A travel journal
to Pokhara by SeenThat
Quote: Placed in Western Nepal, Pokhara is the focal point of the Annapouna National Park treks. Its excellent facilities ensure a successful start for any adventure. At its north, the Annapouna Range reaches 8000m above the sea level and makes the perfect background for this exciting trekkers’ hub.
At the north side of the town is the Annapourna Range in its full glory; as the mountains climb a full 7200 meters over the town, it is worth waiting in the case of bad weather for a clear sight, since the view is spectacular. From west to east the mountains in sight are: Annapourna South (7219m), Annapourna One (8091m), Hiunchuli (6441m), Machhapuchhre - Fishtail (6997m), Annapourna Three (7555m), Annapourna Four (7525m), Annapourna Two (7939m) and Lamjung Himal (6986m)
Other attractions include several Tibetan settlements, the Devi Falls and the Sarangkot hilltop monastery. Day walks can be taken to Sarangkot (1592m), the limestone caves at Mahendra Gufa or Rupa and Begnas Tals lakes. A short trek known as the Annapurna Skyline Trek can be taken as preparation to the long one or in case of poor weather.
Arriving from Kathmandu is easy, a Greenline bus departs daily and costs ten dollars, while the Blue Sky Company costs 250NPR; both can be found by the Standard Chartered Bank, a few blocks from Thamel. The bus trip between the two towns takes about eight hours, if the roads are not blocked. For Himalayan views sit on the right-hand side if you are heading to Pokhara and the left if heading to Kathmandu. There are daily flights between the towns; you can fix the flight on any of the many travel agencies in Thamel.
The Mustang Area is north from the town and includes several mountain passes to Tibet, thus independent trekking is forbidden there, but organized tours are possible, you can arrange them from the town. Crossing to Tibet is possible through dedicated companies but it is extremely expensive and limited; planning such a trip from China is wiser.
Pokhara Valley is Nepal’s second major tourist destination after Kathmandu. A peaceful valley set in the center of the country, Pokhara combines a warm, subtropical climate with amazing mountain views. The mountains rise more than 7,200m above the town.
On the northeastern side of Pokhara is the Sarangkot Peak, which, at 1,592m above the sea level, is slightly over 700m above the city and offers awesome views of the town and the Phewa Tal Lake as well as of the Annapurna Himal Range, on a clear day. It is the perfect day walk, allowing you to check your equipment and the basic terrain conditions; if walking without breaks, you can make the whole way in some 2 hours. The obvious way to reach it is to approach it from the northern limit of the town, but that will lead you to uncomfortable cliffs. Making a detour through the southern limit of the Phewa Tal Lake will take you through delightful local villages as well through the Devi’s Falls, one of the local attractions that are easily added to such an excursion. Since the way passes almost completely through an inhabited area, there are practically hundreds of possible paths to reach the Sarangkot Stupa; hence, I will give here the general outlines delimiting your way to the summit.
Pokhara is divided into the lakeside and the damside parts; most probably, you are staying in a guesthouse by the lakeside, which makes the town tourist center just north of the dam, but in both cases, you should begin advancing south towards the Devi’s Falls. A good landmark is the airport’s runway; you should not cross it to the east. The falls are slightly after the dam--make sure to look at this little wonder before you proceed--and they sign the place where you should begin your detour towards the north. Any path or street after the falls will do. From here, you should continue climbing until you reach the peak. To be sure you do not err, the lake should be at your right at all times, and you should not cross the rice paddies of the narrow valley at your left. The path traces a scimitar around the lake and leads you directly to the temple at the summit. Pay attention to the way, as it is not less interesting than your goal; the area is densely populated and endless surprising interactions will occur. The day I walked through, chickens were put inside buckets for the sake of the eagles living in the surroundings, the last eagerly defended the offerings from the local dogs that searched for their share. The time of your visit is crucial: during the mornings, the dew is transformed into a slight fog that obscures the mountain sights; hence, it is wiser to depart late in the morning, to stop for a break at the Devi’s fall, and to plan reaching the summit after noon. The summit offers, beside the stunning views, an interesting stupa, also known as the World Peace Temple or Biswo Shanti Pagoda, that was inaugurated in 2001.
If you plan to visit Pokhara, your timing is crucial. Arriving before the end of the monsoon rains means giving up any trekking possibilities, and the amazing mountains views from the town will be blocked by the constantly clouded skies. Hence, the best season is around September or October. The town is clearly divided into three parts: the Lakeside (Baidam) and the Damside (Pardi) are the most important ones for tourists and run along the axis formed by Phewa Tal (tal means lake in Nepali) and its dam. The biggest district, which has evolved away from the lake into a quite irregular shape, includes the airport, the terminal, the residential, and the commercial areas of the town, and most probably you will visit it only while arriving to or departing from the city.
The Lakeside and Damside, as they are commonly known, are very different in style. The Lakeside is the main center for tourists; it hosts many travel agencies, souvenir shops, guesthouses, trekking equipment shops, restaurants, and a big population of Tibetan Refugees selling handicrafts to the tourists. Please see the Annapuna Circuit entry of this journal for more detailed information regarding the arrangement of your trek. The Damside is more relaxed and offers mainly guesthouses and a local ambience. The distances between the two centers are short; hence, you can live in the Damside and walk to the Lakeside for your activities. To walk between them, walk south along the Baidam Promenade until it begins to move away from the lake, and then turn south to Ratna Puri Road and southwest at Pardi Bazaar Road.
Next to the Phewa Dam, which is slightly north from the last road, are arranged most of the guesthouses in the Damside. Continuing along this road, you will reach the Devi’s Falls (Pataley Chango); if you wish to visit Sarangkot, the best is to cross the bridge over the dam and to continue from there. Midway along the Lakeside is the Ratna Mandir, the Royal Palace, to which there is no access – it makes a good landmark for your first day in town.
North of it is concentrated most of the activity, and you will have a hard time trying to decide where to eat. Puja (blessing), in the southern part of the Lakeside promenade, is a good place for breakfast. Pokhara is a good place for Indian and Tibetan food, and the options are overwhelming. The Punjabi Vegetarian Restaurant offers Hindu food of an amazing quality at reasonable prices; it is by the center of the main road in the Lakeside. Its owners speak enough English to explain the secrets of their delicacies.
If you continue walking north, the buildings dwindle and the place begins to look as a fishermen village – the Baghdad Café and the Ganden Yigey Choling Buddhist Centre are recommended stops in your way; the last one is midway to the hilltop. Few guesthouses operate in this area, and it can compete with the Damside area in its calmness. I stayed at the Giri Guesthouse in the central part of the Lakeside and was completely happy – but there must be at least 50 guesthouses in Pokhara, and most of them offer proper conditions. A big room with a double bed, an attached bathroom, and a fan costs 100NPr per day. Since the buses from Kathmandu arrive in the early afternoon, there is enough time to make a survey before choosing one. Touts wait at the terminal, and letting one of them to show you his guesthouse is a good way to find the somewhat convoluted way from the terminal to the Lakeside.
You will comprehend better the way if you keep in mind that the terminal is just north from the airport and that its southern tip is close to the Damside, while its northern tip is away from the Lakeside; hence advancing east will lead you to the lake. The Pokhara Museum is in the center of the city, along Pode Tol Road, and it offers an humble collection of the region’s costumes and customs. In the northeastern edge is the local university campus, which hosts the Annapuna Regional Museum and specializes on the natural history of the region.
The Annapurna Circuit is the most popular trekking route in Nepal, and despite lacking a natural attraction of the Everest size, it offers interesting views. The long circuit takes around 2 weeks, but if you are short on time, you can make a shorter trek and reach the Annapuna and the Machhapuchharey (The Fishtail) Basecamps. The trek itself, and its variants as well, is considerably easier than the Everest Basecamp one – you can do it as an acclimatization and equipment testing trek before attempting the more serious option.
Pokhara is a trekkers’ paradise, and you can make all your arrangements for your long walk from here, although it is wiser to start them in the less expensive and more cosmopolitan Kathmandu. Buying equipment here is an error, but if you are searching for porters or guides, just approach any of the agencies in the Lakeside. If you are not sure if you need any of them, you can start walking alone: porters will approach you daily along the trail, and all of them know the way. Please do not take advantage of these hard-working people: offer them at least 400NPR (around $6) per day of work, and if they gave you satisfactory service, add a 10% tip at the end of your journey.
The route from Pokhara begins with a bus or taxi ride to Naya Phul, less than 2 hours along the Baglung Highway to the northwest. From there it is a half-hour walk to Birethanti, which has several lodges and restaurants. It is a good idea to stay overnight and to begin the ascent early next morning, and that is because the ascent from Ulleri to Ghorepani includes some 4,000 stone steps through a dense forest. If you wish to avoid the exercise, you can make a short first day to Ghandrung and then continue through Tadapani to Ghorepani. This last place is a main stop along the trail that has many lodges and some good mountain views from Poon Hill (3,194m) – an hour climb from the village. The next day, the path descends gently to Tatopani, where some refreshment in the form of hot springs awaits you. The next day takes you to Ghasa, the first Thakali village, where the terrain changes from the subtropics to the beginning of a dry high-altitude rainshadow region. The people change along with the landscape from Hindu groups to Tibetan ones.
Without any dramatic changes, you will spend your next night in the village of Marpha, famous for its raksi, a liquor distilled from apples and peaches. From here, you start turning to the northern side of the circuit, north of the Annapuna Himal Range. The closeness to the Mustang Region and to Tibet is perceptible in the higher terrain and the strong winds. Jomosom is the administrative center of the region and is easily recognizable for its cluster of government buildings. Afterwards, the trail gets a desolate look until Muktinath, the northernmost stop in the circuit. It is a 30-minute detour to get from there to the medieval fortress of Kagbeni. As soon as you continue the trek, it's the hardest day: you will climb up to the Thorung La Pass, which is the highest point in this trek – 5416m – and in the same day you must descend to Thorung Pedi at 4441m. From here, you enter the eastern part of the trek and the climate gently begins to return to a subtropical mood.
In a long day, you can reach Manangbhot by walking along the Jargeng Khola River. This last town, the first of a meaningful size you have seen in a while, is the unofficial capital of the region, where you can recover your breath by staying a couple of days. Many day hikes are possible from here, but if you just want to sit down and relax, the mountain views are extraordinary.
From here it is a straightforward way to Chamey. Most of it runs parallel to the Marsyangdi River. The trail goes gently to lower terrains, and shortly after this last town, you turn southwards at the village of Thonchey, which is located at a mere 1,881m. It is hard to call the terrain of the rest of the trek a mountainous one, but its length will oblige you to split it at least into a couple of days. Many villages will appear along the way, and the best advise is to advance as much as you can and to stay overnight at the first village you see towards sunset. The goal at this stage is to reach Khudi and then, in a short day, the small city of Besisahar, from where you can find transport back to the nearby Pokhara.
To make the basecamps variant of the trek, you begin walking from Naya Phul to Ghandrung; shortly after this village, the way splits and you should take the northern trail. This trek is easier, and after Chomrong, the next stop north of Ghandrung, follow the Modi Khola River until the Fishtail Basecamp (3,703m); the Annapuna Basecamp is farther west at 4,095m. From Chomrong to Bagar there are several stops conveniently arranged: Khuldigar, Dobang, Himalaya Hotel, and the Hinku-Deurali duo will be your most probable night stops. After Bagar there are no settlements, and you must complete the rest of the way up and descend in the same day.
If you arrived from Kathmandu by bus, you will be searching first for a late lunch and then for a place where to drop your backpack.
Punjabi Vegetarian Restaurant
A light Indian vegetarian meal is the perfect start: the Punjabi Vegetarian Restaurant offers food of an amazing quality at reasonable prices. It is by the center of the main road in the Lakeside, at the very center of the tourists’ quarters and not very far from the bus terminal. Paped snacks will be served while you study the menu; the owner speaks English and can explain to you the secrets of their delicacies. Chapati bread is just perfect as a companion for the Channa Masala, a tasty stew of chickpeas. The sweet Punjabi Kheer, a dessert based on milk, rice, cashew nuts, and raisins is a delightful way to finish the meal.
Once feeling happy and comfortable again, getting rid of your luggage is the next natural step before beginning the exploration of the new place. Giri (pronounced with a soft “g”) Guesthouse is an easy place to find: walk south along the Lakeside main road until you see the Puja Bakery at your left and ask there for Sikr (the guesthouse manager), or just walk a couple of blocks away from the promenade and the guesthouse will appear at your left. Its location is a central and quiet one. Giri offers big well-lighted, clean rooms with attached bathrooms at economical prices (100NRP per day for a single room). The house has two floors, which means that the higher rooms offer a nice balcony and astounding views of the Annapuna Himal from the windows. The showers have hot water, and the rooms are equipped with big fans hanging from the ceiling. However, the best part is the roof, to which you can climb and get in a clear day good views of the mountains range and the town.
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