Thursday, September 29, 2016

The most Versatile tourist destination in Nepal

Pokhara The most Versatile tourist destination in Nepal
Frankly, it doesn’t matter whether you’re 16 or 61, Pokhara always has her resources ready to satisfy your wander lust. Doesn’t matter whether you’re an adrenaline junkie or a nature lover, or even a lazy tourist, Pokhara has her means to delight you in every minute of your stay. Pokhara is another canvas-friendly valley on earth, with lush greenery, bubbly rivers and picture perfect lakes. Pokhara, being well connected to the rest of Nepal is a great travelers’ retreat from the hustles and bustles of city life. Pokhara is one of the major cities of Nepal with all amenities but at the same time devoid of artificiality and pollution which are distinctive features of cities. It is only in Pokhara you’ll find the most unique and majestic vista of 140 long kilometers of panoramic Himalayan ranges! Out of the 14 highest mountains in the world (popularly known as eight thousanders) having elevation above 8,000 meters, Annapurna, Dhaulagiri and Manaslu can be seen from Pokhara. Versatility is the hallmark of Pokhara as a tourist destination. How else do you think a hilly town sitting merely at 1,000 meters in central Nepal does capably lure lakhs of tourists every year?
Pokhara The most Versatile tourist destination in Nepal
Pokhara has too many things to offer to its tourists. After visiting Pokhara several times I’ve gained quite a lot of travel information. So, here I’m summarizing what are the "must do" things in Pokhara to make the most out of your Pokhara travel itinerary:

Boating: You may sail your boat or, pedal it over Phewa or, Begnas Lake while catching the reflections of blue clouds, green mountains, snow-white peaks and golden sun on the gentle ripples of the lake. You can chitchat with your loved ones or lose your mind inside a novel after stationing your boat in the middle of the lake where the sound of the city fails to reach… can there be more relaxing moment than this?

Trekking: Owing to its prime location between the Great Himalayan ranges and Mahabharata range, Pokhara is a great trekking gateway for tourists visiting Nepal. Some popular trekking routes around Pokhara include Annapurna base camp (ABC), Annapurna circuit, Poon Hill, Machhapuchhre model, Dhaulagiri round, Jomsom, Muktinath, Upper Mustang etc. But remember trekking is not a game for everyone. It requires a sound health and endurance. If you’re not sure whether you’re game for it you may try a 1-2 days low altitude trek and then gradually ascend greater heights. Soon, I’ll be posting articles on technical challenges and solutions of trekking.

Hiking/Mountaineering: Pokhara has so many hills to throw challenges to enthusiastic travelers, like Sarangkot, Kaskikot, Kahun hill, Armalakot, Dhampus, Gharmi, Thulakot etc from where you can enjoy some breathtaking views and closest possible proximity to pure nature. You’ll be mesmerized by the sunrise/sunset, flora and fauna and last but not the least ethnic diversity! If you’re a skilled mountaineer then the peaks of Annapurna are sure to entice you.

Para-gliding: Sarangkot of Pokhara ranks among the top five para-gliding destinations in the world! You just need to have the high spirit to soar like a falcon to get the astounding bird’s view of azure lakes, pulsating rivers, scenic mountain villages and snow covered Himalayan peaks. Though November and December are best seasons to make the most out of your para-gliding experience, but still you can avail this chance anytime from September to February.

Mountain Biking: if you’re an avid biker or simply blessed with extra charged lower limb muscles then you must pedal your way through nature at its best, beating slush made by untamed waterfall, steep slopes, thin air and harsh mountain wind. Some of the renowned mountain biking routes include Dhampus, Dhital, Bharatpokhari, Old royal trek route, Jomsom etc.
Pokhara The most Versatile tourist destination in Nepal
Rafting: If boating of lake water is too unexciting for you then get on your heels and raft down the Seti River. Due to its location, a lot of snow-fed untamed rivers run through Pokhara and its surrounding areas to test your rafting fortitude. If you venture out of Pokhara, rafting on turbulent rivers like Marsyangdi, Kali Gandaki or Trisuli can be a lot more exhilarating!

Village Tourism: To taste the rich cultural and ethnic diversity of beautiful Nepal you must make village tours to villages around Pokhara like Lwang-ghalel, Ghalegaon, Sirubari, Rivan, Dhital, Ghachowk, Lahachowk etc. Don’t worry of food and accommodation there… locals of those villages are fast developing community based cultural tourism to welcome you whole heartedly! You can also show some interest in traditional honey hunting practices where brave-heart honey hunters hang on a rope and slide down to the middle of the massive cliff just to collect honey!

Bird and Butterfly Watching: If you’re a passionate bird watcher then once again Pokhara is the right place where you can spot more than 500 avian species, especially in the month of October to March. Oh you know what? 11 out of 15 butterfly families are found in Pokhara area! So, do I have to say anything more?

Mountain Flights: If para-gliding was not high enough for you, you must book a domestic flight ticket to some higher destination from Pokhara (Jomsom can be a good option) to get a totally different ‘above the cloud’ perspective of those vegetation enveloped valleys and whitewashed colossal Himalayan ranges. Journey in mountain flights are inexpensive, thrilling and ‘once in a lifetime’ experiences!

Fishing: If you’re a storehouse of patience or simply an angling freak, you can readily hire fishing rods from lakeside road and contemplate on catching an eel or a catfish. Remember, the favorable months for fishing are June to August, yes I mean monsoon time.
Pokhara The most Versatile tourist destination in Nepal
As I talked about the “must do" things in Pokhara, now I’ll tell you which are the "must see" sites in Pokhara. As a first-time visitor to Pokhara, you’ll be better prepared with your local sightseeing itinerary if you know beforehand where to spend your time and where you can probably gallop. So here, based on the experience of my previous Pokhara trips I’ve aggregated the gems in the valley:

Nature at its Best: I know, you might be disappointed in seeing ‘nature’ in the top 10 things to see in Pokhara list but go through this small paragraph to understand why I gave it a place and that also the top position in the sightseeing list. Pokhara valley is rich with lush vegetation, swift flowing rivers and adorned with glittering azure lakes. Pokhara is the only place in the world from where one can relish glorious view of mountains having height above 8,000 meters while sitting below a mere 1,000 meters above the sea level. Out of fourteen highest mountains in the world (renowned as ‘eight thousanders’ due to their elevation of 8,000 plus meters), Annapurna, Dhaulagiri and Manaslu can be clearly seen from Pokhara! Pokhara is the doorway to the world famous Annapurna circuit trekking trail. The largest rhododendron forest, Ghorepani, which has 16 species of rhododendron and 6 species of pheasants, is located near Pokhara. World’s highest lake, Tilicho Lake (4,919 meters) also lies in the vicinity of Pokhara region! As I mentioned in my last post, one of the 5 best para-gliding destinations in the world, Sarangkot lies in Pokhara. The reflection of snow-capped high mountains of Annapurna range and Machhapuchhre (fishtail) on the surface water of Phewa Lake creates unparalleled panorama for all tourists/travelers. Now you tell me can you just complete your Pokhara trip by visiting some temples, monasteries or boating on the lake, without mingling with these breathtaking natural elements of Pokhara?
Pokhara The most Versatile tourist destination in Nepal
Lakes: Phewa Lake, the second largest lake in Nepal is the main tourist hub in Pokhara. All good hotels, restaurants, shops, cafeterias, ice cream parlors, Jazz clubs, bars etc are located by the lakeside road. You can very easily hire brightly painted wooden boats or sailboats to pamper you with the serenity and ‘picture perfect’ visuals. If you’re little less lazy you may venture to Leknath, few kilometers away from Pokhara and enjoy a more tranquil boating experience on Begnas or Rupa Lake. Other five lakes you’ll find at Leknath are Dipang, Maidi, Khaste, Neurani and Gunde. If you’re bored with your pedal boat you can still enjoy with other activities like sunbathing, fishing, bird watching, swimming, butterfly watching, kayaking or simply relaxing!

Sarangkot Sunrise: Sarangkot is the pristine hilltop, only about 5 kilometers away from lakeside, lying at a modest elevation of 1,592 meters, which offers an unprecedented view of sunrise and the majestic reflections of first rays of the sun on snow clad Annapurna range and Machhapuchhre while the peaceful picturesque Pokhara valley is yet to wake up from her goodnight sleep. You’ve to book a cab on the night before and get up real early to witness this charismatic sunrise view from the view tower of Sarangkot. You’ll see the colossal peaks Dhaulagiri, Machhapuchhre and Annapurna II as you gaze from west to east. Even Annapurna III, Annapurna IV, Lamjung Himal etc can be seen distinctively on a clear weather day. I would strongly suggest you to take your accommodation for a day at Sarangkot itself and enjoy its unspoilt nature as well as sunset which are equally enchanting.

Davi’s Fall: Locally known as ‘Patale chango’, Davi’s fall is the most famous waterfall in Pokhara, located 2 kilometers southwest of downtown. During summer and rainy season the waterfall takes its real form, with gushing water splashing and making its way through the rocks. You’ll find hollow sandy part and a heavy fall of water within its natural trench. There is a cave, Gupteshwor Mahadev Gupha on the other side of the road, which is popular for the different natural forms made from limestone deposits. Inside the cave Lord Shiva (Mahadev) is worshiped by Hindu devotees with great devotion. If you’re lucky you may be able to spot a rainbow formed by the rays of sun over the mist of water vapor, produced when the large volume of water falls on the deep rocky gorge in high velocity!
Pokhara The most Versatile tourist destination in Nepal
Seti Gorge: Seti River takes its origin from the Machhapuchhre glacier and runs through the main city area in about 40 meters depth. The river provides a wonderful view of its outrageous rush before it disappears at Bagar into a deep gorge. The gorge is visible from the bridges in the city, Mahendra Pool, Ramghat, Prithvi Chowk area etc. The Seti gorge is indeed an inexplicable wonder of Pokhara!

Caves: There are many caves to explore in Pokhara like Mahendra cave, Bat’s cave, Crystal cave etc but for me the favorite one is always Guptehwor Mahadev Cave about which I talked of in the last paragraph. This cave is believed to be 5000 years old and enjoys the reputation of being one of the most wonderful and largest caves in south Asia! After entering deep inside the Gupteshwor Mahadev Cave you'll see an idol of Lord Shiva which has been formed naturally. Drops of water dripping continuously from the ceiling of the cave are its main attraction. Once you've passed through the tunnel, you find yourself in a huge open space which is really a huge cavern inside and full of enormous rocks. After few yards of scrambling through the darkness you find yourself on the edge of crystal clean pond from where you can see the awe-inspiring Davi's fall falling right on the top! If you have a poor vision or week joints then I would advise you to refrain from venturing into a cave as they can be quite dark, mossy and narrow (you may have to crawl like a reptile!) at times.

Museums: Like caves, there are also multiple museums in Pokhara. International Mountain Museum is itself situated in such a rare site from where you can view the peaks of three ‘eight thousanders’, Dhaulagiri, Annapurna and Manaslu! In the International Mountain Museum you’ll get ample information on mountaineering, mountain cultures, environments, eminent personalities in the glorious history of mountaineering, geography, ecology and implied methods. It welcomes tourists daily from morning nine to evening five. Regional Museum showcases the lifestyles and histories of ethnic groups such as Gurung, Thakali and Tharu. You can visit Regional Museum any day between morning ten to evening four except Tuesdays and public holidays. In Natural History Museum (also called ‘Annapurna Museum’) you’ll find exquisite collection of butterflies, birds, insects, wildlife models and geological samples of various rocks. Go to Annapurna Museum any day between ten to five other than Saturdays and holidays. In Gurkha Memorial Museum you’ll see used uniforms, medals, photographs and miscellaneous articles used by valiant Gurkha soldiers during the first and second wartime. Except Wednesdays you can go any other day in between 8 am and 4:30 pm. Well, my personal recommendation, if you’ve to choose only one would be International Mountain Museum.

Temples: Among many temples in Pokhara I suggest you to visit at least two of them- Bindabasini Temple and Tal Barahi Temple. Located on a cliff top, Bindabasini Temple is the oldest and most famous temple of Pokhara valley. Tal Barahi Temple is situated on a small island in the middle of the Phewa lake which can be reached by a fifteen minutes boat ride. Now do I have to repeat again all those magical viewing prospects while standing in the middle of the Phewa lake?
Pokhara The most Versatile tourist destination in Nepal
World Peace Pagoda/ Buddhist Monastery: World Peace Pagoda is an enormous Buddhist stupa located on a hilltop (called ‘Rani Ban’) just above the Phewa Lake. This stupa symbolizes peace where the huge idols of Lord Buddha have been installed from Japan, Sri Lanka and Thailand. As the route to World Peace Pagoda is from lakeside by boat, you’re free to enjoy both boating and hiking at the same time! Remember, though it may sound very tempting, hiking up to the stupa by climbing those infinite steps can be really a tough task if you’re used to a sedentary lifestyle, so, you’ve got an alternative option of visiting the stupa on a taxi. Once you’re at the top you’ll be amazed by the vista formed by Himalayan ranges, lakes and the green valley! Little distant from lakeside, on a small hill surrounded by forest, lies the Karma Kagyu Chhonkerling Buddhist Monastery. Give that a try too.

Old Bazaar Area: This is a historical Newari market place in the heart of Pokhara and a protected heritage site where you’ll find old housings, temples, glimpse of culture and activities of Newari people.

How to Reach Pokhara: Being one of the greatest centers of tourist influx, Pokhara is located 200 kilometers west of Kathmandu, 78 kilometers north of Sunauli (southern border) and 72 kilometers south from northern border. Pokhara can be reached from Kathmandu within half an hour by air. Yes, there are plenty of flights running between these two tourism hubs of Nepal. There are also numerous tourist buses, regular buses and vans tripping between these two cities and they take 6-8 hours roughly. Likewise, there are regular buses from Sunauli, Kakadvitta, Birgunj, Nepalgunj and Mahendranagar. Now a word of caution for first time travelers- the moment you get down at Pokhara various taxi drivers cum ‘Dalals’ will approach you with appealing offers of accommodation. Just deaf ear them, take the cab for Lakeside where you’ll get plenty of options to choose one depending on your pocket. So it’s always better to know a few names of hotels so that you can pretend that your stay is already booked.
Pokhara The most Versatile tourist destination in Nepal
Hopefully, these "must see" and "must do" things in Pokhara could somewhat justify my bias towards this beautiful valley. You have to visit Pokhara to realize why it is the most versatile tourist destination in Nepal. I would most humbly appreciate if any fellow traveler wants to add something to this list. I’ll be back with more detailed travel guide on Pokhara when time permits, but if you have any query in the meantime please volley me your curious note.