Pokhara is about 70 miles as the crow flies or about eight hour as the bus goes from Kathmandu, which tells you an awful lot about both how hilly Nepal is and the quality of the roads. It’s the start of a lot of various adventure activities in the region from treks to rafting trips, meaning there’s a fair amount of marks of tourism around…
My favorite shop in Pokhara, the WalMart Trekking Store. Though somehow I will bet good money that Wal-Mart has not approved of this location.
Also in the touristy-but-amusing category are the guys on the street who will demonstrate snake charming in exchange for a few hundred rupees. To be honest the snake seemed rather bored of the affair for the most part (or, more likely, it just wasn’t a very good snake charmer) but apparently they just take the fangs off the cobra these days so it’s not like there’s death and doom awaiting an accidental strike.
But really now, what I think makes people really like Pokhara isn’t the fact that it’s the first sign of civilization after you return from the wilderness (though that doesn’t hurt), it’s the fact that the town is still utterly, completely underdeveloped. It’s right by a lake so my first reaction was to see what guesthouses were right by there and it turned out there was only one, a family run affair where the rooms were under US$15 a night (actually on the pricey side around here, but c’mon, it’s fifteen dollars for a lakeside room!) and most of the rest of the waterfront was literally a bunch of cornfields. In 20 years or so if I were to return to Pokhara I’m sure there will be a bunch of chain resorts up and down the waterfront, but for now you have nothing on the waterfront over breakfast save you and a bunch of schoolchildren who have just paddled in on their way to school.
The good thing about the mornings though is also the fact that this is your only real chance of seeing the high Himalayas from town- by 9am this time of year the haze sets in and while it’s still pretty you don’t come to Nepal for just the average sort of mountains. So when you wake up just before 7am because of a few errant roosters and see a view like this outside, you know to bolt out of bed and climb up something for a better view while you can.
A good hike out of Pokhara is up to the Peace Pagoda visible as the little white building in this photo. You need to hire a ghat to get over there- a Nepali boat just like a canoe right down to the paddle shape and how you steer it- and it’s an hour’s hike or so up to the pagoda itself. Not too hard a hike at all though at this hour it was only me and a bunch of local teenagers out for a longer hike that day. It was a Saturday, you see, and in the fashion of mothers everywhere theirs had apparently kicked them out of the house with the admonishment to go entertain themselves.
This is the result at the top of the hill- the Peace Pagoda! Apparently a Japanese tycoon has sponsored that a hundred Buddhist pagodas be constructed around the world to spread the message of world peace- hey, not a bad message if you’re going to choose one- and this one was constructed at this photogenic location just a few years ago. Quite lovely, but not as lovely as the view!
This photo was taken around 8:30am and by even this point it’s difficult to tell where the clouds ended and the mountains begin in the photo, but it didn’t make the mountains any less striking. If anything a bunch of clouds flowing around them enhanced the view, though it certainly falls into the category of “my camera couldn’t handle it and you’ll just have to trust me it’s a helluva view!”
I spent a good half hour up at the pagoda admiring the scene with it more-or-less all to myself, and sure enough once 9am rolled around and the clouds came in the first of the tourists began stumbling up to the pagoda. I met more and more of them on the way down, virtually all led by a guide who probably suggested the time and hence never spent time themselves to realize they’d missed the best view.
Hence my first bit of advice if you find yourself in Pokhara is look at what the weather is doing and adjust your schedule accordingly- afternoon thunderstorms are clearly meant for napping anyway. My second bit of advice is that you should plan to get to Pokhara sooner instead of later because the guy who owns the cornfields is going to realize what a jackpot in terms of real estate he’s sitting on sooner instead of later. There is no town more chill a place than one that has yet to be discovered.