Like thousands of other tourists and travelers drawn to Nepal for trekking in the Himalayas, Kim and I have found ourselves in the city of Pokhara. It’s the base of operations for anyone planning to trek in the Annapurna region.
At first glance, one word came to mind upon arrival in Pokhara: touristy. The more I travel, the more ‘touristy’ becomes a four letter word, and usually said with a sneer that is reserved for cockroaches and bus station touts. At first blush we were questioning our decision to spend a week in Pokhara before heading out to Annapurna Base Camp.
But we decided to set our first impressions aside and give it a chance, and Pokhara has shown itself to be a nice little city. Despite being Nepal’s second largest city, its population is only 265,000, and outside of the tourist district it almost has a small-town feel. It’s located beside the man-made Phewa Tal (lake), the second largest lake in Nepal. On clear days you can see three 8,000 meter (26,246 feet) mountain peaks from pretty much everywhere in town, the highlight being Annapurna, the 10th tallest mountain in the world.
We arrived in town with no guest house reservations, but that doesn’t seem to be a problem in Pokhara. There seems to be a higher guesthouse-to-tourist ratio here than anywhere else we have visited. We stayed in the Iceland Guest House, by my reasoning that staying at a guesthouse named after a country that believes in gnomes would be good karma while on my one man search for the Yeti.
Despite the tourist-y-ness of the city, we have had a great time here. The city has a laid-back, mountain town pace about it and has all of the creature comforts to cater to the western tourists (good wi-fi, hot water, real coffee, etc.) There are day hikes up the steep hills surrounding the lake. We have taken advantage of our time here to whip our legs back into trekking shape after our relaxing, but not so active, stay in Goa.
We spent one day renting a boat to row across the lake and hike up to the World Peace Pagoda that overlooks the city. The hour-long hike, straight up the hill (I don’t think they believe in switchbacks here), was a wake up call to how out of shape I am. I had to huff, puff, sweat, and haul myself up to the top, barely able to keep sight of Kim’s feet scampering up the trail.
Once we reached the top, and I finally caught my breath, we explored the Peace Pagoda. We learned that there are 100 Peace Pagodas located around the world and they are built to help spread peace throughout the world, as taught by the Buddha. The Peace Pagoda in Pokhara is the first built in Nepal, and the 71st Pagoda constructed around the world.
After stopping for a cold drink and exploring a peak covered in prayer flags, we headed back down to our rented boat. As we rowed back across the lake, we stopped at a temple located in the middle of the lake. I am not sure what the temple is for, as I was unable to make the connection between the bird hotels constructed for the hundreds of pigeons on the island and the statues of fire-breathing tigers guarding the entrance of the temple. We didn’t stay long, as there were probably 200 people on the tiny island temple: Nepali tourists in town for the new year celebration.
After rowing back to shore and a much needed shower, we set out to stop the grumbling in our bellies. Just down the street from our guesthouse I see one of my favorite sights in the world. Kim had to nearly tackle me to stop me from running down the street to my newfound, albeit temporary, savior: the street food vendor. We fill ourselves with mixed chaat, samosas, and my new favorite street food: pani puri.
We get overcharged for our food, but the combination of spicy, sweet, crunchy, and tartness from fresh squeezed lime temporarily dulled our penny pinching. We realize that we have been overcharged by little over one dollar. I guess my hunger induced over zealousness didn’t do me any favors. And really, the vendor, trying to scratch out a living selling food to tourists, probably needs it more than we do.
After we regain all of our senses, we take an evening stroll on the lakeside path. It’s dusk and the sunset over the lake is beautiful. After taking in the last of the daylight, we make our way back to our temporary home, having enjoyed everything this city has to offer, even if it is a little touristy.