* Duration: 6 days, 5 nights (March 20th to 25th)
* Trekkers: 13 total — 4 women, 2 men, 7 children age five to eleven (4 families)
* Staff: 8 total — lead guide, assistant guide and 6 porters
* Distance walked: 38 kilometers (23.6 miles)
* Elevation gained: 2,600 meters (8,530 feet)
* Highest elevation reached: 3,580 meters (11,745 feet)
* Approx temperature range: 0 – 26 degrees Celsius (32 – 80 degrees Fahrenheit)
* Route: Kande – Pothana – Forest Camp – Badal Daada – High Camp – Sidhing – Lumre
Trekking is THE most popular activity in Nepal for tourists. The simplicity, grandeur and peacefulness draw people in. Majestic views, clean air, limitless greenery and calm quietude are a welcome change to our urban realities. Foreigners of all types trek – young or old, super fit or moderately in shape, conquering- or free-spirited and financially wealthy or penniless – usually coming solo, with a partner or small group. Trekking as a family or with several families, however, is a whole different affair… I’d pass up Disneyland any day for it!
Countless people have asked us why we trek as a family, how the kids handle it, how we get our kids to walk for hours and hours, and why we repeat the episode the following trekking season. Here are some answers…
What are the tea houses like? In general, tea houses are family-friendly and very safe. The tea houses on the Mardi Himal route are very basic, but do the job. The 7 to 10 rooms have two wooden beds with thin foam mattresses, thin plywood walls between rooms, dirt or cement floors, a small openable window, and a door with a lock. They have one common dining area which was fairly spacious and warm (from a wood stove). There were 1 or 2 eastern-style toilets for all guests to share (3 of the 5 lodges did not have bathing facilities). And there was plenty of outdoor space for the kids to explore and play. The hospitality, simplicity and freshly prepared food made it restful and enjoyable. The kids usually do just fine with the rustic lodges and often have much simpler expectations than we do.
What do you do during the non-walking times? In a given day, we would walk 4 to 8 hours leaving a fair amount of downtime. When the walking ends, the adults want to sit for a while, freshen up and unpack. Kids, however, are like another species… they reach the lodge and immediately start playing – catch, tag, exploring or making ladybug homes out of sticks and grass (constant movement!). Before and after dinner, we played card games and sang or listened – half the group could sing and we heard almost everyone’s whole repertoire over the six days. Taking TVs, phones, computers and tablets out of the equation was blissful – we had time and mental capacity to focus on nature, simple entertainment and one other…
Do you worry about altitude sickness? No… Reputed health organizations recommend keeping children lower than 3000 – 4000 meters, and we’ve kept the upper limit in mind while selecting which path to trek. Also, our guides are trained to recognize signs of altitude sickness. Thankfully, we have never experienced altitude difficulties while trekking with our family.
What is the weather like? Peak trekking season is spring and fall and weather is usually phenomenal. Days are warm and sunny and nights are cool and calm. As we ascended, the temperatures dropped, especially at nights, but with the right gear (down jacket, hat, plenty of layers and a good sleeping bag), we were just fine. We even experienced snow on the trail! As we approached our lodge on Day #3, it started snowing and didn’t stop for several hours. Thankfully, the clouds cleared overnight and blanketed everything with a crisp whiteness – it was truly spectacular. Reaching our highest point surrounded by snow was unforgettable (a bit dangerous with melting snow making the trail a muddy mess, but simply beautiful).
How do the kids handle it and how do you get your kids to keep walking? Our secret weapon in trekking with children is very simple … bring other children! We’ve done countless weekend hikes with only our three kids and the complaints can be endless. Tossing in another little person or two does magic to the group dynamics, mood and purpose. We trek because we enjoy nature and simplicity. Kids also enjoy seeing snow-capped mountains, listening to birds chirp and leaves rustle underfoot, tasting daal bhaat after several hours of walking and playing with leaves and dirt. But this sometimes isn’t enough for our urban kiddos. Traveling with other kids adds an element of fun, community and fellowship that most kids thrive on. When they are with other little people, they can walk and talk for hours…word games, jokes, riddles, stories, trivia, and plenty of silliness. (Note: the other little people don’t have to be close friends with yours – they will become friends after spending several solid days together.)
Treats help too :-). Candy is not something we keep at home, but while on the trail, we bend that rule. Those inexpensive and artificially-flavored orange, grape, cherry, butterscotch and mint suckers taste amazing after you’ve been on your feet for hours! They go a long way for the children and the adults too… On the third night, Prakash bribed the children with full-sized candy bars, requesting some company to leave early in the morning aiming to hike higher than planned. Group dynamics and sugar are powerful tools – at the end of the conversation, all 13 of us committed to leaving earlier and Prakash emptied his wallet to purchase 13 candy bars at that elevation!
How much does family trekking cost? Family trekking with everything included (knowledgeable guides, insured porters, reserved rooms and all-you-can-eat meals) is approximately $100 USD per person per day. Trekking in Nepal can be significantly cheaper or expensive depending on your style and requirements. As we’ve always trekked in larger groups with kids, we prioritize having reliable staff and rooms reserved. After walking for hours, knowing we don’t have to sleep out in a tent or go to the next village looking for an available room is essential.
How does this trek compare to the other two you completed? The Mardi Himal trek was the BEST of the three, hands down. Poon Hill and Helambu both have beautiful views, but the scenery on the Mardi Himal trek is unparalleled. The snow covered mountains were so close, we felt we could just reach our hands out and touch them. It is an off-the-beaten-path trek with less developed tea houses, but the spectacular mountain panoramas make it more appealing.
Who came on the trek and how did you get the group together? We were a group of four families with 1, 3, 4 and 5 members each. The Kaup family includes Saumya. She is a successful architect and mindfulness counselor from Maryland who volunteered in Kathmandu for four months. The Mawji family includes Shairose, Jayda and Ariana (twins, age 10). Shairose has a rich family history – Gujarati born in Tanzania and raised in Canada. She is a Kathmandu expat working with UNICEF and adopted Jayda and Ariana here in Nepal over 8 years ago. The Sodha family includes Samir, Vidhya, Nikhil and Nishant (ages 8 and 5) – they are originally from California, settled in Atlanta and currently expats in Delhi, India with the US Embassy. We rounded out the group with our family of 5.
Trekking naturally encourages successful group dynamics. You can chat with whomever you’d like, subtly maintain distance from another, or simply walk alone – without any awkwardness. You can be best of friends or new acquaintances and still share laughs and stories. So, we invited several families from all aspects of our lives creating a hodge-podge group. My pleading, coaxing and basic travel-agent skills helped, and we all went in hoping for the best. The positive energy and camaraderie was extraordinary – getting our whole group up and down the mountain was hard work and there were challenges, but anger and irritation never surfaced for eight whole days. Simply priceless…
What really do the guides and porters do? Due credit must be offered to our skillful guides, Asha Lama Tamang and Fursang Lama Tamang. They, along with our six porters, took care of everything – ensured we were on the correct path (trail markers appear periodically but trails are not nearly as well marked as in the USA), made reservations for accommodations (nearly every other trekker we encountered on the trail jokingly said, ‘oh you are the large group who reserved the whole lodge last night…we couldn’t stay there because of you!’), made sure we were well fed (acting as waiters and cooks to help the minimally staffed tea houses), helped the children whenever they needed an extra hand and entertained them a bit too! By the end of Day #1, it was apparent that our youngest member, Nishant age 5, needed some extra help. Fursang swiftly managed his duties as lead-guide alongside constantly holding Nishant’s hand, lifting him at large steps, and sweetly cajoling him down the trail.
Three of the six porters were in their early twenties and three were in their late forties. Even while carrying our 15 kilogram (~30 pounds) bags suspended from their foreheads, they walked significantly faster than us. On Day #2, in the late afternoon, our estimated 6-hour walk lingered well into an 8+ hour walk. As there were no tea houses between our origin and destination to stop for lunch, Ashta Lama encouraged us to eat a heavy breakfast and carry plenty of snacks. Around 3:30pm, with empty bellies and very tired legs, we spotted four of our porters ahead on the trail with thermoses of tea! They reached the destination, had their lunch, wondered why we hadn’t reached yet and graciously backtracked, refreshments in tow! They took care of us in so many ways, physically, mentally and emotionally. All we had to do was walk up and down the mountain…
So, in a nutshell, if your family enjoys nature, new experiences and unique challenges, trekking in Nepal’s Himalayan foothills with another family or two could be the perfect adventure… 🙂