I like to think I am well-travelled and worldly wise, but I get a reality check every time I discover a place that I have never heard of before. On a recent trip to Nepal I was introduced to the fabulous city of Pokhara. After the hustle and mania of Kathmandu, it was a welcome relief to breathe the sweet mountain air.
If, like me, you are new to all things Nepalese, you may not know that Pokhara is located a short 25-minute flight to the north-west of Kathmandu, Nepal. That sounds like a ridiculously short flying time and appeared so tantalisingly close, as we waited not-so-patiently for our delayed plane. Tempers were starting to fray as we sat for yet another warm and sticky hour in the dim airport terminal, and the group began to mutter, ‘why didn’t we just take a bus to %$#@ Pokhara?’ Our ever-patient guide Nabin, gently informed us that, even though Pokhara is only a little over 200km away, it would take up to six hours to drive there! OK, so the plane option wasn’t such a bad choice after all.
After the long wait in the airport and another inexplicably long wait standing on a bus on the tarmac, we were up in the air and down again in the blink of an eye. The many mysterious delays consumed all our free afternoon in Pokhara, however we did our best to cram as much as possible into our remaining day and a bit visit.
Pokhara is a city of 414 400 people and is nestled at the foot of the Annapurna mountain range. Apparently its natural beauty has lead the city to develop into a resort town and the honeymoon capital of Nepal. Even Nabin had recovered from his recent frenetic wedding celebrations by relaxing and enjoying his honeymoon in this city.
Stepping out of the shuttle bus, it was easy to see why it is such a popular destination. The air has a soft and refreshing feel on the skin, and there is the slightest mountain crispness in the air. We visited in springtime, but even in Winter it doesn’t appear to experience the temperature extremes that Nepal is known for.
Mountains: Pokhara is the starting point for climbers heading out to the Annapurna mountain range. Apparently it is a rough and ready two hour vehicle ride to the start of the track, and this outdoor focus is reflected in the Pokhara retail strip, with every third or fourth store a hiking gear outlet.
The closest we got to the mountains was a sleepy, and steep, drive in the early morning dark to a popular lookout with the plan to see the sun rise over the Annapurna range. The wake-up call at 0415 was a rude awakening, but we were excited about the prospect of stunning views and the unparalleled beauty we had been told so much about. We bounced through the darkness for about 40 minutes and then stretched our muscles with a stiff walk uphill to the busy lookout. About 1 000 other expectant people eventually amassed and jostled on the viewing platform, waiting patiently for daybreak. It’s times like these when I like being tall and sturdy, as I was not to be jostled out of my choice viewing spot, despite a number of concerted attempts to do so. After about an hour of standing my ground, the only thing that dawned was the realisation that today was not going to be a day of breathtaking vistas, as the dense cloud cover simply refused to budge. Oh well, perhaps next time.
Back to the hotel and filled to the brim with breakfast and coffee, we were ready to take on Pokhara in the sunlight.
Phewa Lake: If the mountains provide a glorious backdrop to this city, then the lake provides a spectacular foreground. It could be just any ordinary lake until you spy the brightly coloured boats dipping on the shore. In the centre of the lake is the Barahi Hindu temple, a popular pilgrimage site for the Nepalese people, and the pilgrims’ dazzlingly-coloured saris certainly add to the scene.
To get to the temple, you can swim (which we actually saw happening with a couple of heads bobbing in the water), or you can catch a pedal boat out to the island. Our ‘pedal man’ was a bit flummoxed as all us mad women jumped in and shared the pedaling! He commented to Nabin that, “we were a much more fun group than the group Nabin had accompanied a few weeks ago”. Us ol’ girls have still got it!
Unfortunately for Mum and I, we didn’t actually get to have a look at the temple because we were mobbed by the locals. Maybe it was my height or Mum’s grey hair (EVERYONE dyes their hair the blackest of black in Nepal regardless of their age), but we felt like Bollywood stars. Just as we tried to move away to look at the temple, someone else would grab us and drag us to their group for yet another photo! Hilarious! When we questioned Nabin about this later, he explained that some of these people may never have been close to a Western person before. I can only wonder at how out of place we will look in their photo albums or as they flick through the photo gallery on their phones.
Back on dry land, we strolled back into the city and did a bit of wildlife spotting on the way. Some sort of egret, and some not-so-wild life – a sacred cow.
Shops: Pokhara is a haven for shoppers. From the ‘normal’ Western hiking stores, to tourism trinket stores, to high-end pashmina stores – Pokhara has the full range.
A visit to the Tibetan Refugee Camp was not only interesting, watching them weave their traditional mats and handmade crafts, but another shopper’s paradise for those in the market for a high quality carpet. Again, it was a riot of colour, and the carpets almost called out to be caressed. The quality was incredible, and as my hand brushed the pile, it seemed to virtually respond to the touch. Just so silky and soft.
The Tibetan camp developed as a result of their flight from the Chinese. At the time of the Chinese invasion of Tibet in 1950, the Tibetans now living in Pokhara were mainly peasants and nomads inhabiting the border areas of western Tibet. After the Dalai Lama fled Tibet in 1959 and the Chinese occupation turned violent, thousands streamed south through the Himalayas to safety and three transit camps were established around Pokhara. (Source)
Pokhara is also a bit of ‘spa’ town and there are plenty of opportunities to indulge in some quality relaxation and pampering. The peace of the lake and the beauty of the mountains genuinely enhance the relaxing atmosphere.
Our time in Pokhara was way too short. Doing some further research, I found that we missed out on the impressive World Peace Stupa with panoramic views over the city, the awe inspiring International Mountaineering Museum and more ballooning, canoeing and mountain climbing thrills than we could ever hope to fit into a day and a half!
This part of Nepal seems to have the best of all worlds, and has something to offer visitors with a whole range of different interests and tastes. I can’t wait to return to have a slower, more detailed, and perhaps more adventurous, look.
Where have you discovered lately?
What: We stayed at the spa-like Temple Tree Resort, very comfortable, however hot water is only available from 500-1000, both morning and night!
Where: Pokhara, about 200km north-west of Kathmandu.
When: We visited Pokhara in late April – their Spring. A perfect time to visit with beautiful temperatures during the day and only a light jacket needed at night time.
Why: Visit Pokhara for an enjoyable contrast to the chaos of Kathmandu.
How: We flew to Pokhara on Buddha Air.
Who: Nine Country Women’s Association members, three daughters and one exceptionally brave husband!
Related Posts: To get an idea of the diversity of Nepal, have a look at my post revealing that there are more than just mountains to this fascinating country.
Related Blogs: For further information about the Tashling Tibetan settlement, have a look at: http://www.thelongestwayhome.com/travel-guides/nepal/tibetan-refugee-camp-pokhara-nepal.html
Read About it: for a limitless range of guide books and maps of the Pokhara region, check out Book Depository