The Himalayas make the greatest rise from subtropical valley floor to icy summit of any mountain range on earth, and the contrast is stunningly apparent at POKHARA. Basking beside its verdant lakeshore, on clear mornings it boasts a nearly unobstructed view of the 8000m-plus Annapurna and Manaslu ranges, looming almost touchably 25km to the north.
Pokhara’s tourist scene lolls beside Phewa Tal (Phewa Lake), which turns an indifferent back to the modern Nepali city of Pokhara – in fact, if it wasn’t for the smog that increasingly obscures the mountains on most afternoons, you’d hardly know the city was there. “Lakeside”, as it’s known, may not be the rustic travellers’ haven it once was, but it remains Nepal’s little tourist paradise: carefree and culturally undemanding, with a steaks-and-cakes scene that almost rivals Thamel’s, and a pocket version of the same nightlife, to match. It’s significantly more laidback than Kathmandu’s Thamel, however – and relatively horizontal, if you’ve come up from North India.
Pokhara is the first place many travellers venture to after Kathmandu. It may be short on A-list sights, apart from the lake itself, but it’s very long on activities: for trekkers, it’s the gateway to Nepal’s most popular trails; for rafters and kayakers, it’s Nepal’s river-running headquarters; for paragliders and mountain bikers it’s one of the best spots on earth. The climate is balmy: at 800m above sea level it’s both cooler than the plains in summer and warmer than Kathmandu in winter. (It may be significantly wetter than the capital, but most of the rain falls outside the tourist season, so the only sign of water many visitors see is the lake, and the lush subtropical greenery.)