The Pokhara Valley, a land of spectacular beauty crowned by the majestic Himalayas, conjures visions of calm but vibrant green hills. Loaded with luxuriant vegetation and dotted with shimmering lakes, the valley offers awesome vistas. Magnificent image of Mount Machhapuchhare reflected in the clear waters of the Lake Phewa leaves everyone spellbound. One of the Nepal’s adventure hubs, it has reputation of being the second home for the tourists worldwide.
Pokhara is situated at an altitude of 730 meters to 1030 meters. Its rich topographical conditions are responsible for the profusion of flora and fauna. The geographical location has made Pokhara one of the biggest valleys in Nepal. The valley is encircled by lush green hills ranging in height from 1077 meters in the South East of 2738 meters in the North East. Snow clad mountains add a special radiance to the valley. They also form snow-fed rivers that run through the heart of the valley.
The geographical studies reveal that centuries ago a glacier was formed in the valley. As the time passed, the temperatures steadily increased and the solid ice melted and formed a river that began flowing, cutting into the soil of Pokhara. The regular flow of glacial waters created several underground tunnels. Currently, most of these tunnels are dry and are found in the form of caves.
However, Dr. Harka Gurung (Nepal Geographical Society, The Himalayan Review Vol. 11-111, 1969) a renowned geologist of Nepal, holds a different opinion altogether. He believes the uplifting of the southern hills formed the plains of Pokhara, and subsequently diverted the Seti River from south to north-west forming the Seti Gorge. Over the years, a dense jungle covered the valley and several lakes and ponds were formed. The people from various places began to migrate to the valley in search of a fertile land and lively environment. Those early settlers found the valley an ideal place to live in as it was rich in water, good soil, and vegetation.
Among other advantages, the valley is popular for many different ethnic groups known for their rich art and cultural heritage. The combination of stunning natural beauty and spectacular art and culture has attracted visitors to the Pokhara Valley.
According to a popular legend, during the Mahabharata era, Bhim, one of the five Pandava brothers, visited a place called Hamada, 15km. from Pokhara. Bhim went looking for a Lotus called Rukh Kamal ( a species of lotus that blooms on the tree) to please his wife, Dropadi. Those days Pokhara was a vast lake circled by high mountains. Since the deep water blocked Bhim’s search, he made a gash with his sword. As a result, the water drained out and he was able to pluck Rukh Kamals for his beloved wife. The place was later named Bhimad after this Herculean eic helo from The Mahabharata.
Several popular legends prevail in the valley. According to a legend, the valley is a perfect place where people of diverse origins live in perfect heaven. They freely participate in the religious and cultural activities of one another without a cast or creed bias.
Pokhara is also recognized as one of the major destinations for adventure tourism. Micro-light flying, paragliding, rafting, sightseeing, boating, pony trekking and caving are extremely popular form of adventure tourism. The visitors will certainly find such new places worth visiting. Such new places will further whet up the tourists’ interest in more exotic places around Pokhara.
Pokhara is the district headquarters of the Western Region Development. The valley lies between 83 degrees 58’ 30” E longitude and 28 degrees 16’ N latitude. Situated at elevation ranges from 627m to 980m above sea level, it covers an area of 123 sq. kms surrounded by high mountains. The total area of Pokhara Sub-Metropolitan City is 55.66 sq. kms as compared to Lekhnath municipality which is 77.75 sq.ms. The present population growth rate is about 7.41%.
Pokhara has a mild climate ranging from a maximum of 35 degrees centigrade in summer down to 10 degrees centigrade in the coldest month of January. The green hills and snow-capped mountains play an important role in keeping the temperature relatively cool, even in the scorching heat of the summer. In general, the humidity is higher in the morning than in the evening.
On average, the Monsoon season begins in Pokhara around April. The beginning of April brings torrential downpours with sudden strong winds and storms. The rainfall becomes more intense during the months of July, August and September. Pokhara receives heavy rainfall when the warm and humid winds from the Bay o Bengal and the Arabian Sea form heavy clouds over the valley. For this reason, the valley is also known as Cherapunji of Nepal, Cherapunji being the Indian town that receives the highest rainfall in the world. The heavy rainfalls gradually die down and the weather is clear from October to February. The lighter winter rains in the valley are from January to March.
When to Visit
The best time to visit Pokhara are Ocotber and November, in autumn; and February, March and April in spring. During these months, the overall climate of Pokhara is conducive for sightseeing, trekking, white water rafting and paragliding. The trekkers will have excellent clear days for trekking in the Annapurna region during December and January. Kathmandu is shrouded in mists that envelop the city until mid-day.; Pokhara has very clear weather with the sun shining and the sky bright blue. The tourists can feast on the lofty snow-covered Annapurnas sprawling along the valley. Sarangkot is the heavenly point to have exhilarating views of the valley. The tourists visiting during the Monsoon season may not be as fortunate as the torrential rains cause landslides and avalanches throughout Nepal.
Tourism Office Center/Annapurna Conservation Area (ACAP)
The Tourism Office Center is situated at Nagdhunga, next door to Hotel Crystal, opposite Pokhara airport. It is within easy reach of the Lakeside and the Damside. The tourists can get Pokhara maps, brochures and important information at the centre.
The ACAP office is within a walking distance from the Rastra Bank Chowk. The tourists can take an easy walk to reach this office. The visitors interested in trekking around Annapurna Conservation area Project (ACAP) (Ph. 430820) should contact at the ACAP office to receive entry permits. The trekkers can get useful information important for trekking around Annapurna region. The foreign and SAARC nations visitors have to pay Rs. 2000 and Rs. 200 for trekking permit respectively. To apply for the trekking permit, the visitors require filling an application form along with two photographs.
There are several convenient ways of getting to and from Pokhara and to other places in Nepal or India. The quickest is going by air. Kathmandu to Pokhara takes roughly 25 minutes. There are frequent flights throughout the day and the cost is reasonable. The tourists can get an excellent view of the Himalayas and the captivating landscape of countryside while traveling by bus.
The other alternative is by the road. Kathmandu to Pokhara is about a 6-hour drive and that including a lunch break. You can take a deluxe tourist bus, a mini tourist bus, a taxi or hire a vehicle that can be a car, mini-bus or four-wheel drive. You can hire a vehicle that can be more convenient as you can work out your own schedule economically. Any of these options are cheaper than flying, especially if there is more than one person. The journey is very enjoyable as you can enjoy the natural landscapes of the countryside.
Whichever way you choose to travel your hotel, guesthouse or lodge will be very pleasant to arrange for you. This also applies to trekking, white-water rafting, visiting local beauty spots, places of interest, or safari parks, micro light flights, paragliding and going by cable car to the world famous beautiful Manakamana Temple.
Many small pharmacies along the street of Phewa Lake and Damside provide doctor’s service on request. For serious medical problems, the tourists can visit Srijana Chowk, Mahendrapool, or Gairapatan where some of Pokhara’s best private hospitals are located with emergency facilities. Charak Hospital and Research Center lies at Damside near Rastrabank Chowk with twenty-four hours emergency service. This is the nearest hospital from the Lakeside. The Western Regional Hospital (Gandaki Hospital) is located at Ramghat. Since Government runs this hospital, medicines and check up charges are much cheaper than private clinics.
Pokhara has some well-maintained shopping malls at Mahendrapool, Chipledhunga,New Road and Lakeside. Being a tourist’s area, the prices are little more expensive at the Lakeside than other places. Saleways Departmental Store, Mahendrapool, Park & Shop Departmental Store, B.P Chowk, Munal Stores, B.P Chowk, U.F.O., Siddhartha Chowk have some well-maintained Departmental Stores. A newly opened Bhat Bhatani, super martket is in New Road, where you can get all the goods you want, from everything small to big. There are several General provisional Shops along the roadsides at the Lakeside and Damside.
Fruits and Vegetable Market
Selling vegetables on carts is a common sight in Pokhara. However, if the visitors wish to buy varieties of vegetables and fruits from one place, they have to come up Chipledhunga, beside Siddhartha Club.
The Police are always vigilant around the Lakeside and Damside area. They are especially careful about the safety and security of the tourists. There is a police station nearby Lakeside. Another station lies in Baidam, near Hotel Kantipur. Te tourists can lodge any complain in case they need to do so, or you can dial 521087.
Pokhara’s main post office lies on the busy Mahendrapool road. It takes about one hour to reach the post office from Lakeside/Damside. There is yet another post office at Pardi, Pardi Post Office (PPo). It is quite closer from the Lakeside and the Damside. These post offices remain open from Sunday 10am to Thursday 5pm. On Fridays, they remain open from 10am to 3pm. The tourists can take a leisurely walk for about thirt minutes from the Lakeside to reach the Pardi Post Office.
Most of the visitors prefer to stay near Phewa Lake and Damside. Yet, the Indian visitors and business class people prefer to stay near the city at Prithvi Chowk and Mahendrapool.
The prices are reasonable in the majority of hotels and sometimes negotiable. The room charges are higher in the peak seasons the October, November, and the February to April. During the off seasons, prices go down dramatically. Some hoteliers even declare and impressive discount even up to 50% off the room rate during the off-seasons. There are many restaurants in Pokhara, serving cuisines from all over the world. The prices are reasonable whereas some very cheap depending on their class and location. Normally prices are expensive around Lakeside and Damside but cheaper around Prithvi Chowk, Mahendrapool and Chipledhunga, the downtown Pokhara.
Meditation and Yoga
Pokhara has a few Meditation and Yoga centers for the Western visitors. Garden Yiga Chozin Buddhist Center is a popular meditation center lies on the north of Lakeside. Regular courses with residential facilities are designed for the Western and Asian visitors. A well-maintained library remains an added facility of the center.
Sadhana Yoga Ashram (tel.464601) offers one-day yogic cleansing and hatha yoga. Besides, Sadhana Yoga has also developed longer residential courses meanwhile, in recent times, some unqualified and unscrupulous people including some foreigners giving lessons in Yoga and meditation. Many of these centers are not registered and therefore illegal. The visitors are advised not to visit such unauthorized yoga and meditation centers and take precaution.
The tourists can enjoy popular Nepali cuisines in Pokhara. Newari foods especially meat and buff varieties are extremely popular among the locals. However, they are bit oily and spicy. Besides, everyone seems fond of the Thakali foods. The visitors can have a taste of Thakali foods available at the restaurants around Mahendraool, Prithvi Chowk, Lakeside and Damside.
There are a few cinema halls at Mahendrapool, Chipledhunga, Tersapatti, and Ram Basaar, Hindi and Nepali cinemas are screened on these cinema theaters. However, on and off they do screen English cinema as well. Several videocassette ships are found across the town that sell latest movie CDs. Lok Dohori (Folk Duets) cassettes are on high demand.
Religions and Population
There are about sixty ethnic groups, over hundred languages and dialects and more than eight religions in Nepal. Though Nepal was the only Hindu country, varieties of other religions flourish here. Even if the majority of Nepalese follow Hinduism and Buddhism, one can find a unique example of religious tolerance and fraternity among the people.
According to the first population census held in 1956 the population of Pokhara was about 13,000. It rose to 20,611 in 1971 and to 36,010 in 1978. Because of speedy urbanization, the population growth of pokhara rose rapidly and, currently the population of Pokhara is approx. 300,000 (2012).
The population census held in 1988 reveals the fact that Brahmins 23.11%, Gurungs 20.92%, Cheetri 18.70%, Newars 15.60%, Magars 4.46%, Kamis 3.41%, Sarkis 2.78%, Pariyars 2.47%, Thakalis 1.53%, Muslims 1.00%, and others 5.93% live in Pokhara. The major ethnic groups living in Pokhara are Brahmins, Chhetris, Gurungs, Thakalis, Newars, Gaines and Muslims.