Why go to Pokhara?
Pokhara ticks all the right boxes, with spectacular scenery, adventure activities, and accommodation and food choices galore. Whether you’ve returned from a three-week trek or endured a bus trip from hell, Lakeside Pokhara is the perfect place to recharge your batteries.
The scene is a chilled-out version of Kathmandu’s Thamel neighborhood, stretching along the shore of a tranquil lake with bobbing paddle boats. From the lake, and possibly even from your hotel bed, you can enjoy a clear view of the snow-capped mountains, just 20 or so kilometers away.
There’s much more to Pokhara than its laid-back charm. It also boasts a booming adventure-sports industry: it is arguably the best paragliding venue on the globe and is surrounded by white-water rivers. There’s a fascinating museum dedicated to the world-famous Gurkha soldier. And last but not least. It’s the gateway to the world-famous treks around the Annapurna range and beyond.
Forming a spectacular backdrop to Pokhara is the dramatic Annapurna Massif. Most prominent is the emblematic Mt Machhapuchhare, whose triangular mass looms large over the town, and remains the only virgin mountain in Nepal set aside as forbidden to be climbed.
From west to east, the peaks are Annapurna South (7,219m), Hiunchuli (6,441m), Annapurna I (8,091m), Machhapuchhare (6,997m), Annapurna III (7,555m), Annapurna IV (7,525m), and Annapurna II (7,937m). A word of warning: the mountains can occasionally disappear behind clouds for several days, particularly during the monsoon season.
Phewa Tal is the traveler’s focal point in Pokhara and is the second largest lake in Nepal. In contrast to the gaudy tourist development of Lakeside, the steep south-western shore is densely forested and alive with birdlife. The lush Rani Ban, or Queen’s Forest, bestows an emerald hue to the lake, and on a clear day, the Annapurna mountains are perfectly reflected on its mirror surface.
You can take to the lake in one of the brightly painted boats available for rental Lakeside. Many people walk or cycle around the lakeshore – the trek up to the World Peace Pagoda affords breathtaking views over the Tal to the mountains beyond.
Pokhara most famous Hindu temple, the two-tiered pagoda style Varahi Mandir stands on a small island in Phewa Tal, near the former Ratna Mandir (Royal Place). Founded in the 18th century, the temple is dedicated to Vishnu in his boar incarnation. It’s been extensively renovated over the years and is inhabited by a lot of cooing pigeons. Rowboats to the temple leave from Varahi Ghat in Lakeside.
Also known as Patale Chhango, this waterfall marks the point where the Pardi Khola stream vanishes underground. When the stream is at full bore after monsoon rains, the sound of the water plunging over the falls is deafening. The falls are about 2km southwest of the airport on the road to Butwal, just before the Tashi Ling Tibetan Camp.
According to one of the many local legends, the name is a corruption of David’s Falls, a reference to a Swiss visitor who tumbled into the sinkhhola and drowned, taking his girlfriend with him.
Gupteshwor Mahadev Cave
Across the road from Devi’s Falls, this venerated cave contains a huge stalagmite worshipped as a Shiva lingam. The ticket allows you to climber through a tunnel behind the shrine, emerging in a damp cavern adjacent to the thundering waters of Devi’s Falls.
World Peace Pagoda
Balance on a narrow ridge high above Phewa Tal, the brilliant-white World Peace Pagoda was constructed by Buddhist monks from the Japanese Nipponzan Myohoji organization. There are three paths up to the pagoda and several small cafes once you arrive.
International Mountain Museum
This expensive museum is devoted to the mountains of Nepal, the mountaineers who climbed them, and the people who call them home. Inside, you can see original gear from many of the first Himalayas. Once you’ve been inspired by the climbers of the past, head outside where there are a 21m climbing wall and a 9.4m high climbable model of Mt Manaslu.
Located just north of Mahendra Pul, near KI Singh Bridge, the Gorkha Museum celebrates the achievements of the renowned Gorkha regiments. Accompanied by sound effects, it covers Gorkha history from the 19th-century Indian Uprising, through two World Wars to current-day disputes and peace-keeping missions, with a fascinating display on Gorkhas who have been awarded the Victoria Cross medal.
For a glimpse of what Pokhara was like before the traffic, chaos, and tourist restaurants besieged the erstwhile village, head out to the old town, north of the bustling Mahendra Pul. The best way to explore is on foot.
From the Nepal Telecom building at Mahendra Pul, head northwest along Tersapati, passing a number of religious shops selling Hindu and Buddhist paraphernalia. At the intersection with Nala Mukh, check out the Newari Houses with decorative brickwork and ornately carved wooden windows.
Continue north on Bhairab Tole to reach the small two tired Bhimsen Temple, a 200-year old shrine to the Newari god of trade and commerce, decorated with erotic carvings. The surrounding square is full of shops selling baskets and ceramics. About 200m further north is a small hill topped by the ancient Bindhya Basini Temple. Founded in the 17th century, the temple is sacred to Durga, the warlike incarnation of Parvati, worshipped here in the form of a saligram.
Seti River Gorge
The roaring Seti River passes right through Pokhara, but you won’t see it unless you go looking. The river has carved a deep, narrow the water milky white in the process. The best place to catch a glimpse of the Seti River is the park just north of Old Pokhara near the Gorkha Museum.
Bat Cave (Chameri Gufa)
You won’t find Adam West or Christian Bale lurking in the dark and spooky Bat Cave, but instead, thousands of horseshoe bats, clinging to the ceiling of a dump and slippery chamber and occasionally chirruping into the darkness – claustrophobics beware. Daredevils can continue to the back of the vault and wriggle out through a tiny chute to the surface. Torches are supplied, and guides can show you the narrow exit tunnel.
Near Bat Cave is the underwhelming Mahendra Gufa, the first large cave to be discovered in Pokhara. The first 125m of the cave is lit only to reveal dusty vandalized limestone formations some revered as Shiva lingams. Beyond the electric lights, there are bats.
Activities in Pokhara:
There are some fascinating short treks in the lower foothills around Pokhara with epic views of the Annapurna Himalaya.
This awesome zip line launches from Sarangkot and drops 600m over 1.8km achieving a speed of 120km/hrs. It is claimed to be the third-highest, longest and fastest zipline in the world. You can also bungee jump from a 70m tower for the same price, which includes pick-up and drop-off from Lakeside, or does both with a ‘combo’. Weight and age restrictions apply.
Heading out onto the calm waters of Phewa Tal is the perfect way to unwind and gain a spectacular reflective mountain view. Colorful wooden boats are available for rent at several boat stations, including Varahi Ghat and Phewa Ghat.
Cycling & Mountain Biking
Cycling is a great way to get around Pokhara, whether you are visiting the museums, braving the bazaar, or just cruising Lakeside. Mountain bikes are available from dozens of places on the strip in Lakeside as per hours/ day.
Soaring silently on the thermals against a backdrop of the snow-capped Annapurna is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. However, be forewarned that the popularity of the activity has led to the sky above Sarangkot becoming extremely crowded these days. Operators usually offer both 30 minute and 1-hour flights. Paragliding operates during suitable weather year-around, including during the monsoon.
Ultralight & Helicopter Flights
On a clear day, you can’t miss the buzzing ultralight flying noisily above Pokhara providing their customs with unrivaled mountain views. A private/ group joining Helicopter tour can be operated from Pokhara like Annapurna base camp, Muktinath temple, etc.
Kayaking & Rafting
Pokhara is a great place to organize rafting trips, particularly down the Kali Gandaki and Seti Rivers. Kaya clinics (from beginner to advance) are held on the Seti River and scenic drifts down the Narayanni River to Chitwan National Park can be arranged.
Trekking in the Annapurna Conservation Area Project is easily the biggest attraction around Pokhara. But you don’t have to be a seasoned trekker to appreciate the glory of the peaks. There are several dramatic viewpoints on the rim of the Pokhara Valley that can be reached by foot, taxi, mountain bike, or rented motorcycle from Pokhara.
The view of the Annapurna Himalaya from Sarangkot is almost a religious experience. From here, you can see a panoramic sweep of Himalayan peaks, from Dhaulagiri (8,167m) in the west to the perfect pyramid of Machhapuchhare (6,997m), the tent-like peak of Annapurna II (7,937m) to Lamjung (6,983m) in the east. Most people come here at dawn or dusk, when the sun picks out the peaks, transforming them from a purple-pink to a celestial gold. If you feel noisy teenagers are funning peace at the viewing tower, try walking further along to the secluded grassy helicopter pad.
The main village is just below the ridge, but a set of steps leads uphill to a dramatic viewpoint, the site of an ancient fort. There’s a ruined fort at Kaskikot (1,788m), a one-hour walk west of Sarangkot along the ridge road, with similarly jaw-dropping views.
Begnas Tal & Rupa Tal
About 10km southeast of Pokhara, a road leaves the Prithvi Highway heading north for Begnas Tal and Rupa Tal, two gloriously serene lakes that receive few foreign visitors, despite their proximity to Pokhara. After leaving the highway, a narrow road runs through the flat terrain of rice fields towards the hills that nestle around the lakes. As well as the scruffy Begnas Bazaar there is a large fish farm and paddle boats are available for a leisurely paddle. The village of Begnas lies across the waters the north among the terraces.
Pachabhaiya village is spread out along the ridge between the two lakes and the guest houses look down on either lake depending upon their orientation. There are also views across the lakes to the snowy Himalaya peaks.
The Cliff – world 2nd highest Bungee & 1st swing
The majority of visitors from all over the world visit Nepal each year, many of whom are avid adventure seekers. With the world’s highest swing and second-highest bungee, experience adventure from new heights and feel the thrill like nowhere else on Earth. The Cliff, locally also known as the Kusma Bungee located in Kusma, Parbat district situated in the western part of Nepal. The driving to Kusma from Kathmandu about 260 kilometers (7 to 8hrs) OR you have the option of flying to Pokhara and 2 hrs drive.