There are many reasons to visit Pokhara, Nepal's premier lakeside resort nestled in a valley surrounded by the Annapurna range of the Himalayas, topped by snow-capped peaks such as the spectacular Machhapuchhare (Mt. Fishtail, 22,946 ft) whose peak literally resembles a fish-tail. Being so close to the Annapurna range, Pokhara has long been a mecca for backpackers, trekkers, and adventure enthusiasts. There is no shortage of outdoor adventure activities, such as paragliding, zip-line flying, boating, mountain biking, hiking, bird-watching, etc. However, for bucket-list tickers of 1,000 Places to See Before You Die, and for more sedentary old Asia hands like the present writer, one of the major attractions is staying in the lap of luxury at the classic Fish Tail Lodge on Phewa Tal Lake, which has been hosting royalty, dignitaries, VIPs, and celebrities since 1969, not long after the hermetic Himalayan kingdom opened to the outside world.
I had first stayed at Fish Tail some 25 years ago in the early 90s, and wanted to see how the old dame was holding up. The views from the lakeside terrace of Machhapuchhare, bronzed in the setting
Sun, are still jaw-dropping. The magic, however, begins in getting there. Set apart from the rows and rows of nondescript lakeside hotels, lodges, and guest houses crowding the eastern shore of the lake, Fish Tail is the only hotel on the other shore, and to get there you need to take a ferry-raft whose rope is pulled by a boatman, something out of a fairy-tale or ancient mythology, to get to the other side. Once there, you climb up to beautifully manicured gardens hugging a primeval forest on the mountainside dotted with pie-shaped round lodges, all with commanding views. If you are blue-blooded or have good karma, you might stay in room 17, which once hosted the likes of Prince Charles and the emperor of Japan. Ours was room 4, which was shunned by the Chinese tour groups, who consider the number unlucky. Most guests chill here either before or after a trek in the Annapurnas, the most popular in Nepal.
Having only a weekend, we just lazed by the lake, taking a dip in the pool and visiting some of the attractions such as Devi's Falls, one of the Tibetan refugee camps which have local crafts on sale, a jaunt up to the Japanese-built Peace Pagoda overlooking the lake, and post-prandial promenades.
The next morning, with the sun peeking in our window and the image of the phantom Fishtail discernible on the horizon, we are awakened by the chirping of birds. We have our breakfast on the terrace overlooking the lake, and being so close to the forest, we can't help observing squirrels scampering in the bush, a lizard poking out from a rock, butterflies sucking nectar from the fragrant flowers, dragonflies buzzing in the air, and swooping swallows chasing insects over the shimmering lake. Although surrounded by snow-capped mountains, Pokhara is less than 100 meters above sea-level, much lower than Kathmandu, so the climate is quite mild. However, the weather can be quite fickle, with sunshine one minute, and rain or hailstones the next.
After breakfast, a fiery red-headed teenage boatman rows us and some Chinese tourists on the lake not far from the shore, where we see local fishermen plying their nets, although, we are told, the best fish come from the trout farms on the edge of the lake, and which are served at the Fish Tail dining room. We row to the little temple island named after the goddess Barahi, whose shrine is on the island and the focal point of the long queue of worshippers waiting to make offerings and prayers. The shrine is guarded by a mythological brass creature somewhat resembling a horrific lion. Major celebrations are held here during the festival of Dashain, which falls in October/November.
Although Phewa Tal, Nepal's second largest lake, is only some five square kilometers, there is a lot to do, and it makes a perfect setting for a holiday getaway, even if it is just to breathe the fresh mountain air and admire the views. Returning to our sanctuary at Fish Tail Lodge, I had to agree with pioneering Swiss geologist Toni Hagen, who wrote that, “Nowhere in the world can the highest mountains reaching 8000 meters level be admired from such small distance . . . Pokhara is certainly one of the most extraordinary and beautiful places in the world.###
If you go:
Nepal Tourism Board: www.welcomenepal.com
Pokhara is easily reached from the capital Kathmandu, either by tourist bus (6 h) or a short 30-minute flight by domestic carriers such as Buddha Air and Yeti Airlines.