TIGER MOUNTAIN LODGE POKHARA LODGE
BEST FOR: THE INTREPID WHO WANT A MIXTURE OF ADVENTURE AND RELAXATION
NOT FOR: THOSE JUST WANTING TO LAZE AROUND – THERE’S HIKES APLENTY AND LOTS OF FASCINATING PLACES TO EXPLORE
Shortly before Prince Charles married Diana, he spent four days hiking through the foothills of the Nepal Himalaya. With an entourage of 90, the bachelor Prince wove his way from the sprawling lakeside city of Pokhara up into the rice paddies and rhododendrons of Annapurna’s verdant lower slopes. The route, designed by Colonel Jimmy Roberts, was coined the ‘Royal Trek’ and – almost immediately – adopted by tourists eager to follow in His Highness’ footsteps.
Tiger Mountain Lodge started life as a simple hostel to house tourists following the royal route. Now, 17 pretty cottages, each with a wooden balcony and staggering views, are scattered amongst the lush gardens. A pretty stone terrace encircles a large dining room, library, courtyard and sitting room.
Despite its growth, Tiger Mountain bills itself as a lodge – which it is. There is nothing resembling the aloof professionalism of a hotel. There’s not a hint of a reception or a check-in procedure as we arrive, just a mild scuffle as three members of staff attempt to carry our two bags. Marcus Cotton, the lodge’s chief ‘host’ and manager, shakes our hands warmly in welcome and offers us fresh mango juice.
Our little cottage, woven into a particularly wild section of garden, is spacious and elegant but retains the same air of homeliness. A Tibetan rug covers much of the floor, there’s a large double bed; a wicker sofa in faded peach; a silver tea set and a lovely dark wooden desk. The slate-floored bathroom has a generous shower and masses of fluffy, brick-coloured towels. There’s a box of natural Tibetan bath products – including a multi-purpose soap – on one side of the marble-topped sink. I’ll linger a moment longer on the topic of the magic soap, because it was, indeed, magical. The instructions stated the soap could also be used as a shampoo. Aside from some initial difficulties in keeping hold of the thing for long enough to work up a lather; it worked an absolute treat – bouncy, shiny hair without a drop of conditioner.
We arrived at Tiger Mountain having trekked for nine days through the remote Manaslu region. Unlike, I suspect, His Royal Highness, we have carried our own rucksacks; lived off a diet of rice, spaghetti and Coca-cola and had far too few showers. We turn up with aching limbs and unwashed hair; backpacks filled with filthy laundry and a sizeable hunger for anything resembling a vegetable. Tiger Mountain, we quickly realise, is the perfect post-trek pit stop.
Initial showers and use of the prompt-laundry service over, we spend most of the first day wallowing in the beautiful swimming pool and wondering happily amongst the Himalayan poppies in the garden. Although there are plenty of activities on offer (nearby Pokhara flaunts paragliding, boating and white water rafting), our sole outing comprises a bird watching walk. Which is brilliant. Hari, our guide, identifies Brown-headed Barbets, bulbuls and Yellow-bellied Bush Warblers before we’ve walked 100 yards. We see Dusky Warblers; hear the chatter of babblers and flush a Tibetan Partridge from a tangle of scrub. Later, as we trace the twists of an icy mountain stream, we spot a White-Throated Kingfisher and watch a Black-Crowned Heron stalk the rippled shallows.
In the afternoon we browse ‘Colonel Jimmy’s Library’ – a collection of titles accrued by Prince Charles’ eponymous trek guide and, we’re told, the founder of the ‘tourist trek’ concept.
As the sun lowers into evening, an entire, orange-hued range of Himalaya appear from behind falling clouds. We drink gin and tonics, feasting on canapés with the other guests on the terrace. Once the mountains have disappeared into the gloom, we head into the dining room for supper. Meals, bar breakfast, are a choice of traditional Nepali or ‘western’. We plump for Nepali. Rice, two curries and fresh salads are served in pretty brass dishes. There are also three types of Aachar (chutneys) and a heap of fresh rotis (flat bread cooked over an open flame).
In the morning we’re woken at 5.30am (optional) to spot the mountains emerging from the clouds. It feels a little like being on safari as we materialise onto the balcony to watch the mountains – now gleaming a delicate rose-pink – emerge with the rising sun.
One afternoon, I have a Shiatsu massage. The masseuse, who lives locally, cannot speak a word of English, but manages the essentials with sign language and a lot of smiling. My muscles and joints are gently stretched out and manipulated over an hour. With knotted shoulders and overworked leg-muscles, I feel vulnerable to her skills but – at the end – I feel looser, taller and peaceful. There’s no scented oil, no music – just my bed and a towel. I listen to the birdsong outside and enjoy the simplicity of it.
“We have all the elements of a spa here,” says Marcus later that evening. “We just haven’t joined it all together.” Guests can book Ayurvedic, Hara, Shiatsu, and Reiki massages; yoga classes or meditation sessions.
But, I can’t help but wonder, if the real ‘spa experience’ is gained simply by being perched miles above a verdant valley, the air thick with the scent of frangipani flowers and twinkling with birdsong. And – from just about every angle – a staggering view of a line of glittering white Himalaya, slipping enticingly in and out of the cloud.
CONTACT: +977 1 4720580 ; www.tigermountainpokhara.com
PRICE: £195 pp per night for Tiger Mountain’s special package including: accommodation, all main meals, snacks, hot beverages, guides for walks, arrival and departure transfers from/to central Pokhara and assistance with all travel plans within Nepal.
NEAREST AIRPORT: Kathmandu followed by a domestic flight to Pokhara
TRANSFER TIME: 30 mins
First-Hand Visit Write-Up: Rose Cox