Nepal's

OUTSIDE THE POKHARA VALLEY
by David Woollan

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Sarangkot :

This small village, perked on top of a hill just 5 kilometres from Pokhara's Lakeside seems to be making something of a comeback, after falling from tourist favour about fifteen years ago. In those days the start of trekking in the Annapurna region usually started at Bindabasini Mandir, north of Pokhara, and took the trekker through Sarangkot and along the ridge to Nayapul. The completion of the Pokhara-Baglung road changed all that! This year the only good news in a dismal tourist season has been the explosion in numbers of people trying their hand at paragliding and the place from where to launch oneself into the air is Sarangkot. Lodges and restaurants are reporting a better business. But you might also want to come here for wonderful mountain views, quite enjoyable walking along the ridge top or simply to escape the heat of Pokhara. At 1592 metres above sea level, Sarangkot is a good five degrees cooler than Pokhara.

You can walk to Sarangkot from Lakeside by scrambling up the hill (see Pokhara page for more details) or by taking a taxi to Bindabasini Mandir and walking the winding, uphill road in about two hours. Local students might try to show you some short cuts through rice paddy and forest; nice scenery so take the opportunity, but they'll expect a donation for school books! When you arrive at the start of the village, turn to your right and walk up the stone staircase to arrive, after forty minutes, at the lookout tower. It is along this staircase that you'll find the mostly very basic lodging houses and their attached restaurants. Some high-quality binoculars have been installed at the lookout tower to give you splendid views of the Phewa Taal to your south or the mighty Annapurnas to your north.
If you don't want to stay the night in Sarangkot, try this excellent day walk. For the really energetic, scramble up the hill from Lakeside (see the Pokhara page for more details). The less energetic can hire a taxi to take you to the area of Sarangkot known as "Parking". Climb up to the lookout tower. Put a coin in the binoculars and gaze at Annapurna IV. . Then run all the way down the stone staircase to where you join the main road by the secondary school. Turn right. This is the mud road that goes to Naudaada. Walk on this road for about 90 minutes until you come to the settlement of Maula. Then ask which path leads down hill to Pame Bazaar. You may have to scramble on scree and jump from rice terrace to rice terrace, but the downhill trip shouldn't take much more than an hour. Then walk back to Lakeside from Pame in about two hours. If you did the energetic version of the walk you'll have been on your legs a good 10 hours and that makes the beer taste even better!
Or you can stay on the road from Sarangkot until you get to Naudaada, about 9 kilometres, where there is accommodation. Naudaada is an ugly village now that it is connected with the Pokhara-Baglung highway. From here you can catch a bus back to Pokhara.

There are many places to stay in Sarangkot. Mostly they are simple lodges and you should be able to get a room for about R60-R80. Some of the other places are:

  • Lakeview Lodge and restaurant. A large, well built building that dominates the southern face of the hill. Here you will find hot water. Rooms with bathroom R200.
  • Viewpoint Lodge and restaurant. Rooms with shared bathroom. No hot water. R100 per person.
  • Hotel Mountain Prince and rooftop restaurant. Room with bathroom. R200.
  • Annapurna and Sherpa Resort. (Contact tel. In Kathmandu 435428, chandrama014@hotmail.com ) Along the road about ten minutes walk away from the lookout tower. Well signposted. Two very modern buildings, one still under construction. Immaculate rooms with bathroom. R400. 



Begnas & Rupa Taal :

These are two twin lakes situated about 15 kilometres east of Pokhara. Almost completely undeveloped, they lie just downhill from the trekking route that is the endpoint of the Royal Trek. Many years ago I met a group of people from the University of Christchurch, NZ who were undertaking a tourism development feasibility study for this area. Eight years on and the area is as sleepy as it ever was. Maybe it is this tranquility that makes this a splendid location to while away a day or two. 

Begnas Taal, the bigger of the two lakes, has very murky water and you might not fancy a swim, but here you can hire boats. The easiest point to hire them is by the dam, just behind the ugly and busy Begnas Bazaar. Rupa Taal is almost hidden in thick jungle and you may well spot large teams of monkeys if you walk the small trails here. 

To get to the lakes from the bazaar just walk the trail, known as Panchbhaiya Daada that leads slightly uphill as you exit the bazaar for an hour or so. This is actually the ridge that separates the two lakes. First, on your right hand side you will see the signposted trail that leads down to Rupa Taal. After a look around Rupa Taal, rejoin the road and after another twenty minutes you will come to the small hamlet of Sundari Daada. From here a track leads down to Begnas Taal. At the lakeside here you'll find boatmen who can row you back to the dam and the bazaar for R350.

If you stay on the road for another three kilometres or so, you'll pass another village (strangely also called Begnas!) and then take the left hand track and work your way uphill to a lovely viewpoint called Begnaskot, where there is a fort. Total time to walk from the bazaar to Begnaskot is about three hours.

To get to Begnas Bazaar take the bus from Pokhara's bus station by Prithvi Chowk, or a taxi will do the job for you from Lakeside in about 40 minutes, for a fare of R300.

You could also cycle from Pokhara. Follow the Prithvi Highway for 10 kilometres and, after passing a traffic police checkpoint turn left and continue to the road head after another 3 kms.

As always around bus parks, there is a cluster of poor accommodation to be found. Slightly better (but not much!) can be found between the bazaar and the dam.

  • New Begnas Lodge and restaurant. Very basic rooms with bathroom R200. Lousy restaurant. Madame retires to bed very early. Best avoid this one and head just up the hill to:
  • Hotel Day Break (tel. 60011). Also small garden restaurant. Rooms with hot shower R250.
  • Hotel Him Shikar (tel. 60359). On the road that leads to the bus park. Also reasonable restaurant. Clean rooms with bathroom. Sgl/dbl R250.

There are several, very basic lodges to be found along the Sundari Daada trail :

  • Rupa View Point Lodge. Two guest rooms in a traditional Nepali home. On the approach track to Rupa Taal. R50 per person.
  • Begnas Lake Resort (tel. contact in Kathmandu 249619) 32 deluxe rooms in bungalows. A resort complex in a jungle setting. Swimming pool, restaurant. $80 per room in season.

See also Pokhara