Ten years ago, I did a three day Poon Hill trek and loved it. No, that's a bit too simplistic- I loved FINISHING it whilst the almighty BURN in my thighs actually made me cry quite a bit.
Well, buoyed by insatiable optimism, this time I decided that having 2 young children would make the trek much better- so heck, let's sign up for it and hope for the best. The worse that could happen is that we would not make it to the top and just come back, defeated and broken. Which would be totally fine, wouldn't it? But let's start off with a white water rafting trip to ease us in gently, shall we?
Our youngest has had a fear of boats since the second week of our trip, when our kayak capsized over a coral reef in Indonesia. You can read about that dramatic post here.
So obviously we've been trying to challenge this and gently persuade him that boats really are fun ever since.
Lucky that Uncle Sanjay organised the rafting trip, because the children had such faith that he would look after us that I seemed able to convince them of almost anything.
The rafting trip started with us camping out by the Trisuli river. I thought I'd try to do some fishing, but apparently the flow was too fast, I had no weights or any skill to speak of so didn't manage to catch anything- the boys were happy splashing about whilst the guides put up our tent for us.
We're keen campers, so it was weird camping and not needing to actually do anything. Especially as they went above and beyond and dug out a loo in the sand and fashioned the walls out of oars and some tarp- GENIUS! (I'ms stealing this)
In the morning, the youngest started having second thoughts. He wasn't up for it at all, but the guides managed to persuade him it would be fine.
He hated it, the river was not considered fast flowing as it was the end of the dry season, but as the raft glided over the rapids it made your stomach leap into your mouth. One child would go WHOOP! One would whimper, quietly... with gentle assurance from the guides, we soldiered on.
The hazy cliffs towered over us as we passed between the fast bits of river. We watched people on the banks fishing, going to school, carrying grass on their heads for animal feed. It was stunning and we felt so small on the powerful Himalayan river.
The youngest relaxed into it and he even started to paddle. The guide shouted 'FORWARD, TEAM!" as we'd paddle through the rapids, I'd get splashed in the face and forget what I was doing- everyone would laugh at me. He'd shout 'FORWARD!' again as we all forgot what we were supposed to be doing, paddle, splash. It was fun, see?!
The morning went by in a flash and by the end we were all wet and happy- even the youngest had forgotten his fear and was loving it. Hooray!
We had our bags dropped off to us and we got changed into dry things. Our rafting guide had arranged for us to meet our trekking guides on the bus to Pokhara for the next leg of our adventure, Poon Hill. It was like a patchwork quilt of adventure!
Ram was to be our guide- his brother, Ramesh would be our Porter. They seemed nice and smiley and they offered to sort out our passes for us so we could check into our hotel and have some chill out time with the boys. From that point, I knew they were keepers. (for pass details see below)
They picked us up bright and early the next day to buy a Doko (£7- bargain!) and drive to Birethanthi to start the trek.
Mike and I decided to take only a twenty litre day pack each and fill the base of the Doko with 'North Fake' coats we had bought cheaply in Kathmandu for £12 each. They were a complete lifesaver. We started off our trek, Birethanti full of happy children and shops selling trekking gear for last minute purchases.
We stopped for lunch and Ram heroically started hacking at the doko with his machete. The basket was the most rudimental child backpack I had seen but it was incredible- and the fact that Ramesh could carry so much weight by putting the strap over his forehead made it all the more awesome. Does it not put your back out? was my first thought, Apparently not, when you are trained from a young age.
We wound our way along the river, passing through stone villages with brightly coloured tea houses. We made it to our teahouse and huddled in the wooden dining room as the rain started, just as it did every afternoon of our trip. We were being taught a card game 'Dumbel' by Ram & Ramesh which we would play continuously from here on in. After a while, there was a gathering of people and a flurry of activity in the family's sitting room.
We were ushered inside as a Tibetan Shaman cut out shapes to adorn the salt dough offerings that had been made for the gods.
The intimacy of the room and the whirling, swirling incense, was disorientating. The throat singing and drums lulled us all into a psychedelic state- were we in a film? In a BBC documentary about forgotten tribes? It felt like it.
The ceremony continued till I realised the time and though honoured to be there, thanked our hosts before making our way across the lawn to our warm, soft bed.
Our early nights were rewarded with bright, sunny mornings- we'd need the sun's energy on this day. Ram found us some sturdy sticks to walk with, they'd help us along as this was when I was to revisit my arch nemesis.
The Steps of Ulleri.
It was like my version of the Southern Oracle in 'The Neverending Story' The steps could see into my soul to see if I had a pure heart... but this time I brought my family with me to suffer the torment and this was the day of reckoning.
When the full extent of this 1000m ascent dawned on us, oh we laughed! Mike laughed at how stupid i was for DOING THIS AGAIN! Ha ha! I laughed at him for agreeing to it when I had openly told him how hard these steps are and WHY ARE WE DOING THIS WHEN STEPS ARE SO HORRIBLE? *cue hysteria*
"Do many people cry on these steps?" I asked Ram.
"Yes! Loads!" He replied with a smile about his face.
The children, however rose to the challenge. I can honestly say I had never been so proud of how they faced the ascent head on.
Yes, we stopped for tea a few times. Not tea as you'd know it- milky, spiced tea so sweet the teaspoon stands up in it. Here is not the place to niggle about sugar intake, though. We all needed the energy and deserved the mental boost it gave us. Snickers. anyone? We even let them have a coca cola at the end of the day- which was a first. Yes THAT's how impressed I was with them; I basically let them have anything they wanted.
We snaked up the mountain side, past the clouds- past mules carrying barrels of drinking water, curious goats, chickens, sheep, buffalo and friendly mountain dogs who would become our friends- for part of the journey at least.
We passed old women carrying bushels on their heads and small children making their way to school... these 'Steps Of Doom' are just normal life, if you live on the side of a mountain. See! I don't know what you're complaining about, they're easy.
At the end of that day, my heart could have sang with joy when we got to the lodge just before the heavy rain started. We stocked up on comfort foods- fried egg and Rosti for me, reminded me of my childhood favourite egg and chips. The menu stays the same throughout the trekking circuit to ensure that the food offered is sustainable, so you could spend all day thinking about what to have for dinner. There wouldn't be any surprises and you certainly wouldn't have to just eat rice, like I did last time.
Everyone at the lodge was very relaxed with each other- we all quickly fell into conversations about what brought us here, what route they were taking. Ram and Ramesh hung out with us, playing cards and took our orders for food and drinks- we just had to look a bit thirsty and they were on it. It was like having our own butlers! Without the bow ties and plummy accents. And more smiles, obvs.
On our way up again, we'd make our way to Ghorepani but not without passing a glacial waterfall. It was impossible not to wade in- it looked so inviting, but my feet cramped up in seconds from the cold. It was like being woken up by a jolt of electricity but still irresistible.
The boys played in the icy water and found a frog to make friends with Hugo, our current dog. Other trekkers passed us, watching the children playing and yes, we are trekking with our children, NO, I haven't seen any other families en route. Yes, our kids ARE COOL. Not wanting to jinx it, but it was looking like we'd be likely to finish.
We dragged ourselves up the hill, to Ghorepani where the temperature had dropped and our reserves were low. The last leg into the village was tough as we had gained altitude but despite our tiredness, it was only midday! That's what you get for starting early- AND we arrived just as the rain started.
We settled down around the fire in the most cosy, joyous happy place I could remember. We thought we'd treat ourselves with a splash of rum whilst we played cards by the fire. Happiness is this, I thought relaxing aching limbs, encased in snug jumpers, around a fire.
We watched the clouds lift around the peak of Dhaulagiri and the boys-somehow- ran loops around the dining room. Where the energy came from literally flummoxed me, but whatever you need to do, kids.
I had a wander around the village, and Ghorepani was just as I remembered it- more built up, obviously but still charming. There were many familiar faces that we met on the trail, but the next day would be something else.
We woke at 4am to walk up to Poon Hill to see the sunrise. this was the climax and the thing that we had all been working towards- let's just hope that it had rained sufficiently so the clouds would clear.
The thing with coming in low season is that the weather is less predictable.. imagine coming all this way to not be able to see the Annapurna mountain range! After all this work! Imagine! ha!
*cue hysterical laughing* *again*
Well, it turns out that the 4 am start was tough, but seeing the sky ON FIRE silhouetting the mountains was a glorious, spine-tingling high.
We made it. I cried with relief, and the view was only improved by hot, spiced tea we bought from the tea hut. We drank it with our guides who had become our friends.
There were and so many familiar faces, it was like a trekkers reunion- the atmosphere was electric as everyone felt the excitement of this new day on the roof of the world.
The prayer flags, the majestic hyperreal mountain peaks that changed colour by the minute as the sun rose. It was AWESOME in the most genuine sense of the word. I had to choke back the tears as people of differing nationalities came to shake hands ad congratulate the boys for their hard work, and for getting there. They took on a challenge that many adults wouldn't manage, yet here we were.
I thought my heart would go 'pop' with pride, I have goosebumps just remembering.
Its was like we'd won a race- mainly because we were the only 'family' contestants which meant we won by default- but still! We'd take it and it was WONDERFUL. We definitely felt like we'd won, anyway.
The boys had their promised Mars Bar for breakfast and I was dragged away from the summit as I literally could have stayed there all day.
I chatted with my new friend, Susie all the way down because it took my mind off the fact that I wanted to cry about leaving that most beautiful place in the world.
That day would be easy, wouldn't it? we'd done the hard part?
Our guides played with the children and kept their spirits high as we wound our way down.. then up and around, past waterfalls and piles of rocks. Our tiredness was starting to show and I fell over whilst trying to multi task (drink). Twice.
The valley seemed to go on forever, with beautiful waterfall following beautiful waterfall. This was new ground for me and I was wondering why I didn't walk this way last time?! It was so green and lush, we seemed to snake up and then down and then up- it was disorientating and I couldn't have known what altitude we were at if it wasn't for Mike's super clever watch.
Then we found ourselves at the top of a valley again- Ram asked if we'd like to stop but that seemed silly. We were nearly there, right?
Well in my naiveté I believed we were having a short day of walking that day, seeing that we started at 4.30am. I was mistaken though and I realised that no-one had told me it would be a short day, I'd just assumed/ imagined/ hoped it.
It was already midday and our destination, Tadopani (NOT Tatopani- don't get confused) was on the other side of the valley.
I asked Ram where the bridge was? He laughed.
I could have cried. Mike nearly did and had to take himself away for a few minutes to compose himself. The children soldiered on, whilst Mike and I tried to get our heads around making our tired legs and children climb down and then up again, whilst remaining positive/ cheerful.
It sounds so simple but it wasn't and then it started to rain.
We trudged down the path, which seemed to go on forever and heard the sound of someone screaming. Our blood went cold and Ram heroically ran down to help whoever was in trouble.
Images of '127 Hours' ran through my head and I imagined who could be hurt on the side of a mountain and what would we do when we found them?! How could we get them out when it was days trekking to any medical services? Did we have the personal resources to CARRY ANYONE?!?!
We all made it to the bottom of the valley, our hearts in our throats trying to locate the scream.., to find a goat up a tree. Not even stuck, just hanging out with his goatherd, nibbling at some branches.
A bloody GOAT.
The relief was palpable, and we laughed at how stupid we were but we had made it to the bottom without even noticing!! Hooray! Now just to get UP again...
I won't lie. I was silently cursing Ram and doing the 'what we were thinking' thing again. I plied the kids with ALL OF THE CHOCOLATE... and a fellow weary trekker gave me a slug of his Slovakian home-brew from his hip flask. I could have kissed him (I didn't, by the way).
When we finally reached the Himalayan Lodge, the rain was coming down hard and we took the last room in the place. Phew!
We changed into our flip flops and settled by the fire to more Dumbel and FOOD. We were all so depleted and worn out, we decided to just eat all afternoon (have what you want, boys!) and watch whilst other weary travellers get turned away from this lodge with its beautiful location.
I woke early to a surprising spectacle...
I knew Poon Hill was stunning but THIS. Just here, on our doorstep- I woke up Mike to check it out- his was better than any lie in.
There was no 4am start required but it was just as stunning as Poon Hill and had been here all along, hiding behind clouds yesterday.
It felt like waking up on Christmas morning when you hadn't realised what day it was. I wanted to run into the hills spinning, like Maria from 'Sound of Music' but I was kind and didn't want to wake everyone up with my terrible singing.
So I took several pictures instead.
Ram appeared, asking if we wanted coffee. I was so grateful that he'd made us walk so far the day before- it was TOTALLY WORTH IT. I was so emphatic and overjoyed and PLEASED that he didn't really know where to put himself.. but I wanted him to know that it all made sense now! Yes, it pushed us to our limit- but here was the prize. THANK YOU, RAM!
One, two, three coffees later the children woke up, bleary eyed. I checked in with Ram, knowing to actually ask this time- would it be a short walking day today? This time, yes, for real it would be.
We gambolled down that mountain. every now and then glancing back to catch a glimpse of the mountain peak through the trees.
We found our friend, Susie again and we gambolled together- all tiredness was counter balanced by the euphoria of having not only done it, but SMASHED it. We took on the Himalayas and we made it to the top.
Not one but TWO sunrises over the Annapurna range and we were in love with the world. Well, I was anyway. The kids were bloody knackered but still adamant that they wanted to do Everest Base Camp (EBC) next time.
"Would you be up for that in, say, five years, Ram?
....Despite our whining?"
"of course" he stated, carrying the youngest on his shoulders.
We relished the last few villages at the end of the trek, drinking in each stone slab and brightly painted door, like it was my eyes' last meal.
We got to the road, shared a taxi back to Pokhara where we waved tearful goodbyes to Ram and Ramesh.
We'd have to look after ourselves from now on- how were we supposed to manage that?!? Don't they know we weren't prepared to be the adults again?
The full extent of their help and friendship became very real as we said goodbye and limped to our hotel room for a nice, hot shower.
We met up with fellow travellers, the Lasch family and hung out with them for a few days before heading back to Kathmandu. It was lovely... but the mountains. They were something else.
THANK YOU Drift Nepal. For taking us to the highest highs and the lowest lows- in both a physical and emotional way. It definitely was not easy, but it was spine-tingling wonderful, and gave us memories we will cherish for the rest of our lives.
We can't thank you all enough- but if my boys follow their dream and get lost up that Everest... well you'll have us to blame.
See you in the UK soon, yeah?
Where we stayed:
Hotel Access Nepal, Kathmandu. Approx £50 per night including breakfast for a family room in central Thamel.
Trekkers Lodge Hotel, Pokhara. £25 per night for family room.
Camping- via Drift Nepal (see below)
On the Trek we stayed at:
Kamala Guest House, Tikhedunga
Four Seasons Hotel.
Snow View Lodge, Ghorepani. £3 per room, per night
Himalaya Lodge, Tadapani. £3 per room, per night.
What we did:
Drift Nepal Expedition hosted us for camping, white water rafting (all food, guides and accommodation included)
Also: 5 day Poon Hill trek with Guide and Porter. Please message Sanjay for prices. They are also on Facebook
What we took on our trek:
Trekkers Information Management System (TIMS) to make sure you are safe and will send out a search party of you don't' make it to a check point. £15 per person
Annapurna Conservation area permit- £15 per person to access the park
For the 5 day trek, Mike and I took 1 20 litre Day pack each as well as warm, soft things to line the Doko. We found a polythene sheet to cover our coats so that if it rained, our clothes would not be wet.
2 pairs of shorts, 1 pair of trousers for evenings.
3 t shirts.
1 long sleeved top
2 pairs of socks, 5 pairs of pants
North Fake coats (bought in Kathmandu- £12 each, worth every penny)
Mike and I:
1 pair shorts
1 pair of trousers
3 t shirts
2 pairs socks, 5 pants (for me, Mike went commando. TMI? Sorry)
All of us:
Waterproof pack away jackets- which we used every day as it rained in the afternoons.
Flip flops (thongs/ jandals...) for the evenings to let feet breathe.
Toiletries- toothbrushes and paste, flannel, soap.
Water bottles to refill- as you cannot buy bottled water in the mountains in a bid to reduce plastic waste. The water is safe, btw. None of us got sick.
Pen knives- in case of '127 hours' moments.
Pack of cards for the afternoons/ evenings
2 x Head torches, 2x pen lights
First aid kit
Knee support (not needed- but just in case!)
Phone & charger & Powerbank (as many places do not have the voltage to charge appliances)
Cereal bars, dried fruit, sweets and SNICKERS!! or 'motivational tools' as we chose to call them.
How we got around:
Public bus from Pokhara to Kathmandu- £8 each, each way for an 8 hour journey.
All other transport was included in the packages.