A trip to the Nepalese foothills with young kids opens up a new world of family travel for Andrew and his happy band.
Our children have never been great walkers. Rhena, when she was small, was also small-girl timid and a fussy eater to boot, and though we’d travelled long haul with her brother Thomas by then, it’d always been on secure, hotel-based packages.
Taking a seven-year-old boy and a five-year-old girl trekking in Nepal was always going to be a risk. It was certainly a cue for a lot of pre-match anxiety, not least because when I’d last been there, two decades earlier, I’d come away with mild frostbite and severe hepatitis. Consequently, much of our baggage was taken up by copious quantities of chocolate spread (to help the anti-malarial pills go down) and a plentiful supply of breakfast cereal to fill hunger gaps.
We opted for a tent-based excursion in a peaceful, pastoral section of the Annapurna foothills, mixing forest, field and village. It was known as the Royal Trek after being chosen many years ago by our own future king, and the trekking company treated us like royalty, too – there were 12 porters, sherpas and cooks just for the four of us. Our sirdar (lead sherpa) was Tenzing, a lean, quiet, calmly capable man. Walking with us was Ram, a giggler and a singer – and a great hit with the children. Forever running on ahead was Chandra the cook, who produced gallons of tea and piles of vegetable curry, chips and chappatis whenever we stopped.
Happily, Thomas and Rhena quickly came to regard all these extra adults as a convenient extension of the family, which meant that when walking with them, they somehow forgot about their tired legs, and when eating their food, they forgot that it was not what they’d normally eat.
Our days settled quickly into a routine: breakfast with the sunrise, on the trail well before 8am, stopping somewhere with a view at around 11am for a long rest and a hot lunch, then another steady three hours' walk in the afternoon, arriving at the next campsite in time for tea. The children needed that long lunch break, as did we, and in the afternoons Rhena was usually reluctant to walk, so she was whisked up into a specially adapted basket carried by Ram. Thomas, on the other hand, decided that being carried in such a manner was undignified – he walked every step of the way.
In the evenings, the tents would usually be erected on a ridge with a view and dinner would be served in the dining tent – soup, rice and dahl.
"I'd better have some more," said Rhena, helping herself, "just so the porters don't have to carry so much weight". Such consideration in one so young…
By the end of the week we all looked incredibly healthy, and as we returned, sadly, to a world of ice cream and banana pancakes, I recalled our pre-trek anxieties, and how unnecessary they’d been.
We’ve travelled a lot more freely since then. Children may be conservative creatures – parents too, for that matter. But push the boundaries a bit and you’ll discover that travel becomes a truly shared experience. And a shared experience is more rewarding for all concerned.