Pokhara is the second biggest city in Nepal and the epicentre for trekking. Located by a lake with a view of the Himalayas, it is truly one of the most picturesque spots I’ve visited. It is considerably more chilled and cleaner than Kathmandu. I spent 5 weeks in Pokhara. I spent the first 10 days in a Yoga and Meditation Retreat. The rest was just chilling by the lake, eating healthy food and making short treks.
Trekking in Pokhara
Pokhara is the base to explore the Annapurna mountain range. By far the most popular trek is the Annapurna circuit, which takes you around a valley to an alpine pass at 5400m. You go over the pass and come back down the opposite side, hence “circuit”. This can take from 12 to 20 days depending on the route – you can now do side trips to more remote areas which have a more authentic feel. Alternatively, you can trek just to the base of the range, the so-called ABC (Annapurna Base Camp).
Another popular trek and so-called “easy” trek is Poon Hill (3200m, 3-6 days). It is also overrun with tourists and expect to share the hike to the top to see the sunrise with hundreds of other trekkers and tourists bussed in from Pokhara. Although it is classified as “easy”, it is far from that and has an insane amount of steps on the first day.
Due to my dodgy knee and fear of high altitude, I opted for the lesser-known Panchase trek. Panchase (2500m, 3-7 days) is not as close to the Annapurna range as Poon Hill, but affords magnificent views of not only Annapurna, but also Dhaulagiri in the west and Manaslu in the east, both over 8000m. It is also considered “easy” due to its low elevation and short duration, but nevertheless I found it really hard and would recommend prior training before attempting any trek in Nepal, regardless of difficulty.
Where to stay in Pokhara
There is basically one long street which winds its way from the Dam along the Lake. The first area is known as “Damside”, then you have the just as originally named “Lakeside”. Damside and central Lakeside have more mid-ranged hotels aimed at Chinese and more middle-class European tourists. These areas are quiet loud and very touristy. I recommend staying up the northern end of Lakeside, which is quieter and has a higher concentration of healthy eating options, especially for lunch. This area has a more of a backpacker/hippie vibe.
One really cool place to hang out in the evening is the Movie Garden. It’s a proper open air cinema set on the side of the hill. They serve pizza and it is smoker-friendly.
What about drugs?
Alcohol is legally available everywhere in Nepal, but is heavily taxed and expensive. As in Kathmandu, hashish is everywhere in Pokkhara. Smoking of hash is tolerated in many cafes in north lakeside and locals smoke openly. Hashish is illegal in Nepal, but you will very rarely see cops in the lakeside area. Don’t take this as free licence to smoke in public areas, which is not tolerated. As ever, exercise caution. Do not buy on the street and keep consumption to your room or designated smoking-friendly cafes like the Juicery.
How to get there
I flew in and out. I was stressing about the abysmal air safety record of Nepalese airlines… that is, until I read about the even worse road safety record. The flight is expensive – over $125 for a 25 minute flight. But you safe yourself 7 hours on a horrendous road. Note that is a semi-luxury bus, which by all accounts is not too uncomfortable and only costs $25, which is significantly cheaper than flying.
What about the food?
Like in Kathmandu, there are plenty of restaurants catering to tourists in Pokhara serving excellent local, Indian and international dishes. Due to the high concentration of backpackers and hippies, there are also many places serving heathy vegan and vegetarian food. My favourite healthy eating joints are The Juicery, the Ayurvedico Cafe and the Umbrella Cafe, all serving excellent raw vegan bowls and juices/smoothies. I also recommend the French Creperie, serving authentic crepes with a cool upstairs section with lake views.
What else is there to do?
Other than trekking or chilling, you can also make some short walks and go paragliding. You can walk to the Peace Pagoda, which is a relatively new monument on the other side of Phewa Lake or hike up Sarangot mountain to get sunrise views of the Annapurna range. Pokhara is an internationally recognised Paragliding location. You will see plenty of serious foreigners who have brought their own gear.
There are also several yoga retreats in the area. I went with Purna Yoga Retreat. You follow a regime each day involving yoga and other activities, such as wellness, meditation and chanting. My favourites were the chanting of Hindu mantras which often resulting in the group up dancing and the tibentan singing bowls.
Pokhara is one of the highlights of Nepal and one of my favourite places in the world. It’s combination of magnificent scenery, chilled vibe and incredible value for money make for an unbeatable combination.