If Kathmandu is the cultural hub of Nepal, then Pokhara is its center of adventure. An enchanting city nestled in a tranquil valley (altitude 827 m), it is the starting point for many Pokharaof Nepal's most popular trekking and rafting destinations. The atmosphere on the shores of Phewa Lake is one of excited vitality as hipster backpackers crowd the many bars and restaurants exchanging recommendations on guest houses and viewpoints, both by the lake and above the clouds.
Pokhara (population 95,000) is a place of remarkable natural beauty. The serenity of Phewa Lake and the magnificence of the fish-tailed summit of Machhapuchhre (6,977m) rising behind it create an ambiance of peace and magic. At an elevation lower than Kathmandu, it has a much more tropical feel to it, a fact well appreciated by the beautiful diversity of flowers which prosper in its environs. Indeed, the valley surrounding Pokhara is home to thick forests, gushing rivers, emerald lakes and of course, the world famous views of the Himalayas.
Pokhara is part of a once vibrant trade route extending between India and Tibet. To this day, mule trains can be seen camped on the outskirts of the town, bringing goods to trade from remote regions of the Himalayas. This is the land of the Magars and Gurungs, hardworking farmers and valorous warriors who have earned worldwide fame as Gurkha soldiers. The Thakalis, another important ethnic group here, are known for their entrepreneurship.
Clearly the most stunning of Pokhara's sights is the spectacular panorama of the Annapurna range which forms its backdrop. Stretching from the east to west, the Annapurna massif includes Annapurna I to IV and Annapurna South. Although the highest among them is Annapurna I (8,091 m), it is Machhapuchhre which dominates all others in this neighborhood. Boastfully levitating in the skyline, the fish-tailed pinnacle is the archetypal snow-capped, need(e-pointed mountain.
The second largest lake in the Kingdom roughly measuring 1.5 by 4 km, is the center of all attractions in Pokhara. It is the largest and most enchanting of the three lakes that add to the resplendence of Pokhara. The eastern shore, popularly known as Lakeside or Baidam, is the favorite home base for travellers and is where most of the hotels, restaurants and handicraft shops are located.
Begnas Lake and Rupa Lake:
These are located about 15 km from Pokhara at the end of a road that turns north from the highway to Kathmandu. Divided by a forested hillock called Panchabhaiya Danda, the lakes offer the perfect nature retreat because of their relative seclusion. Splendid boating and fishing opportunities can be had here.
This is the most important religious monument in Pokhara. Built almost in the middle of Phewa Lake, this two-storied pagoda is dedicated to the boar manifestation of Ajima, the protectress deity representing the female force Shakti. Devotees can be seen, especially on Saturdays, carrying male animals and fowl across the lake to be sacrificed to the deity.
World Peace Pagoda:
A massive Buddhist stupa, is situated on top of a hill on the southern shore of Phewa Lake. Besides being an impressive sight in itself, the shrine is a great vantage point which offers spectacular views of the Annapurna range and Pokhara city. You can get there by crossing the lake by boat and then hiking up the hill.
Flowing right through the city, the boisterous river runs completely underground at places. Amazingly, at certain points the river appears hardly two meters wide. But its depth is quite beyond imagination - over 20 meters! Mahendra Pul, a small bridge near the old Mission Hospital, provides a perfect view of the river's dreadful rush and the deep gorge made by its powerful flow.
Locally known as Patale Chhango (Hell's Fall), Devi's Fall (also known as Devin's or David's) is an awesome waterfall lying about 2 km south-west of Pokhara airport on the highway to Tansen. Legend has it that a trekker (Devin, David…) was washed away by the Pardi Khola and mysteriously disappeared down into an underground passage beneath the fall.
A sacred cave, lies 2 km from Pokhara airport on the Siddhartha Highway leading southwest from the city. The entrance is right across from Devi's Fall and the cave is almost 3 km long. It has some big hall-size rooms and some passages where you have to crawl on all fours. This cave holds special value for Hindus since a phallic symbol of Lord Shiva is preserved here in the condition it was discovered. An entrance fee of Rs.5 is charged and taking pictures inside the cave is prohibited.
Another of nature's wonders in Pokhara is the Mahendra Gupha. This large limestone cave is locally known as the House of Bats, an apt name for it. A twohour walk to the north of Pokhara , it is best to bring your own torch to see the stalactites and stalagmites, as well as the local winged residents.
The old Bazaar:
Pokhara's traditional bazaar is colorful and so are its ethnically diverse traders. In its temples and monuments can be seen ties to the Newar architecture of the Kathmandu Valley. Located about 4 km from Lakeside, the market's original charm is alive and well.
Is the center of religious activity in the old bazaar. it is dedicated to Goddess Bhagawati, yet another manifestation of Shakti. The park-like grounds offer a fine picnic area, and on Saturdays and Tuesdays when devotees flock there to offer sacrifices, take on a festive local flavor.
Located between the airport and Mahendra Pul, reflects the ethnic mosaic of western Nepal. The lifestyles and history of ethnic groups such as the Gurung, Thakali and the Tharu are attractively displayed. Open daily, except Tuesdays and holidays, from 10 am to 4 pm. Entrance fee is Rs.5 and there is an extra Rs.1 0 for cameras (Tel: 061 20413).
Also known as the Natural History Museum, is located at Prithvi Narayan Campus east of the old bazaar. Managed by the Annapurna Conservation Area Project (ACAP), the museum has an exceptional collection of butterflies, insects, birds, and models of wildlife as well as samples of various precious and semi-precious stones and volcanic rocks. Open daily, except Saturdays and holidays, from 9 am to 4 pm. Entrance is free (Tel: 061-21102).
Pokhara is the starting and/or finishing point for some of the most popular treks including the Annapurna Circuit and the Jomsom Trek. It also offers a number of short treks for those who cannot opt for long, challenging ones. The most popular destination among them is Sarangkot (1,592 m), a former Kaski fort lying atop a hill five km west of the old bazaar. Kahundanda (1,520 m), to the north-east of Pokhara, has a ruined fort on the summit as well as a view tower with spectacular scenery. Another must for nature lovers is Ghalchowk, a five-hour walk to the north of Pokhara. This typical Gurung village is the site of one of the region's oldest settlements. The ancient fort of Nuwakot, 15 km south of Devi's Fall, is also ideal for savoring the splendors of nature. Naudanda is a five hour walk and a favorite with those wishing to get away from it all.
Pokhara is located 200 km west of Kathmandu. Flying alongside the Himalaya to the north and the green Mahabharat range to the south is thrilling, while the overland journey along the Trisuli river provides a view of life particular to Nepal's middle hills. Daily flights and bus services connect Pokhara with Kathmandu.