I am a resident of Kathmandu but I’ve been visiting Pokhara with my family as a child growing up in the mid-90’s. My name’s Anil and allow me to share with you what this beautiful city has in store for visitors.
As a resident of Kathmandu, I’ve always been envious of Pokhara with her fresh air, proximity to the mountains, clean streets, tons of interesting places to visit in Pokhara and the residents who have an immense sense of pride about their city. Essentially all the qualities that I feel Kathmanduites could do with a little more of. Nonetheless, Pokhara has long been a favourite holiday destination for tourists and locals. For anyone heading towards the Annapurna region for a trek Pokhara is the gateway to some of the most outstanding treks that Nepal has to offer. Even for the people of Kathmandu and neighbouring cities Pokhara is the ideal weekend getaway for family and friends.
Sights of Pokhara
Pokhara is a patchwork of lakes with gorges and rivers criss-crossing the entire valley, as a result you will find that many of the popular Pokhara attractions have been influenced by this ecosystem. Phewa Tal or Lake Phewa with Mt. Fishtail in the background is the quintessential postcard picture of the city, and I am certain you will not miss seeing the lake even if you tried :p The famous lakeside road is also situated next to Lake Phewa and is the main tourist spot in Pokhara. Around a 45 minute drive from the city is Lake Begnas and I prefer Lake Begnas because it has not (yet) developed as a tourist hub and in my opinion is among the best places to visit in Pokhara. In essence, Lake Begnas retains the tranquility that Lake Phewa once had. Here you will not find throngs of tourist arrivals and rampat constructions on the fringes as you would on Lake Phewa. Visit Lake Begnas if simple is more your style.
A quick search on google about the best places to visit in Pokhara is likely to have Davis Fall on it, and while some people do appreciate it’s uniqueness many have commented that the sight of the falls left them underwhelmed. However, you could supplement your trip to Davis Fall by visiting the Tashiling Tibetan Camp next door where Tibetan refugees have resided for decades. There are a few families at the camp who also offer homestays and this is something I highly recommend – the residents of this camp are the nicest people and within it’s walls several aspects of Tibetan culture continues to thrive.
To get a sense of Pokhara’s natural beauty you will have to take a short drive to either of two viewpoints, Peace Pagoda or Sarangkot. The Peace Pagoda is one of 80 peace pagodas that have been built by a Japanese religious foundation around the world. The pagoda sits 1100 meters above sea level on Ananda hill and it’ll take you approximately 45 minutes to reach there from the lakeside. South of the pagoda is Chorepatan and the fringes of Pokhara valley while north of you will be Lake Phewa and the Annapurna Range. Most of the pictures of Pokhara that you see on postcards have been taken from this very spot so go ahead and snap away. If you’d like to get higher and closer to the mountains then Sarangkot is where you should be heading. It’ll take you close to 90 minutes to get there on a vehicle. Here you will be standing 1600 meters above sea level with the Annapurna Range to the north and Lake Phewa and Pokhara city to the south. I would say either one of these viewpoints is a MUST.
One of the most prominent and successful NGOs in Pokhara is Womens Skill Development Organization (WSDO). Backstreet Academy is fortunate enough to be able to work with some of the women from WSDO and I highly recommend that you visit their workshop and showroom on Prithvi Chowk Road. Most of the fabric based souvenirs that you will find in the shops along the lakeside have all been handcrafted by the women from WSDO. Not only do they design and stitch the products but they also weave their own fabrics at the center. If anything, this will be one of the most memorable places to visit in Pokhara and also at the same time a humbling experience where you will see several underprivileged women voluntarily coming together under one roof to work as a family.
For Adrenalin Junkies
Pokhara is a quirky combination of tranquillity and adventure. You could be sitting at a cafe on the lakeside with your cuppa looking out toward the mountains and within a matter of seconds your panoramic view of Lake Phew and Annapurna will be dotted with a multitude of parachutes. And strangely enough, just as the parachutes blend into your picture perfect view so does Pokhara’s reputation as a destination for relaxation as well as adrenalin junkies.
Let’s begin this section of all the adrenalin pumping things to do in Pokhara with paragliding, it’ll set you back by USD 60 but it’s totally worth every dollar spent. It is one of the most amazing places to visit in Pokhara that you cannot miss! The jumps are tandem jumps so you don’t have to worry about not knowing how to ‘fly’. There are several companies offering this service and most of them are priced in the same range, the hotel or guest house you are staying in can also organise this for you. Or for those of you who would like further company while in the air then there’s one company that will have your flight accompanied by trained hawks, The Parahawking Project. Which ever you opt for the view from up there is, how should i put it.. Heavenly!
Maybe flying’s not your thing and you like to keep things a little more ‘grounded’, then what you should be going for is Zip Flying. This Pokhara attraction claims to have the worlds highest, longest and fastest zipline, this 2 minute thrill ride is certainly worth a shot for those not wanting to paraglide. I thoroughly enjoyed zip flying, however, I’ve heard several people complain that the drive to the starting point which is around an hour and the waiting time before the ride is a bit too long for what will ultimately be a 2 minute joy ride. For thrill seekers this shouldn’t pose a problem but for those short on time, please take note that you will probably have to take out 3-4 hours from your day to complete this experience.
Perhaps you would like to brush up on your climbing skills, then 3 Sisters Adventure Trekking offers rock climbing courses for anyone who’s interested. What’s unique about this company is that it is run only by women and their guides and instructors are also women. Once you’re done with the rock climbing then you could also opt for some of the shorter treks around Pokhara. Most of these treks can be customised to suit your schedule and can last anywhere from 2-5 days – Poonhill and Ghorepani are the favoured spots. You will not be disappointed as you will get to ascend up to an altitude of over 3200 meters with an unobstructed view of the Annapurna mountain range.
Fret not if watersports are more your thing as there are tons of places to visit in Pokhara that’s on water as well! Paddle Nepal with their flagship office on the lakeside offers day trips for those interested in kayaking, paddling, rafting and canyoning. The way it works is you will leave Pokhara in the morning around 6:30am and will be back by the evening at 6:30pm, in between which the activity that you’ve selected will happen.
If you’re still thinking “Naahh.. none of them cut it for me, I want something more hardcore”, well, how does bungy jumping sound? A recent addition to Pokhara’s repertoire of adventure tourism, Highground Adventures offers your 70 meter free fall amidst the scenic hills of Pokhara valley. Lastly, if you don’t have time for any of these activities but want to observe all of them in action then you should probably sign up for a flight with one of the adventure flying clubs in Pokhara. They offer flights ranging from 30-90 mins on ultra light crafts which will take you over the entire city and closer to the mountains. Two of the popular flying clubs offering these services are Avia Club Nepal and Pokhara Ultralight.
Food & Drink
Most of the good eats around Pokhara are on the lakeside but there are so many restaurants and cafes that it could be a bit overwhelming for a newbie. Not to worry though, I’ll share with you some of my favourite joints where I go to grub up and caffeinate.
The day generally starts with an americano and cheese croissant at Perky Beans near Halan Chowk, this cafe serves the best coffee in town and they only use locally grown beans for their brews. Head up to their terrace to enjoy the cuppa with a view of Lake Phewa. The most popular bakery in Pokhara are the German Bakery outlets, and this too is a good place to get your day started – I go for the cinnamon rolls and peanut cookies.
A Nepali stomach cannot do without Dal Bhat for lunch and while there are several Thakali kitchens that serve good Dal Bhat, my Dal Bhat happens at Hotel Monalisa on Damside (20 minutes walk from the lakeside). If you’re just back from a trek then Dal Bhat is probably the last thing you want to eat so how about stopping by The Pokhara Steak House? They offer what is arguably the best steaks and burgers in town at reasonable rates. For dinner I am mostly at Moondance Restaurant on the lakeside near Barahi Mandir, I just love their sandwiches and salads. But what I love even more at Moondance is the lemon meringue. If I may borrow the words of Colonel Sanders here, “it’s finger lickin’ good!” 😉 Moondance also serves up hearty breakfast sets to get your day started.
What about a place to chill in Pokhara, you might ask. Two places come to mind, Byanjan and Busy Bee both of which are on the lakeside. Byanjan is more of a lounge that has indoor and outdoor seating with a chic and sophisticated feel. Their drinks are a bit on the expensive side but seating arrangements are neatly spaced out which makes for a perfect place to just sit back and relax. In contrast to Byanjan is Busy Bee and as the name suggests, it gets super busy at night. The atmosphere can be best described as alternative/grunge and the live band that plays here is pretty amazing! Stop by here for some cold beers and chicken wings.
If I could leave you with one last food and drink tip, it would be beer and fried-fish at Pame. Pame is along the lakeside too but it’s further away from the main tourist hub and it’ll take you approximately 20 minutes to reach there from the main hub. A relatively new phenomenon, this once used to be a favourite amongst locals only, but it seems there are more people like me out there letting out closely guarded secrets to visitors :p
Very often I’ve noted that travelers to Pokhara seldom venture beyond the lakeside and they often leave the city with the impression that the lakeside is all there is to Pokhara. Pokhara is a city of over 300,000 people and only a tiny fraction of them reside on the lakeside. The real Pokhara is away from the lakeside, it’s in the bazaars that line Prithvi Chowk, the stores that line New Road and the street food vendors on Srijana Chowk. Did you know that there’s a place called Zero Kilometer not too far from the lakeside? Yes, Zero Kilometer! that’s an actual name of a place. I still scratch my head to this day as to why, but the point is that if you don’t explore beyond the confines of lakeside you will never come across such quirky little facts about the city. So here’s what you should do, hire a scooter from the lakeside and head towards the heart of the city. If you get lost, everyone knows where lakeside is and they’ll point you towards the right direction. Besides, I am sure you have google maps on your smartphone. 🙂
The tourism industry in Pokhara is booming and changes are happening at a rapid place so don’t be surprised if some of the suggestions on this guide have shifted locations. If there’s one thing you should take away from this guide, it’s this, chill at the lakeside and indulge yourself in all the activities on offer but do NOT leave without having seen the heart of the city.
Recommendations at Backstreet Academy
Sel Roti Cooking Class with Mati Kumari
You’ve seen locals gathering around numerous tea shops that line the backstreets of Pokhara chatting away while drinking tea and eating what looks like larger slimmer version of doughnuts. The similarity of the Sel roti to doughnuts ends at the general shape, these favourite breakfast goodies are made out of rice flour and gets the day started for most Nepalis. Yes, the Nepalis sure like to start their day with a rather heavy meal. Not to worry though, while a local may devour four or more Sel rotis, you can restrict your appetite to one or two Sel rotis. 🙂
Animal Sculpture with Mim Bahadur
These animals are scrap and unwanted materials given a new lease of life together with natural materials such as wood, branches, leaves, fibres and the like. Every piece a loving masterpiece hand made by artist Mim Bahadur Magar, the limits are boundless! If you want to create such lovely art forms but have no idea at all what to make, try out the entry-level bird sculpture first! And if you’re up to it, there’s the spider and tons of other scultures that you can try your hand at and Mim will only be too happy to share all his skills with you.
Batik Art with Uttam
Originating as an art form in Java, Indonesia, the batik tradition has been adopted by several other countries in Asia such as China, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, India and Nepal. In Indonesian tradition, the various batik designs can have symbolic interpretations – they even have designs that can only be worn by royalty. In it’s adapted forms in other countries though, it’s valued for the aesthetics and the unique wax and dye method with which the patterns are made. Uttam’s take on batik has a bit of shortcut involved and can generally be completed within a few hours. The difference is that while traditional batik requires several layers of waxing and dyeing the cloth, Uttam replaces dyeing with painting thus simplifying the process and cutting down the time.