The valley of Pokhara, some 200 km to the west of Kathmandu, luxuriates in one of the most enchanting natural sceneries in the world. Here you can encounter the snow peaks of the Himalaya up close without having to go on a trek. With its soothing climate, the balmy atmosphere of a resort town and the raw beauty of an exotic, untouched landscape, Pokhara offers an unusually blissful break away from the frenzied pace of city life.
To many who have been there, the name “Pokhara” itself immediately conjures up the magical image of Mt. Machhapuchhre, the stunning forked pinnacle named for its fish-tail shape. An illustrious member of the Annapurna range, rising out of which are a bevy of other equally distinguished summits that protect the valley in a breathtaking semi-circle, it levitates to a height of 6,977 m and is one of the most enduring natural fixtures of Pokhara.
The cluster of delightful lakes is another absorbing feature of Pokhara. The deep green reservoirs are fed by glacial rivers that originate in the Annapurna mountains. Around the serene Lake Phewa, the largest of the seven lakes, sprawls Pokhara’s pulsating tourist neighborhood. With a string of hotels, restaurants and shops hugging its shores, Lakeside, as the area is called, is a popular hangout for travellers from all over the world.
The Barahi temple, Pokhara’s most important Hindu shrine, stands on an island in the middle of the water. The two-storied pagoda houses an image of the boar manifestation of Ajima, a protectress deity representing the female force. Perched on a hilltop to the south of the lake, the World Peace Pagoda, a massive Buddhist stupa, looks down upon the valley of Pokhara & International Mountain Museum.
Another scenic lake is Begnas which is situated on the outskirts of the town. Comparatively less frequented, Begnas Lake is for those seeking more quiet and privacy. Boating, swimming, day-hiking and lazing around in the shadow of the snowy mountains are popular diversions here.
Pokhara’s geology is as striking which further endorses its untamed beauty and inspires awe in all. Imagine a town with the Grand Canyon running through the main street, that’s Pokhara. Its fashionable shopping district is split in half by a bottomless fissure in the rock substratum, called the Seti Gorge.
The Seti Gandaki river runs completely underground at places. Amazingly, at certain points the river appears hardly two meters wide. But its depth is quite beyond imagination – over 20 meters! Mahendra Pul, a small bridge near the old Mission Hospital, provides a perfect view of the river’s dreadful rush and the deep gorge made by its powerful flow.
A series of large limestone caves, Mahendra Gupha, adorns the northern end of the city. It is locally known as the House of Bats, an apt name for it. It is best to bring your own torch to see the stalactites and stalagmites, as well as the local winged residents. Pokhara’s southern extremity is marked by a mysterious hole in the ground known as Patale Chhango (or Devil’s Falls). Here the river flowing out of Lake Phewa is sucked into the deadly vortex of a dark cavern that plunges into the depths of the earth. Nearby, the sacred cave of Gupteswar Gupha draws Hindu pilgrims for the phallic symbol of Lord Shiva enshrined here.
Also take time out to explore the town’s old market center. The Bindhyabasini temple is the focus of religious activity in the old bazaar. It is dedicated to the Hindu goddess Bhagwati, a manifestation of Shakti. The park-like grounds offer a fine picnic area, and on Saturdays and Tuesdays when devotees flock here to offer sacrifices, take on a festive local flavor. The old part of town bears resemblance to the traditional urban layout of Kathmandu, with temples and exquisite house facades. These architectural styles were brought by settlers from the Kathmandu Valley who, centuries ago, were invited by one of the kings of Kaski to set up shop and engage in trade.
The most popular mountain destination in the area is Sarangkot, which is nestled high up on the north ridge of Phewa Tal. The mountain stands 5,220 feet above sea level and takes three hours to hike. Ruins of the fort built by the Kaski kings, who fell to the Gorkhalis in 1781, are found at the summit. There are also lodges up there where you can stay to enjoy the views at dawn and sunset.