic bustle of Kathmandu, Pokhara has a more relaxed pace of life.
Most travellers tend to stay around South Lakeside, also known as Pokhara Bazaar. Undoubtedly a popular tourist spot, it follows a peculiar logic: the more people stay there, the more Pokhara Bazaar turns itself into what foreigners want it to be. It is very central for those wanting to eat good food. Go for short day treks or just relax by Phewa Lake. The lakeside location and the starting point for some of the famous treks towards the Himalaya Mountain Range makes Pokhara a “tourist’s paradise”.
But Pokhara it’s not a reflection of Nepal or Nepali life at all and for us, for that reason, Pokhara lost some of its magic. It might have very little traffic and great restaurants offering a huge range of world foods (except for dal bhat!) but it’s not Nepal. Pokhara is famous for the lakeside location and its proximity to the mountains but it lacks on great historical or cultural sites. It is a tourist area, made for tourists only.
Nepal has an amazing variety of cast/ethic groups, and there is nothing better than walking around town checking out different traditional costumes, trying to figure out where people come from: “Oh that is a Sherpa!”, “Maybe that one is a Tamang”, and so on. Unfortunately, that doesn’t happen here. Coming from Kathmandu, we were both in shock over how different the city was.
Pokhara Travel Guide
This Lake has three different names: Phewa Lake, Phewa Tal or Fewa Lake. At the beginning it was very confusing, to the point that we actually thought there was three different lakes! It is really a nice area to spend an afternoon. There are cute little cafes around the area located at the lakeside so people can sit down, read a book, listen to music or just stare at the lake and enjoy a freshly squeezed orange juice. Surely life cannot get better than that! Also Phewa Lake is full of rowing boots and canoes. Ready not just for the tourists but also for the locals. If the weather is good the lake and its surroundings are beautiful and tranquil. We weren’t so lucky as the weather was cloudy for the duration of our stay. Apparently the views of the Annapurna Mountain Range are breathtaking.
Cost: The rowing boat for one hour with a boatman is Rs500/USD$5/GBP£4, without is Rs450/USD$4/GBP£3.50. Just for Rs50 extra we could both relax, take pictures, film and enjoy the scenery.
At the center of the lake there is temple called Taal Barahi which is located on a little island, just 5 minutes away by boat. The two-storied pagoda is the most important religious Hindu temple in Pokhara.
World Peace Stupa – A Day Hike
We could have walked, in preparation for our trek to Everest Base Camp but we decided to hire a bike instead. There were bikes being hired for Rs800 which we obviously didn’t go for. So after a few shops and our negotiating skills, we hired two bikes for the whole day (7 hours) at Rs600/USD$5/GBP£4. A much more acceptable price! On the way there are no directions whatever to where the Stupa is located. But because it is located up on a hill we could guess the way there. Not wanting to take the bikes all the way up the hill, we weren’t sure what to do with them, until we asked if the shop owner would look after them for us. The lady agreed and at the end we gave her a tip, as token of her willingness.
The bike journey is only about 25-30 minutes but the hike to the stupa is about 45 minutes. However, it took us nearly 1.5 hours because we walked very slowly and stopped several times in order to take pictures, enjoy the views, and talk to the locals.
The views from the top are incredible but we couldn’t see the Himalayas, which was a shame. The weather was nice. On the south side clear blue sky but the north side was cloudy. The Stupa is beautiful and it was worth the long walk.
There a few ways to get to the Monastery, from the Lakeside area:
Local bus – Rs15/USD$0.15/GBP£0.11 per person
Hiring a bike – Rs300/USD$3/GBP£2.50 up to 6-8 hours
Walking – It’s a day hike
We stopped for lunch at Elite Café, located just before the stupa, and let me tell you the view is amazing as for the food…no comment! Very disappointing. The funny part is, on the wall there is a letter to all customers requesting to save food. It suggests that if you are not very hungry customers should inform the staff so the portion can be served smaller. But the food is so bad that the problem is not leaving food on the plate, the issue is actually eating it! Now that was a waste of food at Rs750/USD$7/GBP£5.50!
After the World Peace Stupa we cycled to Davis’ Fall. Entry Rs30/USD$0.30/GBP£0.25. There isn’t much to see there. It’s just a powerful waterfall whose name was given after a Swiss women, named Mrs Davis, fell to her death into the waterfall in 1960. On the opposite side of the road, there is *Cave. Which the locals were telling us to visit. It wasn’t until we came out of it that we realised that we hadn’t paid for the ticket. In our view, unless you are Hindu, the cave is not really worth it. We couldn’t really understand what was going on and why there was a temple inside the cave as there is no information given to tourists. But I guess it is because it’s not for tourists. We were the only ones!
*Back at the guesthouse we searched upon the site, and the cave is called Gupteshwor Mahadeve Gupha, “a cave-shrine dedicated to Shankhar. Enshrined in a large womblike chamber, the black Shankhar figure is a natural rock form dolled up with a carved Naga (snake) crown.” – The Rough Guide to Nepal
Along the way we experienced the craziness of Nepali drivers and came across cows…a lot of them! It’s funny to see how the drivers react to cows differently to people or vehicles. Rule number one is to take over no matter what or who is in the way. When a cow is crossing the road, everything and everyone stops and waits patiently for the cow to cross because they are sacred animals in the national religion.
International Mountain Museum
We had debated whether to visit the museum or not, but now looking back I am so happy we did. This is the only mountain museum of its kind in the world. Not only its purpose is to exhibit Nepal’s mountain range, its people, culture, flora and fauna, but also has a record of the mountaineering history, techniques and equipment over the years. It is really a great way of getting to know more about Annapurna and Everest Regions.
Cost: Rs400 per person
General Information about Pokhara
Kathmandu to Pokhara by bus
In Kathmandu we purchased our tickets for Rs800/USD$8/GBP£7.50 per person, just a few days before departure. The distance covered is only 200 km (124 mi) and yet it took us nearly 8 hours to arrive in Pokhara. It’s a long, tiring, smelly, dusty journey. Surely we could have flown there and saved the hardships of the journey, the ticket costs under USD100 and we would have reached Pokhara in less than 45 minutes but that isn’t part of the adventure, so we caught the bus instead! The views are superb; the bus goes through Nepal’s Middle Hills and for most of the way the road follows the rivers. At the bottom of deep valleys there are rock gorges and river rapids, tiered rice terraces and local villages dotted over the hills.
Food options in Pokhara
Coming from Kathmandu, where we stayed for nearly three weeks, Pokhara’s variety of foods was a delight! The food is divine and never short of options. We spent our days eating vegetarian and organic meals. Too good to be true – the healthy options come at a price. Because it is a tourist area the food standards are high and so are the prices. The food is way more expensive than other places in Nepal. Meals range from Rs600-Rs700/USD$7/GBP£6.50. Not all restaurants charge the 13% tax adding extra on the bill but the 10% service charge is definitely added onto the bill. In Pokhara Bazaar, the only place that offers cheap food and where we found the budget travellers, is a cool café selling wraps: Rs265/USD$2.5/GBP£2 for a chicken wrap and Rs245 for a falafel wrap.
Accommodation in Pokhara
Finding a room in Pokhara it’s so easy because guesthouses are everywhere. From the tourist bus park to where we found accommodation, we probably came across twenty guesthouses and surely there are many more. When heading to Pokhara we wouldn’t recommend booking in advance. There is plenty of choice out there and prices are negotiable. If like us, you are just popping in and out for a good deal, you will surely get it. There is accommodation for everyone’s pockets; from Rs250/USD$2.50/GBP£2 for a bed in a dormitory (up to 8-10 beds), to private rooms at hotels for Rs2000-3000 a night. Not wanting to splurge but looking for a private room with private toilet, we found a guesthouse just 10 minutes’ walk from the lake, and paid Rs400/USD$4/GBP£3.50 each per night. The guesthouse wasn’t perfect but for that amount of money we couldn’t really argue. By ‘perfect’ I mean people staying up until late at night and listening to loud music. Thomas slept like a baby! but I had to put up with it. The fact is, you get what you pay for. The food was more expensive in Pokhara than in Kathmandu but the accommodation was cheaper. So we compromised on that.
Supporting the Deaf Community
Helping Hands, Fair Trade Shop – provides training and employment opportunities for Deaf and Blind people in Nepal. At Helping Hands Handicrafts employees weave and knit scarfs, blankets, hats, ponchos, etc. All from 100% natural pashmina, cashmere, silk and wool. At Helping Hands SPA employees are trained in all types of massages and SPA treatments. Not only this is a great way of helping and supporting the local community but also the opportunity to meet fellow Deaf people. They are located in Pokhara Bazaar, Lakeside.
And that was our stay in Pokhara!
We are not into tourist areas because we believe that experiencing a place must be done through the eyes of locals. But we had a good time. We relaxed and indulged in fresh juices and organic food. Staying for only four days was enough for us. Our days were spent going for long walks, exploring a little of the few tourist attractions and around Phewa Lake. It is very beautiful and tranquil.
Although the weather was amazing, we didn’t get a chance to see the 8000-metre peaks of the Annapurna Range looming over the horizon, from the lake, because it was very cloudy. Our stay in Pokhara was short but we did everything we wanted too.
On the last day we caught the bus to Lumbini, while walking to the bus station, we saw our first and last glimpse of the Himalayas.
It had to be on the last day!
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We are Thomas and Telma – the writers, photographers, videographers and founders of Blank Canvas Voyage.
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