Far from the madding crowd. If you've had enough of the bustling Kathmandu, then Begnas is the place to get away from it all. Set in the middle of the nature, with the majestic Himalayas across the lake reflecting in its crystal clear waters, Begnas Lake Resort & Villas is the perfect place to unwind. Again and again.
Sometimes you have to get lost to find yourself. We did just that after spending three days in Kathmandu, exploring the city and visiting some of its most important landmarks. On a cold, but sunny late October morning we boarded a Greenline Tours coach heading for Pokhara, one of Nepal's favourite stops for tourists ($23 one-way). You can find cheaper buses on this route, but don't expect too much comfort onboard. The 200 km trip lasted for seven hours, with several stops for refreshments and a longer one for lunch at Riverside Springs Resort, midway between Kathmandu and Pokhara. Begnas is located 12 km southeast of Pokhara town, so we asked the driver to drop us off at a certain place, as the General Manager of Begnas Lake Resort told us. We hopped on a taxi - remember, there are no fixed cab fares in Nepal, you have to bargain with the driver - and we've reached the beautiful Begnas lake after 3.5 km. There, at Begnas Bazaar, two members of the staff were waiting to help us with the luggage and the transfer to the secluded resort.
From the very first moment we saw the serene lake - with fluffy, white clouds beautifully reflecting in its calm waters - we knew we've arrived in a natural paradise! As much as we hoped, the majestic peaks of the Annapurna range in the Himalayas were not visible on the opposite side of the lake as they were engulfed in clouds. However, by the time we left Begnas - three days later - and headed back to Kathmandu, we saw them in all their glory. An amazing sight and a moment you just have to experience in person! Actually, there are two lakes in the area - Begnas Tal and Rupa Tal. With its clear spring-fed water and lushly vegetated surroundings, Begnas lake is bigger than Rupa and boats can be rented for a leisurely paddle for Rs 200 per hour ($2). Rupa lake can be reached via a 3 km hike along a trail that winds uphill from the bus stand in Begnas Bazaar. It’s much more isolated than Begnas Tal, but the surrounding countryside is delightful and you can find accommodation at several laid-back guest houses on the ridge overlooking the lake. During our stay we've also hiked to Rupa lake, savouring - on the way back - the best coffee in a while at Begnas Coffee House (organic coffee and honey).
Located on the on the southern bank of the lake, with spectacular mountain views from every guestroom, Begnas Lake Resort & Villas can be accessed either by car or coach over a 3 km asphalt road to the resort gate or by a 20-25 minute boat ride from Begnas Bazaar. We opted for the boat and enjoyed every minute of the smooth "cruise". The resort has its own boats ranging from 4-seaters to 12-seaters. The bigger boats are built in “Shikara” style, with colourful canopies on top for protection against the sun and rain. Adding to the uniqueness of this place, all boats are hand-rowed as motorboats are prohibited on the lake to avoid fuel and noise pollution.
Begnas Lake Resort & Villas became fully operational in October 1999 as the first deluxe resort outside of Pokhara town. In the absence of basic infrastructures such as road, electricity, telephone and water lines, it took three full years to construct with the help of local villagers. Every bit of construction material has been hand carried from the main road to the site. Moreover, all materials used are natural and locally sourced such as stone, slate, wood, bamboo and cane. This "eco" approach, as well as the stunning location, made Begnas Lake Resort a favourite amongst discerning travelers. In 2012, the resort received a TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence, winning a Travellers Choice Award in 2013. Also, Begnas Lake Resort & Villas was nominated for World Luxury Hotel Award (2012) and "Best for Local Economy" World Responsible Tourism Award (2013).
25 minutes later we've reached the shore, where we were greeted with fresh Guava juice, the fruits being sourced from the resort's garden. Refreshing! The members of the staff were smiling and we've felt the warmth of their welcome right from the start. After a brief tour of the resort - passing by the chemical-free spring water pool, visiting the main building which houses the bar and the restaurant, as well as the Reception - we checked-in and headed to our waterfront cottage (number 26). On the way we saw the biggest spiders to date in some areas of the garden, standing still on their webs. Luckily, they didn't bother us during the stay, but were intimidating to look at. Livening up the room, we've noticed two harmless little geckos inside the cottage, up on the walls and ceiling.
Speaking of wildlife, here's another thing we loved about Begnas Lake Resort & Villas: the southern bank of the lake is thickly forested, thus attracting a wide range of smaller animals and birds. One can catch a glimpse of a diving cormorant, the vibrant colours of a passing Kingfisher, the flutter of pheasants or the chatter of monkeys. Sometimes, after nightfall, you can hear the growl of the spotted leopard. Unfortunately, we missed that one. On the resort's premises there are even several hen and a rooster, so don't be surprised if you're woken up by them instead of the alarm you've set. In addition, Begnas lake is well-known for a large variety of sweet-water fish, some as big or over 20 kg. We also have to mention some high pitch sounds of the local crickets we've heard during our hike, notes that resembled a car alarm going off. A powerful sound coming from just one grasshopper, we can only imagine how a concert would sound like!
In a peaceful place like this, we expected the architecture of the resort to smoothly blend in with the natural surroundings. And it does. Facing north, all rooms are spacious and built in ethnic Gurung style stone-houses on terraces, with fruit trees and flowering bushes in-between the cottages. The temperature controlled guestrooms are appointed in teakwood, terracotta and cane, while all bathrooms are large and done in rough stone & slate, with running hot and cold water. Guests can choose from 28 Deluxe (standard) rooms, 4 waterfront cottages, 8 Premier rooms and 2 luxury suites. These suites are built close to the water’s edge, offering magnificent views of the snowy Himalayan peaks. It's worth noting that three major peaks over 8,000 metres belonging to the Dhaulagiri, Annapurna and Manaslu ranges are clearly visible from Begnas Lake Resort & Villas. One more reason to leave the world behind and spend a few days (or even weeks) here!
In some cases, it's not the size of the restaurant that counts or how many bars & lounges the hotel / resort has. It's all about the warm ambiance, the lovely people around and that feel-good factor which makes you feel "at home away from home". This is exactly how we felt at Begnas Resort. Located in the main building, up on the hill, the Jimire restaurant offers a wide choice of cuisines from the Continent, Orient and the Himalayas. Guests following Ayurvedic treatments can choose from a range of vegetarian dishes, while seasonal fruit juices and Ayurvedic herbal drinks are available throughout the day. Highlighting the "eco" approach we were mentioning earlier, most vegetables, spices and herbs are grown within the resort premises using organic farming methods.
We loved the restaurant's large Sun-Terrace, overlooking the lake, where you can enjoy a delicious breakfast, lunch and dinner - all with a great view - accompanied by your loved one, family or friends. Before dinner, we've spent each evening at Kodo bar (named after a popular and potent local brew), next to the Reception and the restaurant. Just like in Kathmandu, Gorkha was our favourite beer. There's also a poolside bar, Saili-Maili. Both bars are well stocked with foreign and local liquors, wines, beers and cocktails, as well as snacks, which go well with the evening aperitif. The "Happy Hour" runs daily from 5 to 7 PM at the Kodo bar and you can get two drinks for the price of one.
As you can imagine, there are plenty outdoor activities at Begnas Lake Resort & Villas. On the second day of our stay we went hiking with one of the resort's guides. In the morning we hiked for four hours all the way up to Begnaskote, on the other side of the lake (1,200 metres high), hoping to see the majestic Himalays once we arrived at the top. It didn't happen as they were, again, hidden behind clouds. However, we enjoyed spectacular views of Begnas lake and interacted with the villagers - the Nepali people are simply fascinating, friendly and hospitable. We loved them! They live on almost nothing - especially in remote areas such as Begnas - relying heavily on agriculture, but their openness and simplicity won our hearts instantly. On our way back to the resort we've crossed a beautiful, terraced rice field, several colourful villages with mud farmhouses and we've met the happiest children ever. By far. Despite the living conditions, their smiles, bright eyes and thirst for life are simply irresistible, as you can see in this video.
After a brief rest in the comfort of our bedroom we set off on the second hiking tour, to Rupa Tal, accompanied by the same guide. This time it was a shorter walk, almost 2.5 hours. Right after leaving the resort we saw a beautiful rainbow over the lake and later, at dusk, we admired the snow-clad peaks of the Himalayas towering above the area: Annapurna and Fish Tail. Guests can choose day hikes ranging from one to six hours, as well as half-day or full-day trips to Pokhara, Sarangkote, Bandipur or Gorkha. Leisure boating, birdwatching and line-fishing in the lake are also on the activities menu.
If you're looking to unwind even more, the spa should do the trick. Set in a quiet and forested part of the resort, the Ayurveda ("Science of Life" in old Sanskrit) Spa debuted in March 2009. This Himalayan Nature Spa offers a wide range of treatments conducted by fully trained and experienced therapists under the supervision of a qualified Ayurveda doctor from Kerala. The treatments are a mix of classical Ayurveda from South India and fresh medicinal herbs available only in the Himalayas. The resort's regular long-staying guests seek treatments for physical rejuvenation, stress management, body purification, weight loss, skin and beauty care. You can also opt for relaxing herbal oil massages, steam baths, oil head-baths, herbal powder massage, herbal face packs, etc. For those interested in yoga and meditation, group sessions are held every morning and afternoon in the covered Garden Pavilion, which can accommodate up to 12 people. For larger groups, the resort makes use of the garden areas by the pool. During colder months - December to February - yoga classes are held indoors, in the heated seminar halls.
Without doubt, this is one of the best resorts we've stayed at. Set in the middle of nature, surrounded by gorgeous landscapes, with a professional and friendly staff - always smiling and ready to help. We liked how the architecture and the layout of the resort followed the natural setting and not the other way around. Unlike Phewa lake in Pokhara, overcrowded with a long string of touristic shops, bars and restaurants, Begnas lake is quiet and relaxing, waiting to be discovered step by step. It's been only a month since we've checked-out from Begnas Lake Resort & Villas, at the end of October, and yet we can't wait to check-in again. Namaste! www.begnaslakeresort.com
How do we sum up Nepal after seven unforgettable days? It was love at first flight as we haven't visited this country before. It was also love at first sight. Nepal has some amazing landscapes and landmarks, from Kathmandu's stupas and temples to the majestic snow covered peaks of the Himalayas - eight of the world's ten tallest mountains, including Mount Everest, can be found in Nepal - and the beautiful lakes in Begnas and Pokhara. We can even say it was love at first bite as we've tried some interesting dishes and drinks. Leaving these aside, we fell in love with the people of Nepal: friendly, welcoming and with a warmth you'll rarely find. As for the children we met while hiking on the hills of Begnas, they were the happiest we've seen so far. We made new friends, spending some time with like-minded people, helpful and passionate about traveling. More than just another destination, Nepal is a journey of (self) discovery, a genuine experience that made us reevaluate what's important in life. We will return soon, that's for sure.