Do you love good food? Do you love meeting new and interesting people? Do you love nature, spectacular views, and hiking or trekking? Do you love the convenience of a tourist town, with a laid-back vibe that allows you to feel like a local in a matter of days? Then Pokhara, Nepal is for you.
Absolute bliss. That is exactly what I felt as I stepped off the tourist bus, after spending 8 hours winding my way along the mountainous roads which brought me from the dusty capitol city of Kathmandu to the lakeside town of Pokhara, Nepal. After previously spending 21 days in India, Nepal was a breath of fresh air, and Pokhara seemed like paradise.
I came to the city with absolutely no idea what I was in for, but I quickly realized that Pokhara is the type of place that is full of possibilities. Whether you come for a weekend, or for weeks on end, you can happily pass day after day in this little lakeside paradise, or branch out and see the surrounding mountains and lakes.
Arriving in Pokhara:
From the Tourist Bus stop, you will need to take a taxi into town; it’s walk-able, but with a big bag or suitcase, you will be much happier to pay the 200-250 rupees and save your walking for when you’re exploring around the town.
The town is basically divided into two parts- Central Lakeside and North Lakeside. The Central area is a bit more upscale, more for vacationers, while North Lakeside is more budget backpacker style. I visited Pokhara twice during my month in Nepal, the first time staying in Central Lakeside, and the second time staying in North Lakeside. Both are wonderful, but in all honesty, I much preferred North Lakeside. There is more character all around- from the streets, to the restaurants, to the people- and you get a lot more for your money. There are many “Guesthouses” all around, so if you get let out around Sabina’s Momos or Wheat to Sweet Bakery, you can start to walk and ask around. On the North side of town, $10 for a room is a *splurge*. For instance, I stayed in the Guesthouse Tri Shatki Buddha, which has an amazing rooftop view of the lake, and provides private rooms with their own bathroom and hot shower included for only $3 a day… You really can’t beat that!
If you would rather stay in Central Lakeside, just ask the taxi to let you out there, and start looking around for a hotel. Pokhara is a full of places to stay. My first time I stayed in Pokhara I was at a place just up the road from Once Upon a Time Restaurant and for $40 a night I had a room very similar to my $3 room, only with a large living room area and an included breakfast…but wouldn’t you rather explore the different restaurants and choose the food you want, rather than eat from a semi-warm buffet??
Eating in Pokhara:
There are so many restaurants it’s hard to decide where to go. From my experience, you probably can’t go wrong with any of them, but a few of my favorites are as follows:
Europa Restaurant – it’s a small restaurant boasting the “best burgers” in town, but I happened to go there for breakfast…and it was a-mazing. Their spanish breakfast alone has a portion which is generous enough for two people, and it costs less than $3. I seriously could have eaten there morning, noon and night. The seating area is very limited, as the space is attached to the kitchen and house, and oftentimes the owners’ kids will help take your order or count back your change.
Flying Spirit– it kind of has a shack look about it, but as you step down from the street and into this little restaurant you are greeted with a beautiful view of the lake, a cozy seating area, and hand-written menus with drawings and quotes from patrons added in on the back pages. I tried the spinach and cheese momos, and the falafel, and both were the best I had eaten in my entire time in Nepal.
Freedom Cafe– from the outside, this place doesn’t look like much. It has a simple, green, average looking sign depicting it’s name, but when you enter it’s as if you’re stepping into a tree-house hut wonderland, complete with live music and a wide variety of mouth-watering food options. This is the type of place where you will want to go again, and again, and again… I had a perma-smile on my face the entire time as I sat cross-legged on cushions, swaying with the music and savoring every bite of my veg enchilada.
Perky Beans Cafe– This cafe is in Central Lakeside, making it a bit more pricey, but the honey latte I received here was so out-of-this-world good that I had to go back for more… They also have wifi and a prime view of the main street, so you can sit and people watch while you sip on an afternoon latte.
Maya Restaurant– Maya actually means “love” in Nepali, but the decor of this restaurant had masks which reminded me of the ancient Mayan culture. Located in Central Lakeside, the restaurant has dark exposed wooden beams and a fireplace in the center of the top floor, which they kindly started up for us when a cold rain storm blew in. If you sit in the top patio area, you can look out on the street and people watch, which is fun, and if you sit more towards the center you can enjoy the music- sometimes they even have a live Nepali band playing.
Adventuring Around Pokhara:
At the beginning of your stay, pass half a day walking the waterfront of Phewa (Fewa) Lake. Stop to have a drink in one of the little bamboo cafes along the way, or grab a fresh-squeezed juice from one of the food huts. There are several places with Bob Marley or Beatles themes, so even if you don’t stop for a break you will hear their music drifting along with the breeze.
Spend the other half of your day exploring the smaller streets off the “main drag” of the city. Here you will find a few stores where you can make your own arts and crafts, and it helps support the local Nepali people. It is a great opportunity to spend some time with locals and learn their about their culture and their trades. One such place is called Backstreet Academy, and another place specifically run by Nepali women was called Kriayt.
Another fun way to spend a day is to rent a boat and paddle across to the base of a trail where you can hike up to the World Peace Pagoda. This is a fun way to see Fewa Lake from a different perspective, and to also enjoy a short 45 minute hike up to the beautiful Peace Pagoda. Spend some time reflecting on the and soaking in the views along the way, and maybe even stay for a tea at the top.
If you would like to see a less modern version of Pokhara, catch a bus, or take a taxi to Old Pokhara where you can spend a few hours walking around and seeing the “local” side of things. You won’t find many tourists, but as you meander the streets from temple to temple you will get a taste of the normal Nepali life.
Pokhara is also known for paragliding, and at any given moment you can look up in the sky and see dozens of paragliders soaring through the air near the mountains. You can look into details in many shops located on the main street through town. They even have certain companies where a hawk will fly by you to help find the best air currents.
If you’re up for a bit of an adventure, rent a mo-ped, only $6 a day, and take a short 30 minute cruise to the nearby Begnas Lake. Here you can also walk around the lake, or rent a boat and paddle to the middle, then take a quick swim. It is fun to get out of Pokhara and see a more local side of the Nepali culture as you make your way through the towns and villages on the way to the lake.
Hiking and Trekking Around Pokhara:
Many people come to Pokhara to use it as a starting point for a trek. This is great because Pokhara has all you need in order to prepare for a trek through the Himalayas. There are hundreds of stores lining the streets where you can rent clothing, sleeping bags, trekking poles, and sometimes even boots, and whatever you can’t rent, you can buy. Always remember to try and bargain a little bit, but the prices are already so reasonable it’s hard to complain. On the outskirts of Pokhara you can also buy your TIMs permit and your Entrance permit near the Tourist Bus Station. Be aware that you must have 4 passport photos for this! If you don’t already have them, you can buy them along the way.
There are many companies which offer trekking guides, but if you’re in Pokhara for a few days you are bound to find a few people who might want to go with you. All the trails are quite clearly marked, and there are “tea houses” or guesthouses along the way, so fear not. I personally did the trek to the Anna Purna Base Camp (ABC Hike) and added on Poon Hill at the end. It was during March and I couldn’t have asked for a better time. The days were warm, the nights were cold, and the hillsides were in full bloom with the national Rhododendron flowers. It was spectacular!
Another shorter, yet equally spectacular, hike near Pokhara is the hike up to Sarankot. Many people take this mini-trek in the morning to watch the sunrise over the mountains. The views of the lakes all around, and of the snow-covered mountain peaks changing from light blue to a brilliant white with the golden glow of the sun is beyond beautiful.
Evening Activities in Pokhara:
In general, nightlife doesn’t go too late in Nepal, but in Pokhara you can always find something to do, from movies to music to live fire-dancing shows.
The Pokhara open-air movie theater is a really fun way to pass an evening. For around $2.50 you can sit under the stars and watch an old-school movie, or maybe even catch a double feature!
Silk Road Restaurant has live music on Wednesday nights, making it a great place to go have a drink and meet some people with great vibes. The restaurant alone is worth a visit just for it’s beautiful ambiance of painted walls and a gorgeous garden.
Blues Bar is a popular place to catch some live music and to meet other travelers while dancing.
While walking around town, keep an eye out for any posters that might tell you of things going on in the area. For example, when I was in Pokhara, some travelers who practiced fire-dancing had settled down for a few weeks and they were putting on shows every Friday night. It was pretty incredible to watch them practice their passion, and to meet other interesting people while there.
As you can see, there is no shortage of things to do in the little paradise town of Pokhara. Once you settle in and start meeting people, the town will feel like home in no time. The hardest part of your visit will be summoning up the will to leave.