History of Pokhara & Its Evolution into A Travel Destination

Pokhara, spelled as Pokhra (पोखरा) in Nepali is the second-most important metropolitan city of Nepal after Kathmandu and is the capital city of the state Gandaki Pradesh. Pokhara is just 200 kilometers away from Nepal’s capital city Kathmandu. Pokhara is popularly known as the tourism capital of Nepal, because of its a base for trekkers who want to trek the Annapurna ranges in the Himachal of the Himalayas. The city shelters a huge population of Gurkha soldiers who served in the British Army regiment and are often recruited in the Indian Army and the UN Peacekeeping Forces. Pokhara lies in the northwest corner of the Pokhara Valley and is a part of the Seti Gandaki valley. The valley is divided by the rivers Seti, Bagadi, Fuse, Bijayapur, and Hemja. The river has divided the city into the old town center, Bagar in the north, the tourism site, Baidam in the south and the business area, Chipledhunga in the middle. The mountains rise very rapidly here and the elevation rises from 1,000 to 7,500 meters within 30 kilometers of trekking. This elevation causes a lot of rainfall and makes the Pokhara city one of the wettest cities in Nepal and calls in a huge number of mountaineers every year. The river Seti Gandaki has created several gorges and canyons in Pokhara which makes the city look like a terrace. The gorges can be hundreds of meters deep. In the north, the canyons touch the base of the Annapurna Mountain range which has three highest mountains in the world i.e., Annapurna Ⅰ, Dhaulagiri, and Manaslu.

Pokhara’s History

The history of the towns in Nepal has its roots in the medieval period but urbanization has only recently started in the late 1950s. The name Pokhara, etymologically derived from Sanskrit Pushkara which means water reservoirs were named so because Pokhara has a series of perennial lakes like Phewa Lake, Rupa Lake, and Begnas Lake. Pokhara was built on massive debris deposits from strong medieval earthquakes in the years 1100 C.E., 1255 C.E. and 1344 C.E. It has been an important trade center from the reign of Kausili kings. During the winter, tribes like Thakalis and Bhotias brought mules and donkeys to be sold at Pokhara bazaar from Mustang. Pokhara supplied factory-made goods and materials of daily needs from India via Butwal to people of Mustang in exchange for wool, salt, and sheep brought by the and Tibetan traders. Till 1953, Pokhara remained obscured from the rest of the world but after being connected with Kathmandu and Bhairahawa via air, a lot of facilities like anti-malaria center, civil and veterinary hospital, powerhouse, telegraph, and telephone office, educational institutions, and other commercial institutions grew up in Pokhara. In 1959, the Community Development Programme was introduced and some significant changes were brought to Pokhara. By 1965, a proper road was constructed and a grain market was opened. At present, Pokhara has become an important trading as well as a tourist destination in Nepal.

Pokhara under the Shah Dynasty

Pokhara was located along an ancient trading route between India and China. It was part of Kaskikot under the Chaubisi Rajya (24 Kingdoms of Nepal) of the Shah Dynasty in the 17th century. Pokhara still contains some of the medieval ruins from this time. In 1786, Prithvi Narayan Shah added Pokhara into his kingdom and since then, it became an important trading center on the route from Kathmandu to Jumla and from Tibet to India.

Tribes and Communities in Pokhara

In the mid 18th century C.E., Pokhara was an important commercial center during the reign of King of Kaski. Upon being invited by the king, the Newars of Bhaktapur had migrated to Pokhara and settled in locations such as Bindhyabasini temple, Bhairab Tole and Nalakomukh. Pokhara, at the time, was inhabited by Khas (Brahmin, Chhetri, Thakuri, and Dalits), Gurungs, and Magars. At present, the Khas, Gurung (Tamu) and Magar form the dominant community of Pokhara. There is also a sizeable Newari population in the city. A small population of Muslims are located in Miya Patan, an eastern corner of Pokhara. Gandharvas or Gaaineys (the tribe of the musicians) stay in the extreme north of Pokhara in Batulechaur.

Migrants from Tibet in Pokhara

Around 300,000 migrants had entered Nepal from Tibet because of the Chinese invasion from 1959 to 1962. These migrants took shelter in Dharamshala in India. According to UNHCR survey, since the year 1989, around 2500 Tibetan migrants enter into Nepal every year, and some of them arrive in Pokhara to travel to India. Around 20,000 migrants have taken shelter in 4 consolidated camps in Pokhara. The settlements in Pokhara are namely Tashi Ling, Tashi Palkhel, Jampaling, and Paljorling. These camps have community residential areas with gompa (Buddhist monastery), in each of these areas. Migrants are slowly becoming a visible minority in Pokhara.

Conclusion: Tourism in Pokhara

It was only after 1968, Pokhara received its first road Siddhartha Highway and it allowed tourism to set in which helped the city to grow rapidly. Prior to this Pokhara accessible only by foot and was completely cut off from Kathmandu. At present, the Phewa lake, also called Lakeside, has become a major tourism hub for Nepal. Thousands of tourists visit Pokhara Valley every year to sightsee and participate in various sports in Annapurna Range and Seti Gandaki Valley. Pokhara is a popular destination for various adventure sports like trekking, boating, and extreme sports like rafting, bungee jumping, and canoeing. As per the Nepal Tourism Board survey, above 500,000 tourists visited Nepal in 2009, and out of them, almost 200,000 visited Pokhara. The number of tourists every year is estimated to rise considerably.

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