For visitors looking for interesting places to visit before or after a trek, Pokhara is home to an assortment of monasteries and Buddhist meditation centers. From the elegant temple at Matepani to the no-frills discussions held at Ganden Yiga Chozin Buddhist Meditation Centre, there are plenty of opportunities to learn more about Tibetan Buddhist culture without having to add extras days onto your travel itinerary.
Pass through Pokhara’s main market area and over Mahendrapool Bridge to make your way to Matepani. Before entering the main gate and walking (or taking a taxi) up the winding jungle road, stop into one of the small local shops and fill up on traditional mo:mos or laphing, a typical Tibetan street food made of thick, gummy noodles.
Once you reach this gumba’s hilltop, you’ll feel instant relief from the city below. On the clearest days, Fishtail’s white peak blazes upon the horizon and Pokhara’s brick houses stack like lego in fields of rice and barley. Occasionally a monkey will stumble onto the premises from the surrounding forest. Regular puja and prayer ceremonies are conducted here, and visitors can light butter candles in the room adjacent to the large temple. Though damaged from the 2015 earthquake, renovations are continually taking place, and detailed murals line the walls inside the main hall.
Pema T’sal Monastic Institute
The popularity of this monastic center led to the establishment of an onsite hotel to house guests. Monks of all ages roam the grounds, and visitors are welcome to explore and learn more about Tibetan culture. Near this institute is a Tibetan refugee camp, and visitors can stop at the local peanut butter factory for samples, or buy Rasilo apple juice freshly brewed from the orchards in Marpha.
Jangchub Choeling Monastery
While you’re at Pema T’sal, head over to Jangchub Choeling to sit and observe one of the daily puja ceremonies. Around 3pm, monks chant Tibetan scripture and use traditional instruments for prayer. Colorful prayer flags whip in the wind from the river below, and small shops sell the usual Tibetan wares, such as singing bowls and amulets.
Shree Urgen Choling Buddhist Monastery
For travelers staying in Lakeside, this Buddhist center is focused on meditation and Buddhist practices. Basic accommodation is available, and vegetarian meals are served to guests. Twice daily puja ceremonies take place in the morning and again in the evening, and on Saturdays there’s a lecture on Buddhism. This monastery is within walking distance of many of the hotels and guest houses along the lake, and makes for an easy afternoon visit.
Pema Dechenling Monastery
While you’re walking around Lakeside, you can’t miss the golden Buddha perched on the hilltop. This newly constructed statue can be reached by a short hike. You’ll want to bring your camera: with views of the lake and the rustling prayer flags outlining your shot, you can’t get a better snap of Pokhara.
Ganden Yiga Chozin Buddhist Meditation Centre
Make your way around Fewa Tal towards Pame to reach this learning center for yoga classes, simple lodging, and enthusiastic discussions on Buddhism. Drop-in sessions and weekend programs are scheduled. Other activities include movie nights, cooking classes, and nature tours.
Shangya Chhyoling Buddhist Monastery
This monastery is a bit “off the beaten track” from Lakeside, yet this ornate stupa decorated with traditional prayer flags is worth a mention. The crowded city market is visible in the distance and creates an intriguing contrast for an afternoon of reflection and intentional thought.
Tips for Visiting
When visiting monasteries, be mindful of the people who live there. Smoking or drinking is typically not allowed. It is a common practice to walk clockwise around structures and to remove footwear before entering temples and enclosed spaces. Dress modestly, and enjoy the various smells of incense that fill the air.