Nepal

Pokhara: An Insider’s Guide

Pokhara is a place where one could very easily get stuck, a staple on the travellers trail through Nepal. Forming a dramatic backdrop to the town is the stunning Annapurna Massif, a spectacular sight when the clouds cooperate. Pokhara’s centre-piece, Phewa Tal, is the second largest lake in Nepal and, on the eastern shore, there are two main areas, Damside and Lakeside.

Damside is a smaller, quieter area with a couple of eateries, guesthouses and some tourist information. The larger and more popular area, however, is Lakeside. It stretches along a large part of the lake and the main road is littered on both sides with guesthouses, restaurants, travel agencies and trekking shops; it has everything that tourists could possibly need.

In some places, it’s possible to pay as little as GBP 3 per night for a room with a hot shower and Wi-Fi! For the cheapest rooms, head to North Lakeside; the southern end is where you’ll mainly find larger, more expensive hotels.

Whilst Lakeside is heavily developed, the steep southwestern shore is densely forested and filled with abundant birdlife. On a clear day, the Annapurna Mountains can be seen reflected on the lake’s mirror-like surface. Small brightly painted boats are also available to rent, allowing you to take to the water independently.

Most visitors, however, flock to the town for the area’s vast number of trekking opportunities; Pokhara is the starting point for anything from a day hike to a month-long excursion! There are plenty of trekking agencies around to provide ample information and make arrangements should you need assistance.

Convenience stores and shops are also on hand so that you can stock up on food supplies and snacks for your trek. Moreover, Shops sell everything from warm clothing to trekking gear, although the quality can be hit and miss so shop wisely!

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Boats for Rent in Lakeside

Some people spend a few days simply relaxing and taking in the chilled-out vibe before or after their trekking experience. However, it is, like I said before, a place where you could easily get stuck. But that’s not to say you’d be bored! Far from it in fact as there are plenty of things to do in and around Pokhara.

Highlights of Pokhara:

Varahi Mandir

Sitting in the middle of the lake near the Ratna Mandir (Royal Palace) is Pokhara’s most famous Hindu temple, Varahi Mandir. The two-tiered pagoda-style temple was founded in the 18th Century and is dedicated to Vishnu in his boar incarnation.

It has been extensively renovated over the years and is often very busy with worshippers and tourists. The only way to reach it is by boat. Clearly marked signboards provide prices for boat hire and life jacket rental.

Japanese World Peace Pagoda

Overlooking proceedings is the famous Japanese World Peace Pagoda, sitting proudly atop a hill on the other side of the lake. Glistening white, it can be seen from pretty much anywhere in Pokhara!

There are several routes leading up to it; you can take a boat across the lake and then hike up the easy-to-follow forest path. Taking the roadway is also possible; follow the highway around the lake and then take a small turning on your right. This will take you up a longer route to the top, though, thanks to a series of obvious short-cuts, parts of the track can be skipped.

It’s a bit of a climb either way but the impressive pagoda and the panoramic view of snow-capped mountains (weather permitting!) and Phewa Lake below make it a very enjoyable and worthwhile trip. There are a couple of simple guesthouses and tea shops at the top; we once had a delicious cup of tea at one such place.

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The Japanese World Peace Pagoda

Pokhara Old Town

For a glimpse of what Pokhara was like before the tourist influx, head to the Old Town north of Lakeside. Usually busy with locals going about their daily business, you can find cheaper and far more local eateries.

There are also traditional Newari-style houses and temples, including the 200-year-old Bhimsen Temple (a shrine dedicated to the Newari god of trade and commerce) and, atop a small hill, the Bindhya Basini Temple, which is sacred to Durga and who is worshiped here in the form of a saligram.

Pokhara Museums

Seeking more in-depth information about the area’s history? Then head to the International Mountain Museum, a mine of information about Nepal’s mountains and the people who first climbed them. Also on display is original gear used by these pioneering mountaineers, as well as displays on the history, culture, geology and flora and fauna of the Himalaya.

Military history enthusiasts shouldn’t miss the Gurkha Museum, documenting and celebrating the achievements of these tough locally bred warriors. The smaller Regional Museum, devoted to the history and culture of the Pokhara Valley, is also worth a visit if you are in the area.

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Traditional Newari-style Homes in Pokhara Old Town

Begnas Tal and Rupa Tal

About 10km southeast of Pokhara lie Begnas and Rupa Tal, peaceful twin lakes that receive few foreign visitors. Take a bus from Lakeside to Begnas Bazaar then hike the 3km winding uphill road to reach Prachabhaiya village on a narrow ridge overlooking the lakes.

Budget guesthouses are available here, which offer a more tranquil experience than the hubbub of Lakeside; they look down on either lake depending upon their orientation. Begnas is the larger of the two and paddle boats are available for hire; the village of Begnas lies across the waters to the north among the terraced fields.

Sarangkot

If you’re not planning to trek in the mountains but still want to see a stunning view of the peaks, Sarangkot is the place to do it. Though distant, the panorama is most spectacular at sunrise or sunset, especially so during the month of October when skies are at their clearest. A taxi ride from Lakeside will cost at least Rs 2000, if not more; whether the driver waits for you or not, it’s the same price.

If you’re heading up during daylight hours, a series of local buses is a far cheaper means to reach Sarangkot; on foot the journey takes 3-4 hours return. Start on the highway opposite Baglung Bus Park; the obvious trail runs west across fields and up the side of Gyarjati Hill. The trail meets the road at Silangabot, about 1km east of the Sarangkot turn-off.

Furthermore, it’s possible to make the hike a circular route to return to Lakeside. Head for the village of Kapaudi; paths will eventually bring you to the road that runs along the lake; it’s then a pleasant walk back to Lakeside. Be aware though that this path isn’t easy to follow and can be rough and slippery. If you get lost, friendly locals can point you in the right direction!

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View over Phewa Lake from Sarangkot

There are a few basic guesthouses and eateries at Sarangkot should you wish to make seeing sunrise and sunset easier and more comfortable. Our advice would be to reach Sarangkot by local bus from Baglung Bus Park, which can itself be reached by the same from Lakeside.

Enjoy the mountain views, maybe stay a night, and then hike back down to Lakeside through the small hamlets, rice fields and forest that are a stark contrast to the commercialism below. Hiking down also enables you to get some fantastic views over Phewa Lake that rival the best of what the Peace Pagoda can offer.

Tibetan Refugee Settlements

There are three Tibetan refugee settlements situated in and around Pokhara, the largest being Tashi Palkhel, about 5km northwest of town on the road to Baglung. The Jangchub Choeling Gompa lies in the middle of the village and is home to around 200 monks; the prayer session is held in the afternoon (3:30 – 5pm) and is worth timing your visit for.

Nearby is a chorten, piled with carved mani-stones, and a carpet weaving centre, where you can see the stages of production and buy a finished article. Whilst refugees can be persistent in their bid to sell you handicrafts, remember that this can be a good way to help support the local community.

Tashi Ling, meanwhile, is a smaller settlement near Devi’s Falls and Paljorling, the smallest of the three, can be found in the town centre near Prithvi Chowk.

Jangchub Choeling Gompa

Other Activities in Pokhara

A whole host of other sights and activities are available such as:

  • Seti River Gorge
  • Devi’s Falls and Gupteshwor Mahadev Cave
  • Bat Cave and Mahendra Gufa
  • Hike to the viewpoint at Kahun Danda
  • Visit Matepani Gompa
  • Horse riding and Mountain Biking
  • Kayaking and Rafting
  • Paddle Boarding
  • Zip-lining
  • Paragliding
  • Micro-light Flights
  • Massage
  • Yoga and Meditation

Lynette faced her fear of heights and went paragliding in 2016! Sarangkot is the launch point for such flights; the experience is exhilarating, if terrifying, and provides a birds-eye view over the whole lake area. You’re accompanied by an experienced pilot, who will guide you down to a grassy landing area beside the water.

If interested, approach one of the many activity specific companies or broader spectrum travel agencies and they can assist you in getting things set up!

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The View Tower at Kahun Danda

Permits and Visas

Getting your trekking paperwork in order? Head to Sahid Chowk in Damside where you’ll find a cluster of buildings; look for the large Immigration Office sign.

If you’re planning to trek independently, you can arrange any permits and obtain your TIMS card in the first building at the front; they are expensive but necessary. If you fail to get them before your trek and you can’t produce them at the check posts along the way, you’ll have no choice but to buy them on the spot for a much higher price!

If the allure of Pokhara or Nepal itself proves too much to leave so soon, make your way to the second building directly behind the first one: the Immigration Office. You can extend your visa by completing the online form, printing it out and presenting it.

You’ll need to pay the relevant fees in Nepali Rupee, even though the prices are quoted in US dollar; bringing spare passport photos is recommended. If you don’t have any, it’s possible to get passport-size photos done on site.

Immigration Office Hours

Sunday - Thursday: 10am - 4pm
Friday: 10am - 3pm
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By Phewa Lake – With Lynette’s Sister

Pokhara Transport

It’s very easy to get around Pokhara; motorbike and bicycle rental are available, as well as buses and taxis. Be careful with taxi drivers and conductors on local buses as they will most likely try to charge you at least double, if not triple, the local price.

Haggle hard with taxi drivers and ask a local what the fare is before boarding a bus; if the conductor insists you pay more, stand your ground and eventually they’ll leave you alone. Most bus journeys around Pokhara cost Rs 20.

Buses to/from Pokhara

  • Tourist Bus Park – Where all pre-booked buses depart and arrive
  • Main Bus Park – For local buses to long-distance destinations
  • Baglung Bus Park – For buses to the various trekking trailheads

The journey between Pokhara and Kathmandu takes 6-8 hours, traffic and road condition depending. Buses depart very regularly from the Main Bus Park, or for a more comfortable and often faster service, book one in advance from a Pokhara travel agent or at your accommodation.

If you’re heading to Chitwan National Park, tourist buses leave daily at 7:30am from the Tourist Bus Park.

If you’d like to know more about Chitwan, check out my post: A Cheeky Trip to Chitwan National Park.

Pokhara Airport

There is currently a domestic airport in Pokhara with multiple airlines doing shuttles between Pokhara and Kathmandu. However, there is talk of development of an international airport, which would see even more visitors flooding into the once quiet lakeside town. Whether this will be a benefit or a burden to the area remains to be seen.

Pokhara is, without doubt, a must-see place in Nepal; it offers a huge variety of activities from trekking, biking or rafting to simply kicking back and drinking in the peaceful hippie vibe of the place. Overall, it’s a special kind of place that guarantees a great experience whatever your interests are.

To find out Why you Should Visit Gorkha and Tansen, take a read of our post. We tell you all about these off-the-beaten-track gems and what makes them so special!

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