Pokhara is Nepal’s second city, and it is significantly different to Kathmandu. The air is clearer, the water sparkles, the mountains are closer, and the pace is generally more relaxed. That is, unless you’re up for one of the many outdoor adventure activities available in and around the city! Here are seven reasons why you should definitely visitPokhara while in Nepal.

It’s the gateway to the Annapurna region

Despite its individual loveliness, Pokhara is a tourist hub because it is the gateway to the Annapurna region in Western Nepal. Broadly speaking, the region refers to the areas around the Annapurna range, the Dhaulagiri Range and the Kaligandaki River Valley. It’s long been a popular region among travellers: it’s home to a variety of landscapes, a variety of cultures and variety of trekking trails. The mountain views are among the best in Nepal, while logistics are generally simple. Trekking in the Annapurnas usually means starting and ending in Pokhara, and it is a convenient jumping-off point.

Paddling on Fewa Tal

The watery jewel of Pokhara is Fewa Tal (Lake), which is edged by forested hills and has the pointy fishtail peak of Macchapucchare looming to one side. A favourite activity in Pokhara is paddling on the lake, and you can do this in various ways: hire a larger boat and guide for a group, hire a little boat and guide for just a couple of passengers, or take a kayak or other boat out alone. From the Lakeside promenade area you can paddle over to the other side of the lake, or just float in the centre and enjoy the views reflected in the smooth water. In the warmer seasons it’s even possible to go swimming from your boat, but it’s recommended that you paddle far from shore before doing this, as the water is full of weeds (and isn’t the cleanest) nearer the shores.

Day hike to Sarangkot

If you’re short on time or otherwise can’t go on a longer trek in the Annapurna Himalayas, a day hike up to Sarangkot is a good alternative. There are various routes up to this look-out point, but the most popular is the south trail, which starts at the lake. The path is forested most of the way, and quite steep, but the views down to Pokhara and across to the high snow-capped mountains make it worthwhile. Sarangkot is particularly busy during sunrise and sunset. If you want to go for sunrise, you’ll need to drive rather than hike.

Try paragliding (or even parahawking)

Sarangkot is also the paragliding starting point in Pokhara. If the thought of gracefully gliding above mountains and lakes appeals to you, then try paragliding. Pokhara is known to be one of the best paragliding destinations in the world, due to the spectacular mountain and lake views, as well as the stable air currents. Pokhara is also the only place in the world where you can try parahawking! Say what? This lesser-known adventure sport combines paragliding with falconry, as well as ecological conservation, as proceeds from flights go towards vulture conservation projects. Rescued and rehabilitated birds of prey (vultures rather than hawks, in fact) accompanyparagliders in the air. They are able to guide gliders to the best air thermals, as they naturally do so themselves to conserve energy when flying.

Shanti Stupa lookout

For a shorter, easier alternative to hiking to the Sarangkot lookout, head to the Shanti Stupa (also called the Peace Pagoda) instead. Unlike most stupas in Nepal, this one is not actually ancient. It was built in 1973 by a Japanese Buddhist sect, Nipponzan-Myohoji. This organisation built similar stupas around the world, all symbolising world peace. As it sits on top of a hill, there are spectacular views down to Pokhara and across to the Himalayas from the stupa.

Visit the International Mountain Museum

This museum was opened in 2004, under the guidance of the Nepal Mountaineering Association, and is a short drive from the centre of Pokhara. The museum presents information on the history, culture,geology, plants and wildlife of the Himalayas, as well as the people who live here and who have climbed them. Outside is a ten-metre high climbable model of Mount Manaslu (one of the highest peaks in the region) as well as a 21 metre climbing wall, in case you aren’t able to climb one of the Himalayas’ mega-peaks!

Relaxation

While there are many outdoor activities and excursions in Pokhara to keep you entertained, it’s not necessary to do anything at all. The city is home to many high-quality spas, yoga and meditation studios and swimming pools, catering to all budgets. If you justwant to relax, or to combine pampering with more active pursuits, it’s all possible in Pokhara.

Great food and nightlife

The Lakeside area of Pokhara has some of the best selection of international food in Nepal (as well as plenty of Nepali options, of course). You can dine on pizza, Vietnamese, Italian, Indian, Spanish, Mexican, Japanese, Chinese, Korean… almost any kind of cuisine you could want. The bars and cafes situated on the lake front are particularly chilled out, and come with amazing views of the water and mountains. Many places offer great happy-hour drinks specials, so you can relax with a pre-dinner drink while watching the sun set, turning the sky and the lake pink.

Warmer winter climate

Pokhara’s elevation is 827 metres, as opposed toKathmandu’s 1400 metres. This means that it is significantly warmer for much of the year. Although Kathmandu never gets exceptionally cold, December and January can be quite chilly. These are the perfect months to head to Pokhara, which is a few degrees warmer and still sunny all day. Although it’s quite a small city, Pokhara’s beautiful setting--in the shadow of the Himalayas and beside a lake--makes it a must-visit location while in Nepal.

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