A city for all seasons

Natural beauty, culture, adventure and a relaxing getaway, the enigmatic beauty of Pokhara never ceases to enthrall a traveller.

Pokhara burdens you with options. You wake up to the question: What should I do today? You can go on a hike, ride bicycles around or out of town, saunter along the lake, take a boat out on the lake, visit temples and refugee camps, hop on a microlight aircraft or swish from one hill to another on a rope.

Walks along the lake in the morning are a delight. Kingfishers perch meditatively on poles along the water; dozens of birds flit about in the trees. The morning hours belong to the locals, who go about their morning chores at the water’s edge, bathing, washing laundry, fishing, and walking. Restaurants have a sleepy look, with a solitary worker going about picking beer bottles and plates from the garden. In the mornings, Pokhara is caught off guard, a town that hasn’t slipped into its tourist town garb yet.

But it slips into character swiftly. Soon there are hawkers on the path along the lake. Small blackboards announcing the day’s special dishes are rigged on the edges. Gardens fill with people eating breakfast. Music from speakers vies with the songs of birds in the trees. Pokhara becomes a large place to buy things in, from pizza to your adrenaline fix.

But away from the eateries and the throbbing sounds of Lakeside lies the quieter Pokhara. Although culture is not something people associate with Pokhara, the city does have cultural sites worth visiting. They are, however, not conspicuous in the urban maze that Pokhara has become. One place of cultural value is the old town. It lies north of Lakeside, on the Baglung road. These remnants of Pokhara’s mercantile past stand amidst a sea of concrete buildings, which threaten to engulf it altogether. Coming upon these large Newar-style houses in such a setting is a sort of discovery that, if only momentarily, takes you back to Pokhara’s past. A little ways down the road is the Bhimsen Temple, where the god of commerce resides, his blessings evident in the prosperity of the city.

Sight-seeing in Pokhara is often a combination of two or more things. The Bindhya Basini Temple is an example of this. Besides being one of the holiest sites in Pokhara, this seventeenth-century temple has one of the best views of the mountains. 

The view of the mountains is even better from the World Peace Pagoda. This stupa, built by Buddhist monks from Japan, is perched atop a hill south of the city. The most popular route to the stupa goes through dense forests, making the stupa a destination popular not only with Buddhists but with hikers, photographers and birdwatchers.

If the summits of hills are not high enough for you, there are options to go higher. The options include microlight aircraft flights and paragliding. There are few things to compare to the sublime experience of soaring into the sky and closer to the mountains in these aircrafts as the sun comes up and paints the mountains in gold and red. Yet another unique experience is parahawking, where you soar in the skies with a bird of prey.

From the air you are likely to notice sparsely populated and undeveloped parts at the northwestern end of Phewa Lake. This area is ideal for a long walk or bicycle rides. More rustic in character and as yet untouched by the ever-expanding Lakeside, this corner of Pokhara is a place to go when you feel the need to flee the crowds.

Pokhara is also a place of geological spectacles. The Seti River has created amazingly deep and narrow gorges. The best place to see this is in the park near the Gurkha Museum. Another show of Nature’s beauty (and power) is Devi’s Falls. The sight of water plummeting into the abysmal depths is one of fear and amazement. Those who want to know where all that water goes can head to the Gupteshwor Mahadev cave across the road from the falls. There you can descend into the depths of the cave to witness a waterfall (part of the water that plunges into the cavern at Devis’ Falls) cascading from a cleft in the cave walls.

You can continue the subterranean exploration by going to the other caves in town. Mahendra Gufa and Bat Cave are two places to make short forays into the world of darkness. The former is the larger of the two. However, only a little over a hundred meters of the cave is lit, making going any further too risky. Bat Cave, as the name suggests, is filled with bats. Exiting the cave can be the most fun part of the visit. It requires squeezing through a narrow chute in the roof. 

There are also places above the ground in Pokhara that feel like a different world altogether. Pokhara’s several Tibetan Refugee settlements are like little pieces of Tibet transplanted on Nepali soil. Rheumy-eyed elders turning prayer malas in their hands, fluttering prayer flags and women in colorful aprons selling trinkets gives you the impression that you have gone further from Pokhara than you actually have.

Sight-seeing in Pokhara is not limited to the outdoors. The city has a number of interesting museums. The International Mountain Museum showcases all that there is to know about Nepal’s highest mountains. Besides artifacts related to the mountains and information on them, the museum also has a Mountain People Gallery, which exhibits objects related to the various ethnic groups of Nepal. Other interesting exhibits include rock samples taken from some of the tallest mountains of Nepal. The museum also has a large collection of photographs taken decades ago.

The Gurkha Museum is likely to startle you with its background sound of gunfire, but that is somewhat expected in a place that celebrates the exploits of the legendary Gurkha soldiers. The museum portrays the heroics of Gurkha soldiers, from the two world wars to the recent war in Afghanistan.

Even a place of Pokhara’s diversity can begin to feel repetitive and boring after a while. It could be that you have seen and done all there is to see and do. Or it might be because of the huge crowds that can choke Pokhara on weekends and during tourist season. Then, there is no other option but to get away from Pokhara. One such getaway is Begnas Tal. This lake is basically Pokhara without Lakeside. There are fewer people, less noise, and countless places to wander in and relax. With only a handful restaurants and hotels, this place has retained its tranquility and natural beauty. You can walk the shores of this unspoiled lake, take a boat out on the lake or just find a quiet spot to enjoy a picnic.

Pokhara is a destination that draws visitors for anything from weekend trips to adventure sports to setting out on long treks. No matter how much you see of it, there is always something to see or do that remains. In Pokhara, there is always something for the next time.

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