“At the lake Fewa falls the reflection of Mount Fishtail; life is like the cold dry sandy banks of Seti without your love.”
• Population: 200000
• Elevation: 700-1100 meters
• Distance from Kathmandu: 200 kms
• Major Connectivity: Road and Air
• Ethnic Composition: Gurungs, Bahuns Chettris, Dalits, Magars, Newars, Muslim, and ethnic Tibetans
• Religion: Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, and Christianity
• Economy: Tourism, overseas remittances, agriculture, trade and manufacturing
• Natural Sights: Mountains, lakes, caves, gorges, and canyons
Pokhara is one of Nepal’s most idyllic cities. Its natural beauty and charm continues to inspire poets and songwriters for many years now. The mountains, caves, gorges, rivers, and lakes have been poetically linked to wide range of state of human emotions.
In the medieval times Pokhara served as an important transit on the Tibet-Indo trade. Then, caravan of mules ferrying highland salt reached the town of Pokhara on the way to the towns in the Indian plains. Similarly, the traders from South ferried grains and cooking oil destined for the arid highlands. Over time this tradition contributed significantly to the growth of Pokhara.
Prior to the conquest of modern State of Nepal, Kaski, the area surrounding Pokhara valley, was one of the important principalities. Unfortunately, only few archeological remnants of those times have survived unlike the historical structures of the same period in Patan, Kathmandu, and Bhaktapur.
Natural beauty and charm makes up for Pokhara’s lack of sites of historical significance. It is Nepal’s largest city from where three of the over 8000 meters high mountains can be viewed at a close proximity for almost eight months a year. Rising from an elevation of 700-1100 meters the nature gifted caves, lakes, gorges, and canyons fascinates any nature lover.
The people and lifestyle makes Pokhara more incredible. Although home to Gurungs and Magars, two indigenous ethnic peoples with a gallant history, Pokhara’s demographic composition also speaks for its celebrated multiculturalism and diversity; where Dalits and Brahmans, Muslims and Hindus, and ethnic Tibetans and Christians have peacefully existed for over half a century. It is also here that the forces of modern globalization have existed side by side an age old cultural tradition firmly grounded in the medieval past. Only a short hike into the villages reveals the simple lifestyle that has sustained and survived for centuries.
Largely an agrarian one Pokhara’s economy in the recent times has diversified into services, trade and some manufacturing. Tourism and remittances from foreign employment have clearly emerged as lucrative sectors.
There are accounts of visits by outsiders to Pokhara as early as the mid 1800s. However, the first meaningful contact with the foreigners began only after the kingdom was officially opened in the fifties. In the early days, westerners primarily volunteered in and around Pokhara working closely with the communities in the areas of health and education. The flower people arrived in the 70s paving the way for modern tourism springing up small lodges and teashops along the south bank of the lake. The modern era of tourism began in the late 80s after the opening of acclaimed trekking routes such as the Annapurna Sanctuary and Annapurna Circuit. Since then, large hotels, restaurants, bars, shops selling trekking gears, books, souvenirs and banks have opened to cater about 200,000 visitors each year.
Places of Interest
Devi’s fall & Gupteshwor Cave
Devi’s or David’s fall (Patalé Chango in Nepali) is a lovely waterfall in the city’s southern edge. Legends have it that a lady by the name was swept into the waterfall never to be discovered again. In early years since the waterfall began to attract visitors, the nearby area was sparsely populated and much of the waterfall site was unattended. In the recent years, the conservation efforts to protect the waterfall and its premises are underway. The latest facelift around the waterfall is a testimony of ongoing conservation initiative.
Although the waterfall is open to visitors throughout the year, the best time to visit is during the monsoon season when the floodgate of the Fewa lake barrage is opened to ease the water level. The rushing flow of water through the narrow moraine canyon into the deep ground hole forms a spectacular site.
The all new look of the waterfall comes with a landscaped garden, a wishing well, and a model Nepali countryside home perched on top of the waterfall for visitors to sit and relax.
Just across the highway from the Devi’s fall is the famous Gupteshwor cave. This underground cavity is quite a fascinating occurrence for its close proximity to the waterfall. What appears to be a narrow entrance to the cave balloons up inside to form a first wide platform housing a temple of lord Shiva. A further down the stairs and through a narrow passage leads to the main cavity with high walls aligned closed to wet stalagmites and stalactites. About 25 meters beyond this point is the main drop zone of the Devi’s waterfall after sinking in the ground. On any given day this underground spectacle is fascinating for it remained profoundly mysterious until it was explored by the locals.
Pokhara sprawls around the turquoise waters of Phewa Lake. It is the second largest lake in the Kingdom and offers exciting boating and fishing opportunities. Many hotels, restaurant and handicrafts shops are located along its eastern shore and it is the favorite hangout for adventure travellers.
Located towards the southern end of the town, Devi’s fall is an awesome bottomless fissure in the ground into which the waters of Phewa Lake disappear in a thunderous roar.
The Seti Gandaki River that flows left through the centre of the city is another remarkable natural attraction. The river’s fierce and the deep gorege carved by it make for an amazing sight.
Situated at an altitude of 1,343 m. Tansen is the most popular summer resort in western Nepal on account of its position and climate. It has the most extensive view of the country’s chief attraction, the Himalaya from Dhaulagiri in the west to Gaurishankar in the northeast. It takes just seven hours by bus from Pokhara to reach Tansen.
Museums in Pokhara
Gurkha Memorial Museum
Open to the general public in July 2005, the Gurkha Memorial is one of Pokhara’s newest museums. A brainchild of and operated by the Gurkha Memorial Trust, the museum is a noble undertaking to conserve and promote the gallant history of the famous Gurkhas. The museum exhibits in display are categorized into a Historical gallery; Gurkha infantry regiment gallery, Gorkhas gallery, and Gurkha specialist/corps unit gallery. There is also a theatre room and a library specializing in a rich archive of documentaries, books, and publications relevant to the history of Gurkhas.
There are several interesting collections in the museum including a royal truncheon from the early 20th century, traditional Gurkha weaponry, 19th and 20th century British Gurkha army gears and insignias, and pictorial overviews of each Gurkha regiments since the forging of allegiance with Britain in 1815.
The museum is open to visitors from 8am-4:30pm daily. Entry fees are 150 for tourists and 80 for SAARC nationals. The museum also offers guided tours, refreshments, and an all exclusive Gurkha merchandise booth.
International Mountain Museum
Sprawling over 13 acres of idyllic lush green landscape the International Mountain Museum is one of the must see while in Nepal. Established by Nepal Mountaineering Association in early 2004 the museum was conceived with an idea to work towards promoting the understanding of the mountains, its people and culture, flora and fauna, and the proud mountaineering history.
The first section of the museum features the mountain peoples from Nepal and other countries and their lifestyle portrayed through the clothes, crafts, utensils and models. The second section has mountain rocks, geological specimens and old and new posters on display. The last section consists of the display of tools and equipments used by famous mountaineers including Junko Tabei, the first woman to summit Everest.
The museum provides free tour guides and documentary shows throughout the day. The Buddhist prayer room inside the main building also features periodic worships by monks, an age old tradition of many ethnic groups of Nepal’s Himalayas.
There is a 31 feet model of Mt. Manaslu and a quad faced climbing wall for outdoor indulgence. The cafe, souvenir shop, and resting sheds overlooking the Annapurna range make IMM one of the most peaceful places in Pokhara. IMM opens daily and occasionally hosts special events.
Annapurna Natural History Museum
One of Pokhara’s oldest the Annapurna Natural History Museum inside Prithivi Narayan College is one of many early grassroots initiative to help provide learning opportunities to the students, people of Pokhara and its surrounding areas to learn about nature, flora and fauna, and the world beyond their neighbourhood.
Established by Dorothy Mierow in 1965, the museum showcases flora and fauna of Nepal, rare samples of “Saligrams” and mineral rocks specimens, butterflies of the Annapurna region, and an impressive collection of stuffed birds from the region including the rare Spiny Babbler.
Monasteries and Temples
The places of worship for both Buddhists and Hindus are of special importance in Pokhara. There are always grand worships or regular rituals taking place round the year. Buddhist monasteries are scattered throughout Pokhara valley and surrounding. The Jangchub Choeling Monastery of the Kagyu tradition lies in Hemja. Nearby at Yamdi lies the Sakya monastery. There is also a community Buddhist Ritual Center under the patronage of Gelug lamas.
The temple and shrine of Bindabasini in the Old Bazar enclave is one the most popular temples of Devi, the Hindu goddess. The main temple is situated on a hillock covered by a forest grove and is accessible by a wide hand-cut stone stairs. The most ideal time to visit the temple is during the Hindu festival of Dasain.
Places to Eat
Caffé Concerto and Jazz Bar
Since 1997, Caffé Concerto and Jazz bar has established itself as a prominent eatery for Italian cuisine and Jazz music in Pokhara. The restaurant is situated left next to the main gate of Ratna mandir, the summer palace of the former kings of Nepal.
Caffé Concerto offers alfresco and indoor dining experience amidst a semi rustic theme in stone, wood, Bhaktapur terracotta, cane and wrought iron. The breezy unwalled seating in the second floor facing the legendary Banyan trees, lake and the palace gate is an ideal place to beat the heat of Pokhara’s warm summer evenings.
Over the past four years Caffé Concerto is gradually reforming to an all Italian specialty restaurant. Indeed the proprietors, Basanta and his wife from Venice put meticulous effort to maintain the food as authentically Italian as possible. The herbs, cheese, pasta, organic vegetables, wines and liquor are either local organic produce or imported. What really puts the restaurant in the culinary map of Pokhara is the rich variety of oven fresh pizzas and home-made Gelato. Indeed, there are over 18 varieties of pizzas to choose from.
The café is a perfect place for an afternoon coffee and soothing sound of Jazz.
Since 1969 the restaurant at Fish Tail lodge is one of Pokhara’s finest. Ideally situated at the western tip of the peninsula and reached on the hotel’s private floats or boats, the rotunda dining hall offers unmatched view of the lake and mount Fish Tail.
The rotunda indoor air-conditioned dining comfortably seats 90 people. The use of traditional materials including jute, thatch bamboos, and cane combined with hand cut stone floors and wood pillars add to the charm and warmth of the restaurant. During winter, the central fireplace and the sun-kissed lawns upfront the rotunda offer a warm cosy dining experience.
The kitchen at Fish Tail specializes in Muglai along with Chinese and Continental delights on both ala carte and buffet basis. The regular three meal daily buffet starts at 7am with breakfast, midday lunch, and ends with the last dinner servings at 9 pm. The restaurant also features sandwiches, snacks and pastries for the afternoon high tea. The last order must be made by 9:30pm. The “fresh grilled fish” is their signature dish. The bar, also nestled inside the rotunda, is a smart and minimally lit with long counter chairs and sleek rosewood counter tops. The succulent Margaritas and hosts of imported liquors and brews form the list of what the bar has to offer.
The lodge also hosts annual gala dinners on Valentine’s Day, Christmas, and New Years. For details on the timings and prices it is advised to contact the lodge.
In a nutshell, the restaurant at Fish Tail offers guests and patrons the charm of dining at a small resort with impeccable hospitality standards. Since 2001, all profits generated by Fish Tail go to “Heart Aid” that provides free cardiac care to the needy Nepalese. This legendary restaurant caters both the house guests and outside patrons. For outside patrons, Fish Tail recommends prior reservation from September till May. Fish Tail accepts all major credit cards.
One of Pokhara’s long standing café with a jubilant history Moondance is the coolest dining spot in town. Initially started as a thatched joint in the early 90s, the café now seats 120 people in its renovated new setup since 1999.
The food at Moondance is mostly an eclectic assortment of North American and Continental with some Indian and East Asian specialties. For late afternoon appetizing or if you are looking for something light try Hummus platter and seasonal smoothies.
The fresh fish dishes and steaks are round the year feature at Moondance. Besides, its acclaimed signature dish, the succulent “lemon grilled chicken” enjoys wider culinary fanfare amongst the expats and returning patrons. These meats go perfectly well with a select collection of French Sauvignon, Australian Shiraz, and varieties of others from Chilean and South African vineyards carefully picked by Moondance for its patrons.
From Crepes to pies and cakes, the desserts are a real treat at Moondance. The Lemon Meringue Pie and Macchapuchre kiss are worth a special mention.
Coffee and Wi-Fi internet are two latest additions to Moondance. The coffee is brewed using local organic Arabica beans roasted and ground with extra care to keep intact the aroma and flavor. There is also a pool table and board games.
Koto is Pokhara’s only specialty Japanese restaurant. Quietly nestled on a rooftop, Koto offers both open air and cozy indoor seating with a Japanese style open kitchen.
Koto opens for lunch and dinner and major credit cards are accepted.
Bistro Carolina in central Lakeside is one of Pokhara’s only French specialty restaurants. The restaurant offers a relaxed bistro feel with its simple yet elegant alfresco and indoor dining area. Established during the tourism bubble of late nineties, the restaurant since then enjoys a sustained reputation as being one of Pokhara’s immaculately finest diners.
Bistro’s all European menu draws in exotic ingredients such as Norwegian Salmon, Tiger Shrimps, and organic quail. French Onion soup and corn chips with hot salsa are bistro’s special starters over a few rounds of exquisite cocktails. The popular entrées include “Poulet au Gingembre” ginger chicken with sesame served with rice; “Steak au poivre ou la moutarde”, tenderloin steak with a choice of mustard or pepper sauce. The vegans may choose from Moussaka, a mush of baked aubergine with melted cheese and cream served with pasta salad with fresh pesto dressing. Wine is another delight at the bistro. The menu features a rich variety of French wines both Blanco and Rouge.
The bistro opens for lunch and dinner. VISA and MasterCard are accepted.
Things to Do
Pokhara is home to two world class 9 hole golf courses. The Himalayan Golf Club and the Yeti Golf Club at Fulbari Resort and Spa are popular for its charm and challenge.
Golf was introduced in Pokhara in the mid 90s by a group of retired British Gurkha officers who developed a taste for the sport while serving in the United Kingdom.
The Himalayan Golf Club established in 1995 is Nepal’s first entirely private investment led golf course. Similarly, the Yeti Golf Club is also owned and managed by Fulbari Resort. There is also a driving range closely located to the popular lakeside. The Himalayan golf club is located in the Grand Bijaypur River Canyon. The club house and two greens are perched 250 feet above on top of the canyon, while rest of the course including a fascinating 585 yards island green lies at the bottom. The third hole is played from the top of the canyon to the green 150 feet below. This naturally peculiar course design makes a round of golf at Himalayan one of the most challenging in the country. The club is a host to the annual Surya Nepal Western Open. The club house at Yeti is equipped with a billiard table and offers range of spa services. Golf patrons can also enjoy the services at one of the many restaurants at Fulbari.
Pokhara offers the only ultra-light flying experience in Nepal. Since 1997, Avia Club Nepal, a pioneer in ultra-light air sports and recreation, operates flights out of the Pokhara Regional Airport.
From the 15 minutes “Fly for fun” to half an hour “Glory of Mt. Fishtail”, the ultra-light flying is a great way to see the Pokhara valley and its surrounding. The fleet of five Rotax 582 aircrafts rises to an elevation of 5000 meters thus allowing the passengers to get a close glimpse of the majestic Annapurna and Fishtail. The aircrafts are certified for “air worthiness” in compliance with the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal standards and is fully insured. Avia Club is also a member of Fédération Aéronautique Internationale in Geneva.
Ultra-light flying with Avia Club Nepal in Pokhara is widely endorsed and eminent personalities have had the joy of ultra light flying in the past one decade of its operation. Although Pokhara valley offers 10 months of good flying weather condition, September to May are the best in terms of mountain visibility The flights run from early morning till late afternoon and the “sunset on Annapurna” is highly recommended by the pilots. Patrons can choose either open or close cabin aircrafts and the mandatory basic safety accessories are included in the fare. Besides, Avia Club also provides in flight photographs and video upon request as well as personally tailored flights.
Avia Club Nepal accepts all standard modes of payment including VISA, MasterCard and Traveller’s Cheque. All tariffs are inclusive of all applicable government taxes.
Pokhara is home to Nepal’s paragliding pioneers. First started by an Italian mountaineer while descending down the slope, today, the adventure sport has become a popular activity and a reason to visit Pokhara.
The charm of paragliding in Pokhara lies in the unique geography, weather condition, and an unsurpassed intimacy with the birds of prey, the natural thermal guides that have inspired paragliding’s flying principles.
Since 1998, Sunrise Paragliding, the pioneers of the sport in Pokhara, along with two new companies operates tandem flights on a daily basis for about 10 calendar months a year. The take off is from Sarangkot (1500 m) and depending on thermal availability rises to an elevation of 1800-3000m. On a clear day three peaks above 8000m can be viewed followed by neatly terraced farms and country life below. The landing just by the lake adds to the thrill of the experience. Paragliding is also a great way to view birds of prey who share the same flying space. The 9 feet wing spanned “Lammergeier” and the Himalayan Griffon Vultures are some rare species that are sighted during the flight.
Paragliding as a sport in Pokhara has maintained a high safety record. The basic safety gears are provided prior to take off for any age group with a normal fitness level. Besides the regular flight types offered by the companies, tailored flights are also arranged with prior consultation.
Pokhara’s paragliders also host the Nepal Open Paragliding Championship in January each year. 2008 marked the ninth successive championship with over 90 athletes from 20 countries vying for the trophy.
Traditional ethnic cultural show is a lively way to spend the evening with friends over sumptuous dinner and drinks. Pokhara valley and the surrounding is a home to some of Nepal’s most hospitable and culturally rich indigenous ethnic people. The Gurungs and Magars are popular for their amicable singing and dancing in their gaudy ethnic attire. Mostly conducted in their own dialects these songs have traditionally been part of the culture and reflect their way of life.
Another attraction is “dohori”. This singing bout usually between a group of male and female singers demands high degree of adroit spontaneity in structuring the verses. The singing usually follows a melody that is sustained throughout until one side loses to respond in a meaningful manner. Generally, the tone is high pitched and the mood upbeat. Dohori bars are scattered all over the city.
Hotel Lakeview offers nightly cultural show at its serene tropical garden. Beautifully located at Gaurighat, the eastern stretch of the lake forms an unhindered backdrop for the garden setting that comfortably seat 200 people. The main attraction include, “Ghatu dance”, “Lakhe dance”, “Panché baja” and “Shahanai recitation”. The kitchen at Lakeview specializes in North American style grills although popular Indian, Chinese, and Continental cuisine are also served on ala carte basis. The bar is well stocked with most spirits and an amazing collection of French and Italian wines. Lakeview also hosts sumptuous buffet during peak season months, beginning October-April, at its new Balinese pavilion and prior reservation is recommended. The show begins at 6:30 pm during winter and 7pm in summer. Lakeview accepts VISA and MasterCard.
Places to Shop
Far from the convenience and sleekness of glitzy malls, shopping in Pokhara is an entirely unique indulgence. Pokhara’s three different shopping districts provide unmatched perspective in lifestyle from an almost medieval old bazaar that still enjoys the status of a supply lifeline to many villages and towns, burgeoning modern city centre, and a tourist friendly shopping at Lakeside.
The Old Bazar
The narrow lane from Bagar to Nalamukh in the old quarter is where trade and commerce flourished first in Pokhara. Until modern urbanization began two decades ago, this formed the central supplies lifeline to many of surrounding villages and faraway towns hitherto untouched by roads and modern means of communication. An eclectic mix of traders including the famed Newars, Thakalis, and Mustangis traded salt, oil, herbs, utensils, wool, rugs, grains, spices, condiments, clothes, and farming tools. In the medieval period, Pokhara also served as a transit in the Indo-Tibet salt trade conduit.
Old bazar houses some of Pokhara’s oldest buildings. These buildings are still inhabited and preserved by Newar families and reflect rich architectural aesthetics of the early Pokhara period. Today, many of these old mud brick and tile houses are rapidly being replaced by modern concrete structures. Yet, the charms of the trade practices have successfully survived in the narrow dark compartments of the surviving old buildings. Many shops still sell goods sold as early as a half a century ago. The lifestyle of the old bazaar in itself is a unique sight. One can view Newar sweet makers prepare sun-dried delicacies, traditional ration shops, opulent cloth and craft stores and gaudy jeweler stores.
Other places of attraction in the Old Bazar are the shrine of Bindabasini Mai and the annual Dashain Chyangra Festival.
Things to buy: Local Handicrafts and pots, traditional spices, woollen rugs, bridal gold ornaments.
The hundreds of shops at either side of the Lakeside street stretch is an excellent place to bargain and shop. Since the first tourist friendly shops sprang up on tiny stalls twenty years ago, shopping here has really come off age. A large majority of shops sell trekking related goods. Others sell books, maps, CDs, Thankas, embroidered clothing, Tibetan antiques, gems and stones, silk, rugs, cameras and films, and anything one can possibly ask for. The traders come from everywhere including Kashmir, Tibet, China, Europe, and Kathmandu. Besides, the lakeside is also dotted with other service providers such as internet shops, travel and trekking agencies, communication centres and ATMs.