We decided that if we plan on taking the kids trekking for 2-3 weeks then it might be wise to do a trial run. Find out what we can realistically accomplish in a day. I mean, if we’re only going to manage 2km a day we kinda need to know that beforehand! Please let us manage more than 2km a day…
We checked out the short treks nearby and thought that an overnight stay in the village of Dhampus would be a good start. We bought a map, packed up our bags the night before, laid out their clothes ready for a 7am start the next morning and then got an early(ish) night. This might be a good point to mention that the kids and I have all been a bit under the weather of late – sniffles, coughs, lethargy – all that good stuff. So when we woke the next morning and Ben sleepily told me that he wanted to stay in bed longer and Chloe was puffy eyed and hacking away, we kinda knew it was a non-starter. We waited a day. The kids seemed better that afternoon so we arranged for a taxi to meet us at our favourite breakfast spot the next morning and figured all would be well by then. We were half right. The kids seemed better the next morning, not awesome, but better. I on the other hand, felt like death. My sinuses felt so full they were going to explode, giving me a lovely headache to contend with, and I felt like I hadn’t slept at all. Still, the taxi was booked, we were doing this thing!
We piled into the small Suzuki and made our way along small local back roads over steep hills and through small villages, bypassing the dustbowl of the main highway. An hour and a half later we were dropped off at the side of the road next to a bus and a couple of empty roadside restaurants. We had arrived at Kande and it was time to start walking. But first, the Tibetan jewellery sellers. We’ve come across a few Tibetan ladies along the Lakeside in Pokhara selling trinkets, bracelets, necklaces and the like. We’ve parted with a decent amount of money in exchange for such goods. It seemed we would be parting with more. They are incredibly friendly, incredibly persuasive, and their divide-and-conquer tactic of setting Alex up at a table with two of them and myself at a table apart with another, was fairly shrewd. If you didn’t want to buy anything, you had to be pretty determined! Fifteen minutes later, $28 lighter, and in possession of several “good luck” keychains to keep us safe on our travels, we were finally underway. Had we been “had”? Probably. Did I care? Not really. I liked what we’d bought and it can’t be an easy life hawking stuff to tourists everyday, so I don’t mind being an easy mark every now and then. They wished us well, pointed us on our way and finally we set foot upon the trail.
And the trail went up. Up, up, and up. Lots of steps, all upwards. We talked a lot about pacing with the kids. The story of The Tortoise And The Hare was recounted. I told the kids, “Be the tortoise.” It would be our family trekking motto.
Legs became tired, complaints were voiced; distractions were created, Snickers bars were handed out. Eventually after climbing about 300m Australian Camp came into view.
We dropped our bags at the first teahouse we came across and ordered some warm drinks. Alex and I wanted some Masala tea. The menu offered only individual cups, but we figured they might have pots. In our experience getting a pot of tea worked out cheaper per cup if you wanted to drink a couple. So I asked if it would be possible to get a pot of tea. The man asked, “small pot?” and I said yes, miming the size of a small pot of tea with my hands. “Ok” he said. We sat on plastic chairs in the sun while the kids collected rocks and bashed them together.
The kids’ hot chocolates and our tea were brought out. Somewhere along the line our “small” pot of tea had turned into a giant thermos full to the brim. Oh well, just go with the flow. We got down to some serious tea-drinking. Six cups of tea later, thermos emptied, we were ready to get back on the trail. I went to pay the bill. Here I learned a valuable lesson, if you’re going to order off-menu, find out what it’s gonna cost you first. Our six-cup thermos of tea cost us $6. Still, I’m not one to complain (at least not to strangers, I saved that for Alex) so I raised my eyebrows in mild surprise, handed over the dosh and chalked that one up to experience.
Off we went along more stone trails; up some steps, down some others. We enjoyed the views, Alex recited children’s stories, we stopped to enjoy a packed lunch and eventually arrived at Dhampus mid afternoon.
Dhampus was not so much a village as an assortment of buildings stretched out along some dusty roads in the hillside. It had a bit of a quiet, empty feel to it. The kids were just done at this point so we basically stopped at the first teahouse we came across – it wasn’t going to be worth dragging them around just to save a few dollars. Paradise View Hotel & Restaurant turned out to be pretty decent actually. The room was en-suite and clean, the beds comfy and the food tasty. As to the view, the clouds closed in, rain fell and there wasn’t a towering peak to be seen. I don’t know about the others, but I was exhausted. I cozied up under a thick duvet and dozed the rest of the afternoon away, listening to the sound of rain on the roof and the kids playing.
We woke early the next morning, forcing ourselves out of our warm beds and into the cold morning air, feet freezing on the stone slab floor. Down jackets were hurriedly adorned, socks slipped on and feet shoved into chilled boots. We’d been told we would get a great view of the mountains as the sun came up. If the weather was clear. It wasn’t. In terms getting a clear view of a majestic Himalayan peak, my luck, bad as it was, was holding. One of these days…
We strolled out of Dhampus, making way for buses going to-and-fro dropping off guests for a local wedding party that was setting up. Music blared across the hillsides, setting a jovial beat for Ben to bop along to. I think Alex and I kind of hoped that a day relatively void of uphill walking would put the kids in a more willing frame of mind than the one before. Not so. Much chivvying along was needed, especially for Ben. The pack of Butter Biscuits I’d brought along turned into a form of currency. Biscuits for distance. It worked, kind of. On the plus side, the clouds parted and I caught a glimpse of Machapuchare’s striking peak!
We’d walked about 45 minutes when we came to the junction where we had to decide if we’d carry on a bit further for a longer walk to the village of Astam, or just head straight down to the village of Phedi. There was no question. We’d spent the day before going ever upwards, from that point on this day was spent going down, down, down. Down stone staircases and along pathways leading us past terraced hillsides and through small settlements.
We came upon locals carrying wood up the hillsides over their backs, straps pulling across their foreheads as they stoically marched upwards. Old men and women carried loads that put us to shame. It really made me consider how much ease in life we take for granted, almost assuming it’s our due.
My legs were turning to jelly as we continued ever downwards. We’d stop for a rest and I’d find my lower legs shaking, the muscles wondering what on earth I was doing to them, not used to so much action in such a short space of time. After a while we started to glimpse our destination through the trees. A wide sandy-coloured swathe of rubble and dust through which cut a road, barely discernible from its surroundings, on which lorries and buses trundled along.
Onwards and downwards.
By the time we reached the bottom, we’d only been on the trail about 2.5hrs, which doesn’t sound like a lot. In fact, it really isn’t a lot by any standard. My legs felt otherwise! We settled into some Masala tea and honey chapatis at a roadside restaurant and Alex called our taxi driver to come and pick us up. An hour later and he hadn’t yet arrived When Alex called him back from the side of the road, it seemed that he wouldn’t be coming after all, for some reason that Alex was unable to discern through language barriers and heavy machinery noise in his ears. No matter, moments later a local bus drove up, a man hung out the open door and shouted, “Pokhara?” at us and we nodded, paid the man and hopped on board. It was a somewhat bumpy ride, but to my surprise we had lots of leg room and it was a pretty comfortable journey back home. Well, almost home. We had to traipse about 25mins from the bus stop back to Lakeside, but it was a lot cheaper than a cab. Bright sides, and all that.
So what have we learned? Well, I think we are going to hire a porter for a start. Our bags were fine, but I don’t think I’d want to carry a lot more weight, and we would probably have to for a longer trip. My knees are not awesome, and with lots of steps up and down to look forward to, extra weight will not be their friend. I don’t want to break myself. So we think we’ll get a porter to carry my bag and Alex can carry his. It’ll be easier to deal with moaning kids if we aren’t also struggling under heavy packs and feeling shitty ourselves. Because yeah, we’ve learned to expect moaning kids at times. We’re hoping that as they get used to walking every day that might stop, but we should be prepared for it. Speaking of being prepared, an endless supply of bribery biscuits will also be useful. Time to stock up!