A dark figure in a dark boat is slowly pulling his net out from the inky waters. Then, after he’s examined what’s landed in the net and rearranged it, he casts it into the lake again. The ‘chho-opp’ of the net landing on the water is amplified in the stillness of the morning. It is as serene a morning as it can get.
This is what a typical morning is like in Begnas Tal.
Although these sights and sounds of rustic life retreat as the sun rises, Begnas Tal’s charm lies in the fact that it never really changes from a serene lake into a place filled with the clangor of a tourist destination. It remains, even at the peak hours of visitors, a quiet place. “Shops” are limited to a couple of carts selling trinkets. There are no vehicles near its shores. And, of course, there are the mountains, even grander and captivating in the lake’s tranquil environs. It is remarkable that despite being so close to Pokhara (15 kilometers), it has managed to retain its bucolic character so well. Begnas Tal is what a romantic ordered, and probably what everyone needs after a day or two in Pokhara.
The one time that the place does turn a bit noisy is during the morning hours when the morning’s catch is brought to the fish shop. The “noise” is the sound of helmeted men, some of whom come from Pokhara, haggling over the prices, pointing out the fish they want and directing the man chopping the fish about the size of the pieces. And from their perch on nearby trees – sometimes seven to eight in a tree – eagles trill in anticipation of the imminent feast. Then after the last fish has been sold, the leftovers fed to the eagles, the place washed and cleaned, the corner of Begnas Tal with the hotels becomes quiet, only the occasional whistle of the pressure-cooker or the horn of a car surpassing the self-imposed decibel limit.
There are numerous ways to celebrate the gift of seclusion that Begnas offers. One of them is walking the trail that runs around the lakeshore. Although the trail is tricky in some places, it is not impassable; its harder parts can be negotiated by climbing higher and joining the trail further on. Slender sal trees cover the hills surrounding the lake, obscuring the law. But eyes are likely to be turned up in an attempt to locate the many birds that fill this forest with their songs. Startled by the sound of your footsteps on the crunchy carpet of fallen leaves, foraging jungle fowl suddenly flutter past, startling you in turn.
The narrow, undulating trails sometimes bring you to quaint villages. Potential delicacies on two feet, free range chicken, or ‘local kukhura’, scurry about. Another, cheaper and ready-to-consume, ‘local’ you might want to try is the home-made alcohol.
At times, the trail ends in a clearing on a hilltop, from where a little lake is visible, almost primeval in its location at the edge of the forest or tucked in a corner of the hills. If you do not like the idea of a walk around the lake, boating is a good alternative. For sybarites, there are the restaurants with views of the lake and beer and fried fish on the menu.
Begnas is as much a destination as a starting point. Walking north for a few hours brings you closer to the soaring mountains. A hike to the village of Thulakot is ideal for this. There is a 500-year-old tree (if the information painted on it is to be believed) on a bluff in Thulakot, which is also the place that has the best views of the mountains. The land on view rises from terraced hills to barren hills to the first line of snowless mountains before culminating in snowy peaks. Prominent among these are Annapurna II, also known as Black Tent, and Fish Tail.
There are places around Begnas Tal that are more unspoiled and peaceful. A couple of smaller lakes lie to the west of Begnas, reachable either by the trail going up from the west end or by walking north from the main road coming into Begnas bazaar. The lakes are a wonderful wetland habitat and a must-visit for birders.
A longer walk to the much bigger Rupa Tal starts from the main bazaar. You can also catch a ride in the many buses that ply this route. Rupa Tal is three kilometers from the bazaar. Walking is better as all along the road there are restaurants and shops selling organic produce ranging from fruits to honey to coffee. As you climb higher, the Annapurna range spreads out in front of you like a giant wall with serrated tops. Huge vultures, with wing spans of several feet, are likely to be wheeling in the sky.
Rupa Tal sits surrounded by fields and, behind them, old styled houses. On the way to the lake and near it are several lodges. Whether you choose to stay in Begnas or Rupa, you are likely to be calmed. You may also grow skeptical. The calmness will come from the beauty of the lakes; from the fragility of that beauty will stem skepticism. In these times of rapid change and growth and development, who knows how long they have before they too become another Phewa Tal with a lakeside full of shops.
Buses leave frequently from Prithivi Chowk in Pokhara. The road to one of the seven lakes in the Lekhnath Village Development Committee (VDC), which is dubbed the ‘VDC of seven lakes’, Begnas leaves the highway around 10 kilometers before Pokhara. The trail skirting the lake is through forests, so it’s always better to go in a group.
You’re likely to be hooked to the fish curry and fried fish, made from the catch from Begnas. Hotel Rupa, on the way from the bazaar toward the lake, serves one of the best daal-bhat in and around Begnas. For simple fares made from organic kitchen gardens, head up the road toward Rupa Tal. The honey there is hard to beat anywhere in Nepal.
Where to Stay
The Grand Hotel Begnas (www.grandhotelbegnas.com) has good rooms at reasonable prices; Begnas Lake Resort (www.begnaslakeresort.com), at the south-eastern corner of the lake, has the priciest. There are numerous lodges scattered on the hills on the western shore. These have some of the best available views. Thulakot only has one place to stay, Sabi Home Stay (Sabi Didi: 9846574238). It’s best to book rooms in advance at Sabi.