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perched on a hilltop overlooking the lakeside city of pokhara and with front row views of the annapurna mountain range, you won’t find a more restful getaway than raniban retreat.
how long does it take to climb 500 steps? for the active, a mere 10 minutes should do it but if you’re one of the porters at raniban retreat, that would be about five minutes too long – and that’s with luggage in hand or on their backs. they will relief you of your bags and sprint up the manmade stone stairs in no time, but you still need to haul yourself up to the top before you can check into one of their 10 cosy lodges.
it can be a daunting hike for the not-so-fit but the views on your way up make it worth the huffing and puffing: all of pokhara, the third largest city in nepal and the gateway for trekkers heading onto the popular annapurna circuit, lay beneath, its picturesque phewa lake a slate of inviting emerald dotted with tiny boats and kayaks.
look towards the right, along the same winding rocky road that leads to the foot of raniban and the resort’s closest neighbour, the only other landmark in the secluded area, comes into view. the world peace pagoda is a buddhist stupa built by japanese monks devoted to promoting a life of non-violence and is one of 80 that have been erected around the world since the end of world war ii.
those who venture here to visit the pagoda could easily miss raniban or not even realise its existence; no signboards point to it and from the road, the retreat is barely visible. it is this privacy and solitude that raniban’s guests seek, away and above the dusty and often noisy surrounds of pokhara. then there’s the obvious reward once you reach the hilltop resort that sits at 420 metres above phewa lake – breathtaking, uninterrupted views of the annapurna mountain range that’s home to some of nepal’s and the world’s highest summits.
depending on the weather, they may tease you from behind thick mists or heavy clouds, affording just hints of their majesty. when the shroud lifts, the range stands proudly in its full glory. this massif of the himalayas is characterised by a number of mountains that exceed the 7,000 metres in height, although the most well-known in this part of nepal, the machhapuchhre, falls just short of that mark. meaning fish tail in nepali for the shape formed by its double summit and nicknamed the matterhorn of nepal, it is worshipped by locals and considered sacred to the hindu god shiva.
to see the annapurna range at its best, awake before sunrise and wait for the first rays of light. in these early hours, the clear skies form a clean backdrop against which every craggy point and snow-capped peak is sharply defined. watch as the sky transforms from moody gray to pale ambers and soft pinks while wisps of clouds streak across. below, the town’s blockish buildings reveal themselves in uniform white squares crowding around the lake, the epitome of calm and silence.
the view grows on you; each time you look at it, the mountains appear change slightly as light hits the different parts. book a stay at one of the three bamboo-roofed lodges directly facing the mountains and you would want to spend hours just resting in bed, with the doors open, and feast on the inspiring landscape. if there’s any reason to drag yourself away from that, it would be to saunter to the spa – you did climb 500 steps, after all – and surrender to an hour or more of relaxing therapy.
what better way to work up an appetite for an authentic nepalese meal? you have to try the dhal bhat, a platter of steamed white rice with small side servings of vegetables, lentil soup and curries. the resort may have just one restaurant, but the versatile kitchen team – staffed by locals from the nearby villages – can whip up a good variety of nepali, western, chinese and indian cuisine.
some of the vegetables are harvested from the resort’s own organic patch – they’ve also started cultivating coffee – and raniban makes it a point to use local ingredients as much as possible, sourced from the nearby communities. their community contribution doesn’t stop there; the resort conducts free medical checks for the villagers and is hosting an exhibition and sales of straw art at its reception, with proceeds going towards funding more free cancer screenings.
just outside the reception, the outdoor terrace is where guests like to converge for a drink and savour hot, freshly prepared food. during the day, the mountains, lakes and villages provide plenty of natural distractions. after sundown, everything fades into the night and pokhara lights up like a million fireflies.
to say that you will be on a mountain high is an understatement. this here is a getaway in itself, the kind of place where doing nothing is everything.
> raniban retreat is at world peace pagoda, pokhara, nepal tel +977 61 692 136 http://raniban.com/