Rara Lake is one of the least visited, and yet, most beautiful spots in Western Nepal. In this travel guide post, I’ve set out a detailed itinerary and other useful information that will help you plan a trip to Rara.
Where is Rara Lake?
Rara Lake, said to be the largest and deepest freshwater lake in Nepal, is a beautiful spot hidden away deep within the mountains in North-Western Nepal. It is situated inside the Rara National Park in Mugu District. The National Park is one of the smallest in Nepal, but it’s surprisingly dense. The National Park is said to be home to diverse species of wildlife including the endangered red panda. Because it’s currently quite disconnected from the more popular tourist spots in Nepal it is one of the less explored places in the country.
How to reach Rara Lake?
The easiest and fastest (but more expensive) way to get to Rara Lake is by air. There are flights from Kathmandu/Pokhara to the airport at Talcha. You will, of course, need to check schedules to know frequency and availability. If you travel by air, you can set up base in Talcha or the nearby Ghumgadi Bazaar and trek to and from the lake. From what I’ve heard, this trek is a bit long and takes between 2 to 4 hours each way.
Alternatively, if you’re looking for more adventure, or simply a more affordable way to do this, you can also reach Rara by road. However, this will be considerably more time-consuming and will require some enthusiasm for all the action that comes with broken roads that can often be quite narrow and challenging to navigate.
Note: Irrespective of whether you travel by road or air, you will need to trek some distance to get to the lake. Therefore, it’s a good idea to travel light. Alternatively, you can hire horses to carry luggage and/or yourself.
Route and Itinerary for a trip to Rara Lake
While it might be possible to do a rushed trip to Rara Lake in about 4 days (ex-Surkhet), I would recommend setting aside at least 5 to 6 days for this – see the detailed itinerary below:
Day 1 – Arrival in Surkhet
Kathmandu/Pokhara – Kohalpur – Surkhet
Since the route to Rara begins at a point situated quite far West of more popular places in Nepal (Kathmandu, Pokhara etc.), you will probably need a day to cover the 400 to 500 kilometre distance to reach Surkhet. You can halt there for the night and begin the more adventurous part of this journey the next morning.
Day 2 – Surkhet to Manma/Nagma
Surkhet – Baraha – Jambukhand – Sattala – Talo Dungeshwar – Manma – Nagma
There are two routes from Surkhet to Talo Dungeshwar – one is referred to as the “lower” route and the other, the “upper” route. Most people recommend using the “upper” route through Dailekh Road. That having been said, all roads that lead to Rara Lake are adventurous, to say the least. You can expect plenty of broken roads (at best) and sand, gravel or rocky tracks for the rest. You can watch my videos on Youtube to get a better idea of the realities of this route (click here).
Accommodation facilities are better in Manma, but this would leave you with more distance to cover the next day. If you’re okay with basic accommodation, I would recommend driving/riding further to Nagma.
Day 3 – Manma/Nagma to Sallery + Rara Lake
The last 95 kilometres, from Nagma to Sellary, is a complete off-road section. It took me nearly 6 hours to cover this seemingly short distance. But, the road is exciting – it tests your skills and your patience. As you climb up and down the mountains the views keep changing – terraced fields of rice and wheat, vast open meadows, thick forest cover and glimpses of snow-capped mountains. This is the most challenging section, but also the most beautiful.
Day 4 – Rara Lake
Having come all this way, I would definitely recommend spending a day (at least) at Rara Lake. The lake is particularly beautiful early in the morning, before the strong winds set in. The tranquil water becomes a mirror for the stunning scenery all around it. It’s a spectacle that you need to see to believe. Later in the day, you can head out for a trek to explore the areas around the lake itself.
Days 5 and 6 – Return
While a new road is in the making to connect Mugu to central parts of Nepal, as of 2019, you need to retrace your route all the way back to Surkhet in order to head anywhere else in Nepal. If you start off early, and drive/ride through the day, you should be able to get back to the East West Highway at Kohalpur in less than 2 days. I managed to ride from Rara to Pokhara in 2 days, but that was only possible because I was riding for nearly 14 hours per day.
Note: This itinerary is only suggestive. In reality, it is better to keep things fluid and simply break journey depending on the distance you cover on each day. For example, if you reach a place earlier than expected, you can keep going and simply stay somewhere further up the route that night. That way you will have a shorter ride/drive the next morning.
Do You Need a Permit to visit Rara Lake?
No separate “permits” are required to visit Rara Lake, however, you will need to buy an entry ticket to the Rara National Park. As of June 2019, the cost of this entry ticket was NPR 1500/- for people from SAARC countries and NPR 3000/- for people from any other country. While there was no separate charge for use of a mobile phone camera, there may be additional charges for use of professional cameras or video equipment.
Accommodation and Food at Rara Lake
Accommodation options in and around Rara Lake are quite basic. There are two guest houses that offer double-sharing rooms for between 800 to 1200 Nepali Rupees (food excluded). You can only do this if you’re travelling light enough to be able to carry your luggage on a 1+ hour trek around the lake, or if you pay the locals to take you there on horses.
Since I was travelling with a motorcycle and a fair amount of luggage, I chose to stay at Sellary – the entry point to the Rara National Park, which is also where you need to park your vehicles. Accommodation is cheaper here, ~500 Nepali Rupees for a very basic room (excluding food).
The only restaurants around are the ones attached to the guest houses itself, so you’re best off negotiating a deal with the hotel owners to provide your food as well. A meal would typically cost between 200 to 300 Nepali Rupees per person. Nevertheless, I would recommend carrying along some basic snacks and other supplies so that you can add some chutzpah to your meals, if you should so desire.
If you’re travelling by air you can also find places to stay in Talcha or Ghumgadi Bazar – closer to the airport.
Can You Camp in Rara National Park?
You can get permission to camp at certain designated spots inside Rara National Park, but this will be charged for separately. If I remember right the cost for this was around NPR 1500/- per night which meant that it was actually cheaper to just stay in one of the hotels nearby.
Public Transport to Rara?
While there is a lot of truck traffic on the route upto Nagma, there are only a few buses that ply all the way to Ghumgadi Bazaar. So, if you intend to rely on public transport, connectivity will be limited and you might have to do some additional trekking as well. Most people who visit Rara Lake use their own vehicles or hire a private taxi for the entire round trip.
Mobile Network at Rara Lake
Since this is a fairly remote place, as you might expect mobile network connectivity is quite patchy. Funnily though, I got full 3G network (phone + data) on NTC (Namaste) at Rara Lake itself, but the signal completely disappeared when I moved to any place away from the lake. I was told that the “NCell” network (the private mobile service in Nepal) does not work in these parts.
Finding Fuel on the route to Rara
The last proper fuel pump on this route is at Surkhet – 300 kilometres away from Rara (one way). Since it’s unlikely that your vehicle will be able to manage 600 kilometres on a single tank of fuel, you either need to buy and carry extra fuel in cans or you can purchase it in black along the way. I chose to do the latter. I was able to get fuel at Nagma and a few other towns. Obviously they charged a slight premium – between 120 to 125 Nepali Rupees per litre (for petrol). As a caution, I would recommend tanking up as often as possible along the way because sometimes these dealers in certain villages run out of stock (especially petrol).
When is the best time to visit Rara?
The best time to go to Rara Lake is in the summer – between the end of February and early June. When it rains, the roads can get quite treacherous and in the winter the roads might be shut due to snowfall. Per locals, they usually head off to some other part of Nepal once the rains begin and return only after the winter is over. So, if you go at any other time you might also find it more difficult to find accommodation and food.
Things to do at Rara Lake
Boat ride on the lake – There’s an army camp near the lake which operates a boat service early in the morning everyday. For a small fee, you can enjoy a boat ride (along with a crowd of other people) across the beautiful lake.
Horses – there are several horsemen and horses who usually take tourists to and from the lake. If you negotiate a deal with them, they will also take you to a few viewpoints and other spots around the lake on horseback. Since the lake is quite massive this is a good way to see a bit more in the time that you are there.
Trekking – if you prefer going it on foot then you can do short treks up the surrounding hills to find better views of the mountains and the lake itself. Make sure to carry some food and basic supplies with you because you won’t find anything around. Also, be careful to mark your route and take basic precautions to be able to find your way back.
Riding or driving to Rara Lake is a whole adventure in itself. It may not be easy to combine a visit to Rara if you’re on a short trip to Nepal (unless you fly there, of course), but it’s definitely something that you should consider doing if you have the time for it. In a country like Nepal, where you’re likely to run into hordes of tourists wherever you go, a road trip to Rara is a lovely off-beat option that allows you to experience a very different side of Nepal overall.
Do also watch the videos that I made from my trip to Rara Lake by clicking here.