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Pokhara Valley
The magnificent central Nepal valley of Pokhara lies nestled beneath the splendid Annapurna range, home to some of the most beautiful mountain peaks of Nepal . Situated some 200 kilometers west of Kathmandu, the town of Pokhara is the second most popular destination in Nepal . Stretched out on one side is the serene Phewa Lake , while to the north lies the captivating 140-kilometer Himalayan panorama, which includes the famed Machhapuchhare (Fish Tail).

Pokhara's tourist district, or Lakeside as it is popularly known, spreads along almost half of the eastern shore of Phewa Lake . Hugging the lake's shoreline, there is a long chain of business enterprises all ready to cater to the needs of visiting tourists: many hotels, many restaurants, many book shops, many souvenir shops, many provision shops, and many, many, many travel and trekking agents. Here accommodation ranges from budget lodges to luxury hotels.

Pokhara's Lakeside was popularized in the early seventies by hippies who used to hang around the lake by the drove, and even today the area retains vestiges of that generation's eccentricities. Loud music, outlandish signs, and peculiar names for hotels and restaurants like “The Hungry Eye,” “Moondance” and “Billy Bunter”, are some examples that defy transition.

Till a few decades ago, before the trans-Himalayan trade died down, Pokhara was a major depot in the trade between Tibet and central Nepal . Vestiges of this thriving trade that was mainly done through mule caravans can be found in the numerous caravanserais that are still present in settlements all along the Kali Gandaki Valley . The Tibet trade came to an end in the 1960s, but mule trains still trundle northward from this town with supplies for villages that lie along the Kali Gandaki passage up as far as the fringes of the Tibetan plateau in Mustang. Nowadays, more often than not these supplies are meant for trekkers who swarm up the valley in the thousands, for the Kali Gandaki Valley is the most favored trekking destination in Nepal . On their return to Pokhara, these caravans come laden with mountain produce such as yak wool, sheepskin, medicinal herbs, and the quite recently introduced apples.

The Mountains of Pokhara
The Annapurna range as seen from Pokhara is probably the best-known scene from Nepal . Yet, even the most thorough familiarity with the view does not prepare one for the experience of seeing them in reality, as even regular visitors to Pokhara can attest. It often happens that clouds gather up during the afternoon and tourists, who generally land in Pokhara in the latter part of the day, see nothing but a blanket white to the north of Pokhara. This is all the more fortuitous since appreciation of this beautiful range is best when after a good night's rest, one wakes up to find the entire lineup of these magnificent massifs spread out against the clear blue, crisp morning sky.

The Annapurna range is impressive by any standard. Looming ahead to take center stage is Machhapuchhare, or “Fishtail”, which gets its name from the shape of its summit. Flanking it on either side are the other great mountains of the range, including Annapurna I (8091 m), the first 8000-meter peak to be scaled. The range continues to meet the Lamjung Himal in the east while to its west looms the massive dome of Dhaulagiri (8167 m). Altogether an incomparable sight.

In spite of its proximity to the Himalaya , Pokhara is located at a relatively low altitude of 900 meters (2,950 feet). The climate, therefore, is mild and comfortable during the winters, while the cool mountain breeze helps bring the heat down to a tolerable level in the summer.

The highlight of a stay in Pokhara is simply gazing at the mountains that lie strung across the northern sky. And what a sight it is. Starting from Dhaulagiri (8167 meters) in the extreme left, the view includes Annapurna South (7129 meters), Annapurna I (8091 meters), Machhapuchhare (6997 meters), Annapurna IV, Annapurna III (7444 meters), Annapurna II (7937 meters) and Lamjung (6983 meters). Nowhere else in the world can one enjoy such a magnificent panorama up so close while enjoying the comforts of sub-tropical surroundings.

Besides spending time boating, swimming or fishing in Phewa Lake , taking a leisurely stroll along its bank is a good way of acquainting oneself with the Lakeside . This comes in handy especially if one has the intention of a stay of more than a couple of days, as it will allow one the opportunity to get an idea of the variety that is on offer.

Pokhara does not have many monumental sights like Kathmandu does. But that does not matter since this beautiful town is more a place of relaxation than of excursion. However, for the more energetic, there are a few sites worth a visit.

To begin with, Pokhara's bazaar area, especially the old part, is a fascinating place. Here, one can imagine the roll of the centuries as one walks along the stone-paved sidewalks of this quiet area. All commercial activities have shifted to other areas – so much the better since the old market still retains its quaint character of a town that time has passed by.

Davis Fall is a small but extraordinary waterfall. Its original Nepali name of Patale Chhango has now given way to the Anglicized version because a tourist by the name of Davis plunged to his death in this particular fall. Although the cascade is not very puissant and spectacular, the shapes of the stones and rocks through which the water drains are really unique and worth seeing.

Mahendra Cave is a limestone cave with stalagmites and stalactites. It is interesting from a religious point of view as well. There are many images of Hindu gods and goddesses on the walls of the cave and these are said to have occurred naturally. Electric lamps illuminate parts of the cave but it is safer to go in with torches or candles since power failure is quite common.

Seti Gorge, in places, runs so deeply underground that it cannot be seen. “Seti” in Nepali means “white”, the color of this river's water that comes from it's mixing with limestone. Over time, the Seti river has carved a deep and narrow gorge whose fascinating vistas are best seen from Mahendra Pool and from across the airport runway.

Bindhyabasini Temple is the most famous religious site in Pokhara. The temple, dedicated to the goddess Durga, is an ornate structure constructed on a tiny hillock that gives a commanding view of the town.

The Pokhara Museum houses exhibits on local history and is located north of the bus terminal on the main road. Entry fee is Rs 5 per person. The museum remains closed on Tuesdays.

Located at the northern end of Pokhara within the Prithivi Narayan Campus is the Annapurna Regional Museum . Sections include natural history displays of a large variety of butterflies, moths and insects. Also exhibited are cement models of Nepal 's wildlife. The Annapurna Conservation Area Project also has some interesting exhibits on the environmental problems of the Annapurna region. The museum is open daily from 9:00 am till 5:00 pm but remains closed for lunch between 1:00 pm till 2:00 pm. No entry fee is charged but donations are appreciated.

Phewa is not the only lake in Pokhara. The valley has a total of seven lakes although four of them are not so large. Among the larger ones are Rupa and Begnas Lakes , twin bodies of water separated by a low ridge. These lakes are situated approximately 15 kilometers east of Pokhara and are worth at least a half-day visit.

Trekking From Pokhara
If Pokhara is famous for its lake and mountain views, it is equally famous as a base for treks and expeditions into the Central Nepal Himalaya. The town is the best way to end the classic three-week Annapurna Circuit, an exhilarating trek that takes one to the spectacular trans-Himalayan domain of Manang and Mustang in the rain shadow of the Annapurna range.

Short Hikes
Alternatively, one may opt for short day hikes to places within the rim of the Pokhara valley. Walks to the surrounding villages offer captivating glimpses of rural life. Places nearby include Sarangkot, Kahun Danda, Tutunga, Dhunge Sangu, Phoksing Danda, and Ghachowk Lekh.


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