Pokhara tourism lifted by Nepali footfalls


For the past eight months Pokhara’s lakeside has been a ghost town. But with Dasain, it has seen a partial revival with Nepalis flocking to the town for getaways after months of lockdown.

Colourful boats that had been floating forlornly on the shores of Phewa Lake are now being rented out again as tourists from Kathmandu, Chitwan and other parts of Nepal descend on Pokhara. Lakeside bars and restaurants that used to hum with a wide variety of international languages being spoken, are now dominated by Nepali speakers.

Nepali visitors are up paragliding off Sarangkot, some make a bee line for the zip line, and others are trekking up to catch the early morning glimpse of Machhapuchhre.

Domestic flights from Kathmandu to Pokhara this week were packed to the capacity with passengers asked to strictly follow Covid-19 protocols with masks and face shields. They do not require PCR reports, but have to fill out a health declaration.

Pokhara started opening up after the end of the nationwide lockdown on 21 June, but tourism had not really picked up until the festival last week. While there has been zero international visitors, hotels, restaurants and adventure sports operators are happily welcoming domestic tourists.

“It was quiet for the last seven months and without tourists there was no earning,” said Chandra Kumari BK, a boatsman on Phewa for the past 11 years, who has been out of a job since March. “It was some of the most difficult times, but I’m glad visitors are back now.”

The boating committee in Pokhara has been helping out BK’s family and others like her, who are fully dependent on renting their boats for income, with daily essentials.

Most of the bigger hotels by the lake that used to cater to international tourists are still closed, and those which are open have slashed tariffs. And Nepalis are taking advantage of the bargain prices. For example, paragliding costs half as much as last year.

There are Nepali tourists rowing boats, paragliding, kayaking, enjoying street foods and screaming on a Ferris wheel. Some are also fishing while others are simply laid back and spending their evening strolling by Lakeside

Many rent taxis to go up to Sarangkot to watch the sun rise over Mt Machapuchre and the Annapurnas. The cable car to the top is nearing completion.

Pokhara gets over one million tourists a year, including Nepalis. The city has been expanding rapidly with a few dozen new luxury hotels and resorts in recent years. In anticipation of a spurt in tourist arrivals, mainly from China, the government had been rushing to finish the construction of Pokhara International Airport. But it has been delayed, and many here do not expect foreign tourists to  be back till 2022.

While foreigners can now travel to Nepal, they can only do so if they want to go trekking or climb a Himalayan mountain. Even those coming in for treks and climbs must have extra $5,000 worth of insurance, and have to spend a week in hotel quarantine in Kathmandu before setting off for the wilderness. These additional hassles along with a continuing ban on flights from India is hurting the travel industry as a whole and keeping even those foreign tourists keen on visiting Nepal away.

However, for Pokhara's crisis-ridden local hotel owners, taxi drivers, boats people and others dependent on tourism, Nepali arrivals have at least partially compensated for the gap.