Serene and I did our first Nepal trek in March 2011 to Lukla and Namche Bazaar.
But recently, a family of my patients went trekking to Lantang, with young adults children.
And when finally, a few weeks ago, a good friend of mine Gerard brought his 10 year old son to Pokhara for trekking, I was totally inspired.
And we decided to bring all our 5 children, age ranging from 12 years to 24 years, for their first real trek in Nepal.
... and thus we present to you all...
- Poon Hill
On 13 Dec - 21 Dec 2012
Our family of 5 children and us
embarked on an unforgettable
trekking trip to the ancient country of
Armed with nothing much more than
our own pair of legs and hopefully strong hearts & lungs
we attempted to do a climb from 1000m to 3210m and down to 1000m in 5 days.
|This picture generated by merging my GPS tracks onto Google Earth depicts the actual GPS track of a vehicular road we took (in blue) to Nayapul, followed by the actual red GPS tracking route we used to walk up to the small village of Ulleri.|
"But why Nepal? Are you sure the children can handle the mountain trekking?" questioned the worried grandparents.
"Why Nepal? Why not some of the nice, air-conditioned, coach-driven modern countries for nice Disney shows and relaxing and eating and shopping?" others joined in.
"Dangerous wor... "
I have a patient who came to see me and told me he has brought his sons to literally everywhere and is now out of a place to bring them for vacation.
His eyes opened wide when I suggested trekking in Nepal because that is indeed something that not too many Singaporeans have done.
I am sure there are a growing group of parents and family who would like to embark on such a trip, but only worry about the difficulties.
Our view is, why leave our already very comfortable home environment and delicious food and great shopping, only to go to another comfortable country with delicious food and good shopping?
Bringing the children to trekking in Nepal strips them (and ourselves) of all their daily material comforts, and throws them right into the wilderness.
The are deprived of that link to comfort and would depend on their own adaptability during the trek.
Thus it is on hardship travels like these that the best and the ugliest of each and every one of us is shown.
But more importantly, the hardship and the suffering that we all bear together, bonds the family so much tighter than a trip to Disneyland would.
Off we go!
It's the morning.
All the children have been mentally prepared (but... physically, I am not so sure.. Haha..).
And they are all ready for the trip. Leaving the comforts of mobile phones, laptops, computer games, TV and all behind... they took their first step.
|Serene: "Hehe... Let's all enjoy this very special trip, ok?"|
There are many Singaporeans who are keen to trek in Nepal, but are reluctant in fear of the unknown.
I won't say it's physically not-challenging. But any teenage Singaporean student who is able to keep up with the PE sessions, and any young adults who exercises regularly, will be able to complete the trek.
We knew we had to be a little more prepared. And we gotten some other necessary equipments.
- A complete set of cold wear with good base layers that wick sweat (most important, in my opinion, as you will certainly sweat)
- Good trekking shoes
- We knew it would be icy up there, and sometimes on frozen ice, it would be good to have shoe-studs for grip.
- Trekking sticks (we bought most of them at good prices in Kathmandu)
- walkie talkies - the son and the faster girls will be a distance ahead of SereneXMM and I. So we just got to communicate with them.
- A good hikking GPS - I just love my Garmin Oregon 450. It's mind-blowing when I see them.
Both Serene and I brought too much photographic equipment when we last did our Nepal trek.
Thus this time round each of us only brought one rangefinder.
But no amount of preparation prepares as for the awesome sight which we were going to experience.
OK. Children, get ready for the trip of your lives.
"No hot shower for 5 trekking days, only powder bath. Because not all lodges have hot shower."Yupe.
"And no heaters in the freezing cold (sometimes sub-zero) of the mountains in the wooden guest lodges."
That's exactly what I told all of them.
Because that was what we experienced ourselves.
So they were mentally prepared.
|"I don't care. I have secretly brought my hair dryer! Wahahahaha..."|
OK lor.. we'll see. Hahaha...
These children ah.. they all really know how to make themselves comfortable...
|"Papa, hee hee... I have got my bear!"|
Despite my repeated reminder not to bring, she still managed to smuggle it on board.
Who has ever heard of a teddy bear goes trekking? No, right?
Compared with exactly two years ago, she is older now.
And she managed to fill up her arrival form correctly without mistakes.
In the minds of our children, Nepal is a country far, far away somewhere in the Indian Continent.
They knew of our previous trips to Nepal and her hinterlands. But never did it occur to them that one day they would set foot on this lovely land.
So we took some time to share with these little ignorant ones some background information about Nepal.
Just a very brief introduction of Nepal to make the picture a little more complete.
Of course this accounts is by no means comprehensive but to set the stage for a little more understanding of this beautiful country as we all travelled upon this land.
To my fellow travellers, I personally know quite a few of you who have read extensively into the historical development of Nepal.
Thus I would be very grateful if you can add in more information along the way, and correct me in any factual mistakes that I would inadvertently commit.
Nepal has a population of 23 million, of which 1.5million living in Kathmandu.
It is a mountainous country with 64% of its area being mountains.
Geographically, Nepal appears like a rectangular-shaped land that stretches from north-west to south-east, sitting between Tibet on its northern border, with which it shares Mount Everest, and with India on its southern, western and eastern borders.
|Map courtesy of Wikipedia Free Map.|
- The Terai - which is the real true flat plain in Nepal, in which half of its population resides.
- The Mahabharat, or also known as the Middle Hill region, that ranges from 1500m to 2700m.
- The Pahar region - which is that hilly stretch between the Mahabharat and the Himalaya. This is where Kathmandu and Pokhara are located.
- And of course, The Himalayan ranges, where 14 of the world's highest peaks are found. The well known ones, besides Everest, are Annapurna and Langtang, just to name a couple.
|Map Courtesy of Wikipedia Free Map.|
The Kathmandu Valley is where many historians would focus their attention in, for the rich, fertile soil of this expansive valley has given birth to many dynasty that gave Nepal its history.
There are 59 ethnic groups in Nepal, of which the Hindis (with their origin from the Aryans) comprise a majority, together with the other minorities, the more notable would of course be the most well-known Sherpas who inhabit the high mountain ranges, a Tibeto-Burma ethnic group who share very many similarities in culture and religion with their Tibetan cousins up north.
It would not be possible to mention all the other ethnic tribes of Nepal here in my this very brief account, but to just say that each of them contribute in their own ways to the cultural, religious and political development of the country.
It would however, not be far wrong to say that the main influence both in culture and religion came from India.
And like many Hindu society, the Caste system is still very much in play even in this present age.
Officially 80% of Nepalese are Hindus while 10% are Buddhist.
A Very Brief Historical Account
Like so many other lands caught in between warring tribes. Nepal has seen its own fair share of turbulence.
In the 7th centuty BC, the Mongoloid Hindu Kiratis people arrived from the east to become the first ruler of the Kathmandu valley.
In 300 AD (2nd century) the Licchavis arrived from northern India and overthrew the Kiratis, bringing with them an insurgence of Hiduism. The Licchavis left legacies of cultural brilliance as could be seen in the original stupas of Swayambhunath and Bodhnath.
In 1768, the Shah king Privthi Narayan Shah, who ruled the tiny Kingdom of Gorkha in between Kathmandu and Pokhara, invaded Kathmandu and ended the Malla dynasty.
He finally unified the whole of Nepal in 1769 after defeating the Malla Kings in Bhaktapur.
The Shah Kingdom expanded its territory from India to Sikkhim and on the western border to Kashmir.
In 1923, Nepal gained independence from the British and in 1930, the Kingdom of Gorkha was renamed The Kingdom of Nepal.
In 1950, the Shah King Tribhuvan did a self-exile to India while the newly formed Nepali Congress Party wrestled the power from the Rana family. With India's help, King Tribhuvan negotiated a deal with the Rana and returned to power in Nepal, and set up government with members of the Nepali Congress Party and demoted members of the Rana family.
In 2007, after massive protest, the King, Gyanendra, finally relinquished his political powers to a coalition government and Nepal officially became a Democratic country.
Five hours of flight. And a whole lot of non-stop laughter on board watching 'Just-For-Laughs'... we arrived.
Ho ho ho... although it was only slightly less than two years, but it felt like a long time since we've been back.
The crew announced the temperature outside to be at 16 degree Centigrade. Wow! Is it already so cold in bright day light?
"This is Kathmandu?" questioned the 姐姐s as they looked out the transporting bus in the airport.
"It's broad daylight in noon. And it feels cold like in an air-con room. We cannot imagine how it will be up in the mountains."
"Don't worry," I reassured. "We are prepared. Let's take it a step at a time. Just enjoy Kathmandu before we trek."
Jokes aside, for those of us trekking, it is almost mandatory to be travelling with backpacks.
Why? Because it is lighter, and it is easier to carry, for ourselves as well as our porters.
"Children," I cautioned. "Remember, once you get out of the airport, each of you please carry your own backpack."
"Don't let any one carry your bags, no matter how they offer."
Don't get me wrong. The Nepali are one of the nicest peoples around.
But even our guides have warned us. At the airport, every one please JUST carry your own backpacks until you arrive at the minibus.
So after removing our backpacks from the cargo-bags for check-in, we all strapped on the heavy bags and off we walked.
Impressive, seeing these young little ones with the (pretty heavy) backpacks on their backs walking through the hordes of people.
"Hello everyone!" welcomed Mahesh, hanging garlands of flower around each of us.
"Welcome, welcome! I hope you had a good flight. Today let's take it easy and we will have a visit to Pashupathinath Temple, and after dinner we will do some last minute shopping for trekking equipment in Thamel."
"Tonight you all have an early night's rest because tomorrow early morning we will be flying to Pokhara."
Ever so reassuring, this Mahesh. That's why Serene and I specifically told Adrian (SgTrekker) that we wanted to have Mahesh lead our family for this trek.
So in the minibus we went.
Itinerary for our Nepal trip
Friends have asked me, what is our itinerary like?
And is it going to be siong?
Well, siong or not, I don't know. Not until I have completed the trek. But certainly it is not as siong as those going to Annapurna Circuit, Annapurna Base Camp or Everest Base Camp.
Before we continue, please don't go away with the idea that a family of seven are going to any of these Base Camps, for we aren't.
We are just going to take a trek of moderate (subjective) difficulty suitable for first time trekking children.
Day 1 - Kathmandu
Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal. At 1300m altitude.
Visit Pashupatinath, the holiest Hindu temple in Nepal, and hopefully able to view a real live cremation(s).
Day 2 - Pokhara
Domestic flight to Pokhara (800m altitude), the gateway town to many of the trekking towns in Western Nepal.
Famous for her Fewa lake and lovely warm weather.
Day 3 - Nayapul to Ulleri (trekking)
An hour and a half minibus ride to Nayapul (1000m altitude), the starting point of our trek.
We have been discussing this time and time again with Adrian (SgTrekker) and Mahesh, our guide.
Our plan is to trek from Nayapul at 1000m up to Ulleri, a small Margar village at 2070m.
The toughest part will come after the small village of Tikhedhunga (1570m), which will see a steep non-stop stretch of ascend of 500m.
If we can, we will push the whole family up to Ulleri for the night there.
If we fail to do so, we will stay put in Tikhedhunga for the night. (which I do not hope for)
This day will be an important testing ground for the whole family, for it would probably take about 5-6 hours of trekking.
Day 4 - Ulleri to Ghorepani (trekking)
From Ulleri at 2070m to Ghorepani at 2870m will see us trekking up another 800m of ups and downs.
A pretty undulating terrain will bring us closer to the lovely mountains.
But will also test our endurance and knees.
Day 5 - Poon Hill to view sunrise, thereafter back to Ghorepani and onwards to Tadapani (trekking)
This, is going to be the toughest day of the trek in terms of distance and duration and for the first part, rapidity of ascend.
Poon Hill at 3210m, is the highlight of the trek, for up there, we have unobstructed view of all the mountains of the Annapurna range.
And make the ascend in total darkness in the early hours of the morning to await sunrise over the ranges, that would be quite an experience.
The trek from Ghorepani to Tadapani (2660m) is fraught with ice-frozen permafrost tracks, and another steeper ascend at the last part.
Day 6 - Tadapani to Ghandruk (trekking)
This is the most relaxing day of the trek.
Ghandruk is just at about 2010m. So it would be a day of descend.
And a short trek it is going to be, Mahesh said, around 3 hours.
Ghandruk is the largest Gurung village in the area.
Day 7 - Ghandruk back down to Nayapul (trekking), and thence back to Pokhara.
This last day of trek will see us descending back to 1000m at Nayapul, on a relatively gentler terrain, but a slightly longer horizontal distance.
And at Nayapul, we will be mini-bussed back to Pokhara.
Day 8 - Kathmandu
A morning domestic flight back to Kathmandu.
And a eagerly looked-forward visit to Baktapur, the medieval city of Bhagaul.
Day 9 - Home!
A last visit to Boudanath Stupa, the largest Buddhist Stupa in the world, before we fly back home.
Well... sounds easy enough to me.
Pashupathinath Hindu Temple
I have always been enchanted by the Pashupathinath Temple. And this trip I really wanted the children to see this place with their own eyes.
It is the holiest Hindu Temple in Nepal and was built in the 5th century.
The holy Bagmati River runs through the temple ground, and here in Pashupathinath, 24 hours a day, there would be cremations taking place.
Yes, cremations in full view of the public.
For ourselves and the children, who have never seen such a scene, I am sure it is going to be quite an eye-opening experience.
For this short visit, our local guide is this gentleman called Kumud (pronounced Kumuda, meaning lotus).
A very candid fellow who spoke non-stop and kept throwing questions back at the children to make sure they remember what he said, he is in my opinion, one of the better local guides we had for a long time. His humourous narration made it so much easier for us to remember the details of the places.
|"... when Lord Shiva arrived back home, he was stopped by his son Ganesha. And he angrily sliced off his son's head!..."|
Candidly, Kumud related the story of how Ganesha got his Elephant head.
|"Whenever we enter a Hindu temple," said Kumud. "We would ring the bell three times, to wake up the gods and call out to them."|
|A guard and his dog stand guard at Pashupathinath...|
And on this day, the coldness permeates the holy atmosphere of this temple.
The smell of smoke, both from burning bodies as well as burning incense, linger in the air.
And a veil of mist shroud the buildings, adding on to the feeling of the place.
I cannot but begin to describe how I feel.
|...People walked through the premises, and people sat around...|
|.. People busied themselves cleaning up the place...|
|... and Kumud continued to admire the ancient structures and to relate it to this group of awed travellers...|
|And as the sun begins setting, the pyre lit up the side of the buildings.. where the deceased were being cremated.|
"Ok, you all can come close to here. There is an old grandmother who has just passed away," said Kumud.
"They will be chanting prayers as they place her body on the pyre. And after that the eldest son will be the one who will light up the fire in her mouth."
.. And Ah Li found herself witnessing the arrival...
|[Fann's picture showing the feet. I thought this was a meaningful last shot of the deceased.]|
Our son Zheng Ang was very intrigued.
"Papa, this is most interesting. The Nepali Hindus are so open about everything in life," he remarked to me.
"They look at everything right in the eye - death, sex, everything. And the way they go about lives, they don't hide from any of these, unlike many societies of modern countries."
And I must admit that he is very right in his observation.
The culture, the believes of the Hindus is such that they take lives as it comes, in whatever fashion, whatever lives deal them.
And they don't shy away from death, like many of us back home.
When their loved ones die, they grieve. But they send them off their ways with such equanimity.
I believed the objective of the first day of visit has been accomplished.
In my heart, I didn't need the children to see every corner of Pashupathinath.
I didn't need them to walk up to the highest platform.
All I needed was for them to witness the cremation, for I believe they would have very little chance to do this, now or in the future.
Mission accomplished, we strode through the cold 7 degree air...
She liked this shot as she said it felt like it was in winter... well, Questal, it is winter in Kathmandu yah, isn't it? Hahaha..
Ho ho ho... Bamboo Club, nostalgic yah.
We still remember this restaurant from our last visit. It's a welcoming sight.
Because it is very difficult to change Nepali rupee back home in Singapore.
At this point in time, the exchange rate is US$1 to 86 Nepali rupees.
Good enough a rate for me, as ZhengAng happily showed...
It's always exciting to be basked in the colours of the stores.
And we have always enjoyed Thamel as that part of Kathmandu for this very purpose.
Of course, bargaining is a must.
I must admit I am not the best of bargainers. But I managed with help from Mahesh.
... trekking pants for the girls, and TWO trekking sticks per person...
"About S$15. The trekking sticks about S$6 per stick. Of course, if we bargain hard enough we can bring down the price more. But ok lah, support the local inudstry, as what SgTrekker has always told us," I replied.
Do they really have such childish-looking head covers, I asked myself?
But Questal 姐姐 was totally unfazed. She went around asking...
Erm.. maybe not yet?
We can do this later once we are back ok?
"Mahesh!" I called out.
"Hey both the son and I want to get that very popular Nepali topi," I replied.
"Ok lah," said Mahesh in as Singlish a way he could manage. "No problem lah. Just down the road."
And we found a Nepali topi for each of the man in the group, for a topi is only worn by man.
Well, of course we can always stay in 5 star hotels in Kathmandu.
But honestly that would take away a huge chunk of the fun, won't it?
Thus I personally prefer to stay in smaller 3-star hotels.
And experience full-body the frequent power break-downs and their repercussions.
And how does that translate into?
Well, haha... for the first night, out of three rooms, only one had hot water for shower.
So we all took turn showering lor..
Actually not a big issue.
But it was quite fun, really.
And the children laughed themselves crazy, because the shower became flooded from too many people showering.
I am sure it was memorable for them, as much as it was for me.
Click Below to continue to the next Chapter:
A Family's Trekking Travellogue to Nepal ~ Day 2