Located in central Nepal, Pokhara is the Himalayan nation's second largest city, followed by the capital, Kathmandu. On the eastern side of Lake Phewa, with close-up views of the Annapurna Himalaya, it is surrounded by hills covered in forest and terraced farmland.
Pokhara is used as a convenient base for hiking trips deeper within the Himalaya, but the chilled-out town is worthy of a few days' exploration in its own right. The Lakeside area is full of hotels, restaurants, bars, tour companies, and souvenir shops, and is an easy place to walk around. Here are nine of the best things to see and do in and around Pokhara.
Paddle on Lake Phewa and Visit a Hindu Temple
One of the most enduring images of Pokhara is of the colorful wooden paddle boats sitting on the calm surface of Lake Phewa. You can hire an oarsman to take you out on the water, or rent a kayak or small, canopy-covered boat in Lakeside Pokhara to make the short trip out to Tal Barahi Temple. The two-tiered Hindu pagoda temple is dedicated to the goddess Durga, and located on a little island just off Lake Phewa's southeastern shore. While it's similar in design to many of the pagoda temples in Kathmandu, it's not as old, having been built in 1864.
Visit the Tibetan Refugee Settlement
Nepal is home to a large Tibetan refugee community, and while many Tibetan refugees live in the Boudha area of Kathmandu, Pokhara also has a number of settlements. The largest of these is Tashi Palkhel, northwest of central Pokhara. Travelers are welcome to visit Jangchub Choeling Gompa (monastery), home to a couple hundred monks. Stalls around the monastery sell Tibetan food and trinkets including prayer flags, mala beads, and thangka paintings (many of which are actually made in Nepal, as are those commonly sold in Tibet itself!)
Hike to the Shanti Stupa
Atop Anadu Hill on the southern side of Lake Phewa, Pokhara's Shanti Stupa (World Peace Pagoda) is one of 80 such peace pagodas worldwide. Built by the Japanese Nipponzan-Myōhōji Buddhist movement in 1973, its white dome and golden pinnacle are reminiscent of many older Buddhist stupas across South and Southeast Asia.
The view down to the lake, across Pokhara city, and toward the Annapurnas is fantastic, particularly on a clear day. The pagoda is at 3,608 feet (Lakeside Pokhara is at 2,434 feet), and can either be reached on foot, along a forested track on the lake's southern shore, or by road, with access around the back. The walk up is quite hot for most of the year, but may be good practice for longer Himalayan treks! Even if you take a taxi, you'll need to walk the last stretch up the steps to the top.
Go White Water Rafting
Nepal's long, clean rivers (Kathmandu's Bagmati aside!) and white sandy beaches make the country a favorite white water kayaking and rafting destination. Day trips run from both Kathmandu and Pokhara, but are often more convenient from the latter because you won't have to waste time sitting in grid-locked traffic on your way out of the city (a common occurrence in the capital). White water rafting day trips include the Upper Seti, which is just a short drive out of town. For a longer excursion, the most accessible from Pokhara is on the Kali Gandaki River, the deepest gorge in the world. Trips on the Kali Gandaki are usually three days long, with overnight stays in tents on river beaches.
Adrenaline seekers shouldn't miss a ride on HighGround Adventures' Zipflyer Nepal, one of the longest, steepest zip lines in the world. The 6,069-foot-long course is on an incline of 56 degrees, has a vertical drop of 1,968 feet, and reaches speeds of 85 miles per hour! Plus, the mountain views are unparalleled. The Zipflyer is about a 30-minute drive from Pokhara; transportation from Lakeside is included in packages.
Visit the 'Other' Lakes, Begnas and Rupa
Pokhara city is on the shores of Lake Phewa, but the wider Pokhara region has a couple of other equally scenic lakes that are worth visiting. In fact, some people say that Lake Begnas is what Lake Phewa used to be like, before all the tourism-oriented businesses developed around it.
When traveling to Pokhara overland from Kathmandu or elsewhere on the Prithvi Highway, the turnoff to both Lakes Begnas and Rupa is at Talchowk, about half an hour outside Pokhara. For a peaceful alternative to staying in the city, consider booking a boutique or family-run accommodation here.
For mountaineering enthusiasts, or for something to do on a rainy day, Pokhara's International Mountain Museum provides a wealth of information on the geology, culture, and history of the Nepal Himalaya. Like many museums in Nepal, the presentation of the exhibits is a bit old school, but there is a lot of valuable information contained within. The museum is just east of Pokhara Airport, and easy to get to from town by taxi.
Go Paragliding From Sarangkot Hill
You'll almost always see colorful parachutes swirling in the air in front of Mt. Macchapucchre from Lakeside Pokhara: Sarangkot Hill is believed to be one of the best places in the world to paraglide, thanks to the stable thermal air currents and incredible mountain and lake views.
While paragliding is potentially possible year-round, flights are often canceled during monsoon season (June to September) due to rain. Instead, book your excursion during winter (between late November and February), when the sky is clearer.
Stretch Your Legs on a Short Trek
Some of the most popular long-distance treks start near Pokhara. However, if you're short on time—or don't have the desire to hike for days or weeks on end—you can enjoy many shorter hikes around Pokhara, including the walk up to the Shanti Stupa or Sarangkot.