Ten years ago, you would be hard pressed to find a meal on Pokhara's lakeside in the monsoon. Most restaurants would be shut for the off-season.
With the Annapurnas obscured by clouds, even tourist guidebooks used to advise tourists not to come to Pokhara in the rainy season. But if the past few months is any indication, the monsoon seems to be the time to go to Pokhara. The rains actually seem to attract tourists, the lake front is bustling, restaurants are open, and adventure tourists are rafting in the Seti and even jumping off Sarangkot on paragliders.
"We used to have six months off-season period," says Biplab Paudel,
chairman of the Pokhara Hotel Association, "now it is just July and August when the numbers dip a bit."
Indian tourists are up 25 per cent, and many of them are pilgrims who drive up overland to go to Muktinath. Chinese tourists have increased by 15 per cent. Of the total number of foreign visitors to Nepal, Pokhara used to get only 15 per cent, now a third of all tourists to Nepal come to Pokhara.
We are even promoting the rainfall," quips Poudel, "the rain is romantic and is an attraction."
Visitors seem to agree. French tourist Alexandra Hungston has come here to recharge herself after a long backpack travel. She says: "What can be more relaxing than reading a book while having a cup of tea besides this glittering lake?"
Kathmandu's middle class also sees Pokhara as a perfect getaway from the chaos and pollution in the capital. Chandra Acharya is an engineer living in Kathmandu and prefers Pokhara to Pattaya. "After a quick downpour, everything is so fresh and clean. The weather is cool as well, so I bring my family here," he says.
The attractions include Devis Fall, which is at its maximum volume because of the rain. Operators are also popularizing the 'Rice Planting Expedition' in paddy fields on the outskirts, and Pokhara is soon to be Nepal's latest sky diving destination.
Pokhara has survived the conflict years, strikes and highway closures and is now looking forward to a busy autumn season. The chairman of the Pokhara Restaurant Association, Balram Pahari, says Pokhara has boomed despite the lack of government support. "I don't think the increase in visitor numbers is due to Nepal Tourism Year 2011, it was because of our own promotion and packages."
Baikuntha Acharya of Nepal Tourism Board speaks of his own constraints, but he says NTB aims to increase the choice of activities in Pokhara. "Pokhara sells itself," he says, "but with promotion and more attractions it can attract even more visitors."
JAUN HAI POKHARA!
Win some, Jomsom