I never thought we would get to Pokhara, Nepal.
The day we arrived in Kathmandu, an unofficial oil embargo paralyzed the nation. Streets that were usually overrun by vehicles were eerily empty. The reason behind the oil embargo is enmeshed in so much political drama that I don’t feel informed enough upon to convey. However, I do know seeing and experiencing it firsthand that the country is suffering, and even as resilient as the Nepalese are, they don’t deserve any more heartache. A few hours before our intended journey to Pokhara, our bus ride was canceled leaving us scrambling to find another way to get there. Most material online is irrelevant post-disaster so we were very much left to our own devices. Being in Nepal was a test of faith time and time again. We lugged our heavy packs and looked around helplessly before a string of kindhearted locals took the time to personally guide us to where we needed to go to find a ride to Pokhara, ultimately bringing us to the infamously chaotic Kathmandu Ring Road. With the help of a policeman with next-to-no English skills, Tim and I managed to squeeze into a past-capacity microbus where I basically was sitting on some stranger’s lap and endured seven loooooong hours of winding, sketchy roads cramped and sweaty. But at least the ride was pretty as we meandered through the lush green mountainsides of Nepal’s landscape, reminding us that there is always something redeeming about any tough experience in Nepal. Pokhara itself is a bit over hyped, but the journey is one that will be etched in your brain for years to come.
1. Go bar hopping in Lakeside
Lakeside is what makes Pokhara the tourist hotspot of Nepal. While some deem the road of shops, cafes, and restaurants ostentatious in contrast to its “lakeside” surroundings, sometimes luxury is part of the getaway when one needs a break from all things provincial. There’s no shortage of organic cafes, yoga classes, and adventure-themed stores; you sometimes find yourself in a rut over the availability of options. To make decisions a bit easier, head over to Busy Bee’s Cafe for live music while debating whether Nepal Ice or Everest is your favorite brand and make your way to Godfather’s Pizzeria to eat some decadent and delicious wood oven pizza. For the softest cotton tees printed with Nepal-inspired designs, head to Urban Yeti.
2. Row your boat across Phewa Lake
Watching the sun paint the sky in pastel-hues as it made its descent behind the Machhapuchhre mountain range in a little rowboat with two goofy guys while sipping on big bottles of Nepal Ice was the best way to end my stay in Pokhara. Phewa Tal, as the freshwater lake is known, is the main attraction in Pokhara. Standing on the water’s edge as you can take in the scenery is nothing short of divine: on clear days, the surrounding mountain ranges (including the white peaks of the Annapurna) glisten as a reflection in the water. You can take a small boat on the lake for about 500 NPR for an hour or hire a boatman to do the hard work for you (price negotiable). Visit the Taal Barahi Temple located on a tiny island in the middle of the lake. Warning: do not go swimming. You’ll see why just by looking at it.
3. Hike up to See the World Peace Pagoda
One of eighty “Peace Pagodas” erected all around in the world in an effort to inspire peace, a hike up to see the World Peace Stupa will do just that. The white-washed stupa sits serenely on a hilltop overlooking Phewa Lake and houses four gold statues of Buddha in different states of enlightenment. You can either reach the base of the hill by boating across Phewa Lake or traveling through Damside. It’s a forty-five minute trek up so don’t think you can rush through the experience. During our ascent, Tim and I were literally stopped in our tracks by two ten-year-old girls who lived on the hillside. After helping them with a few chores, we were welcomed into their homes and offered refreshments (aka water and Coca Cola), demonstrating another moment of exceptional Nepalese hospitality.
4. Survive White Water Rafting
As the extreme sport capital of Nepal, you can do almost adventure sport in Pokhara. Mountaineering is the most popular since most hiking/trekking routes begin in Pokhara, but there is a surplus of fun to be had! (Think: paragliding, mountain biking, ultragliding, and rock climbing.) For a day trip, we went white water rafting with Adrenaline Rush Nepal, which also offer canyoning and kayaking packages. For $60 USD, we maneuvered 25 kms worth of rapids on the Trisuli River. The instructor kept the day lighthearted and action-packed, and even though most of us were beginners, we never felt once out of our comfort zones riding one of the world’s most turbulent rivers.
5. Mountain Bike past Damside
While Lakeside is the area most flock to, Damside is just as close to the hustle and bustle of Pokhara without being that “bustle-y.” The tourist bus park is found on the northern part of Damside but from there, you can get to outlying destinations such as the World Peace Pagoda, Devi’s Waterfalls, and the International Mountain Museum. Rent a mountain bike for the day (around 200-800 NPR depending how good you bargain) and enjoy the freedom of cruising around independently. Just be aware of uneven roadsides and jam-packed roadways.
- There are five Tibetan Refugee Camps scattered around Pokhara. The largest one, Tashi Palkhel, is near the airport. If you want to help supplement the income of a people who have no government assistance and are no rights as citizens, purchase handicrafts and don’t bargain down.
- Phewa Tal becomes the center of activity mid-morning with boats skimming the water surface while a bunch of paragliders fly overhead; make your way to Sarangkot to see all the action from above.
- Want cheap and delicious momos? Find them at any of the momo canteens on Phewa Marga right before the boat rental stand
- The bohemian take on drive-in movies, the Movie Garden is an open-air movie theater that shows old, but popular, movies every night of the week.
- We found ourselves at the Nepal Organic Cafe not once or twice, but three times! due to their phenomenal veggie burgers. And they helped to accommodate my gluten-sensitivity by replacing my buns with two fried eggs. So good!
On the accommodation front – There is no such thing as fixed rates in Nepal. Walking into any hotel and asking to see their rooms before settling on a price is completely appropriate. Since there are so many hotels to choose from, take the time to see what your buying. Wifi is always a bit of problem in Nepal so don’t count on it. We found a hotel in the quieter side of Lakeside called Hotel Peace Plaza that offered great rates ($15 USD per night) for a clean, well-kept room and a warm shower that felt like a splurge after ten days of rural living. It’s also right across the legendary Godfather’s Pizza too!
Any Pokhara favorites I missed? Comment below!