Trekking the majestic Himalayan Mountains was one of the sweetest fringe benefits to our new location in the Kathmandu Valley — so thankful that Prakash works at ICIMOD and we live in this amazing little corner of the planet! In Nepal, there are two distinct trekking seasons — October-November and April-May — avoiding the frigid winters and wet monsoons. Needless to say, I am thrilled that our first trekking season is soon approaching…
It took us a while to make the main decisions: which range to visit (Annapurna Range out of Pokhara or the Langtang Valley out of Syabrubesi; we are not ready for the extreme elevations in the Everest Region), how long of a trek to execute (4 – 9 days), and whom to trek with (friends and relatives from India, just the five of us, or with local friends). The final plan is the Poon Hill trek in the Annapurna Range for 5 days with six other British School families!
Our family has hiked for about two years (of course, Prakash and I have enjoyed hiking for decades). It kicked off while preparing our 7, 5 and 3 year old children for a summer trip to Telluride, Colorado. We’ve been hiking as a family ever since. But we’ve never trekked, or backpacked, or done any sort of grueling exercise for several days in a row. So with 6 weeks until our trek, we started preparing! Our aim was to walk 8-12 kilometers at a stretch each weekend. Since even the tail-end of the monsoon season brings hoards of leeches to the hillsides, we opted for urban walks instead. It doesn’t offer the exact feel of trekking, but gives our legs the experience of being stood on for hours at a time. Let’s kill two birds with one stone, we thought, and walk to some of the local tourist sites we haven’t yet visited…
Pashupati Nath Temple (Aug 10): Our first walk – Prakash and I were excited! From the kids, there was a mixture of confusion (why exactly are we doing this?), reluctance (do we have to do this?), mild enthusiasm (we’ll be in the mountains soon!), and crankiness (I feel like crying and complaining and there is nothing you can do to change my mind!). Prakash studied Google Maps in detail the night before and had our route precisely chalked out – maximizing distance on smaller lanes and alleys and minimizing distance on larger, noisier, more polluted roadways. We were off, with 2 fanny packs (bum bags), 3 water bottles, a few snacks, and over a dozen pieces of candy (our version of Scooby Snacks – after every 45 minutes, a sweet reward awaits each child). One of the neat aspects of “urban walks” is getting unique glimpses of Nepali culture.
Three long hours later, we finished 8.5 kilometers and reached Pashupati Nath temple, along with a thousand or so other folks – it was SO crowded! This is one of the most famous Shiva temples in the world. After checking out the major spots, we caught a taxi to the kids favorite pizza restaurant, Roadhouse Cafe. Famished, we guzzled down all they served then slowly completed the remaining 3 kilometers back home. Overall, a successful walk!
Swayambhunath Temple (Aug 17): Often, knowing what to expect is half the challenge… The kids did remarkably better on the second hike: less uncertainty and more willingness. Also, by this point, Prakash strategically offered a challenge to the kids — after walking a total of 1000 kilometers (approximately 333 kms for each child), they’ll earn a Wii (we are REALLY stingy when it comes to electronics in the house) — large payoff led to enthusiastic little legs!
After climbing the 365 stairs to the top of the temple, interacting with the dozens of monkeys and walking the parikrama (circle) around the hill, we completed shy of 7 kilometers. All were eager for the taxi ride to a local sandwich shop, Cafe Soma, for lunch. After the walk home from the restaurant, we completed 9.5 kilometers – with almost no crying, whining or complaining!
Boudhanath Temple (Aug 24): This is the location of the largest stupa in Asia! A stupa is a large white dome and is a common element at Buddhist temples. Numerous interesting sights and experiences awaited us along this 9 kilometer walk.
Since we ate at one of the numerous adjacent restaurants, we taxied straight home. All in all, a great walk!
Seto Ghumba (Aug 30): Tika Dai was impressed with our weekly rendezvous and was suggesting other destinations that are off the beaten path. Seto Ghumba (White Monastery) is one of the most famous Buddhist Monasteries in Kathmandu. It is only open to the public one of the seven days each week (I checked online and learned that Saturday was the day for visitors). He was excited that we took his advice to visit Seto Ghumba and asked if he could join us – what a treat for us! Not only did he teach us various tidbits about Nepali culture along the way, he also carried Sumanth anytime he felt tired.
This walk was the most representative of trekking as we climbed over 1100 feet in elevation. Unfortunately, just the previous week the visitation day was changed from Saturday to Sunday – it was closed! However, another beautiful Buddhist monastery near the top of the hill was open, and that became our final destination. Thankfully we found an available taxi that took us to our favorite (and the only) Mexican restaurant in the KTM Valley, The Lazy Gringo. After the walk home, we completed 12 kilometers – all were proud, happy and tired :-).
Chobar (Sept 7): All six of us had a ball together last week, so Tika Dai joined us again. This week’s walk was to the top of Chobar mountain and back – no taxi required. It rained quite a bit the night before which resulted in 1) spectacular views of the snow-capped Himalayan foothills (our camera simply doesn’t do justice, but the glimpses of the icy peaks are heavenly), and 2) very muddy pathways! We had biked to Chobar before on the straight forward roads, so this time, Prakash wanted to take a more scenic path along the river. We saw quite a few interesting things along the way.
We convinced the kids that we didn’t need a taxi to transport us the remaining few kilometers and eventually made it to a Nepalese restaurant near home. After several Cokes, Fantas, Sprites and plates of chow mein and momos, we walked home completing 11 kilometers.
Unfortunately, it rained most of last weekend so our walk didn’t transpire. The tentative plan for this weekend is a 10 kilometer walk to Kirtipur, a small village at the southwest edge of the Kathmandu Valley. And that will round out the preparation for our trek. I’m really looking forward to seeing grand mountain views, meeting rural Nepali folks, walking along the age-old seasoned paths, breathing clean pollution-free air, and enjoying our first-ever trekking experience…