Arriving in Pokhara after the bumpy 8-hour bus journey (or 30-minute bumpy plane journey!) feels like arriving into paradise. It’s not even that the city is initially so beautiful, its charms are not initially so obvious, it’s the fact that you can now breathe again… The dust and pollution from Kathmandu’s dirty streets still linger in your nostrils and within a few days you’ll cough up (just like a local) the last of the city’s black flem. (Yes it’s really that bad!) Anyhow, back to Pokhara…
The city of Pokhara, which is actually the biggest city in Nepal in terms of area, sits on the beautiful Lake Phewa, or Phewa Tal. The city is the starting point for many treks into the nearby Annapurna range, and there’s plenty of opportunity for trekking around here in the lowlands too. Backpackers here can also breathe a little more easily, as everything is considerably cheaper here than in Khatmandu. Rooms that were over 2000 rupees in the capital are now 500 rupees in Pokhara and suddenly you have a lake view! There are loads of activities for adventure buffs and for those who just want to chill out, after a trek, or after travels in other parts of India or Nepal, this is the perfect place.
Places to stay in Pokhara
North Lakeside – The northern end of Lakeside has the best variety of budget accommodation, from single rooms with shared kitchen for 300 rupees a night, or massive double rooms with attached kitchen for around 1,000 rupees. We stayed at Shiva’s Lodge which is good value with lake view (1000 rupees) and a friend of ours stayed at Chat N Chill for 500 rupees a night. There are plenty of bars and live music around here if you’re looking for a bit of nightlife and lots of restaurants, serving Western food or the local favourite dahl baht.
South Lakeside – Definitely the more upmarket, and more crowded (read annoying) end of town, with swankier hotels and more expensive restaurants. You’ll drive through this part of town in a taxi from the airport or bus station. Our advice? Keep going.
Sedi Bagar – North (of the north of lakeside), you’ll find the lovely village of Sedi Bagar, which is where we stayed during the majority of our stay in Pokhara. (We stayed at the friendly August Resort in an apartment which we rented monthly, complete with kitchen and decent wifi, at a very good price.) The village does not have as many eating options as Lakeside. Backpackers without transport or facility to cook their own food, may feel a bit isolated here, but we loved the local way of life in Sedi Bagar, the fruit and veg shops and lovely walks into the surrounding hills. The green P & G Guesthouse up a little path on the opposite side to the lake as you walk into the hills has lovely rooms, a shared kitchen and a lovely family atmosphere.
Happy Village – Further north, you’ll find the rather bizarrely named ‘Happy Village’ which offers a few places to stay, including the rather luxurious Maya Devi Village, if you’re looking for a spot of luxury, as well as Shree Yoga, where a friend of ours stayed to do a yoga and trekking retreat, which she loved. More on that later…
Things to do in Pokhara
Walk around the lake – The most obvious passtime option you’ll find yourself presented with when you arrive in Pokhara is to walk round the lake. I should clarify that there is not a path all the way round, but you can do a good stretch. Breath in a bit of that country air and celebrate the bins that line the path and the sterling job they’ve done of making the lakeside path clean.
Walk to Sarangkot – From North Lakeside and Sedi Bagar, there are numerous mountain paths leading (uphill of course!) to the hill-top village of Sarangkot. The trek takes about two hours and will elevate you to a height of 1600 metres. You have to pay 50 rupees for the privilege of accessing the view of the mountains from the lookout point on the top of the hill, but on a clear day, it’s worth it!
Walk to the Peace Pagoda – The Peace Pagoda lies on the south side of the lake and you can reach the start of the trek by taxi, rowing boat, or if you feel like a longer walk, on foot. You can catch a boat from lakeside with or with without a rower (for about 400-500 rupees) to the start of the trail, whereupon it will take you about 30 minutes to reach the top. Or, you can walk all the way around the lake to the south side, by crossing the rope bridge by Dam Side and climbing up through the World Peace Pagoda Biodiversity Park.
Go Paragliding – A very popular activity in Pokhara is flying above the lake with views of the Annapurna range (if you’re lucky). You can book your flight in the main town and costs range from $80 USD for a ‘discovery tandem flight’ to $250 USD for an ‘adventure tandem flight’. You can also take courses to learn how to paraglide yourself!
Rent a rowing boat – One of the most relaxing pursuits in Pokhara, you can either rent a boat with a rower, or rent a boat independently and head out into the vast sheen of the lake. See prices below. (Extra 20 rupees for a life jacket.)
Rent a scooter– A ‘scooty’ (as they call them in India and Nepal) will cost you anything from 600 -1000 rupees per day. However, they’re not the best way of getting around if we’re honest. The roads are so bumpy and stony around Pokhara that it’s difficult to get anywhere without doing your body (or the bike) some serious damage from all the shaking. Hiring a proper motorbike (Royal Enfield is always a popular choice) may be a better idea
Rent a mountain bike – You can get a bike for around 300 rupees / day which is a lovely way to explore the area around the lake. If you’re heading up to Sarangkot, expect burning calves!
Visit Begnas & Rupa Lakes – Begnas Tal and Rupa Tal are twin lakes that lie 15 km east of Pokhara. Begnas is the second largest of the eight lakes in the Pokhara Valley and a peaceful alternative to the more developed shores of Phewa Tal. If you like, you can hire paddle boats on Begnas Tal, which can be hired from by the dam behind Begnas Bazaar. To reach the lakes from the bazaar there’s a trail called ‘Panchbhaiya Daada’ which leads up to a ridge that separates the two lakes. Follow the signs to each of the lakes from here. There’s also a fort at Begnaskot, which is worth exploring. To get to the lakes from Pokhara, take the bus from Prithvi Chowk (Pokhara’s main bus station) or get a taxi for around 1000 rupees.
Visit Davis Falls – Unless it’s the height of rainy season, you might find Devis Falls a bit disappointing. Signposted off the main road ‘Siddhartha Rajmarg’ and surrounded by tacky souvenir shops, this (mostly Nepalese) tourist attraction is not your tranquil countryside waterfall. The original name for the falls is Patale Chhango, but the falls became nicknamed as Devis falls (or more accurately Davis Falls) after a Swiss woman called Mrs Davis tragically fell to her death in 1961 while she was swimming with her husband in a rock-pool just up from the falls. The name is often mispronounced as Devi’s Falls, as Devi means Goddess in Nepalese. It costs 50 rupees to enter.
Gupteshwor Mahadev Cave – Just on the opposite side of the road of Devis Falls, you’ll see the entrance way of Gupteshwor Mahadev Cave, advertised as one of the biggest caves in South Asia. Buy a ticket for 100 rupees and make your way down the steps away from the rather bizarre concrete temple that’s been built around the hole in the ground. By far the most impressive part of the cave walk is the finale, as you descend into a cavern where Devis falls is crashing down from above. Light glistens through the cavern and in rainy season, it’s quite a sight – and sound!
Mahendra & Bat Cave – About 10km from Pokhara you’ll find Mahendra Cave, named after the last King of Nepal, as well as the more frightening “Bat Cave”, named after the thousands of horseshoe bats that live there!
Yoga – There are several yoga classes in town, which range in prices for a one to two-hour class. Try Pranamaya, 700 rupees / class or, outside the restaurant “Dejá Vu” they advertise Sports Yoga for 500 rupees.
Shree Yoga & Trekking Retreat – If you’re looking for more of a yoga retreat rather than just a class, Shree Yoga has been highly recommended to us. They offer guided and personalised yoga and meditation retreats as well as guided trekking. Your rather rigorous day will begin at 6.30am with a meditation, followed by neti pot cleansing, followed by yoga, and only then are you allowed breakfast! The owner, Shree will then schedule the rest of the day as you desire, which can include yoga, meditation and treks around the local area, such as the Poon Hill trek.
Do a short Buddhist meditation retreat – Pokhara Buddhist Centre offer a popular weekend course starting at 2.30pm on Friday and finishing on Sunday evening. The course is an introduction to Buddhism and includes teachings on Buddhist history, philosophy, meditation and yoga. There’s also a similar mid-week short course (Tues-Thurs) and daily yoga classes.
Bungee jumping and zip wiring – For the adrenalin seekers amongst you, there’s bunjee jumping on offer and what claims to be ‘Asia’s longest zip-line’ (we’ve heard that before!), but we didn’t try out any of these activities. Because we were scared!
Rafting or kayaking – Head out on a three to five day swashbuckling rafting or kayaking adventure on the nearby Kali Gandaki River. You’ll brave the rapids by day and then camp on beaches in the middle of the mountains at night. Rafting trips can be booked from travel agents in town.
Treks that can be arranged from Pokhara
- Annapurna Sanctuary Trek – 10 days. Difficulty – medium. Mx height – 4,130 metres.
- ABC Trek – 6 to 8 days. Difficulty – medium. Max height – 4,200 metres.
- Annapurna Circuit – 12-15 days. Difficulty – challenging. Max height – 5,416 metres.
- Poon Hill Trek – 3 to 5 days. Difficulty – medium. Max height – 3,210 metres.
- Mardihimal Trek – 5 to 7 days. Difficulty – medium. Max height 4,500 metres.
- Khopra Danda Trek – 7 to nine days. Difficulty – medium. Max height 3,660 metres.
- Upper Mustang Trek – 10 to 12 days. Difficulty – medium. Max height – 4,000 metres.
- Manasulu Trek – 12 to 15 days. Difficulty – medium. Max height – 5,300 metres.
Getting to Pokhara
Tourist Bus – Tourist buses leave between 7am and 8am from Kathmandu daily, at Kantipath, near Thamel. The journey is said to take around seven to eight hours depending on the traffic, weather and road conditions (despite being only 210km away). We can assure you, it might take longer than that. Our outward journey was more like 9 hours, our return took 13! There are around 50 different bus companies operating the Kathmandu to Pokhara service, and prices range from $8 USD to $30 USD. You can buy your bus ticket from any travel agent in Thamel. It’s a good idea to shop around to get the best price. Due to safety concerns, we took the Greenline Tours for our outward journey, which cost around $25 USD. We returned to Kathmandu on one of the other tourist buses, which cost 600 rupees and was every bit as comfortable (our delay on the way back was due to congestion on the road, not our bus)
Local Bus – If you’re wanting a more local experience (or you miss the early morning tourist bus), you can opt for taking the local bus to Pokhara from Kathmandu, though we wouldn’t necessarily recommend it. The buses are often dangerously overcrowded (with goats on the roof, as well as people), they stop in many places along the way (the journey is sometimes estimated at 10 hours, which will inevitably mean more), and the drivers tend to drive much faster than on the tourist buses. Plus, the saving is not that significant, with the cost at just a few dollars less.
Plane – There are more than 10 flights a day from Kathmadu to Pokhara, the journey taking less than 30 minutes. (A far cry from the gruelling 8-hour bus ride!) The cost is a fixed price of $125 USD (for foreigners) or $45 USD for local Nepalese people and Indian people.
Where to go next?
Chitwan National Park – Located in south-central Nepal this World Heritage listed reserve is home to rhinos, giant hornbills, monkeys, leopards, wild elephants, sloth bears, deer, crocodiles and the rare Bengal tiger! Chitwan means ‘heart of the jungle’.
Lumbhini – Lumbhini is the believed to be the birth place of Siddartha Guatama (the Buddha), who was born in 563 BCE to Queen Maya Devi. It is now naturally a popular Buddhist Pilgrimage site.
Kathmandu – If you’re leaving Nepal chances are you’ll need to go back to the Big Smoke to fly out. Buy that pollution mask beforehand and check out our guide to Kathmandu.