Pokhara is an Asian Queenstown, a town that is centered around a beautiful calm lake with a serene mountain backdrop. The still rippled azure horizon of the lake reflects the snow hooded mountains that creep out of the ensnaring mist, slopes of all different sizes and lengths, a horizon that resembles a monitor rate of a heart, jagged and complete. Pokhara attracts a variety of tourists and you can really see the significant differences of interests reflected onto the town. Large groups of tourists stay in exclusive resorts and waddle around, browsing for fake North Face attire, whilst backpackers stay in huts by the Lakeside, passing their time lounging in hammocks sharing stories of travels. Because Pokhara is the starting point for a number of treks, both Annapurna and Everest, this means the town can look as if of the Lake District, shops with mountain and trekking gear are on the parade, with an enormous amount of baker’s. But the money exchange shops, handicraft shops and variety of restaurants gently remind you where in the world you are. There is a vast amount to do in Pokhara, a reason why many stay here and why there is such a large number of expats living here.
If trekking is not for you, then extreme sports is the second most popular option. The sky is constantly dotted with swirling paragliders, floating above the landscape. For those who want to paraglide with a difference, I really couldn’t recommend any more, Para hawking. Watching a video on YouTube of what para hawking entails, spurred my urge to add it to my bucket list and so, is the main reason why I visited Nepal. Para hawking is a combination of paragliding with falconry- as you are floating in the air, trained and rescued vultures come and eat out your hand. The combined experiences of lifting off into the air, carried by the strong power of the wind, marvelling at the landscape of the Phewa Lake and the small villages below your feet, whilst a bird of prey swoops down and glides towards you recovering meat from your hand, is an unforgettable experience. The idea was created by Scott, my pilot (originally from Dagenham), who saw that the vultures were becoming endangered due to certain pesticides being used here in Asia. Scott rescued these two vultures, rehabilitating them and thus, spreading the need to conserve these animals, helping save many other vultures lives. Although not the prettiest or nicest bird, these birds are a necessary element within our food chain- clearing streets and fields of animal corpses so we don’t have too. With para hawking, not only do you have an unforgettable experience, but you help the environment as well.
White water rafting is also advertised at every travel desk there is in town. However, with an activity that involves what could be a potentially dangerous outcome, I like to choose a safe and verified company, (as well as so you know that you will really receive your money’s worth). I booked with Paddle Nepal, who also offers canyoning as well. The trip was two days on the river Marshyangdi, 6 and a half hours in total. Because of the chosen river, the start journey was a 5 hour drive away, which is an incredibly long time to spend on a bus, however, the company does this so you are the only rafters on the river, (unlike other popular options like the river Trusli) and so the experience is more personal. The trip is called “The Mighty Kali”, although there are a number of other choices to choose from. The first day involved a technical partnership of us rafters and the guide, as we cascaded down waterfalls, jumped over rapids, and slammed into rocks. Unfortunately, as I went in march, it means the river is not as high as it should be, so the rapids were only 3/4 not 4/5.
After camping overnight in the grassy bank of schools and dining on a strange combination of western food, we rafted a much smoother course; passing monkeys climbing trees, builders working on bridges in the searing heat, children by the bank shouting “namaste!” and playing in the water, women washing, and men crossing the river by inflatables (!). As the birds chirped around me, the sun warming my neck and the cool droplets of river water drying on my white pasty legs, I sat back and sighed. Moments of calm like this, I will only dream of in the future, when I am surrounded by screaming children, dirty nappies and outstanding utility bills.
Other extreme sports available are Zip lining and Bungee Jumping, (although bungee jumping in Asia terrifies me as I was told a rope of a bungee snapping in Nepal, it may be a traveller story- but I’d rather pass!)
If extreme sports is not for you, there are many other attractions in Pokhara itself. Hire a boat to row you across the lake to the World Peace Pagoda, on top of one of the many mountains where you will be astounded by the beauty and consideration behind creating such a sight. Please follow the signs, respecting the religion and wishes, as many ignorant tourists do not, which spoils the atmosphere. From here, walk down the opposite side of the mountain you came, (try go up from the lake as although steep steps, is a shorter journey rather than the other side), where you can pass Devi Falls and Mahendra Gupha Cave. This limestone cave is a more spectacular sight to see because of the falls gushing down in between a tiny crevice in the cool darkness- so try see this sight if you can.
Other things to do are to head to Nagarkot village for a spectacular sunrise; check out the Gurkha Museum in town as well as it’s Old Bazaar, or catch a local bus to Bewas Lake- a supposedly more beautiful lake and if daring enough, is a nice dip. If you feel like just relaxing, using Pokhara as a Shangri La or paradise after trekking, then here is the place to do so. Browse in the numerous shops lined with furniture and hippie attires (enough to turn a stockbroker into looking like a broke backpacker), or receive a massage by Helping Hands, (an organization aimed to help improve visually impaired and deaf Nepalese people) or wine and dine, munch and lunch in any of Pokhara’s numerous restaurants or bars. A walk or cycle around the lake in the day or night, allows you to see the fluttering butterflies or majestic fireflies, both beautiful in their unique ways. I
decided to run around the lake, (at 6am to beat other tourists and the merging rays of the sun), which allowed me to see various areas and villages around the lake all by myself, which meant a more personal connection to the landscape, watching the sky turn pink and rural life awaken for the day. It really is an incredible 10k run (although hilly and with very little tarmac), however, the views are magnificent. I passed fisherman hoping for a morning catch, eagles snatching their morning catch, weathered and wrinkled women smiling and laughing at my determination and oddness at choosing to do exercise. I passed luminous green paddy fields and morning fog that encircled mountains. It was memorizing. After nearly 3 months of no running, I am a little sore to say the least, although I now plan to run in every country I go to. Unfortunately with the lake, you can’t actually go around the entire way, only halfway and back again, but pair this with a run along the front of lake side and it is a good path.
There are so many restaurants to choose from, some smart, others with chill out music or lazy chairs and odd mismatch furniture. Restaurants I recommended are: Buzz Reggae bar for its Jerk Chicken dishes- and great cocktails, Fire Oven Pizza– says it all really, Everest Steak House for their rum inflamed steak, Rainforest Cafe for its Nepali Fish and Taal Resto and Bar for its Thali (best thali in Nepal hands down).
As I journeyed in and out of Pokhara, after my trek and a white water rafting trip, I remained a while here. Hotel KhuKuri in the centre of town gave me a Nepalese price of 500 rupees for a single bed room, although the rooms are a bit rough around the edges- broken plugs and peeling walls, the location and the staffs overwhelming kindness to help you, makes it a reasonable choice. I moved further down the lake away from the commotion of town to Freedom Cafe, (a good restaurant and bar that has live music and little alcoves to disappear into), bungalows on the lake side with hammocks are 800 rupees. Otherwise, opposite from here is Bishnu Lodge that has the same basic style of room with a shared bathroom, but with a view of the greenery within the guest house for 300 rupees. Other recommendations of guest houses are banana lodge, or any other guest houses behind 3 sisters trekking.