Let’s say you have one day to spend in the city by the lake in the west of Nepal. You’ll no doubt end up staying longer but here are a few things to prioritise from the moment you wake. First of all, you need to get to Pokhara. Book yourself onto a tourist bus through Royal Mountain Travel. Don’t party too hard the night before because you’ll be snaking your way through dramatic landscapes from 7 in the morning until early afternoon.
When you pull up into the dusty bus park in Pokhara make sure you pay 150 rupees to get to a hostel on the lakeside. If you’re losing the haggling battle don’t be too proud, pay 200 rupees if you must as this is where most of the action is.
The last two times we were in Pokhara, we stayed at the Chhetri Sisters and expect to lug our bags that way on the next trip too. Chhetri Sisters, or 3 Sisters, is a trekking company run by female guides and they have a lakeside hotel just down from the main drag. Many women have expressed that they feel more comfortable trekking with female guides and 3 Sisters carry the flag in providing this service. Double and twin rooms with attached bathrooms are either 15 to 20 USD, approximately, depending on the season, including an impressive spread for breakfast with croissants, eggs, fruit, muesli and teas and coffees.
So, this is how you start you day: eat as much as you can for breakfast because the day ahead will involve the burning of calories. Once you feel content, march towards central lakeside. At either end of the makeshift beach is a scattered assembly of rickety boats. Head towards the boats next to Mike’s Breakfast. If there are more than four of you, I would suggest taking a pedal boat. They’re spacious, light on exercise and it feels like you’re sitting on a floating veranda. Otherwise, if you want more exercise take one of the row boats.
Lock the Peace Pagoda into your cross-hairs and traverse the calm waters until you moor up at the foot of the adjacent hill. Make sure your boat is safely tied up as you don’t want to return to an empty space where it once was, seeing it as it floats unmanned around the lake.
The hike up to the Pagoda (as with all hikes) depends on how fit you are but it shouldn’t take you less than 25 minutes nor more than an hour. It’s a tranquil uphill walk through thick green wood and bush. Once you reach the top you have an unbelievably panoramic view of Pokhara, the surrounding valleys and the jutting white crowns of the Annapurna range in the background. Walk clockwise around the Peace Pagoda and feel your heart rate lull into a calm beat. With the sun shining the picture is flooded with white and a stillness washes over you. Once you’ve had your spiritual fill trundle down into the thicket and pop yourself out the other side to find your boat ready and waiting. Take this section on the lake at a leisurely pace. Open your backpack and pull out the cheese, bread, fruits and snacks that you picked up at the supermarket before you hired the boat. Float around and have a light lunch with the Himalayas as your mantelpiece.
After that set your course for the island in the middle of the lake. Row clockwise around the temple on the island and if you want moor up and walk around. As the early afternoon, approaches take your boats back to the harbor. Before you arrive in Pokhara, book one of your friends or family on a paragliding trip. Tell them you have something planned for the afternoon and watch their faces blanched as you sit in the paragliding office and they sign the disclaimer. Obviously, you should join them and go paragliding too, but at least, you will have time to mentally prepare.
The drive up to Sarangkot (the launch-pad for the para-gliders) is almost as scary as the flying itself. You will then stand on top of a hill and watch as fellow first-time fliers flail off the edge held up by a web of strings and a sheet of hardy kite material. Let go and leap. You will not regret it. There is no other way to see Pokhara, its surroundings or the Annapurna range. Frazzled and not quite sure how to walk make your way back to your hotel and freshen up. Go for a drink at the Babylon Café and indulge in a game of Sadhu (kind of like snooker with checkers). Olive is a great restaurant to have dinner at and they serve one of the best desserts I’ve ever had, the seductively named Machupichure Kiss.
As you toast the day gone by and contemplate having another glass of wine remember that the buses leave pretty early. My recommendation: miss your bus and stay another day.