The Pokhara Valley lies at an average altitude of 800 m (2625 ft), some 500 m (1641 ft) lower than Kathmandu. It enjoys a pleasant climate with temperatures ranging between 15-26°C (59-79°F). The winters are exceedingly mild, but during the monsoon months twice as much rain falls as in Kathmandu. The average annual precipitation is 4100 mm (1611/2 in).Thus favored by climate the vegetation in the valley is lush; orchids, bougainvilleas, banana plants and cacti all thrive. Rice grown in the Pokhara Valley is renowned for its delicious flavor. In the 124 sq. km (48 sq. mi.) of the valley there are half a dozen lakes, the largest of which is the 3 km (2 mi.) long Lake Phewa with Pokhara on its shore. The Seti (White) Gandaki bisects the valley. One of the Sapti (Seven) Gandakis, it takes the name Seti from its limestone river-bed.The Pokhara Valley forms a narrow oasis of wooded hillsides and farmland against a backdrop of 7000-8000 m (23,000-26,000 ft) peaks in the Himalayan chain. The mountains lie just 30 km (181/2 mi.) away, beyond the foothills. From Pokhara itself there is a magnificent 140 km (87 mi.)-wide panorama of the central Himalayas. Among the peaks in view are Dhaulagiri, Manaslu, Himalchuli and Machhapuchhare as well as the 56 km (35 mi.) long Annapurna massif with 16 summits over 6000 m (19,692 ft).Pokhara lies on an old trade route between India and Tibet. In the 17th c. it belonged to Kaski, one of the more powerful Chaubise Rajaya (24 kingdoms) of Nepal. The kings of Kaski, scions of the Shah family, ruled from a stronghold strategically situated on the ridge above Lake Phewa. Many of the hills around Pokhara have ruined medieval fortresses dating from this time.Around 1752 the king invited Newaris from Bhaktapur to settle in Pokhara as a way of giving fresh impetus to trade. Bringing the culture of the Kathmandu Valley with them the Hindu immigrants quickly took over large tracts of the valley, displacing the Gurung whose settlements are now confined to the higher-lying areas.In 1786, by which time Pokhara had developed into a major trading post on the routes from Kathmandu to Jumla and from India to Tibet, Prithvi Narayan Shah annexed the town to his own Ghorka kingdom.Following the Chinese invasion of Tibet, more than 30,000 refugees fled to Nepal between 1959 and 1962. The refugee camp set up in Pokhara spawned three Tibetan settlements, Tashi Pakhel, Tashi Ling and Paijor Ling. With their white-painted houses, prayer flags, gompas and chorten they are quite different from traditional Nepalese villages. Many Tibetans by carpet weaving, tourism or trade have achieved prosperity which gives them a better life than the local population and for that they are not liked by the Nepalese. They no longer have refugee status and by the third generation cannot get naturalization.The Chinese annexation of Tibet brought an end to traffic on the trade route through the Kali Gandaki Valley. Its place was soon taken by a very different source of income, tourism. Since Nepal opened its frontiers to foreigners the number of people visiting Pokhara has risen steadily. Today a whole district, Lakeside, on Lake Phewa revolves around the tourist trade.
Although Pokhara is commercialized and at times suffers from a surfeit of tourists, it actually has a great deal of charm. The delightful Phewa Valley is one of its principal attractions. In the mornings a veil of mist floats over the lake, behind which the mountains form a magnificent backcloth. The water of the lake is only 19 m (62 ft) deep and is very dirty. An invigorating swim is only possible in the middle of the lake or from the opposite bank. Rowing boats can be hired but any breeze is usually too light for sailing or windsurfing. Boats go to the Vahari Temple on Lake Phewa's small island. On Saturdays in particular - Saturday being an auspicious day for sacrifices - boatloads of folk clutching billy-goats and cockerels are ferried across the channel between the island and the shore.
To the south the lake peters out in Phewa Faant, a flat alluvial strip lined with rice fields. The Pardi Dam ensures plenty of water for irrigation as well as providing electricity for the settlements. It has made Lake Phewa bigger at a time when silting has shrunk the neighboring lakes. A study has shown that without preventative measures even Lake Phewa will have silted up within 50 years.