Often perceived as the indigent cousin of India, Nepal is far from being one. In fact, it has a wealth of charming villages, incredible mountain scenery, centuries-old pagodas, monastries and temples, interesting museums, backpacker-friendly streets and gorgeous national parks waiting to be explored. And which is probably why it is difficult to pack everything in one trip!
During our recent jaunt to Nepal, my husband and I decide to explore Pokhara at a relaxed pace, thus delving deeper in the traditional mountain life of the lakeside town.
Nepal can feel a bit overwhelming at first. “Chaos!” is the only word that comes to our mind when we get off the plane and arrive at Kathmandu airport. Moreover, rushing to make it in time for our connecting flight to Pokhara, having our luggage put on the wrong plane and missing our flight has us sweating under stress. However, a couple of hours and conversations later, we realise that one must be patient and ready to go with the flow in order to enjoy a culturally-rich and scenically-spectacular destination like Nepal.
Delays and disorders aren’t a rare phenomenon here! However, there are solutions and happy endings just around the corner provided you are prepared to ask for help and not too hung up on deadlines.
On a cloudy afternoon, we are enjoying the drive towards The Pavilions Himalayas, a resort nestled in a tranquil valley setting alongside a meandering river, near Chisapani village in Pokhara.
Prayer wheels line the wall at the entrance of the property and set the tone perfectly. We instantly feel a sense of peace.
Having dumped our luggage in a spacious, high-ceilinged Nepalese-style villa, all we need is some unwinding by the infinity pool with a view.
Our first evening in Nepal is spent admiring the majestic Annapurna mountains and forested hills while floating in the pool and sipping on locally-brewed Gorkha beer at intervals.
Pokhara is also the view point for the 6997-metre, glistening Machhapuchhre, aka Fish Tail mountain, one of the virgin mountains that has never been conquered.
Early morning walks around Chisapani village are delightful. Acres of farmland dotted with typical Nepalese houses, buffaloes, cows, goats and chickens resting in their tin-roofed sheds, dramatic blue skies, chirping birds and locals sluggishly preparing to begin their day. The slight dampness in the weather and the soothing petrichor that are a result of the midnight downpour uplift my mood.
After a hearty breakfast and a glass of lassi smoothie (yogurt-based drink popular in Nepal), I am ready to head out to the Old town, situted north of the buzzing Mahendra Pul. Exploring the sleepy, traffic-free streets on foot, I am passing Newari houses constructed using red bricks and boasting ornately-carved wooden windows, similar to those in Kathmandu. A local points out the fact that Pokhara old town, which is located between Tibet and Kathmandu, was a major route for trade and commerce 300 years ago. The 200-year-old Bhimsen Temple known for its erotic carvings and the ancient Bindhya Basini Temple are the religious sites you can visit when touring this historic part of Pokhara.
At Devi’s Falls
The next stop, Davis Falls or Devi’s Falls (as known locally), is a rather unusual fall, and a landmark in Pokhara. Located 2 km south-west of Pokhara airport, on the highway to Tansen, the waterfall is named after a Swiss woman Mrs Davis who was once pulled by the current of the waterfall. What makes it unique is the fact that it creates a 500 ft long underground tunnel as it reaches the bottom.
Across the road from the falls is Gupteshwar Gupha, a cave home to a Shiva Lingam which was accidentally discovered by two locals. Clambering through the tunnel behind the shrine, one arrives in a damp cavern adjacent to the thundering waters of Devi’s Falls. The gupha is a natural wonder in the truest sense!
For a change of landscape, I decide to spend the remaining two nights at The Pavilions Lakeview Tented Villas – a secluded tented villa perched above Phewa Lake and surrounded by cascading rice fields. It’s a wonderful opportunity to reconnect with nature minus the hassles of traditional camping.
However, getting to my villa is an adventure in itself. It requires crossing the tranquil lake by a brightly-painted doonga (old-fashioned paddle boat) followed by a short hike through a curved mountain trail.
Blanketed by lavender water hycinths, the misty Phewa has a subtle emerald hue due to the surrounding lush-green fields and forests. Away from the touristy end of the shore, I can listen to the rhythmic paddles of the boatsmen and see school children rowing to their homes as well as fishermen at work with their nets.
Soaring high above snow-covered mountains, paragliders seem like tiny, vibrant birds, experiencing the thrill that comes with flying.
Local buses ply around lakeside and are fun to travel in. I am crooning some popular Bollywood songs from the 90s as the bus driver prefers to play a specially-curated playlist featuring his favourites.
A hippie heaven, Lakeside Pokhara is perfect for a stroll on one of the evenings when you wish to go souvenir shopping or simply grab a table at a cafe and enjoy a plate of momos (Tibetan-style dumplings) with Himalayan tea or freshly-ground, organic coffee with pastries and croissants.
The entire street is packed with chic restaurants, bakeries and watering holes; leaving you spoilt for choice. From religious shops selling Hindu and Buddhist paraphernalia as well as brass items, trekking and camping gear outlets, small corner boutiques selling cotton clothing, shawls, embroidered bags and dainty silver jewellery to stores displaying a range of hookahs, cigars and khukuris (gurkha knife), there’s something for everyone. Whatever you choose to buy, remember to put the art of haggling to use!
Tip: In the mood to sample authentic local cuisine? Order a Nepali thali that consists of dal-bhat-tarkari, which means pulses, rice and vegetables served in a big copper plate with some freshly-prepared chutneys and pickles.
TOP 5 MUST DOS
– Hike up to The World Peace Pagoda or Shanti Stupa. Getting to the Buddhist monument from lakeside is a good half-day excursion. The hike takes you through paddy fields and quaint villages. If you don’t wish to hike, you can also take a taxi and do a short walk to the pagoda.
– Pokhara has everything for an adrenaline junkie. Go paragliding, bungee jumping, ziplining, river rafting or be rewarded with the heavenly scenery in an ultralight flight. Pokhara is also a gateway to some of the most beautiful treks.
– Visit the International Mountain Museum that is devoted to the the mountaineers who climbed country’s renowned mountains. On display is original gear from many of the first Himalayan adventures, as well as interesting information on the history and culture of the ethnic groups of Nepal. The Gurkha Museum, located just north of Mahendra Pul, celebrates the achievements of the Gurkha regiments and gurkhas awarded with the Victoria Cross medal. Learn all about the role of gurkhas in 19th-century Indian Uprising, World Wars as well as current-day disputes.
– A 40-minute bumpy taxi ride from Pokhara, Sarangkot is a great spot to see the sunrise over the Annapurna and Fishtail mountains. Try to get there 20 minutes before sunrise. At dawn and dusk, you can see the sun working its magic on the peaks, turning them from a purple-pink to a celestial gold.
WHERE TO STAY:
The Pavillions Himalayas is an eco-sensitive, mountain resort that introduces you to rustic, laid-back Pokhara. The use of local textiles and artworks gives your stay a classic Nepalese touch. Alternatively, opt for their lake-view, tented villas to be surrounded by wilderness. A great way to capture the essence of getting back to nature.
HOW TO GET THERE:
Pokhara is 200 km away from Kathmandu and can be reached in six hours by road. Alternatively, you can also take a quick 30-minute flight with Yeti Airlines that operates daily flights to Pokhara.
TIP: Try to sit on the right-hand side of the plane for mesmerising views of the Annapurna Range on your way back.
1 Nepalese Rupee = 0.63 Indian Rupee. However, Indian currency is widely accepted everywhere in Nepal.
Indians have a visa-free entry to Nepal. However, always make sure to carry your passport with you.
LUXURY IN A BUDGET:
Wish to plan a luxury trip without hurting your pocket? Escapes Club (Luxury Escapes) offers great value deals for various destinations including Nepal. Depending on your whether you’re planning a family getaway, a romantic escape or a solo luxury trip, you can choose from their range of fabulous partner resorts, homes, villas and cruises. Moreover, Luxury Escapes offers complete packages including flights, meals, stay as well as experiences. Ideal for people who wish to enjoy a unique, once-in-a-lifetime holiday minus the hassle of planning one!