- Pokhara in Nepal is a peaceful, quiet city to hang out and work in, and is the gateway to many mountain and sky adventures.
- The internet is fast and there are many places a digital nomad can work with a view.
- In between work, there are lots of easily accessible activities, such as hiking, kayaking, paragliding and hot-air ballooning.
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Pokhara is only about 200 km from Nepal’s capital city Kathmandu, but the two cities could not be more different. Kathmandu is packed, noisy and dirty, while Pokhara is quiet, peaceful and – in the off season (late November to March) – the ideal place for a digital nomad with a sense of adventure who gets paid in Rands.
At the current exchange rate, you get about 7.75 Nepali Rupees for your Rand and combined with off-season specials, you can live, work and play here without breaking bank.
The city is located in the foothills of the Annapurnas on the shore of Phewa lake at an elevation of about 800m. The temperature is moderate, the people are friendly, and the food phenomenal.
While there is no specific digital nomad visa, it is easy enough to get into the country and get settled in.
Get yourself to Nepal on the cheapest flight
Your flight is likely going to be the most expensive part of your trip. Both Qatar and Emirates have daily flights with a single stopover from Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban to Kathmandu. The cheapest I could find was R12,500 on Qatar through Vitality, and flights on these airlines range between that and R17,500 for the cheapest options.
Getting your paperwork done
While Nepal does not have specific digital nomad visa, they are pretty generous with their offer and visas are relatively inexpensive. South Africans get a visa for up to 90 days on arrival. It can be further extended for a stay of up to 150 days per calendar year. The process is simple: you fill in the Arrival Card online, print it out at home, take two passport pictures with, and pay ($30 for up to 15 days, $50 for up to 30 days and $125 for up to 90 days) upon arrival, preferably in cash to save you time. The process to get the stamp in my passport at the airport took about 10 minutes.
Have a printout of your Covid vaccination certificate on you, they prefer printouts to anything digital.
Now get going to Pokhara
Most people stay and prepare for the rest of their trip in Nepal in Kathmandu. While the hustle and bustle of touristy Thamel and the temples is exhilarating, the air is disgustingly polluted and the city is unhygienic and you are almost guaranteed to pick up a nasty respiratory infection. Get out of there as soon as you can.
There are not many transport options in Nepal, and what is available is not the greatest.
The views over the Himalayas on the plane ride to and from Pokhara is something to behold. (Hanlie Gouws)
There are several daily flights to Pokhara daily for between R1,000 and R1,700 a ticket, one way, that you can buy at several outlets in Thamel or online, but flights rarely take off when they are supposed to and the safety record is dubious. So best to be flexible and don’t fly on a working day. The views from the plane is absolutely insane though, as you’ll get to see the entire Annapurna range and then some up close.
The other option is the road. And it is not a good one. There are currently road works that don’t look like they will be done soon, and a trip that normally takes about six hours is now closer to eight. A sedan car with a driver is about R1,200 for two to three people (don’t even think about self-drive!). You can buy a seat on a fairly comfy tourist bus for around R200 if you have a lot of time (and patience and guts) at your disposal. Part of the road between the two city is a mountain pass, and the twin lanes can suddenly become four lanes of oncoming traffic. Not for the faint hearted. You can book a car or bus online or at shops in either city.
Stay where the streets are quiet and the wi-fi is fast
The best place to stay and work in Pokhara is a strip of hotels just off the main tourist drag in Street number 6, 7 or 8. We booked a delux double room with a balcony, fridge, and rather unbelievable view of the Annapurnas for under R400 per night (breakfast included) at Hotel Orchid on Booking.com. Most importantly, every room in this hotel has its own wi-fi router, so we had superfast connectivity at all hours.
We went for the delux option with the mountain view, but you can go as low as R200 per night for a double room in this area in the off season.
There aren’t many self-catering apartments available for short-term rental, but if you are lucky and you start scouring the internet early enough, you might bag a flat for two for around R300 a day.
The food in Pokhara is particularly good and not expensive. This bowl of Japanese curry udon at a fancy place was about R50. (Hanlie Gouws)
The food in Pokhara is excellent and affordable. There is Nepali, Indian, Chinese, Tibettan, Thai, Korean and Japanese on the menu, and you won’t struggle to find a pizza or a burger. A quick meal costs between R20 and R50, something more substantial will cost you around R50 and something fancy around R80. If you do have catering facilities available, you can catch a taxi for about R30 to the bigger supermarkets to stock up.
Beer and decent coffee costs what it costs at home, but wine is expensive. Even the local wine is about R130 a bottle (and be sure to ask for the dry local, the sweet is quite an experience).
Workability and connectivity, and electricity!
One of the best things about Pokhara is that the power supply is reliable. I’ve been there three times and never experienced a blackout. So there is no need to plan your workday around power like at home.
There are a few coworking spaces in Phokara, but almost all restaurants, coffee shops and hotels have wi-fi. Sipping tea and looking out over the lake and mountains is for sure more pleasant than sitting in a formal environment! In the off season, most places are quiet enough for a peaceful workday.
Find yourself a spot next to Lake Phewa to work for the day. Take a break and rent a boat with a boatsman for under R100 an hour, or rent a kayak and do it yourself. (Hanlie Gouws)
An excellent tip I got before leaving was to take an extra passport photo and dollar and get a SIM card at the airport. The deals at the kiosk at arrivals are far better than anywhere else. I got a 30-day, 50GB data package for about R150, and that was way more than enough to stay connected in the few places that didn’t have fast enough wi-fi.
The time difference of four hours and 15 minutes is a huge plus for those who work 9-to-5 back home. You’ll only start work around lunchtime and will have to morning free to enjoy all that Pokhara offers.
With our assistant guide Mangali Kumai and guide Laxmi Sunar from 3 Sisters Adventure Trekking at Annapurna Base Camp. (Picture taken by a random stranger)
There is a lot to do in Pokhara
The biggest drawcard is of course that the city is the starting point for Annapurna trekking. You can do anything from a day hike in the foothills to a trek around the circuit of 21 days. There are plenty of reputable companies around, but we went straight to 3 Sisters Adventure Trekking, a women’s empowerment outfit.
The other activity you simply have to do in Pokhara, is paragliding. Sangakot high on the hills behind the city is one of the world’s best launch sites and you will soar over forests and the lake with the high mountains as your backdrop. It might sound 100% cliché, but first a vulture and then an eagle were riding the thermals next to me. There are several paragliding outfits in town, and you can book your flight at any tourism shop (of which there are plenty).
Hot air ballooning takes a little more planning an patience, as there is only one balloon for everyone. Book as soon as you arrive at a tourism shop. The balloon ride is magical, and takes you far out over the rice paddies towards the lake. On a clear day you can see all the way to Daulaghiri.
If the skies are not your thing, you can rent a scooter and visit the temples and sights around town, or rent a bicycle for a long ride next to the lake.
From Pokhara you arrange white water rafting on the nearby rivers, or go kayaking on Phewa Lake.
Otherwise, book one of several day tours and excursions in and around town. Your hotel or host would be able to help, or pop into a tourist shop. Nepalis are excellent service providers and if you are bored in Pokhara, it’s your own fault!