Morning in Pokhara.
Early risers climb the hill leading to Matepani Gumba where monks begin their first chants of the day. Across the valley in Lakeside, vacationers sleep off last night’s revelry, and trekkers slowly rouse before starting off on various treks throughout the Annapurna region. Others, with cameras strapped around their necks, file into taxis hoping to catch the famous golden rays of Sarankot's sunrise.
I’m sprinting up New Road.
Shopkeepers begin to roll open shutters, and the smell of freshly baked goods lures me and sweat-drenched Zumba enthusiasts away from morning exercise. I’ve made a game of overtaking groups of camouflaged-clad army trainees. They’re one-two-one-twoing in single file lines, and I’m flying past them. It’s Eye of the Tiger, except the tiger is carved out of snow on Machhapuchhre (Fishtail Mountain). And, let’s face it, these Laures-in-training are closer to Rocky than I’ll ever be.
Pokhara has it all.
The city earned its name from the many lakes dotting the area. Besides Begnas and Fewa, the Seti River cuts through town, a ribbon tying a gift made specifically for paragliders.
It’s no wonder so many families retire in Pokhara after working overseas. The hub city of Kaski and third largest urban area in Nepal, families migrate from hill communities to capitalize on the area’s economic opportunity.
The richest district in Nepal, Kaski is home to clusters of large homes and teenagers speeding down relatively clean streets on bikes. Locals often ask tourists which city they prefer – Kathmandu or Pokhara – and the answers are unanimous.
Like Kathmandu, Pokhara offers promise of opportunity in commerce, business and tourism.
But price of rent and market items can be a deterrent for many. Mirroring most areas in Nepal, the gap between rich and poor is evident. A few beggars have made Mahandrapool Bridge their home, blocks away from privately built mansion houses.
My friend Bimla runs a souvenir shop on the main road in Lakeside (across from Boomerang, if you want to find her). She remembers early days of selling knickknacks to visitors. What was once a dappling of merchants has exploded into a line of restaurants, travel agencies, and shopkeepers bargaining with tourists hoping for a sale.
Ease of travel has helped create a jigsaw of hippies, vacationing Nepalis and hardworking locals.
Tourist buses run daily, some offering wifi and air conditioning for the more discerning travelers. Daring adventurers can hop into local microbuses to shave time and money off the overall journey from Kathmandu. And if you don’t want to spend hours inside a bus, the priciest option, air, can land you at Pokhara Airport in less than thirty minutes.
Because of this accessibility, Pokhara has become a holiday hot spot. Events such as Tihar, New Year, even Valentine’s Day are packed with Nepali and foreign visitors. Around these festivities, hotel prices rocket and streets fill with locals showing off fashion trends while wide-eyed tourists stumble beside them in trekking boots.
Mela, outdoor concerts, and events abound.
Every night of the week, live music drips as freely as alcohol from bars lining Fewa Tal. Many restaurants feature traditional dance shows, and if you have a favorite Kathmandu restaurant, chances are its twin is waiting for you in Pokhara (Trisara, Phat Kath, Himalayan Java). Busy Bee is a local staple; Nepalis and bideshi drink and smoke hookah while listening to cover songs from live rock bands. New friends stagger arm in arm to late night haunt Ozone and shimmy the night away. If you “overdo it,” don’t worry --- massage rooms and spas can rub away your tired feet (and hangover) the next day.
Those wanting a surge of adrenaline can find it.
Bungee jump, paraglide, skydive or stand-up paddleboard for added adventure. Families wobble in boats and paddle into the lake’s center to visit the Hindu Temple Tal Barahi. Buddhist monasteries house Nepali and Tibetan practitioners. Listen carefully and you’ll hear Gurung spoken or stumble upon a group of men in traditional dress heading for an archery tournament.
Visit Pokhara, but don’t spend all your time in Lakeside.
Even if it’s only for a morning jog through the city, make your way to Chippledunga.
I’ll see you on New Road.