Pokhara, Nepal, March 2018: A 10 minute bus ride to Rastrabank Chowk followed by a 15 minute stomp up to the end of the runway at Pokhara airport – a great spot for some mountain viewing. From here, one can see practically the entire Annapurna mountain range and since the weather has been unusually clear all day then today is an opportunity to catch a Himalayan sunset.
As the sun begins to sink a hue falls upon the glistening mountain peaks. A subtle pink turning into a deeper shade of orange as the sun sinks to the Southwest. A majestic and serene scene indeed. Mesmerizing to begin with then the mists and shadows fall obscuring the Eastern facing slopes until finally its all in the grasp of dusk. Time to head on back to base.
Waiting for the sun to set….
Changing colours at sundown…
Sunset begins at around 5.30 this time of the year and lasts for about 45 minutes. Bus from Barahi (Map) to Rastrabank Chowk (Map) is 15 rupees. From Rastrabank walk up to Mustang Chowk (Map) and the airport is straight ahead. Turn right then next left to find the end of the runway (Map). A great little expedition requiring almost no effort – great for non-trekkers like me!
Pokhara, Nepal, March 2018: Boating is the principle tourist activity here on the lake Fewa. For around £8, with or without a boatman, one can row around for an hour or so and feel somewhat at peace with Himalayan nature. For about £12 one can hire a boat all day and explore all those nooks and coves on the far-side. Swimming in the middle of the lake is not advised. There’s at least one death a year, blamed on the lake monster if local folklore is to be believed. Personally, Id say over intoxication could be the reason!
Boat stations are situated conveniently along most of the lakes Northern perimeter so one is never very far from a potential spell of boating.Price’s are the same and rigidly set – there’s no negotiation for a discount – take it or leave it during high season. Low season may be another matter and i’m sure one could bargain on a little extra time for the same price.
So lets go boating and enjoy some scenery…
If you have the time, wait for a clear day and you’ll see the mountain peaks poking up from behind the hills. Unless you want to go to the Barahi Island temple and back I’d avoid this station altogether – its crazy manic and you”ll have to queue (Google Map). Choose another launching station slightly further along, guaranteed no queuing! Its a great way to spend some time at one with the natural world, on water. Mornings are the best time to go boating when the air is fresh and crisp and scenery is at its best, especially for keen photographers.
Pokhara, Nepal, March 2018: There’s a sign prominently displayed by the roadside as visitors arrive at Pokhara’s Lakeside – “No Lake, No Lakeside”. A stark reminder of how important this natural freshwater lake is to the local economy. Its also a timely reminder to locals and business owners to keep the place nice and tidy! Cleanliness isn’t a word id associate with Nepal, but as far as lakeside go’s it is pretty clean. Not perfect like we’d see in New Zealand or England but compared to Kathmandu the place is like a sanctuary!
The rustic charms of this rather large tranquil Himalayan lake draw in domestic tourists all year round while international visitors are more of a seasonal entity, passing through on their way to or from the Annapurna mountains. Personally, this is my winter hangout – rustic, tranquil and above all cheap in a like for like comparison with the developed economies of the West.
Tranquility – looking across the Himalayan hills…
Visitors in search of high-end fine dining along the lake front will be sorely disappointed. The menus are plain, simple and sometimes pricey for what one receives! Recent development has seen a sharp rise in the construction of food shacks – simple bamboo framed structures with a corrugated tin roof to more complicated bamboo structures with thatched roofs. Cheap plastic chairs and tables, sometimes wood slatted benches and stone slabs, all en-alfresco certainly gives this place that rustic feel. Each shack though emanates its own style and personality. From a plain and simple eat and go to relax and stay for a while. Personally, I’m opting for the relax and stay a while philosophy since I have bundles of time – yes travelling slow has its advantages.
Savouring the peace and tranquility, perhaps take a nap…
A simple, basic shack…
Exerciser Caution: While rustic may have its charms it should also come with a degree of caution. First, Nepal has no quality control – no laws, no rules when it comes to hygiene and food safety. The smaller shack operators are family affairs making a subsistence living at best. Their philosophy for getting rid of garbage is to pile it up in the back yard – out of sight out of mind but an attractive proposition for swarms of flies and rodents. I’d never est anything that looks as if its been standing around, cold food items definitely off my food radar, not just at shacks on Lakeside but anywhere in Nepal!
By contrast, larger concerns are operated on a more professional level with college educated staff well ware of the perils and consequences of food poisoning. While these places are far from even close to matching Western hygiene standards they are somewhat better than some of the shacks. Wherever I eat though, id make sure my food is well cooked and as fresh as possible.
Back yards behind the shacks….
Here’s a few simple guidelines when dealing with food on Lakeside and anywhere else in Nepal.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions about your food and try to gauge any potential problems. for example, I’ll always ask ‘how long has the rice been cooked for’? Once they hear that, you’ll get freshly cooked food. Try to pick on an establishment where the cooking can be observed. These tend to be the smaller places without the storage space of larger premises. Try to avoid meat and fish – a magnet for flies and may not get cooked right though.
Its a tricky business in Nepal but after 4 seasons of visiting here, sticking to a mainly vegetarian diet with the occasional chicken relapse, I haven’t suffered any food poisoning what so ever!
And that my friends is how it is, Lakeside Pokhara, Nepal.
Pokhara, March 2018: Work in progress – I need help identifying the locations of these camp sites located in the region of Fishtail?Annapurna Mountain area. I be grateful of a name and or Google Map location. Thank you.
Pokhara, Nepal, March 2018: Today is Holi and that means its going to be a messy affair, especially later on if last year is anything to go by! Holi is a very big deal here in the Lakeside district of Pokhara with business’s gearing up for a financial windfall as thousands are expected to arrive here around lunchtime. With live music gigs at Centre-point, Camping chowk and at smaller venues along the lake front the scene is set for a very noisy, colourful, crazy afternoon!
The origins of Holi are somewhat lost in history for the most part with a tenuous link to the Hindu Lord Krishna. The modern and updated interpretation of Hloi however is ‘A Day Off Work’ Yes, another public holiday to herald in the Spring across Nepal. Coupled with the fact that everyone at some point in the day will be covered in coloured water and brightly coloured paint powder then defining Holi is pretty straight forward, ‘A Festival of Colours to mark the start of Spring and the season of Love’.
When the festival occurs depends on the Hindu calendars lunar interpretations, but generally speaking its after the full moon between late February and early to Mid March.
From around mid morning sellers are on the streets flogging bags of paint powder for 150 rupees while kids charge up their water guns, fill up buckets of coloured water and fill balloons with water in readiness for some good old fashioned mischief making – all under the guise of Holi of course.
Selling paint powder for Holi…
So, as thousands of Pokharas residents head on down to lakeside its time to change into something I can discard later, grab some lunch and tease the kids for a while.
Lets get messy….
As the music pumps and the powder flies its a good idea to keep ones mouth shut for the time being. Moving between gigs is when the water also flies with kids bombing tourists and small boys trying to smear powder across girls faces but often just tall enough to reach the breasts – Yes, quite a few slapped faces today I should think!
Thousands gather for Holi celebrations…
Holi day is a great festival for tourists to get involved with. Its a cultural experience like no other. However, with the vast amounts of paint powder flying around and considering that there are next to no reliable quality control measures in Nepal some powders may well be toxic So here’s a few top tips to follow for a happy, healthy Holi.
- Asthmatics should probably avoid large crowd concentrations.
- Before revelling in Holi buy a face mask or 2.
- Girls be prepared for some intimate touching by young boys.
- Keep that mouth closed as much as possible – eat and drink later.
- Don’t wear those designer jeans or the prized Tee-shirt – obviously.
Pokhara, Nepal, February 2018: A festival celebrating Lord Shiva – a God of the Hindu brand of religion. The origins are somewhat murky depending on what one reads or who one believes, but everyone agrees on one thing – The National Holiday! Yes, a chance for those who are devoutly loyal to Lord Shiva to trot down to the local Temple for prayers, and the giving of garlands and various other offerings according to the belief. The kids are delighted with a day off school and certainly don’t plan on catching up with homework, and who can blame them. In simple terms, everyone’s happy with a day off!
Here in Pokhara, perhaps the most famous temple is that on Barahi Island, situated in the middle of Fewa Lake.Go(ogle Map) The lakefront is heavily populated with locals waiting for their boat to Barahi. Little blue painted rowing boats mostly, and some rather dubious double boat structures serve to triple passenger capacity to the point of no return! Its a 10 minute ride depending on how enthusiastic the boatman is. Price discrimination is alive and well practiced here with white skinned people paying 3 -4 times more than the natives. Nonetheless its an interesting cultural excursion.
Approaching Barahi Island…
On Barahi Island with the crowds….
Exploding Sugarcane: The national holiday celebrating Lord Shiva (Shiverati) culminates after dark with the heating of sugarcane before giving it a good wack on the road. A crack followed by a cloud of rising steam amidst cheers from the crowds gathered around the bonfire is the scene repeated at various locations around Pokhara’s Lakeside district.. Exactly what this represents with respect to Lord Shiva is hard to discover, and i’m still non the wiser. I suspect its just a bit of fun, mainly for the younger generations who have a spare 150 rupees for one long cane of sugar. Children are seen gathering the remains of discarded canes and sucking, vigorously extracting the sweet juices.
Shiverati Festival occurs February to early March according to the Hindu calendar. A boat from Lakeside across to Barahi Island Temple will cost around 500-600 Rupees for non Nepali or Indian for a return journey. I suspect trying to swim there would be frowned upon! Id definitely recommenced getting involved, especially with the exploding sugarcane after dark.
Pokhara, Nepal, February 2018: About 3/4 the way up, just before the village,, a guy in an orange vest jumps out from behind a ramshackle structure, with a demand for 50 rupees. He points to a notice board, looks official alright. Says something about being a fee to help the villagers achieve development! Oh well, 50 rupees won’t spoil the budget too much and at least I can get on the viewing platform with it. I’d estimate another 45 minutes of hiking from here, but those damn clouds are beginning to develop, better got a move on!
Sarangkot , not only famous for mountain viewing, but also for jumping off with a parachute – Yes, its the worlds premiere spot for paragliding is to be found here. The good news is that their trail is a handy shortcut to the viewpoint platform, which is clearly visible, almost within touching distance. I’ll loiter here for a few minutes rest though.
!0.15 and a last ditched effort to reach the summit of Sarangkot Hill. A nicely constructed stone staircase lined either side with everything touristy, only there’s an apparent lack of tourists. So, at last, on top of the hill where in theory the views of the entire Annapurna mountain range should be breathtaking. Instead the clouds have rolled in creating partial views here and there. Strangely enough though the black and white vista adds a completely different dimension to the scene. An air of mystery surrounds the Annapurna mountains hidden in a cloak of mist and fog!
Half an hour here is long enough for a good rest and suddenly realising I haven’t eaten for some hours, time to find sustenance. Among the plethora of touristy joins, most of which seem closed, one can find a local lunch counter with the simplest of menus – noodles, potato, fry, Dal Bhat and samosas. 1 samosa, a plate of potato fry and a cup of milk tea will cost 200 rupees, more than double in the city. Funny how inflation increases with altitude!
With a few hours to spare until the bus down at 4 pm, lets go and watch those fools jump off the hillside – attached to a parachute of course!
Well, it may be a quick way down for the adventurous, I’d sooner take the bus. At first the place looks like a scene of chaos but after a while there is a definite queuing system. Quite calming to watch for the most part – that is until someone trips up on the cliff edge or the parachute canape collapses just on the point of launch. One chap even managed to wrap his entire rig around the windsock post!
And here comes the bus… Yes it’s pretty amazing how they get these buses up the steepest of hills on the narrowest of tracks!
For those of us not inclined to take long hard treks, a trip to the Sarangkot (Google Map) viewpoint is a great alternative to see the mountains and is only a day trip from Pokhara. Hop on a bus at Hallanchowk (Google Map), get off at Zero (Google Map), take a bus up the Baglung Road and get off at either the Baglung bus park (Google Map) for the Sarangkot bus or the Sarangkot road for the walking up (Google Map). Id recommend the earliest start possible aiming to be on the viewing tower by 9.30 am as the mountains are nearly always obscured by clods from mid-morning. Be sure to catch the scenery on the way up! Plenty of accommodation options exists should one desire to stay overnight and enjoy a sunset and sunrise – take cash since i didn’t spot an ATM up there.
There are 2 public buses heading down between 3 and 5 pm or catch a lift with one of the paragliding vans directly back to Lakeside – negotiate the price well as these boys eyes twinkle with the prospect of some extra cash!
Have I inspired you to go to Sarangkot one day? let me know in the comments below and thanks for reading.
Pokhara, Nepal, February 2018: The ascent to Sarangkot begins here at the sign board. Its 8.20 am as the bus pulls away in a cloud of dust and diesel fumes. The weather is still clear if a little hazier now that the Pokhara has woken with the resulting pollution that occurs. So, upwards and away from the hustle and bustle of the city. Soon the air smells sweet again as the ramshackle collection of houses and shops fall behind. Just 10 minutes into the hike and already those mountains are looking pretty awesome – and we’ve hardly started!
Just 15-20 minutes into the hike and there are the mountains…and sweet fresh air!
The ascent continues. At every corner, or so it seems, there’s a little more of the mountain range to be seen. Some great photography opportunities for those with some serious kit and not so bad for the likes of me with just a pocket camera to hand. Nicely framed vistas through the hillside vegetation is providing me with some pretty unique snaps today!
A vista on every North facing corner…
Traffic is brisk on the narrow road – unsurprising since the place is a tourists hotspot. Even so, one gets a sense of tranquility. Old timers hobble along while others fetch water from the public taps. Yes, a glimpse into local rural life among the ramshackle dwellings.
A glance at local life…
NEXT: Before the clouds come rolling in and those fools jumping off the hillside!
Pokhara, Nepal, February 2018: Sarangkot is that one special place, memorable and most definitely unforgettable. The mountain views from here are simply awesome on a clear day! I’ve been several times and I’m going again – today infact since there’s a window of opportunity. The clouds and mist have been replaced by a clear blue sky and crisp fresh mountain air.
How to get to Sarangkot: Three ways, the hard way the easy way and the expensive way.
The hard way entails a trek from Lakeside to the next village along, Phedy, and then a steep hike up the hill to Sarangkot – That’ll take 3 hard hours!
The easy way involves 2 possibly 2 busses from Hallanchowk to Sarangkot village then a 15 minute hike up to the view point. Bus 1, Hallanchowk to the locally named Zero intersection, 15 rupees. Bus 2, Zero to Baglung bus station, 15 rupees then the third bus to Sarangkot village – leaves between 9 and 9.20 am, 50 rupees one way. Depending on bus times the whole trip takes about 1 hour 15 minutes.
The expensive way is to of course take a taxi from the hotel. Depending on ones haggling skills it’ll cost between 600-750 rupees one way for a white person. Should take around 35 minutes.
Since I’m not renowned for laying out unnecessary expense or taking the hard way when an easy option exists its of no surprise then that today’s trip will be the easy way! Except that I’ll skip the third bus and take a leisurely stroll up to the 5,500 foot vie point.
NEXT: On the road to Sarangkot and a look at those awesome mountain views…..
England, 2nd January 2018: 4 flights across 2 days should hopefully get me to Pokhara if all go’s to plan. Yes, i’m about to embark on another migration southwards and eastwards to first Nepal then onto Hong Kong and Japan. I’m breaking with tradition this year by starting at my local airport rather than London! So, at 6.15 am its a freezing cold stomp in the dark, to the city centre bus station and the airport bus.
Flight 1 Norwich International to Amsterdam Schipol: KLM Royal Dutch Airlines Embraer Jet, 35 minutes flying time costing £86 (£172 return) arriving Schipol at 11am. A pretty nice flight on the Embraer Jet, a small commuter plane and today packed to the rafters! Plenty of legroom and I managed to sneak 3 bags into the cabin – backpack, kitbag and laptop bag!
Flight 2 Amsterdam Schipol to Istanbul Ataturk: Turkish Airlines Airbus 330, 3 hours flying time costing £255 (£510 Return) departing Schipol at 1830. Another flight packed to the rafters but its only a relatively short trip to Istanbul.
Flight 3 Istanbul Ataturk to Kathmandu: Turkish Airlines Airbus 330, 6 hours flying time incorporating the £255 as the fare from Amsterdam to Kathmandu. Departs at 0145 arriving Kathmandu 11am. A good flight, well, any plane half full can be deemed a good flight. So, with plenty of space and great tasting food one can say this red eye trip is quite satisfactory.
Flight 4 Kathmandu to Pokhara: Yeti Airlines British Aerospace J41, 25 minutes flying time at a cost of £87 one way. Leaves Kathmandu at 1245 arriving Pokhara 1315. I was booked on the 1445 to Pokhara anticipating a possible late arrival and long immigration queues – wrong on both counts! The staff at Yeti Air kindly rearranged my flight to the next available -30 minutes time, no fuss, no price penalties, they just did it.
On the way to Pokhara…
And once again in Pokhara, Nepal.