Pokhara (Pokhara Upa-Mahanagarpalika), the second largest city of Nepal, is situated about 200 km west of the capital Kathmandu. Pokhara is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Nepal. Three out of the ten highest mountains in the world —Dhaulagiri, Annapurna and Manaslu — are within 30 miles of the city. Because of the proximity of the mountains Pokhara has become a center for adventure tourism and mountain trekking.
Pokhara was founded in 1752 by Newaris from Kathmandu, at the invitation of the local Kaski kingdom.
Pokhara lies on an important old trading route between China, Tibet and India. It originally was part of the Kingdom of Kaski which was one of the Chaubise Rajya (24 Kingdoms of Nepal at that time). Many of the hills around Pokhara still have ruins from this era. At that time it was a trading center between Kathmandu, India and Tibet. The development of Pokhara as a tourist center has been a recent one, really since the 1980s.
Below is a classic view of Pokhara, sitting next to Lake Fewa (or Phewa), with the magnificent Annapurna range in the background.
Pokara, Lake Fewa and the Annapurna mountain range of the Himalayas, photo by Mike Behnken.
We came to Pokhara after earlier visits to Kathmandu, Chitwan National Park and Lumbini. These visits are shown in the following posts:
A sign marks the entry into Pokhara.
Here is a map of the city. We came in on the road from the west.
And the Fewa Lake area, which is where we (and most tourists) will stay.
As we enter the city, it looks familiar, like many Indian cities that we have seen.
After a bit of driving we come to Lake Fewa. It is pretty, with a park next to the water as you enter this area.
We stayed in a comfortable hotel, Hotel View Point, just off the main street.
The view from our hotel. We are looking for the famous mountains. All we see are clouds.
We started to explore the area on foot. Since this is a tourist area, the shops all cater to the tourist trade.
Through the trees is the lake.
The first thing we do is walk down to the lake.
Information about Fewa Lake, the second largest in Nepal.
The lake is surrounded by hills. There is a small island in the lake that holds a temple.
Many boats await rental. It looks like boating on the lake is a big activity here. You can rent a boat and row yourself, or you can also hire an oarsman.
A boat returns to the dock area.
Oarsman, while they wait for their next customers, play a game, a kind of coin toss. A target is thrown out, then the others try to get close to it. Closest through gets all the coins.
Checking the results.
One player looks sharp in his Obama t-shirt. I notice that he is certainly a style leader, with his tattered jeans, like worn in the US.
Flowers, to make an offering at the island temple. This god must love the color red, based on the flowers we see.
While we are out, we stop at one of the nice places to eat. Tables that overlook the street are great places to eat and watch the show provided by all those walking by.
The next thing on our agenda is to hire a taxi and look around the city. We find a driver who has good English and knows what tourists like to see.
We found a local taxi with a driver with pretty good English. He knew what tourists liked to visit, and agreed to shows us some of these places. He did a good job, for which I am very grateful.
We start out in the old town, also called Purana Bazaar. The development of Pokhara has been a pretty recent thing. As recently as 1960 you could get here only by foot or a 10-day pony trek with many river crossings and hazards. It was considered even more of a mystical place than Kathmandu, and in the 1970s attracted many Hippies. The first road to Pokara was finished in 1968. By the 1980s, it had transformed into a modern mountain resort, with hundreds of hotels, shops, bars and restaurants. The old town predates all of this and is from the days that this was a small trading town between Tibet and India.
The old stone wall probably predates anything else in the Old Town.
Old commercial buildings are in the old town, built of red brick with wooden doors and windows.
Brick and timber houses are typical of the Newari tribe of Kathmandu, and areas like Pokhara with a similar environment. Newaris are a traditional merchant and trading caste that are prominent in old urban areas of Nepal, like Kathmandu.
There are a number of tribes, cultures and native languages in Nepal. Some of this is based on different environmental zones, like valleys vs. mountain sides. Since Nepal is a crossroad between great cultures, there are strong Hindu influences from India, as well as Buddhist influences from Tibet and even some from China.
Some cultural details from Thamel.com:
The best known of the high mountain peoples are the Sherpas who inhabit the central and eastern regions of Nepal. The Sherpas have easy access to Bhot (Tibet) for trade and social intercourse and therefore Tibetan influence on their culture and civilization remains distinct.
The midlands are inhabited by various Tibeto-Burman and Indo-Aryan speaking hill and valley people, for example the Brahmins, Chettris, and Newars (Newaris).
The Rais, Limbus, Tamangs, Magars, Sunwars, Jirels, Gurungs, Thakalis, and Chepangs are other Tibeto-Burman speaking Mongoloid people found living in the middle hills. They each have their own distinct social and cultural patterns.
The Dun valleys and the lowland Terai are inhabited by people such as the Brahmins, Rajputs, Tharus, Danwars, Majhis, Darais, Rajbansis, Statars, dhimals and Dhangars.
These cultures are often intermixed. For example our driver said that he was from a mountain village, in which there were three tribes, languages, and castes/occupations. So he grew up speaking three different languages.
This is a typical Newari-style commercial building in the old town. The closely spaced doors at the bottom are shops (or entrances into the interior courtyard). These are made so that a shop may have one or more open door spaces, depending on how big the business is.
Siva Lingam in Old Town
The Hindu influence is strong, with many temples around the city. There are several in old town. This Siva Lingam is the first we saw.
Inside you can see the lingam. On the outside wall are snakes, probably cobras – Nagas – and mirrors are on all four outside walls. I wonder what is the significance of the mirrors? Since it is repeated on all four walls, you know there is a meaning.
Above the door is this wooden panel. It looks like some kind of demon that is eating a snake.
In architecture these are called a tympanum, the semi-circular or triangular decorative wall surface over an entrance. They often contains sculpture or other imagery or ornaments, as you see here.
In a niche by the doorway are a male and female god. I would guess it to be something like Siva and Parvati, since this temple houses a Siva Lingam. Next is the Naga’s head. All are red from the many times that kumkum has been dotted on them.
The Siva Lingam. I guess it is copper. It is not tarnished, so they must clean it periodically, maybe with lemon juice, to remove the tarnish. There are four faces on the Lingam. A Naga rises near the Lingam.
The other entrance to the Lingam.
On this side of the temple there is a copper Nandi, red from kumkum.
One of the four Nagas.
The Lingam from this side. You can see Siva’s face. The red water below and to the right of the lingam is in a stone bowl, design to catch water which is poured over the lingam in Abhishekam.
Walking through Old Town
We walk a bit more through the red brick buildings of old town.
Normal market sights, rolling carts with tomatoes, bananas, and other typical household fare.
Women shopping in the market.
Woman carrying a load. Carry baskets are common in Nepal.
Next is another small Hindu Temple, Bhimsen Temple, a two-hundred-year-old shrine to the Newari god of trade and commerce. Appropriate for a trading center.
Guarding the doorway is something like a Chinese foo dog
Above the doorway is another wooden carving, another tympanum, like in the Siva Lingam Temple. It looks to me like the figures are warriors.
The sign for the temple.
The inner shrine.
These carved roof struts are typical of Newari architecture.
What is less typical, but still pretty common in Nepal, are the erotic carvings at the base of the struts.
Some, like the one below, seem pretty extreme.
No one really knows why this was done. You can see the mixture of the sacred images above with the erotic images below.
These images are from a culture that viewed physical modesty as an important value, so that makes them more extreme, a greater departure from the social norms.
Some say that the images expressed tantric teaching …
And implied withholding orgasm, to lead one to a spiritual height greater than any sexual pleasure.
Some say it was as sex education for the young people.
Some say it was to encourage sex, and the resulting population growth, made more important in a culture with such strong spiritual beliefs.
Maybe this shows the cosmic fertility of the universe that will be assured by presentation of sex. This is the unification of Shakti feminine power with the male energy.
Whatever the reason, to Western eyes, it is pretty shocking to see erotic images as a part of a temple.
Back in Old Town
We continue our walk through old town. Here is a basket full of something, (painted gourds)?
Some open doors are shops, some lead inside.
Man pushing cart with items for sale.
Chess players. How many times have these two men spent the afternoon playing chess with each other?
Baskets and pottery for sale in this shop.
A doorway among the shops. When they are closed you do not know which is which.
Paintings in this shop.
Most are spiritual subjects, like this one of Shirdi Sai Baba.
Another doorway leading … somewhere secret.
A man looks down from a window at us.
This wooden sculpture in the window is a recreation of a famous one in Kathmandu of a peacock.
The shops are colorful.
In the midst of the shops occasionally there are buildings that seem very old, and still in use.
A shop is behind the doors that are open. What is behind the closed ones?
Bindhyabasini Mandir (Temple)
The last temple we will see today is the oldest one in Pokhara, the Bindhyabasini Mandir.
Shops on the street sell pooja items to bring to the temple.
I bought a pooja basket, and climb up the stairs.
This is the shrine for which this temple is named. The temple is dedicated to the Hindu Goddess Durga, who is Pokhara’s chosen guardian deity. Durga, also known as Shakti or Kali, has numerous manifestations. At the Bidyndabasini temple, she is seen as Bhagwati, a bloodthirsty aspect of the Goddess. Durga appears in the form of a saligram. A saligram, according to Hindu mythology, is a propitious stone.
There are many shrines and altars here. This is one (I am unsure what one).
This is surely the Goddess Sarasvati, with her musical instrument.
I am unsure what god resides under this heavy coating of kumkum.
Now many people are at the Bhagwati temple.
It is so crowded in the temple that people are pushing through to get to the altar.
Carol and I stand in front of it. We offered our flowers.
Lord Ganesha. He likes the color red.
The is a famous statue in the center of the temple. I am sure it is a king and queen, I just don’t know which one.
Carol waving incense, with her trusty camera hanging from her arm.
After the incense, she was photographing the wonderful bronze Nandi.
Here was her shot, Nandi with pigeon.
There is another large shrine here.
With many people going into it.
Carol goes to be blessed by the priest. He looks like a child!
Here he is. He is maybe 10 or 12 years old?
He then performs a pooja to the lingam in the temple.
Here is the lingam afterwards.
Other familiar Hindu shrines were in this temple. Here are the Nine Planets, the Navagraha.
I am not sure who these gods are. In Tamil Nadu it would probably be Siva, accompanied by Ganesh and Murugan. I can make out Ganesh to the left, but am unsure about the other two figures.
I got blessed with kumkum too. They way I sweat, the kumkum soon looks like a bleeding head wound.
This temple is up on a hill. It is a great place to look around the city.
Returning, we passed one of many big old trees. We saw many that looked like they were treated like village holy trees in Tamil Nadu, with a wall around the base of the tree, for a good place to sit in the shade and talk, like is being done here.
I notice another old house on the way back. Looking at it, I wonder how old it is? Who lived here? What was their life like?
I enjoyed seeing what have seen of Pokhara so far; the lake, old town, and the temples. It is similar enough to India where we have some familiar referents, but different enough where everything is pretty new.
Our visit to Pokhara will continue with more posts. To see the other parts of our trip to Nepal, look at these posts: