Last Updated on May 27, 2023 by Ellen
As slow travelers in early retirement, we love to find places that are affordable, have beautiful views and selections of rentals and restaurants, with good temperatures and friendly people. There is a place in Nepal that meets all of those criteria, and this post is about the pleasant surprise of Pokhara.
Pokhara is the second largest city in Nepal set against Phewa Lake at the foot of the mighty Himalayan Annapurna Mountains range. Our first impressions are of a place where people take pride in where they live.
Most people think of outdoor adventures when they think of Nepal – and rightly so! The Himalayas are majestic!
However, don’t pass on Nepal because you cannot hike Mount Everest. Pokhara is a well-suited place for older, healthy, slower travelers like ourselves.
The pleasant surprise of Pokhara
No garbage! No crazy traffic!
The first things that struck me about Pokhara were there’s no litter, and no crazy traffic! This was a welcome change after our six-month adventure in India.
Granted, there are far fewer people in Nepal than in India, and that means fewer litter bugs and fewer motos and cars.
But as budget slow travelers who don’t drive cars, we have walked with a lot of trash on the sides of the roads around some dicey, congested intersections — especially in large cities like Mumbai, Jaipur, Chennai, and New Delhi. Heck, even smaller cities are large by American sizing, and smaller cities have plenty of litter and traffic as well.
Unlike the roadway to Pokhara from Butwal, which is under major construction, the roads in Pokhara are well-paved.
Budget-friendly things to do
Easy hikes, pretty walks, bicycle rentals
Another pleasant surprise about Pokhara (for me) are the easy hikes and pretty walks. There is a promenade alongside the lake — with no motorcycle traffic! There is hardly any trash compared to other countries (besides India).
There are several easy hikes around the city. One notable trek for me was up to the Shanti Stupa, more commonly called the World Peace Pagoda by Westerners. There are a few ways to trek up the hill. We hired a paddle boat (and we helped paddle) across the lake and then did a direct ascent up to the top: about 900 feet in .85 miles.
From the Shanti Stupa, Theo went ahead and trekked up further to the relatively new Shiva Temple. (Nepal has a Hindu majority.) I stayed behind to meditate. Guards tried to keep noisy visitors quiet — people who disregarded the ‘Silence’ signs posted around the property. Meditation was therefore not possible for me.
Both the stupa and temple can also be reached by car or motorcycle.
While these treks are easy and pretty, there are some people with the opinion that Pokhara would be better served to focus on its natural beauty, and stop building iconic structures on surrounding ridges. A wonderful read I enjoyed immensely that covers this issue, and other issues, is an opinion piece in the Nepali Times: Pokhara’s desperation and hope.
We also rented mountain bikes for one afternoon and went a little bit outside the city proper. It was a pleasant lakeside ride without crazy traffic at a cost of $3.50 for each bike.
It was my first venture on a bicycle since I was hit by a car back in Hua Hin, Thailand in 2022. The calm traffic made it possible for me.
International Mountain Museum
The International Mountain Museum was another pleasant surprise in Pokhara. The incredible resilience and determination of mountain climbers left me in awe. And even more impressive: the geological history in this part of Earth.
The museum is near the old airport on a quiet field with model mountain top. As with everywhere in Nepal, climb at your own risk.
Admission was 500 rupees each ($3.85).
More expensive things to do
There are paragliding, ultralight, and helicopter adventure tours, in addition to the many longer treks offered by tourism agents all over Pokhara.
We’ve done paragliding years ago in Yelapa, Mexico (before early retirement), and helicopters are out of our budget. An ultralight ride appealed to Theo, and he may still do that as we have a few weeks left at the time of this writing. Stay tuned.
We do not plan to go on any hikes long hikes with mandatory permits and guides and overnight stays, but we have enjoyed day treks.
Hardly any tourists
Not exactly a pleasant surprise about Pokhara: there are hardly any tourists here. I’m not surprised given the crazy state of the world (pandemic end, Russia’s war with Ukraine, inflation, etc.) And it’s not pleasant for local people because no tourists means no income.
That said, 2023 would be an ideal time to visit Pokhara and the surrounding Annapurna area.
Because of this lack of tourists compared to a few years ago, options on where to stay are seemingly endless.
Accommodations, restaurants, shops
There are countless hotels in Pokhara, from the super budget to extreme posh. The Lakeside neighborhood is popular with most tourists, because it has restaurants and shops and hotels along a waterfront promenade at Lake Phewa.
We stayed in a one-bedroom apartment with kitchen, (solar) hot water, balcony, comfortable furniture, a few blocks back from the water. There were Hindu and Buddhist temples a short hike around the hill from our rental.
We enjoyed it and recommend ‘Kestral Nest’ – owned by Krishna and his lovely family. We booked this one through Airbnb.
There are plenty of grocery stores if you want to cook, lots of outdoor outfitters if you plan to hike the Annapuna range, and there are also plenty of shops that sell souvenirs and other goods such as beautiful pashmina scarves, ponchos, etc.
Unlike Rishikesh, where meat and alcohol are not served, restaurants in Pokhara do have meat. We even saw beef on the menu at one higher-end place, but Theo opted for fish instead. (I’ve gone vegetarian again.)
There is no shortage of menu choices – and view options, from lakeside and mountains to city street scenes.
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We walked everywhere in Lakeside. It’s easy, and pleasant.
We also took some public buses, as we do everywhere on Earth. The buses have helpful conductors who take your fare.
One day we took a bus up to a village that overlooks Pokhara called Sarangkot. It was a long trip – the bus only goes up the mountain nearest Pokhara once an hour, or so. It cost less than $1 each.
We planned to take the cable car back down, but even though the sign says it closes at 6:00 p.m., the last ride down is really 5:30 p.m. (that day, anyway). A local told us it sometimes closes early because there are hardly any tourists in Pokhara these days.
We took a taxi back down into Lakeside for 1,200 Nepalese rupees ($9)! It was raining, pouring, actually, so hiking down was not an option.
Unfortunately, the weather was wacky when we were in Pokhara in early March. It’s not supposed to rain during this time, but it did for a brief time nearly each day of our nine-night stay. This was despite a forecast for clear skies. Bummer!
While each day was not a washout, clouds lingered over the Himalayas as a result of the rain, and we couldn’t see the mountaintops from Pokhara, or from the mountain-top destinations of the Shanti Stupa or the Shiva Temple.
However, temperatures were ideal this time of year (March) – 57 to 77 degrees.
Pokhara: A destination
Pokhara is a good value destination. It’s clean and beautiful, near so many hiking options that there is something for everyone, the climate is great many months of the year, and the people are kind. Also, in the city, many people know English.
Will Pleasant Pokhara ever become a retiree haven? Likely not anytime soon. Read about our accessibility issues in getting to Pokhara. Also, to the health care system doesn’t have experience with medical tourism like destinations in Malaysia or Thailand, or even India, for example.
But if you are a relatively healthy retiree on a budget, or a slow traveler in no rush, I’d definitely recommend Pokhara on your own world travel tour.
Wherever you go, enjoy the heck out of it because Life is Now!
Launch point to the Himalayas
Now, those majestic Himalayas are calling…. and we want to see them. So we will venture a tad closer to the Annapurna Range in our next stop on the ongoing Earth Vagabonds world tour.
More reports to come.
And then: we will return to the Lakeside neighborhood because we are so pleasantly surprised by Pokhara! We decided to spend more time there, and then make a quick visit to chaotic Kathmandu, where we will fly out and rejoin Mom Diane.