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Nepalese believe that Pokhara, a valley that offers close-up views of some of the most beautiful mountains on Earth, is “Heaven on Earth” . The name “Pokhara” comes from a Nepali word, “Pokhari” which means pond. Aptly so because the city is famous for various lakes in the region, the most popular being Fewa lake right in the city. Pokhara has long held reputation of being one of the most beautiful cities in Nepal, and for me, this holds true. Not necessarily for the city itself, but for the incredible nature that surrounds this picturesque valley.
Two-hundred kilometers west of Nepal’s capital Kathmandu, Pokhara attracts many domestic as well as international tourists every year, most lured by the closeness of beautiful nature in the city. I’ve always found it to be in stark contrast of Kathmandu, as the latter being the capital is overcrowded and utterly chaotic. Pokhara is also the start point for the world-famous Annapurna circuit trek, that takes you close to some magnificent Himalayan mountains including Annapurna, Gangapurna, Fishtail and Dhaulagiri.
For the less adventurous tourist, Pokhara offers plenty of attractions in the city as well. Its laid-back nature makes it a perfect escape for people who enjoy comfort and closeness to nature at the same time. Most internal tourists visit Pokhara for some of the attractions inside the city, whereas more outdoorsy ones choose to do hiking/trekking and adventurous sports like paragliding on its gorgeous surrounding hills. I’ve visited Pokhara for both of these reasons and have always enjoyed my visits.
One of the biggest tourist draws in Pokhara is undoubtedly the Fewa lake. The lake offers a gorgeous view of mountains on all sides, and even offers glimpse of the famous Himalayan mountain Fishtail (Machapuchhre) on a clear day. It’s a big lake where you can boat, kayak or do paddle boarding. There is a Hindu temple, a favorite among the domestic tourists and locals, around the center of the lake. Unfortunately, non-Hindus (read: non-brown complexioned) people are not allowed to enter inside main complexes of Hindu temples but it’s not a problem to hang out in its periphery. I can tell you that you’re not missing out on much, as Hindu temples in Nepal are just small pagoda like structures with idol/s inside and there’s not much to do except offer some coconuts, fruits or colors to the idols through a priest, pray and leave in a few minutes.
My favorite time to visit the lake is around the time when sun sets behind the spectacular green mountains causing the sky to burst in vibrant shades of orange. In recent years, many restaurants and cafes have opened along the walking alley facing the lake. Taking a stroll on the alley or sitting in one of the numerous outdoor restaurants during evening is a good way to catch the sunset and feel the local vibes as Pokhara lights up.
Lakeside is the area that is centered around the main street that runs alongside the lake, and is the heart of Pokhara tourism. It is lined with restaurants, shops, hotels, pubs, travel offices, message centers, just everything that tourists might need and enjoy. The shops are open until night (by Nepali standards..), and the area is even more lively then. Every time I visit Pokhara, I enjoy walking on the street, shopping and eating at new places. I recommend finding places that advertise “Thakali food”.
Thakalis are an ethnic group originally from Mustang district of Nepal who are famous all over the country for their scrumptious Nepali meal recipe. The meal is the same as most Nepalese eat every day, boiled rice with lentil soup, with sides of seasonal curried veggies and pickle, but the flavors of Thakali food is guaranteed to leave one craving for more of a simple and common Nepali meal like daal-bhaat.
Sarangkot hill has a multitude of activities to offer. It’s a great viewpoint towards Pokhara as well as the snow-clad white mountains from nearer. It’s also a famous spot for watching spectacular sunrise during dawn. For those in lack of time or physical strength to do longer and tougher treks, you can simply hike in the Sarangkot area which still offers a good dash of local village life along its route and fantastic views. And perhaps the most favorite one in recent years, you can paraglide from this hill straight over the Fewa lake and Pokhara city!
Again, if the weather is clear (October-April), you will be flying while enjoying the views of those magnificent snowy whites. You don’t need any training to do it, as you will be paragliding with a certified pilot, and having done that myself, I can say that it is definitely one of the highlights in my Pokhara memories.
World Peace Pagoda
Another viewpoint in Pokhara, you can reach the pagoda that sits a top of hill overlooking the lake and the city. It’s a simple Buddhist temple, that’s more famous for its location and views, rather than the monastery itself. You can reach the top either rowing across the lake and hiking a steep trail to the top, or by taking a taxi that goes quite near the temple. There are some eateries but don’t expect too many options. This is a great viewpoint during sunrise and sunsets.
I grew up hearing about these falls and how it got its name. A Swiss tourist apparently fell to the rapid falls in this site and lost her life many, many years back. Pretty grim to think about, so thankfully the site is properly barricaded now for the unsuspecting tourist. It’s small but still quite fascinating to watch the rapid current of the water, which after the fall flows inside an underground tunnel. I wouldn’t say it’s a must-do in Pokhara but if you have some time in the city, why not.
Among the many attractions in Pokhara are its caves. Many of the caves hold religious significance to Hindus as there are temples inside them. I went to one such cave called Gupteshor Mahadev, and I enjoyed the carvings of various Hindu deities along the stairs that led into the cave. The cave is near Davis Falls, and the water from the falls actually enters the cave. There are other more famous caves in Pokhara, like Mahendra cave, famous for being a large limestone cave with stalagmites and stalactites, and Bat cave, famous for cluster of bats that hang out on its walls.
Gurkha memorial museum
Gurkha memorial museum is a small museum that can be of interest to those who want to know about the world-famous Gurkha army. Gurkhas, even though they serve in British, Singaporean and Indian army, actually come from certain ethnic groups in Nepal. Two of those ethnic groups, Gurungs and Magars, are native to Pokhara and its surrounding districts. They are known for their fierce bravery, loyalty and use of curved knife called khukuri which is a native weapon of Nepal. The museum isn’t that big, and there is a small shop where you can buy real khukuri and other souvenirs. I enjoyed visiting the museum as I could learn a thing or two about the history behind the practice of recruiting people from Nepal into various international armies, as well as their achievements, areas of duty and gears. My husband bought a khukuri which is now one of his favorite souvenirs from Nepal! 🙂