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

Pokhara from above. (Shutterstock)
Updated 05 November 2018

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.


Virgin Galactic reveals futuristic outpost for space tourism

Updated 16 August 2019

Virgin Galactic reveals futuristic outpost for space tourism

  • Critics suggested the project was a boondoggle, but supporters argued that there were bound to be hard and sometimes costly lessons
  • The interior spaces unveiled Thursday aim to connect paying customers with every aspect of the operation

UPHAM, New Mexico: Spaceport America is no longer just a shiny shell of hope that space tourism would one day launch from this remote spot in the New Mexico desert.
The once-empty hangar that anchors the taxpayer-financed launch and landing facility has been transformed into a custom-tailored headquarters where Virgin Galactic will run its commercial flight operations.
Two levels within the spaceport include mission control, a preparation area for pilots and a lounge for paying customers and their friends and families, with each element of the fit and finish paying homage to either the desert landscape that surrounds the futuristic outpost or the promise of traveling to the edge of space.
From hotel rooms to aircraft cabins, the Virgin brand touts its designs for their focus on the customer experience. Spaceport is no different.
Earthen tones help ground visitors on the first floor. The social hub includes an interactive digital walkway and a coffee bar made of Italian marble. On the upper deck, shades of white and gray speak to Virgin Galactic’s more lofty mission.
Company officials, offering the first glimpse of the facility Thursday, say the space is meant to create “an unparalleled experience” as customers prepare for what Virgin Galactic describes as the journey of a lifetime.
Just how soon customers will file into Virgin Galactic’s newly outfitted digs for the first commercial flights has yet to be determined. A small number of test flights are still needed.
Billionaire Richard Branson, who is behind Virgin Galactic, and former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, a Democrat, first pitched the plan for the spaceport nearly 15 years ago.
There were construction delays and cost overruns. Virgin Galactic’s spaceship development took far longer than expected and had a major setback when its first experimental craft broke apart during a 2014 test flight, killing the co-pilot.
Critics suggested the project was a boondoggle, but supporters argued that there were bound to be hard and sometimes costly lessons.
Democratic state Sen. George Munoz has enduring concerns about the business model for commercial, low-orbit travel for passengers.
“You can have all the money in the world and come back and say, ‘Was my 30 seconds of fame worth that risk?’” he said.
Munoz says New Mexico’s anticipated return on investment in terms of jobs and visitors is still overdue, with more than $200 million public funds spent on Spaceport America in cooperation with Virgin Galactic as anchor tenant.
At the facility Thursday, the carrier plane for Virgin’s rocket-powered passenger ship made a few passes and touch-and-goes over a runway.
Behind the spaceport’s signature wall of curved glass, mission control sits on the second floor with an unobstructed view of the runway and beyond.
There’s also space behind two massive sliding doors to accommodate two of Virgin Galactic’s carrier planes and a fleet of six-passenger rocket ships.
Virgin Galactic posted on social media earlier this week that its carrier plane had landed in New Mexico and its main operating base was now at the spaceport. And Branson said the wing of Virgin’s next rocket ship has been completed.
Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides said once the test flights are complete, commercial operations can begin.
Chief Pilot Dave Mackay said the crew in the coming days will fly simulated launch missions to ensure in-flight communications and airspace coordination work as planned. The pilots also will be familiarizing themselves with New Mexico’s airspace and landmarks.
“New Mexico is on track to become one of the very few places on this beautiful planet which regularly launches humans to space,” Mackay said.
Branson will be among them. About 600 people have reserved a seat, according to the company, at a cost of $250,000 a ticket.
That buys them a ride on the winged rocket ship, which is dropped in flight from the carrier airplane. Once free, it fires its rocket motor to hurtle toward the boundary of space before gliding back down.
The latest test flight reached an altitude of 56 miles (90 kilometers) while traveling at three times the speed of sound.