We have just spent 7 nights in Kathmandu.
We now head for Pokhara …
Pokhara is located 200 kilometres (120 miles) west of Kathmandu. It is Nepal’s second largest city in terms of population and the largest in terms of area. It spans 12 kilometres (7.5 miles) from north to south and 6 kilometres (3.7 miles) from east to west but, unlike the capital Kathmandu, it still has much green space.
The Annapurna Range (with three out of the ten highest mountains in the world: Dhaulagiri, Annapurna I, and Manaslu) is within 24–56 kms. Pokhara is known to be a popular tourist destination for visitors from all over the world. Every year, many people visit Pokhara to travel to the Annapurna range and the famous religious site of muktinath. Most of the tourists visiting Pokhara trek to the Annapurna Base Camp and Mustang.
Until the end of the 1960s, Pokhara was only accessible by foot and it was considered even more of a mystical place than Kathmandu. The first road was completed in 1968, after which time the city and tourism grew rapidly. The area along the Phewa lake (called Lake Side) has developed into one of the major tourism hubs of Nepal.
The currency in Nepal is the Nepalese Rupee (or the ‘NPR’). I will refer to them as N$s. At the time of writing, the wholesale exchange rates were:
In reality, you won’t get these rates. Expect to have to pay 3%-5% in fees. Over time, these exchange rates will change. Please check the current rates.
The buses leave at 7am. You need to be there at 6:30am. You find a 100 metre plus convey of buses lined up on the side of the street. Play ‘find your bus’. All of these buses set off at 7am and follow the same route to Pokhara. Expect to see the same ones several times along the way.
You will get hit on by taxi drivers as you get off the bus. They will ask for N$400 to take you the 2kms to your ‘Lake Side’ hotel. Walk 100 metres out of the Bus Park to get the same for N$300. Unless you are one of the last buses to arrive (and the taxi drivers have run out of options), only locals can get the N$200 Nepalese price.
It is a long, tiring, boring day which is made more comfortable by stopping 3 times. The buses are comfortable enough but don’t expect all (if any) of the published facilities to be working (e.g. wifi, AC, and power / USB charging sockets).
We start our walk at the Tourist Bus Park and wind our way north through the streets going towards the lake. We finish up at the northern end of the lakefront along the road to Pame.
We start our walk on the riverside at Komagane Park. We walk down the riverside to the lake. Then, along the lakefront until we get to the road out to Pame.
This is what GRANDPAckers can expect to find in the ‘Lake Side’ area at short notice in early November:
PLEASE NOTE: HOTELS usually display prices INCLUSIVE of TAXES. But many search sites (like HOTELS) don’t provide a ‘private bathroom’ filter, so be careful with some of the cheap hotels and make sure that you read the room details. HOTELS competes with BOOKING by selling their hotel allocations well in advance. They do so by offering discounts. At short notice, they tend to have few options left.
AIRBnB / HOLIDAY RENTALS:
PLEASE NOTE: Other sites (such as Homeaway, FlipKey and VRBO are also worth a look). However, these types of accommodation options are not very popular in Pokhara / Nepal. Be careful with AirBnB: they usually add on a ‘service fee’ and / or a ‘cleaning fee’ during the booking process which can significantly increase the nightly price.
GRANDPAckers will easily find accommodation within our price range. Start looking months in advance to get the best prices on HOTELS. Look on BOOKING for last minute deals. A couple should target a maximum of US$14 / night including Breakfast and US$9 / night without Breakfast.
HOTEL CHERRY GARDEN:
I used AGODA to book a Deluxe Room with fan. I paid ‘60% off’ the rack-rate at N$1,100 / US$10 per night for 2 nights excluding Breakfast. The rack-rate had, obviously, been inflated so that they could attract me with such a large ‘discounted’ offer.
The private bathroom was a good size and the shower had hot water.
The wifi was good enough to stream video. They provided a Breakfast for an additional N$250. The Breakfast was disappointing: 2 slices of toast with a 2-egg omelette and tea / coffee.
I extended my stay for another 3 nights. I used AGODA to book a Deluxe Apartment with fan. I paid ‘60% off’ the rack-rate at N$1,000 / US$9 per night for 3 nights excluding Breakfast. This time I compared prices with other sites; I was happy that this was a true last minute discount.
On arrival, I found the kitchen locked and I had to ask for the key. I, then, had to ask for gas for the stove. The TV had no power lead. The shower water never got past warm. The wifi was unreliable and rarely good enough to stream video during the day.
Even with it’s faults, the Ranss Apartment was excellent value for money … as long as you don’t rely on wifi.
WHERE TO STAY:
The tourist district (Lake Side) is along the southeastern shore of the Phewa lake (Baidam, Lakeside, and Damside). Lake Side is mainly made up of small shops, non-star tourist hotels, restaurants, and bars. Most upscale and starred hotels are on the Peace Pogoda shore and in the southeastern fringes of the city (where there are more open lands and unhindered views of the surrounding mountains).
SUGGESTION: If you want to spend some time enjoying the lake, do not be tempted to take a ‘cheap deal’ in the Malepatan / main shopping street area. Most people try to get near to the lakefront where they can take advantage of the numerous lakeside cafes. However, the riverside is also very pleasant and it is worth a look.
Have a look yourself:
EAT & DRINK:
Consumption of beef is very uncommon and considered taboo in many places. Buff (meat of water buffalo) is very common. Consumption of pork was considered taboo until a few decades ago. The chief lunch / snack for locals and visitors is mostly Momo or Chowmein. Momo is a type of dumpling stuffed with a buffalo, chicken, or vegetable mixture.
The staple food of most people is Dal Bhat. This consists of rice and lentil soup, generally served with a curry, a popadom, achar, and (usually) Yogurt and Chutney.
PLEASE NOTE: In the corner shops, there are often Tourist Prices and Nepalese Prices. If you don’t know the latter, they will try and charge you the former. A typical example is a 1L bottle of water: Nepalese price N$20, Tourist Price N$40.
There are plenty of Cheap Eateries in and around Lake Side. You will also find street vendors selling snacks; a vegetarian Samosa costs N$30.
For under N$200 / US$2 you can get a simple Breakfast of 2 eggs, fried savoury potato, 2 slices of toast, jam, and a tea / coffee. You can get a plate of Momo or Chow Main for lunch for about N$100.
In summary: Budget an average of N$200 for a simple Breakfast, N$150 for a simple Lunch, and N$250 for a simple Dinner.
Nepal has a larger proportion of tea drinkers than coffee drinkers. Tea is widely served but is extremely weak by western standards. It is richer and contains tea leaves boiled with milk, sugar and spices.
Alcohol is widely drunk, and there are numerous local variants of alcoholic beverages. Ailaa and thwon (alcohol made from rice) are found in all of the local bhattis (alcohol serving eateries). The price should be about N$500 / litre in a corner store. Chhyaang, tongba (fermented millet or barley), and rakshi are alcoholic beverages found outside of Kathmandu.
In a supermarket, a 750ml bottle of local rum will set you back N$1,600. A 2.25L bottle of Coke / Pepsi costs N$210.
In summary: Western-style alcohol is relatively expensive in Nepal. If you want an alcoholic drink with your meal, the meal price more than doubles.
Pokhara has an extensive privately operated public transportation system running throughout the city, adjoining townships and nearby villages. The public transport mainly consists of local and city buses, micros, micro-buses, and metered-taxis.
Pokhara is also well connected to the rest of the country through permanent road and air links. The main mode of transportation are public buses and the Tourist Bus Park is the main hub for buses plying country wide.
A new international airport is being constructed in the southeast of the city.
You won’t find many banks, but there are plenty of ATMs. ATMS seem to be limited to N$20,000 per transaction and they all seem to charge a standard N$500 fee for the privilege.
INTERNET / WIFI:
Don’t trust your hotel to provide good wifi in our GRANDPAcking price range.
There are 3 main prepaid providers in Nepal: NTC, Ncell, and Smart Cell. The first 2 are recommended if you plan to get out into the countryside.
To get the SIMcard I needed my passport (which they scanned) and a passport photo. The man in the store filled in the detailed application form for me. He, then, took my thumbprints to finalise the form. I guess that there is a very good reason for the service providers to protect you so stringently from SIMcard theft / fraud 🙂
I walked out of the store with a working phone and immediately downloaded the Ncell Nepal Mobile App. The App has an English option. With the App, you get easy access to your Plan status. You also get ‘App-only’ special offers and discounts.
HEALTH & SAFETY:
I got online and bought a 1-year WorldNomads Backpacker Policy for US$565. I don’t need all of the ‘bells and whistles’ that go with the more expensive policies. I, fundamentally, just need Medical and Personal Indemnity Insurance. Read more here.
There is no need to feel unsafe here but, as usual, don’t make yourself an easy target.
There are a lot of smokers here (more so than you will find in Western Europe) – not a surprise when a pack of 20 costs as little as N$80. Smoking is common in bars and restaurants.
WHEN TO GO
The best time to come (to avoid rain) is November through March.
WHAT TO DO:
Many medieval era temples (Barahi temple, Bindhyabasini, Bhadrakali, Talbarahi, Guheshwari, Sitaldevi, Gita mandir temple, Bhimsen temple) and old Newari houses are part of the city (Bagar, Bindhyabasini, Bhadrakali, Bhairab Tol, etc.).
The modern commercial city centres are at Chipledhunga, New Road, Prithvi Chok and Mahendrapul (recently renamed as Bhimsen Chok).
Read About – GRANDPAcking Costs if you don’t know how to interpret my figures.
Pokhara is not really an Holiday Destination so, I have only provided a 7 day budget for comparative purposes.
My costs are broken down into:
- Cost of Existence: The basic costs of just being there;
- Cost of Living: The additional costs that make being there fun.
COST OF EXISTENCE (COE):
I EXISTED to GRANDPAcking standard. My accommodation averaged N$1,040 / US$10 per night.
I already had the Ncell SIMcard & Plan that I purchased in Kathmandu. I did not need to top it up in Pokhara.
I have allocated 5 days of my 30 day visa cost. This totaled N$906 / US$8.40.
I spent an average of N$827 / US$7.70 per day on meals and water.
My COE worked out to be about N$1,707 / US$16 per day.
COST OF LIVING (COL):
I LIVED to GRANDPAcking standard.
Living Costs: I averaged about N$439 / US$4 per night on drinks.
Personal: I spent N$260. N$200 of that was on a haircut.
Entertainment: I spent N$360 on entertainment.
Shopping: I purchased a new suitcase for N$5,500.
In / Out Costs: The bus from Kathmandu cost N$700.
My total COL was about N$3,209 / US$30 per day. This was 58% of my daily budget.
COSTS FOR 2 GRANDPAckers:
Again, costs are broken down into Cost Of Existence (COE) and Cost Of Living (COL).
COST OF EXISTENCE (COE):
Accommodation: I have booked you into something at N$1,500 / US$14 per night including Breakfast.
Transportation: There is no budget for local trps. I assume that you are here to do a trek or tour.
Communications & Fees: I have budgeted an Ncell SIMcard and 7 day Package. I have apportioned your two 30-day visa costs.
Food & Water: Your budget averages about N$1,220 / US$11.35 per day for 2 people. This is to eat Lunch and Dinner in Cheap Restaurants. This includes sharing one 650ml local beer at Dinner time. It also includes water purchased in bulk.
Your COE is about N$2,772 / US$26 per day. This is 50% of your daily budget.
COST OF LIVING (COL):
This leaves you about N$2,731 / US$25 per day to LIVE on. This should be plenty … depending on your drinking habits 🙂
Pokhara is not really an Holiday Destination in its own right. You come here so that you can do something else: like go on a trek.
That said, a few days in Lake Side can be a pleasant experience.
Could you afford to retire here on a GRANDPAcking budget? YES.