By the time we had landed in Kathmandu I was the only one who wasn’t sick. Even though we overcame the gridlocked route to our guest house through the power of stiff upper lips and gritted sphincters, the situation went from bad to worse as the famous Kathmandu atmosphere decided to take Spud’s respiratory system out by the roots as well. Soon he was hacking away, keeping the other sick people awake.
And so our first few days in Nepal passed in a combination of lying in bed and making speedy forays into the streets of Thamel so the kids could pick at the expensive western food I was buying in a futile effort to build them up again. On the third day my cabin fever got the better of me and I decided that we would all benefit from a walk around the heritage sites in the immediate area of our guesthouse; after all, what is illness in the face of the beauteous distillation of Nepali culture in architectural form. Waterbottles were filled, bowels emptied and pep talks given. Out we marched into the narrow teeming Kathmandu thoroughfares, single file through the throng, avoiding rickshaws, swerving around beaten-up taxis and jumping over muddy puddles. We managed to get to the end of the street before a small voice called out plaintively, ‘Mum, I really, really need to go to the toilet now’, and with that we all turned around and trooped back to the guesthouse, and stayed there. I don’t know what I was thinking.
If you have ever been to Kathmandu you will know it is not a great place to recover from an illness, so, conveniently forgetting the heritage walk disaster, I decided we were catching a bus to Pokhara to recuperate. Pokhara is located beside a picturesque lake, with clean air and mountain views, all the necessary elements for some R&R, Edwardian style. Some gentle exercise in the form of a daily stroll around the lake, sipping some restorative tea while contemplating the mountain views and strengthening the lungs by taking the fresh clean air, that sort of thing. In reality, Pokhara is not quite an alpine resort, but it’s a fine place, and the relaxed atmosphere on the lakeside was a very welcome relief after the smog and chaos of Kathmandu. On a wing and a prayer we managed the bus journey without a repeat of the Delhi airport incident, for once grateful for the numerous unnecessary tea stops on the road.
Once I had unloaded the scrawny, hollow-eyed scraps that used to be my children, I immediately scanned the horizon for the majestic mountain views I had heard so much about. No mountains could be seen; there were too many clouds. Damn. Now, I didn’t come all the way to Nepal to miss some of the highest peaks in the world, so, shortly afterwards Operation Make My Kids Well Enough To Get Them Into the Mountains commenced.
It was like Jamie Oliver’s worst nightmare. Doughnuts, pizza, chips, milkshakes; all went in one end and out the other. The kids were hungry enough, just nothing would stay inside them for long enough to do them any good. They got better, then they got worse, and eventually we realised that we were out of our depth and we took them along to the local clinic to get checked out properly. After screening they tested positive for Giardiasis (a parasitic infection that I don’t like to think too much about), and were prescribed medication. My delight at finally getting them sorted out faded to despair again when they didn’t improve after a few days. We all trooped back to the clinic where they were given meds for bacterial infection as well. Bingo, job done. Within a couple more days they were back to their normal selves, albeit a wee bit lighter than before. And so we continued pottering around, boating on the lake, catching the bus into the town, day tripping to the museums, and all the while fattening them up and seeing if we could get them to walk more than 100 metres without moaning (a challenge at any time anyway). Finally we were ready to go. I bought myself some lovely blue knock-off North Face boots, the kids got some good sturdy Chinese trainers and we were ready for the hills. I was going to see those bloody mountains up close and nothing, least of all my general lack of fitness, was going to stand in my way.
My really useful travel tips for Pokhara
- There are absolutely mountains of adult trekking gear available in Pokhara, but there is absolutely nothing in kid’s sizes apart from lots of tiny down jackets. I suppose there must be a few hardcore, but badly prepared four-year-olds that come through every year heading for Everest base camp that are glad of them.
- There is more to Pokhara than Lakeside. Flag down the local bus that runs south from the centre of Lakeside Road and ask for Mahendrapool and go shopping in town. We had great fun trying to get the kids shoes and socks for trekking. We paid a measily 50 rupees (35p) for all of us each way.
- You can also catch a local bus to the Gurkha Museum. It’s a bit more complicated so it is easier to go to where the buses leave from on Lakeside and ask around while they are stationary, rather than trying to converse with the young lad hanging out the door if you flag one down. They don’t believe in stopping for a chat on the roadside.
- If, like us, you need some medical attention, you can go to the CIWEC clinic at central lakeside. It is efficient and modern and they have a screening lab where some poor soul must spend their day looking at endless samples of traveller’s poo through a microscope.