Pokhara: Nepal’s peaceful paradise is well worth the trek

Pokhara from above. (Shutterstock)
Updated 05 November 2018
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Pokhara: Nepal’s peaceful paradise is well worth the trek

  • Pokhara’s restorative charms are entirely unlike Kathmandu’s abrasive hustle, bustle, smog and clutter
  • The calming, meditative Phewa Lake has long acted as a magnet for worn-out trekkers, burned-out hippies and other directionless souls sucked in by Pokhara’s peaceful vibe

KATMANDU: Thanks to Nepal’s notoriously underfunded infrastructure, the 200 km journey from the capital of Katmandu to the sedate town of Pokhara can often take a torturous eight hours or more, but don’t even think about flying. The breathtaking vistas that journey affords — winding round quease-inducing mountain-edge tracks and rubber-necking tiny rustic villages — will open your eyes wider than even the most brazen check-in queue interventions.
And whatever the GPS says, you’ll emerge foggily, feeling like you have arrived in another continent — and possibly era — altogether. Pokhara’s restorative charms are entirely unlike Katmandu’s abrasive hustle, bustle, smog and clutter, which is why thousands of tourists take this perilous path every week.
The calming, meditative Phewa Lake has long acted as a magnet for worn-out trekkers, burned-out hippies and other directionless souls sucked in by Pokhara’s peaceful vibe. Yet despite the lakeside community’s decades-old tourist takeover, the neighborhood still manages to maintain an anachronistic element of ethnic identity, chilled collectivism and hassle-free calm. The omnipresent tie-dye stalls feel like a quaint throwback to smartphone-free travel.

Phewa Lake. (Shutterstock)

The modern town center sits some six km northeast, but it’s this waterside locale that makes Pokhara such a hard place to leave. Days can drift dreamily by as one epic sunset bleeds into another around this eerily cosmic body of water. Many a pleasant afternoon can be idled away on a gently rocking rowing boat, floating out in the hazy sunshine, the mighty Annapurna Range looming in the distance. Amid a tiny island opposite the lakeside sits the compact Tal Barahi Temple, a kind constant reminder to be mindful.
Growing signs of gentrification include the many modern three-story hotels, and more moneyed travelers are increasingly enticed to remote luxury yoga retreats on the town’s outskirts. But while it might now be possible to order a decent espresso in Pokhara, much of the central lakeside area feels as though it has been unchanged for decades, the waterfront lined by tiny alfresco café hangouts which have been booming the same Bob Marley “Best of…” since the 1980s.

One imagines little has changed in the menu, or methods, of the friendly street-food hawkers jostling for trade alongside the waterside’s dirt path — except perhaps the prices. The most popular specialty seems to be chaat masala, a moreish Indian street food regular of crushed samosas topped with yogurt, onions, chilies, coriander and multiple colorful chutneys.
As well as lazing and daydreaming, Pokhara is also known as a logistical hub for serious trekkers hitting Nepal’s world-famous peaks. Yet a beginner’s trail that no visitor should miss is ascending Anadu Hill, which sits invitingly just across the lake. Beat the heat by starting early, take a communal rowboat over to the opposite bank and follow the well-marked trail. It can be climbed in an hour. At the peak you will find Shanti Stupa — one of the world’s 80 “Peace Pagodas”— a tranquil white dome topped with a golden spire. Sitting some 1,100 meters up, it offers stunning views both of Pokhara below, and the Annapurnas cresting into the distance.

Soak up the view from one of the two competing rustic restaurants, and recharge with a traditional dal bhat — steamed rice, a cooked lentil soup and a basic vegetable curry.
From here hikers can descend the southern aspect and join the main road heading back east toward town. After roughly three km, stop at the delightful Devi’s Falls — a popular spot for selfies — and from there it’s about four km back to the lakeside.
Sitting just inshore, the more-developed Lakeside Road is where you will find many of Pokhara’s best accommodation options and a plethora of dining offerings to suit every palate and budget.
When it comes to after-dark entertainment, a few classier joints program versatile covers acts and passable acoustic troubadours. However, more curious visitors can check out the handful of hit-and-miss cultural shows on offer, such as the twee traditional folk dancing and music ensembles programmed under the stars at Fewa Paradise Restaurant.

 


Delightful Delhi: a heady mix of culture, cuisine and shopping

Delightful Delhi:a heady mix of culture, cuisine and shopping. (Shutterstock)
Updated 17 January 2019
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Delightful Delhi: a heady mix of culture, cuisine and shopping

  • New Delhi is where India’s rich, complex history collides with its post-modern ambitions
  • The best way to discover this great city is through its food, temples and shopping streets

DUBAI: Mirza Ghalib once poetically quoted his own soul as saying: “The world is the body and Delhi is its heart.”

Lofty as the claim is, there are probably few better ways to describe this chaotic, colorful city, where India’s rich, complex history collides with its post-modern ambitions, where the country’s power players live minutes from abject poverty, where many different cultures, cuisines and faiths seamlessly coexist. For such extreme contrasts to find a rhythmic harmony, heart needs to be a big part of the equation.

While there are guidebooks aplenty to show you around the many historical sights, the incredible architecture, and the museums and art of Delhi, the best way to discover the heart (and soul) of this great city is through its food, temples and shopping streets.

Delhi’s finest food can arguably be found at Indian Accent. Regularly ranked as India’s best restaurant in various awards, this upscale eatery is one of the pioneers of modern Indian dining, offering an inventive take on traditional Indian flavors, and combining them with European-style finesse. There are many others doing similar things in India now, but under the stewardship of celebrated executive chef Manish Mehrotra, Indian Accent continues to maintain its podium finish status.

The contemporary, intimate venue oozes understated sophistication — with not a hint of Indian kitsch in sight — providing the perfect setting for the seasonal menus. An amuse-bouche could include delicate carrot shorba (soup), aloo tikki (potato croquettes) and mini dhoklas (steamed fermented rice cakes), while a must-try dish is the restaurant’s refined take on that quintessential street food phuchka (‘potato spheres’ stuffed with spicy mashed potato and doused in flavored waters — served here as shooters in five different flavors). Best to place your trust in the chefs however, and try the degustation menu (which should include their signature dessert, daulat ki chaat, an Old Delhi classic of chilled mousse-like cream; but if it doesn’t, ask for it).

Elsewhere, Lavash by Saby — a classic example of Delhi’s multi-faceted dining scene — specializes in the delicious micro-cuisine of Bengal Armenians. This trendy venue is located in the chic precinct of Mehrauli.

Delhi is home some of India’s largest Hindu temples and mosques, but the non-denominational Bah’ai Lotus House is my top recommendation for those seeking some spirituality. Acclaimed for its unique lotus design — not dissimilar to the Sydney Opera House — the white marble temple is worth visiting as much for its award-winning architecture as for the tranquility that suffuses its atmosphere. Bah’ai temples welcome everyone, without discrimination, and this is a true oasis, offering a welcome respite from the city’s hustle and bustle.

For more wonderful architecture, visit the “spiritual-cultural campus” of Akshardham. It’s a relatively modern structure among the thousands of ancient temples across India, but what it may lack in historic value, it more than makes up for in the beauty of its buildings and their surroundings. The impressive architecture incorporates a variety of traditional styles, and Akshardham provides a diversity of attractions for visitors, from exhibitions to its stunning gardens.

If you’re looking for retail — rather than spiritual — therapy, Delhi runs the gamut of options, from designer boutiques to street-side stalls. To shop like a local, head to Mehar Chand Market, the city’s latest retail district. A (relatively) recently gentrified precinct, this neighborhood market has replaced its groceries and tailoring shops with chic stores, all with a distinct skew toward the indie and artisanal. Amidst the quirky street art, the stylishly updated heritage shophouses are now home to handspun garments in Ekmatra, unique homeware in Nicobar, eclectic designs in The Shop, plus boutiques by a new brigade of Indian designers including Masaba. The enclave is also emerging as a dining hub, with venues such as Altitude Café (a healthy eatery offering locally-inspired gourmet goodies) punctuating the stores.

Also popular among Delhi’s trendsetters is Hauz Khas Village — a historic complex in which the medieval-era buildings now house an achingly hip selection of designer boutiques, galleries and cafés.

Even if you’ve only got a few days to spare, a trip to this thriving city should satisfy any visitor, regardless of their aims. Delhi really does have something for everyone, and fully justifies Ghalib’s lofty claims on its behalf.