After a weeks recovery from our Everest Base Camp Trek (and 3 days in hospital), it was time to venture out of Kathmandu valley and explore the rest of Nepal. Pokhara is situated in the west at the foot of the Annapurna Range. Back in the 70s, it was a hippy town full of backpackers and a base for Annapurna treks, notably the famous Annapurna Circuit trek. Now its not so hippy-like, but still a very laid-back, picturesque and chilled-out town on the banks of Phewa Lake.
We braved the 8 hour tourist bus which departs from Kantipath, Kathmandu and winds its way along the Prithvi Highway. Now, we had read that it was one of the most dangerous roads in the world. The combination of tight, poorly made roads, winding above sheer drops to the valley below, and overcrowded buses overtaking in situations that seem impossible. We decided to brave it and booked a tourist bus (not the Greenline which is by far the most expensive and not that much more comfortable than the one we were on).
We were treated to speakers blaring constant Indian/Nepalese music and a fairly bumpy ride, but the views were awesome and roadside restaurant for lunch was ok, albeit for the massive hordes of from other busloads who also stop there for lunch.
We spent a week in Pokhara, just walking around the lake, hiking through the forest and up the hill to visit the World Peace Pagoda. Great viewpoint, but it was hazy (like every day we were there), so we did not witness the great Annapurna mountain views, except early in the morning. Great to unwind and get away from the pollution and noise of Kathmandu.
There is a lot of adventure activities to do. The skies are always full of paragliders floating from the top of one of the hilltops, but our previous Everest Base Camp Trek was adventurous enough.
The range of restaurants and bars is varied and quite good. Notably, we had Japanese at the Fuji Restaurant on lakeside which was great the first and second time! Italian pizza was good too. Drinks and food are cheap everywhere, so make use of everyone’s happy hour specials!
We finally got a clear morning while waiting at the bus station for departure to Lumbini, the famous birthplace of Buddha.
As you near Lumbini (seven hours later), the villages look very dusty and poor. We stayed in a nice hostel near the bus stop and entrance to the main site. You only need a whole (but fairly long) day to see everything inside. The grounds are wide and expansive, much more than it seemed in our travel guide, so bring decent walking shoes and plenty of water.
We couldn’t take photos inside of the old brick ruins, reputedly the spot of Buddha’s birth. The grounds are picturesque, but mostly filled with temples and monasteries from different countries of the world celebrating Buddhism. There were Nepalese, Chinese, Tibetan, Thai, Sri Lankan, Vietnamese, Burmese (Myanmar), Indian, Korean, German and Austrian temples/monasteries to visit.
However they are so spaced apart that it takes forever to walk between them. But then again, that’s all part of the pilgrimage experience that millions of Buddhists and others alike come here to experience anyway.
Visited 24th November to 3rd December 2013.