Pokhara, Nepal

Pokhara looking south, with Lake Phewa and white World Peace Pagoda on a hill, Nepal

Pokhara looking south, with the white World Peace Pagoda on a hill to the right. Photo by Dmitry Mottl.

Why Visit Pokhara?

Pokhara is Nepal’s second largest city, 200 kms west of the Kathmandu Valley. Set in ravishing surroundings facing a placid lake and forested hills in one direction and the Himalayan mountain range in the other, the city is sadly an uncontrolled mess of high rise concrete but is nevertheless starting point for dozens of breathtaking (literally and metaphorically) treks with staggering views and base for adrenalin activities galore.

Pokhara Weather

Best from October to April, Pokhara’s climate is similar to Kathmandu but a touch warmer due to its 400m lower altitude and the protective effect of the hills around. December-February will be a little chilly. Backpacker hostels/guest houses tend to have poor/no heating systems and high altitude trekking will be way too cold.
The season for serious trekking is March-June, October-November when hopefully there will be no rain, little cloud and snow.

Don’t even consider Pokhara from July to September

In April and May it’ll start to get hot on walks while during July – September there will be regular rainfall, cloud blocking views of the mountains, hiking trails turn into sloppy bogs, rivers become dangerous and transport becomes irregular.

Activities

Relaxing beside Lake Phewa, Pokhara, Nepal

Relaxing beside Lake Phewa.

• take a rowing boat onto magnificent Phewa Tal (Lake) for a tranquil paddle and a glimpse of the Annapurna mountain range.

• have a warm-up short hike (or mountain bike) on one of the three trails up to the World Peace Pagoda on the opposite shore for improved mountain views, or do a day trek to the Sarangkot high point in the hills above Pokhara for a truly awesome sight of Fishtail.

• do a course in meditation or yoga at one of several locations.

• paraglide from the top of Sarangkot for half an hour or more. Catch those thermals!

• go on a microlight flight from 15 minutes to one hour.

• hire a motorcycle for a spin in the hills or even take lessons.

• visit the Gurkha Memorial Museum, an interesting and well-presented history of these famous Nepalese soldiers.

• try the super-long ZipFlyer zipline from Sarangkot, 1, 800m long with a 600m drop. Scary.

• check out the International Mountain Museum in town; lots of displays, models, climbing walls and mountain-related information.

The booming ugly side of Pokhara, Nepal

Keeping it real part II. The booming ugly side of Pokhara. Photo by Sundar1.

Devi's Falls, Pokhara, Nepal

Devi’s Falls, where the river disappears into a sinkhole, 2kms southwest of the airport. The water depends on the season, so if it’s the middle/end of the dry season, don’t bother!

Pokhara Trekking

Annapurna mountain seen from Pokhara, Nepal

Pokhara looking north towards the Himalayas. Original Photo by Jean Marie Hullot .

The seasons for trekking are March-June, October-November.

More than 106, 000 foreigners visited Nepal in 2012 for trekking and mountaineering.

• Short treks circle around the lake and/or up to the World Peace Pagoda.

•  Day treks head up to Sarangkot (or better still stay over there in a guest house) for incredible views of the Annapurna range of mountains to the north, Lake Phewa below and Pokhara to the east. Being there for sunrise is a choice time, but you won’t be alone!

• a similar breathtaking sunrise view at Poon Hill, about an hour’s hike from Ghorepanni. Or sunset with less other trekkers!

• 6 hours of trekking a day is the norm and a superior level of fitness is not necessary. Guides always include rest days and ramp the toughness up gradually in order to acclimatize to the altitude.

• big treks range from 6 days out of Pokhara through Annapurna Base camp over 10 days and Annapurna Circuit in 21 days. Give or take.

A sadhu at a little shrine on a day-hike trail to Sarangkot, Pokhara, Nepal

A sadhu at a little shrine on a day-hike trail to Sarangkot.

3 ladies carrying wood on a trail in Pokhara, Nepal

The start of a pleasure trek for some, the end of a hard day foraging for others.

Trekking disaster 2014

The horrific events of October 13 2014 when at least 41 trekkers and guides died were partly attributable to a freak snow storm with accompanying avalanches and partly to inexperienced guides, though actually some of the trekkers on the Annapurna circuit were independent hikers without guides.
The tourism ministry believes many guides were unprepared for the total white-out on Thorong La pass which caused so many deaths.
However, the Nepalese government weather service also failed to issue severe weather warnings at the time. They are now determined to crack down on the budget treks led by unlicensed and/or inexperienced guides, so Nepal hikes are likely to become more expensive but safer.
New regulations and controls will be announced before the next trekking season in the spring including an improved weather forecasting system and mandatory registration at checkpoints when entering and exiting trekking areas.

Choose your guide with care. Inevitably there are cowboys out there so do some research, check experience and English language ability.

A guest house/tea house above Pokhara near Sarangkot, Nepal

A guest house/tea house above Pokhara near Sarangkot.

Getting to/from Pokhara – Kathmandu

Buses are the normal way to travel to Pokhara, taking between 6-8 hours and stopping once en route for food, drinks and toilets. There are three types of bus: Public (cheap); Tourist (more comfortable, 40% more pricey); Mini bus (faster and a bit more expensive than the tourist bus). There’s also the choice between day and night buses. Take the night bus and you save paying for a night in a hostel at the expense of little sleep.

Buses also run from Pokhara to important trail heads such as Annapurna Conservation Area and Annapurna Circuit as well as to Chitwan National Park and the border with India (the nearest is Sunauli crossing, near Bhairawa).

Flights are short(20 minutes in the air though an hour or two on the ground) but of course expensive by backpacker standards. Remember to get a seat on the right side of the plane on the way to Pokhara for amazing views of the Himalayas.