By Ramesh Tiwari
Prominent explorers, travel writers and travel guide publications have placed Nepal’s second most popular destination, Pokhara, among some of the beautiful places in the world. Swiss geologist Tony Hagen, who travelled 14,000 km across Nepal, including remote areas, on foot for over 12 years, wrote: “Nowhere in the world can the highest mountain reaching 8,000 meters level be admired from the tropical lowland without any intermediate mountain ranges. Pokhara is certainly one of the most extraordinary and beautiful places in the world.” Hagen contributed a lot to promote Nepal to the outside world in 1960s. Col Jimmy Roberts, founder of the trekking industry in Nepal in 1963, once told this scribe that “Pokhara is the most beautiful valley and a nice place to live”.
Pokhara, situated at an altitude of 827 meters, is a favored tourist destination among the three most visited places in the golden triangle — Kathmandu, Pokhara and Chitwan. Pokhara is a gateway to some of the best trekking trails of the world, a center of adventure tourism and a garden of seven lakes.
Buddhist monk Ekai Kawaguchi, the first Japanese visitor to Nepal who arrived in the country in 1899, wrote in “Three years in Tibet”: “I saw no scenery so enchanting as that which enraptures me in Pokhara in all my travels in the Himalayas.
Kawaguchi visited Tsharang, Tukuche and Marpha in Mustang via Pokhara during his visit to Nepal.
Pokhara, which lies 200 km west of Kathmandu, attracts a large number of domestic and foreign tourists every year. Paragliding, ultra light flight, mountain flight, rafting, kayaking, boating, fishing, mountain biking and trekking are some of the tourism products that the city has offered to the travelers since long. Besides Phewa Lake, Lake Side area, Seti River, Devi’s Fall, caves, temples and monuments, Pokhara is the only place in Nepal where you can enjoy the beautiful natural scenery and world’s highest mountain range from Dhaulagiri in the west to Manaslu in the east.
As the valley is located between the Greater Himalayas and Mahabharat range in the central region of Nepal, Pokhara has remained the most sought-after place for trekkers and mountaineers since French mountaineer Maurice Herzog successfully reached the summit of Annapurna-I (8091 m) for the first time in 1950. Among the 14 highest mountains of the world above 8000 meters, eight of the mountains lie in Nepal Himalayas and the three of them — Annapurna, Dhaulagiri and Manaslu can be viewed from Sarangkot in Pokhara.
Situated at an altitude of 1590 meters from sea level, Sarangkot sits on the ridge north of bewitching Phewa Lake. It is a popular hill station to watch sunrise and breathtaking views of western Himalayas of Nepal. The place offers perhaps the closest view of Mt Machhapuchhre (6997m), popularly known as the Fishtail, which looks like Matterhorn of Switzerland. From Sarangkot, visitors can enjoy natural beauty of Pokhara Valley as well as other adventure activities like paragliding, zipline and bungee jumping, and scenic view of World Peace Pagoda on the other side of the hill across the Fewa Lake.
Annapurna Range, which stretches for 55 kilometers in the Himalayas, is home to many tall peaks like Annapurna South (7219m), Annapurna I (8091m), Annapurna III (7555m), Annapurna IV (7525m) and Annapurna II (7937 m). Annapurna, translated from Sanskrit as ‘Goddess of Harvest’ and ‘rich in sustenance’, opened a new vista in mountaineering history of the world, when members of a French expedition — Maurice Herzog and Louis Lachenal — climbed the mountain on June 3, 1950.
Besides tall peaks, the region is home to numerous trekking trails like Annapurna Circuit, Annapurna Sanctuary, Jomsom-Muktinath, Ghorepani-Poonhill, Sikles, Mardi Himal, Upper Mustang, Manang, Dhaulagiri Circuit, Dolpa and Dhorpatan. These trails attract thousands of trekkers every year. Nature lovers can view and experience spectacular mountains, deepest gorge of the world in Kali Gandaki, Thorung La Pass (5416m), beautiful Gurung villages, unique cultural diversity of ethnic communities, Himalayan biodiversity, memorable homestays, and community-based tourism products, among others.
The number of trekkers in the Annapurna Circuit is increasing with every passing year despite road construction in many trails such as Nayapool-Ghandruk, Beni-Mustang and Besisahar- Manang. A total of 129,900 trekkers visited Annapurna region, 4439 in Manaslu area and 2,862 in Mustang trek in 2013.
Machhapuchhre (6993m), with its fishtail shaped silhouette, is another major attraction of the Annapurna region. It is also called the ‘Matterhorn’ of Nepal. Matterhorn (4478 m) is said to be the most difficult climb and the most-photographed mountain in the world. Like Matterhorn, Machhapuchhre, which lies 28 kilometers north of Pokhara, is also one of the most photogenic mountains in the world with its twin-headed beautiful peaks. An unsuccessful attempt to climb Machhapuchhre was made in 1957 by a British team. Machhapuchhre is regarded sacred by the local people and hence closed for mountaineers.
Annapurna Base Camp trek is one of the popular trekking trails that begin from Pokhara. The trail begins with a drive to Nayapool and progresses through Syaulibazar, Ghandruk, Tadapani, Chomrong, Bamboo, Machhapuchhre Base Camp (3700 m) and Annapurna Base Camp (4130m). It returns to Pokhara from Dhampus.
Machhapuchhre Model Trek is the recently developed trekking trail. It lies within the Annapurna Conservation Area (ACA) — the largest protected area of Nepal. Travel entrepreneurs have recently explored a new trekking route called ‘LOLUPERA’ which links Lo Manthang of Mustang with Lumbini and Fewa Lake with Rara Lake. The trail is said to be crucial for development and diversification of tourism industry in western region of the country.
Dhaulagiri (8167m), the seventh highest mountain in the world, is a mound shaped mountain seen from Pokhara. Dhaulagiri, which is also known as the ‘white mountain’ is said to be most challenging and difficult mountain in the western Himalayan range. There are five other mountains west of the main summit of Dhaulagiri. Their height ranges from 7,250m and 7,750m. They are jointly known as Dhaulagiris. The Dhaulagiri trekking trail starting from Beni and passes through Babiyachaur, Dharapani, Muri, Bagar, Dovan, Dhaulagiri Base Camp ( 4,650m), Dhampus Pass (5,250m ), Yak Kharka, Marpha (2,665m), Jomsom and Pokhara.
Similarly, Manaslu (8163m), the eighth highest mountain in the world, is the other mountain peak that can be viewed from Pokhara. It lies 64 km east of Annapurna between Gorkha and Manang districts of western Nepal. Since the first successful ascent of Manaslu Toshio Imanishi of Japan and Sherpa Sardar Gyalsten Norbu of a Japanese expedition on May 9, 1956, many Japanese mountaineers have reached the summit of Manaslu which is also known as ‘Mountain of the Soul’. Manaslu Trek is perhaps the best way to enjoy the beauty of this unspoilt area.
The western region of Nepal has numerous tourist attractions to offer due to its geographic and climatic variations to cultural diversity. Pokhara, a major trekking hub and a gateway to the Annapurna region, is a ‘must visit’ place in Nepal for travelers from different parts of the planet. Though around 200,000 foreign tourists visit Pokhara every year, it is necessary to promote the region to attract more tourists from traditional and new markets.
The planned promotion of Pokhara and the western Himalayas could attract thousands of globetrotters to visit ‘Paradise Pokhara’ and it will lengthen average stay and expenditure of the backpackers visiting Nepal. The visit of Nepal is incomplete without travelling Pokhara valley and adjoining areas and ‘once is not enough’ to explore natural beauty, cultural diversity, age-old traditional hospitality of the western region.
(The writer is Editor of Digital News on travel and tourism – Travelbiznews.com)