Adventurous Life in a Himalayan Town
Expat Juliette Cunliffe gets up at sunrise to enjoy the view from her bedroom. With a home perched high on a ridge above Lake Phewa Tal, she can gaze out at the snow-capped Annapurna mountains, look down at the town of Pokhara along the lakeshore, and plan her day in the lush foothills of the Nepalese Himalayas.
Sixty-one-year-old Juliette was a successful author in England before packing up her belongings and opening a guesthouse and restaurant in Nepal. “I had been visiting on an annual basis for about 20 years before moving here in 2009. As I got off the plane in Kathmandu, I found myself saying out loud, ‘You’re home.’ Somehow I felt destined to move here, and meeting my Nepali partner, Dibya, in 2005, meant everything fell into place.”
The couple settled in Pokhara, the country’s tourism hub and a tranquil city with a population of roughly 250,000. Juliette’s property sits in one of Pokhara’s prime locations—on top of a hill high above the beautiful Lake Phewa Tal.
Pokhara has a small-town vibe and the locals are friendly. Most people get up daily at around 6 a.m., drink their morning chai (tea), do a little meditation, and chat with neighbors while their children play. Some vendors sell baked goods from large baskets, while others supply the shops with vegetables and milk. Mopeds whiz past and the occasional cow and her calf will wander up to make your acquaintance.
The old town, which can be found on the northern side of the city, features narrow streets, old bazaars, Newari housing of traditional decorative brickwork and intricate carved wooden windows. Then there’s the lakeside district on the shore of Phewa Tal—where Nepal’s adventure hub meets stunning scenery. Tour operators and hiking outfitters have taken over this section of town, and this is where most westerners and expats make their home. One main road runs parallel with the lake and offers a wide array of international cuisine, a decent bar scene, massage parlors, yoga centers, and old Tibetan women selling hand-made jewelry.
You can enjoy paragliding, boat trips, trekking, white-water rafting, kayaking, and moped trips around the lake and foothills. There are nearby swim holes and waterfalls that make for excellent day trips. A visit would not be complete without a walk up to the World Peace Pagoda next to Juliette’s guesthouse. Here, you can sit in on a ceremony and listen to the chants and drums of the Buddhist monks.
Nepal is a Hindi and Buddhist country and religion is a huge factor in Nepalese daily life, with temples and shrines all over the country. Religion is the basis for the people’s compassionate ways and family-oriented lifestyles. Locals try hard to please their neighbors and go that extra mile to help one in need. Strangers are welcomed into the home and the Nepalis consider everyone their brothers and sisters.
In Pokhara they celebrate 12 religious festivals every year and the city is a real melting pot. It has always been a meeting point for different tribes, races, and castes. It sits on an important and historic trade route between India and Tibet, and you’ll still see mule trains camped on the outskirts of town.
Juliette’s guesthouse, the Peace Dragon Lodge & Restaurant (Peacedragonlodge.com), is built in traditional Nepalese style, with ornate furnishings and bright local fabrics. It costs between $25 and $45 per night to stay, good value given the location. And since the grand opening one-and-a-half years ago, business has picked up steadily.
“We get a wide range of clients from across the globe, many of them professional people taking a well-earned break. We are finding that the more mature traveler is discovering the joys of the region. Oftentimes, people have traveled to Nepal as part of a small group; the more energetic ones go off to climb to Everest Base Camp, whilst others come to spend a more restful time here at the lodge, doing short day and half-day treks from here,” explains Juliette.
The expat community in Pokhara is relatively small compared with other retirement destinations. Some foreigners come part-time, for three to five months, and there are a few married to Nepalis, running businesses like Juliette.
Nepal is for the adventurous, says Juliette. “It’s magnificent, though it really is like stepping back 50 years – and sometimes centuries.” To get to Pokhara, you can take an eight-hour ride on one of the dozen tourist buses with luxury amenities that depart Kathmandu every morning. Or you can opt for a 35-minute flight straight into Pokhara for under $100.
For expat Derek Whitlock, moving to Pokhara was about the relaxed lifestyle. Derek retired from his position as the director of a technical college in Brisbane, Australia, and took over as international director for a non-profit called Hope for Himalayan Kids. He and his wife, Anne, had become sponsors of one of the family groups, and a couple of years later, when the position became available; he decided to make the transition. “We love the location and love the people. Pokhara was the choice because it is like a country town: small enough to get to anything, but big enough to have almost everything you need,” Derek says. “And of course, how can you forget the beautiful scenery, with the lake and snow-capped mountains?”The 57-year-old likes to meditate and enjoy the beauty of the area. “Australians think they are laid back, but Pokhara is much more so than back home,” he says.
They have young children in tow as well. Six-year-old Tiani is attending a local private school with classes given in English and Nepali. “We had the option of enrolling her at an international primary school, but we felt Nepali cultural submersion was important, which is why we opted for the local school,” explains Derek. “There aren’t any international schools for secondary students in Pokhara, so our 10-year-old son Jorge-Ella will complete his education with an Australian-run online school.”
Nepal is definitely affordable. A three-bedroom house located at the Hallan Chowk end of Lakeside, roughly a five-minute walk from the main street, costs around $350 per month to rent.
Of course, the farther away from Lakeside you live, the cheaper things are. For food and groceries a family of four can expect to pay around $200 per month. There is a large grocery store downtown, but most locals opt to head to the corner market or street vendor and buy fresh-picked produce.
If you are over 65, you can get a permanent visa to live in Nepal. You need a pension or social security income of around $500 per month to retire in Nepal without working. If you are under the age of 65, things are trickier. You can only enter Nepal two ways—either on a tourist visa or on a business visa. As a tourist, you can live in the country for five months per year. If you time it right, you can stay as long as 10 consecutive months. Derek and his family are able to stay this long by arriving in the last five months of the calendar year, and then after January 1, they can stay for an additional five. He is hoping these 10 months will buy them some time to sort out a work visa for both him and his wife.
For an investment visa, you need a Nepalese business partner (however, there is no minimum percentage of the company he or she has to own). Juliette Cunliffe owns 60% of her guesthouse while her Nepalese partner owns 40%. And you have to have $20,000 in a Nepalese bank to apply for the visa.
As for health care, in the capital Kathmandu, the CIWEC Clinic is run by a team of American- and European-trained health professionals. They have the same standard of health care at this facility as in the western world and offer everything from orthopedics to minor surgery.
Editor’s Note: This article was taken from a past issue of International Living’s monthly magazine. To get full access to all past and future articles and to receive the magazine in the mail or online each month, simply click on the below button to subscribe to International Living magazine at the special introductory price of $49. You will get instant access to the current issue of the magazine as well 10 years of back issues. As an added bonus, we will also send you a FREE report – How to Retire in Paradise on $30 a Day. (You can cancel your subscription at any time.)