Commonly known as the gateway to the Himalayas, the lakeside town of Pokhara is brimming with outdoor stores for any last minute items for hikers, and massage centres for aching muscles from hikers coming back from their trek. However the town is more than just an outpost; it has several sites to explore ni the day, and several stores, cafes and bars to while an evening away. Here’s a quick guide to make the most of your stay in Pokhara.
Devi Falls: Named after a Swedish woman who fell to her death after attempting to bathe in the waters close-by, today the waterfall is cordoned off, but it is still one of Pokhara’s scenic spots. The site also contains a traditional Nepalese house for visitors to wander around, and a Buddha wishing well.
Phewa Lake: Arguably Pokhara’s biggest attraction, visitors can take a row boat, or doonga, out to the island in the middle of lake, where the Taal Barahi temple is situated. The highlight of the boat ride however, is the swarm of butterflies that inhabit the edges of the lake, resting on the abundant white flowers that dot the shore.
Mahendra Cave: A taxi is required to reach these caves, but microbuses also travel to this tourist site. As one of the few caves in Nepal that contains both stalagmites and stalactites, it is a popular destination for tourists, although this may be due to the claim that the stone formations are in the different shapes of Hindu gods and goddesses.
Bat Cave: Located only a few kilometres from Mahendra Cave, this destination is famed for its pint-sized inhabitants. Emergency lights are strategically placed around the area, but it would be equally useful to bring your own torch.
World Peace Pagoda: If you are somehow not feeling sore from your Himalayan trek or training schedule, take the afternoon to climb up the hill to the World Peace Pagoda. This Buddhist stupa was built to inspire unity between all races and creeds in their search for world peace. Even if you are not Buddhist, the story of its creator, Japanese Buddhist Nichidatsu Fujii, is inspiring in itself, and the views the pagoda affords of Phewa Lake against the backdrop of green paddy fields and the Himalayas is worth the hard slog to the top.
Tibetan Villages: Nepal has been a popular choice for Tibetans fleeing the political turmoil of China, and Pokhara is centrally located between two villages; Tashiling in the south, and Tashi Palkhiel to the north. Tashiling originally consisted of 600 Tibetan refugees fleeing the Chinese occupation in 1964; since then the village has grown and taken an enterprising step towards making itself a centre of Tibetan craftsmanship, allowing tourists to watch yarn and carpets being made and buy some of the crafts. Tashi Palkhiel, on the other hand, is home to the Jangchub Choeling monastery for Buddhist monks.
As one of the major tourist cities of Nepal, Pokhara has an abundance of restaurants and cafes that can cater for every hankering. For a restaurant that will suit all tastes, including the health conscious, head to Black & White restaurant on Lakeside Road. Labelled as an ‘organic’ restaurant (staff state they try to make it as organic as possible), this place is particularly good for curries such as dhal makhani, saag paneer and dhal baat. Plus, they make a mean latte.
Speaking of coffee, if you find you’re missing your daily cup of whatever fancy-named caffeinated beverage you normally drink, then head to the cafes on Baidam Road, which serve a myriad of iced coffees, teas and other concoctions for your caffeine hit.
If you had your fill of mo-mos and lentils on your trek and are looking for Western food, then La Pizzeria provides excellent value for money, and prime views of the Phewa Lake. Head there for lunch and enjoy their
On the other hand, if you can’t get enough of those vegetable-stuffed doughy balls of heaven, then head to the imaginatively-named Holy Momo! to eat your fill.
If you fancy treating yourself to a nice meal after all that trekking, the nicest place in town is Cafe Concerto. Part jazz bar, part Italian restaurant, the staff are attentive and unlike many other restaurants, they have a pretty good, extensive wine menu!
Soon after visiting four or five stores in Pokhara, it will become apparent that they sell much of the same stock; hippie trousers, faux silver jewellery and prayer flags. However this does not mean that treasures can’t be found, or that the stock is necessarily all that bad; it just means you need to be a little more careful that you are getting some value for your money. You can read about some common souvenir scams here, otherwise, a good place to go for authentic Nepalese crafts is the Woman’s Initiative just off of Lakeside, neighbouring Mike’s Restaurant. Here shelves of handbags, rucksacks and purses in a variety of colours and designs have been handmade on looms by the women’s cooperative, the Nepalese Women Skills Development Project. For £12 I got a medium-sized turquoise handbag. Sure, it might be more expensive than most Nepalese souvenirs, but you’re helping women gain some financial independence and working skills.
Undoubtedly one of the most popular souvenirs in Nepal is a shirt; forget about the tacky ones you normally see on beach holidays, Nepal’s shops are overflowing with so many styles and choices, they can cater for any taste. The average rate for a shirt in Pokhara is between 400-600 rupees, depending on the level of detailing, and whether you want an personalised embroidery done to the shirt. Many of these stores also sell the infamous patches for bags or jackets, depicting which mountains or cities travellers visited.
Felt handicrafts and prayer flags are popular items, and can be bought from most stores in Nepal. After any trek in the Himalayas, it is likely you will come back craving the tea and coffee; many of Pokhara shops sell tea leaves, but one of the speciality stores to head to is High Tea Shop, which has a large selection of teas and coffees.
Top Tip: Almost every hotel will offer yoga lessons, or help you find a teacher in the city. Any hesitation about early morning starts will be erased when you see the tranquil views of the Himalayas.
Do you have any recommendations for Pokhara?