When planning our trip to Southeast Asia, I knew we didn’t have much time in Nepal, and it is hard to plan an adventure for 5 people, including a 15-year-old teenager, who enjoy different activities and have a different idea on how we should travel. But I knew I have to get us at least some taste of NEPAL, other than the big-city vibe of Kathmandu.
When you Google best trips from Kathmandu (not counting all the amazing treks you can do around there) two are the most common: Pokhara and Chitwan National Park. After a couple of discussions (or more of my monologues), we all decided that doing a 3 day Pokhara trip was our best option.
Is 3 days enough, someone would ask? My answer is Yes and No. If your plan is to just check off all the Pokhara attractions of the list and move to another place, I’d say you can see all the main attractions within a day, if you like having busy and packed days. If you don’t like running around and want to enjoy the lake-city atmosphere and the beautiful views of Annapurna range, then I’d say stay longer because Pokhara is more than just tourist attractions, it is an amazing landscape, slow-moving Nepalese life, boating, fishing, shopping, hiking, watching sunsets and sunrises, and amazing food.
But let’s start from the beginning.
What is Pokhara?
Pokhara, often called ‘the City of Lakes’ is the second largest city of Nepal, located about 200km North-West from Kathmandu, it lies on the southern edge of Annapurna Conservation Area. When the weather’s nice, the city provides breathtaking views of the Annapurna Range, especially the most distinctive Machapuchare, often called Fishtail, due to its amazing shape (6,993 m/22,943 ft) and Annapurna IV (7,525 m/24,688 ft), Even though Fishtail seems much bigger then Annapurna IV when you look at it, it is caused by a very short distance from Pokhara to the peak- 25km/16 miles.
Funny fact #1: Telegraph UK ranked Fishtail as the 13th most beautiful mountain of the world.
Funny fact #2: Fishtail has never been fully summited, due to being called a Holy or a Sacred Mountain by the Nepalese community.
I’d definitely call Pokhara a ‘tourist trap’, despite its spectacular beauty and interesting atmosphere. You’ll find there everything what a tourist needs, fancy lake-side restaurants, tour guides and souvenir stores on every corner. It’s definitely cleaner (relatively, compared to Kathmandu), has slightly higher prices and lower exchange rate. But the city is definitely much calmer than the capital and gives a chance for a breath after the busy life of Kathmandu.
How to get to Pokhara from Kathmandu?
- There is a lot of tours that offer a car/ van rental and a guide for your trip, and basically, organize everything for you. It is a good option if you don’t want to bother with planning the itinerary, getting transport etc. It also seems safer knowing that you have someone else worry to organize everything for you and get you everywhere you want. If you want to plan your trip yourself, but have a car and a driver to just take you where you want to go, there are car rentals that offer that as well but remember you will also have to pay for a hotel for the driver.
- If you have money to spend and are not terrified of funky Nepalese airports, the plane may be the best option. It is also the most ‘time-efficient’ way. The flight is about 30 mins, which gives you then the whole day to enjoy the town and costs about 100$.
- For those of you who, like me, want to save money (and also enjoy some real Nepalese experience) a bus should be a way to go. There are different types of buses, from local buses, the cheapest and the most adventurous option, to exclusive Greenline buses with A/C, comfy seats, wifi and lunch. The prices range from 4$ to 35$ one way, but the most usual is 10-12$. There is a lot of bus companies that offer this service every day that there is no need to book in advance (unless you’re travelling in peak season and have a pretty big group), just simply go to the bus station at around 6.30 and you’ll be stopped by bus drivers, or you can also ask your hotel to arrange it for you, but don’t worry- you may find yourself getting a ticket already from a taxi driver who’ll drive your from Kathmandu airport to your hotel. Even though it’s only 200 km, due to not perfect road conditions and multiple break stops on the way, the ride takes about 6-8 hours. Even though the drive is miserable and bumpy (as can be seen on my little notebook, which I am barely able to read, which I was filling during the ride back-below) it provides breathtaking views and some great insights into Nepali culture.
What to do in Pokhara?
I won’t bore you with the whole itinerary on what to do, as there are already plenty of blogs, articles and tour itineraries that you have probably read already if you’re planning the trip. My plan here is to just share with you some of my observations and tips, that came to me after I followed the trail of the tourist attractions of Pokhara.
1. So let’s start by saying that ‘people say’ the sunrise and sunset at Sarangot and Peace Pagoda are must-do’s, UNLESS you’re ‘travelling to Nepal during a monsoon’ Then be ready for waking up at 4 am, getting ready and finding out your trip is cancelled due to a heavy rain and storm
2. Definitely expect much more intrusive and noisy vendors at the entrances and exits of the famous spots.
3. If you want to save some rupees and visit only one out of 3 famous caves in the area, I’d say choose the Bat Cave, as it provides much better caving experience, but you should have some climbing/ caving experience to exit the cave. Both of the caves I visited (Bat Cave and Mahendra Cave) were *unexpectedly* short, so do not let them convince you for a guide, no matter how much they will be scaring and warning you. The only harsh part of the bat cave is a climbing exit, but even if you won’t be able to climb it up, the guide wouldn’t be able to push you out either, so you just turn around.
4. Okay, I will repeat some of the articles, but this is just too cool story to not include here. The legend behind the name Devi’s Falls is that a Swiss citizen named David was bathing by the river near the falls in early/mid 19th century, and got swept off to towards the waterfall and died. As the waterfall falls onto a cave, it was really difficult to recover her body, hence the name. Even though the story sounds scary (or maybe because of that) expect the whole area to be fully and securely fenced. Definitely very well secured from a good picture.
5. Boating on the Fewa lake was definitely my favourite part of it all. Mostly because you can enjoy that amazing landscape, while having a little workout and then just lounge around the sky-blue lake, drifting in your little paddle boat.
But, there are some things I wished I knew before the trip, so I am gonna share them with you:
- If you rent a self-rowing boat (starts at 610 NRP/1 hour; there are at least 4 different ports around the lake where you can rent them out, with different prices) you have to return it at the same spot.
- If you wish to connect your trip to Barahi Temple with boating and hiking up to Peace Pagoda, it may take you over 3 hours (unless you’re a professional kayaker, then go for it and let me know your time), so give yourself plenty of time and remember the boats need to be returned by the sunset.
- Check the weather forecast, as you can’t be boating during a storm or thunders
- The Barahi Temple is tiny and, literally, the biggest attraction there is feeding the pigeons.
6. Consider hanging out after dark (the touristy areas). The city (same with Kathmandu) has a much different vibe, feels much slower, with a very distinctive, natural and exotic atmosphere and to be honest I felt really safe there, even when walking by myself.
So, I do not usually give out recommendations in my post. But this time I’ll have to. Since Silver Oaks Hotel, was literally a palace to us, compared to all the other hotels we stayed at during our trip. It is not the cheapest, but also not that expensive (we paid 20$/night for a double, so sorry not sorry, but I wouldn’t even get a double in that price in polish hotel), and it was super clean, amazingly located, charming and- what I think is the most important- the personnel wasn’t at all intrusive. Yeah, they did offer us trips and bus tickets, but it was a single question and no soliciting, which you learn to appreciate, while in Asia. So will really, really, really recommend it.
Also, definitely try some street food by the lakeside, especially from the grills; ESPECIALLY when you’re hanging around there on the nice warm evening. The fish we got there, was the best fish I have ever eaten, and I’ve eaten quite a few.
I hope you enjoyed that!