Stage one – Planning
There are a myriad of treks out of Pokhara but few are suitable for small children, and there isn’t a lot of information out there about what is. I considered Poon Hill and Panchase before eventually doing what I should have done in the first place and just asking a trekking company what they would advise. Straight away they said to walk up to Dhampus and Australian Camp to see how we went before attempting anything higher. It turned out that this was (of course) very good advice. We booked a guide (although this was not essential) and transport to take us to the start and pick us up at the end.
If I had told the kids the truth about what we were going to make them do they would never have gone along with it so willingly. As far as they were concerned we were going to take a bit of a walk somewhere closer to the lovely mountains. Suspicions were slightly aroused when they had to be taken shopping for some sturdy shoes (after all, their walking sandals had always been sufficient before). I just mumbled a bit about rocky paths and then distracted them with promises of all the biscuits and sweets I would be taking with us.
Our chosen route was –
Day one – Transport to Phedi then walk to Dhampus
Day two – Walk from Dhampus to Australian Camp
Day three – From Australian Camp walk to Kande and catch transport back to Pokhara
This worked out as 2-3 hours walking each morning with the afternoon off. This doesn’t sound like a lot, but the majority of the first few days were uphill and I don’t think the kids could have managed a lot more.
Stage two – Gathering supplies
I was a bit deflated that our mini-trek didn’t warrant a supply run like the good old days when all you needed for expedition success was a few tins of sardines and a bottle of rum. In the modern age there are plenty of places to stop for a filling meal on all the popular routes. For our short trip the essentials were mostly things that can be used to motive small children to walk just a little bit further. I estimated that for a 3day/2night walk that would take about three packets of biscuits and two bags of sweets. However, so as not to break with the traditions of our forefathers, we took a wee bottle of whisky as well.
We packed a change of clothes, hats, raincoats and warm jumpers. Kindle and Uno for the long afternoons and our waterbottles and Steripen so we didn’t have to buy water on the way. In hindsight, flip-flops would have been handy as they would have saved taking on and off shoes at the guesthouses, but apart from that we were all good.
Stage three – Walking
Our taxi appeared to drop us off at a shack in the middle of nowhere where some young girls half-heartedly tried to sell us some bracelets. Our guide waited patiently until they had run out of what little enthusiasm they had, before leading us across the road where I could just make out some big stone steps ascending out of sight. With that we began to climb, and then climb, and climb. After about ten minutes I stopped responding to all the ‘are we there yet?’ type questions, mostly because I didn’t have the available lung capacity to answer them. I would like to say it got easier but it didn’t, and after 2 ½ hours of solid uphill my littlest was begging to be carried. Was it worth it? Of course it was. There is a great part in the middle where the terrain flattens out a bit and you walk among little rice terraces, which is an absolute pleasure. Dhampus itself is very welcoming and has a lot of charm. About 5 minutes after we got there we were nursing cups of smoky tea with our shoes off, all complaints forgotten.
The next day we set off for Australian camp, enthusiasm renewed by a filling breakfast of eggs and delicious gurung bread with jam. The going was not so steep this time and the moaning from the smaller members of the group dropped of by about 50%, leading to a much more enjoyable day for everyone. It was slippery going through largely forested areas, and at one stage a thick mist descended on us, but when we emerged at Australia Camp the kids were whooping with delight. We had left the trees behind and when we walked out on the big flat expanse of the camp it seemed like the ground just dropped away in front of us. For the first time we could sense how far we had come up from the valley and the Annapurnas, which once had been distant hidden peaks, were right next door, although they were still stubbornly shrouded in clouds and refusing to reveal themselves.
Early the next morning our guide Rum, banged on our door and we crawled out of bed to see what all the fuss was about. My prayers had been answered. The clouds had cleared and there, in all their jagged, rugged, snow-capped glory, were the Annapurnas. I had finally seen my mountains and they were just beautiful.
My Top Tips for trekking in Nepal with kids
- Fitness – You could make your small children walk further than we did, but they probably wouldn’t have a lot of fun doing it. In my family, if the kids are not having fun then you can be darn sure that no one else is. You can also hire a porter to carry small kids and babies if you don’t fancy lugging them up a mountain yourself. The first days walk up to Dhampus was a bit of a slog, even my marathon-running husband admitted it was hard in bits (although to be fair he was recovering from illness and carrying all our stuff!)
- Leeches – There were a lot of leeches on this route. I took Newt off the track for a pee and when we emerged she had about ten leeches squirming their way up each shoe. After walking around Australia camp I had to remove two leeches off the legs of both Spud and Newt. I am glad I had read up on the proper technique but I don’t even like to think about it now and I don’t want to ever, ever want to do it again.
- Costs – We paid £134 for the whole trip, including transport, guide, accommodation and food. For four people that is ridiculously cheap for the experience we had. If you approach a trekking company they will try to charge you a per-person fee for an all-in package but it is much better to just hire a guide through them ($25-30 a day) and perhaps get them to arrange the transport element if you don’t fancy waiting for the local bus. You can organise accommodation and food and drink as you go along. Food is relatively expensive on route, but you are paying for the considerable effort required to get it up there. You can also go without a guide, however I am very glad Rum came with us as I am not great with maps and there is very little in the way of signposting. His English was great and he was also a mine of information about the area.