There is always something to do in Pokhara. And it doesn’t matter if you’re into walking, extreme sports, shopping or relaxing, there’s a bit of everything here.
The 71st World Peace Pagoda/stupa sits on the top of an 1100 metre peak overlooking the town and lake. It’s a good 35 minute hike to the top (60 minutes if you’re cruising!) You can trek straight up through bush or – my favourite way up – along a small trail that meanders past several homes and gives you amazing views of another valley and river flowing into Pokhara.
The first time I climbed it was in the late afternoon with 4 other volunteers. We arrived at the top only to find the gates closed for the day! A gardener offered to let us in for 200 rupees each but we decided against it. We still got to see some spectacular views of the city and lake, but only limited views of the stupa itself. A quick 25 minute walk down the hill and a funny boat ride (with people who hadn’t rowed a boat before) got us back across the lake to the hub of touristy lakeside.
My second trip to the top was done in early afternoon (stinking hot!) with a Chinese guy – Adam, I’d just met. He had cycled from China to Nepal and was tripping around Pokhara for a few days. This time, the gates were wide open, welcoming us onto the grounds (for free). It was so peaceful on the stupa with 360 degree views over all Pokhara and the surrounding valleys. We met a Taiwanese guy, Pokem, who had just travelled 36 hours by train from India. He was such a hoot and the silence was broken by our stories and laughter!
The boys headed down the road on Pokem’s scooter, while I opted for another boat ride back to lakeside. The lake is lovely and well worth hiring a boat to cruise across to the other side, to go swimming from or just float around enjoying the scenery and clean air for a few hours.
Lakeside is the heart of tourist central with cafes and bars, trekking equipment and guide shops, souvenirs, books, jewellery, clothing and bongs all readily available. It doesn’t feel very Nepalese but it is a great place to hang out with mates, have a quiet coffee or relax for a while.
If you can get up at 4am, a trip up Sarangot to watch the sun come up over the nearly 8000 metre high snow capped peaks is well worth it. A 30 minute cab ride starts the journey around tight winding corners and a brisk walk up uneven stone steps to the roof of someone’s home ends it.
We didn’t just rock on up to someone’s house uninvited. Many people have taken advantage of their fabulous location and offer you tea, coffee, breakfast and souvenirs (for a price) while you watch the sunrise. I could have sat for hours as the scenery changed constantly. Rapidly moving clouds covered and exposed the mountains and valleys, the rising sun cast beautiful orange and yellow streaks across the sky and I could still hear the river bubbling away far below us.
For the active bods around, you can hire a bike and ride around the lake and city. I haven’t done this yet, but I have been walking everywhere, including a crazy 2 hour walk one day. I thought it would only take 1 hour to get to Devi Falls but was proven so wrong!
Devi Falls is really pretty. It’s only 50 metres or so off the main road but feels like you’re in the middle of the bush. It sadly takes its name from that of a lady who drowned there years ago. I’m pretty sure no one would survive a trip down these rapids!
Just across the road are some caves. A circular staircase leads down into the darkness, but then dim lights allow you to see without difficulty. I wandered through the narrow tunnels, quickly coming up against a line of people disappearing into another small opening. When I got there, I was amused. You can pay to be given some weights which you drop into a box, and the stone cow in front of you begins to moo and ‘milk’ flows from her udder. I wasn’t allowed to take any photos so bypassed the option and carried on down underground.
A 2 metre diameter stalagmite graces the centre of a large cave. Built around the stalagmite is another Hindu shrine. The roof was quite low and combined with the shrine, made the whole cave feel quite claustrophobic. Unfortunately, I couldn’t go down to a deeper cave that exited to Devi Falls as the water levels are too high this time of year.
And for a rush of adrenalin, paragliding is well worth it (and cheaper this time of year!) Probably the biggest buzz was just running off the side of a cliff, trusting that the guy strapped to my back knew what he was doing and the glider strapped to him was in good working order! I loved just sitting back, seeing Pokhara and the mountains from yet another vantage point and feeling the effects of gravity as we swooped and soared in the reasonably calm winds. All too soon, the ride was over and we touched down on a narrow strip of grass right next to the lake.
This has probably read a bit like an extended Lonely Planet guide! And I still have a few more places to visit – another lake, central Pokhara town, the bazaar and Mahendra caves. It’s great though to have plenty of sights to see and places to visit so there’s no hope of ever being bored!