Pedaling around Pokhara

Cycling around Pokhara. Image: Nasir Khan Saikat

Once, not too long ago, rumors flew around about how Pokhara was destined to sink into the ground. It was only a matter of time. The reason for all the rumors was the fact that the city is built on land that has a river flowing beneath it, and that this river (Seti River) has gouged out large chunks of space underground (some as deep as 250 m!), according to some geologists. Added to this is another fact: Pokhara has some of the heaviest rainfall in the country, but despite this, there is hardly any water-logging. This is because the water gets soaked almost as soon as there is rainfall above ground. According to some, the city is located on a mass of gravel; this mass a result of flash floods of the past brought about by an earthquake in the Annapurna region, of which Pokhara is a part. Well, no doubt, there’s some truth in the rumors then, but at the same time, much water has flowed on the Seti River yet Pokhara continues to stand safe on secure ground.

And, the river continues to make its way through the city much as before, which is to say, in the same fascinating way as it has always flowed. If you take a look down the Mahendra Pul (bridge) in the city center, you will see this river far below. At its deepest point, it flows some 80 m below street level.  Fascinating stuff, what?  In the course of its travails through the ages, the river has created seven lakes and a number of caves and gorges in the Pokhara valley. All this should perk you to what’s coming up next. Yes, let’s do some exploring; let’s discover the journey that this river goes through; one good way of doing this is on a bicycle. Yes, let’s go pedaling around Pokhara and explore the meanderings of the Seti River.

It’s easy to hire mountain bikes and will cost you around a thousand rupees for a day. You’ll get one at lake side. Let’s start is by cycling up to Mahendra Pul from where you pedal your way to K. I. Singh Bridge, about half an hour away. On the way, you’ll pass landmarks such as Bhimsen Tole and Bindabasini Temple. In the former, you might notice a couple of old houses that remind you of the traditional Newar houses of Kathmandu. This is because, once upon a time, the local king, being much impressed by the architecture of Kathmandu, had brought in Newar craftsmen to Pokhara so as to have a bit of aesthetics added to Pokhara’s culture. Some of these craftsmen stayed back in the city and made Bhimsen Tole their place of residence.  As for the latter (the temple), it is dedicated to the goddess Bhagwati.

Pedal on and pretty soon you’ll reach Bagar bazaar, and then, K. I. Singh Bridge nearby where is situated Seti Gorge. A five rupee ticket allows you inside the entrance gate where a flight of stairs await you. You will clearly hear the grumble of the rushing water deep down below. There’s a bridge some 15 m long across the gorge; it’s a nice enough spot to peer down below. The steep walls go down about 40 m where you’ll see the churning water rushing through a narrow culvert-like channel that’s hardly a meter wide. Wonderful, don’t you think? An otherwise big river, narrowing to this point at this place, and what’s more, disappearing god knows where into the rocky outcrop.

Having had your fill of this wondrous sight, you now carry on pedaling; about 10 minutes later you’ll reach the Prithvi Narayan Campus. You cycle around at its back and soon enough you’ll see that the Seti River has made its exit here into a pretty wide ravine that is banked on both sides by steeply rising walls of rock. If you look carefully from your high point, you will notice a small rivulet (Kali) make its rendezvous with Seti at some point on the foothills. There’s a suspension bridge some way below, on the other side of which is the Manipal Hospital. The track to the bridge is not really suitable for cycling, so it’s better to haul your cycle along as you walk down to it. Crossing the bridge, you can now cycle safely on the paved road. Carry on northwards and soon enough you will come across a dirt track. Pedal on till you reach the rendezvous point of Kali and Seti. Here, you will see the Seti River gushing out of a large yawning hole in a hill; it’s quite a sight, all right!

Now, start cycling back on the same route you used to reach here, and ahead, take the dirt road that goes along the embankment instead of the one that goes towards the hospital. You’ll reach Fulbari next where you’ll observe that the Seti has a hurdle in its way, a cliff that’s pretty heavily wooded. Here, you can walk down another flight of stairs to the river itself. It’s a tricky descent, however, so be careful. You’ll now see that the river disappears into a large opening in the cliff face. Wonders never cease! Now, you pedal on to Mahendra Pul , which should take you about 20 minutes, and from there, onwards to Ramghat which is the local cremation grounds. From here, head westwards and you’ll reach another bridge across the same narrow gorge that is viewed deep down from Mahendra Pul.  But, immediately afterwards, you’ll see that the river now rushes out of the narrow crevice-like gorge into a wide expanse with sand banks and tall embankments.  Cycle along the slope, first on the paved road, and then the gravel road leading back to Ramghat. Here too, the Seti enters another cavernous hole in the hill.

Now, after resting awhile at Ramghat, cycle onwards on the highway and you’ll come across Naya Pul (New Bridge) from where you can have yet another look at the Seti River flowing through a narrow gorge far down below. From this bridge, it’s a short distance to Prithvi Chowk, a busy intersection near the bus park from where you cycle southwards on a graveled road to the outskirts of the city. Soon, you’ll reach a wooden bridge, this too over the Seti River flowing down the narrow crevice. Keep on pedaling ahead on the paved road to Naya Gaun where there’s yet another bridge, and after about 20 minutes you’ll be at the International Mountain Museum in Gharipatan. This is where the Seti River comes out of the gorge and flows on between large boulders. Pedal on to reach Dhunge Sanghu where the elusive river now enters yet another chasm, as usual, with a terrific roar. From your vantage point you’ll be able to see another bridge, some 200 m below, that’s called Sita Paila, ahead of which the Seti flows out into a wide canyon and meanders on to be lost yet again among the lush and looming hills.

Well, that’s it then—you have cycled across the length and breadth of Pokhara, crossed many bridges, and played hide and seek with the elusive Seti River. Let’s call it a day now, what say?

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