For many, planning a weekend away with a young family is daunting, let alone planning an overseas trekking holiday. It does not have to be this way and with some simple practical advice, any family with an open mind can enjoy a culturally rich experience trekking with their children in the Himalaya. While planning such a trip, there may seem a myriad of hurdles and difficulties to overcome, but if you prepare yourself adequately, the experience of trekking with your children in the Himalaya could be a truly rewarding and enlightening one, not to mention an invaluable multicultural life lesson for your young ones.
The ideal ages for children to trek is, believe it or not, as infants that are still breastfeeding and can be easily carried and at the ages of six upwards. Though it may sound surprising to take an infant overseas, breastfeeding is actually a no fuss and hygienic way to feed a child. Toddlers as a rule are not so easy to take trekking as they can neither walk the distance nor would they tolerate being carried for long periods of time.
Infants can be carried by a parent in an attachable seat or sling, or alternately it’s easy enough to hire a female porter to accompany you on the trek. “Sherpani”, or hill women in Nepal have a natural affinity with children and it will just be like having a nanny along on your trek. Though it may be unlikely that a single woman will accompany you, so you may have to hire two women, but they can also act as a porter for you. These women can carry a child or baggage up to 22kg. Hiring women as helpers is a great way to get closer to the rich culture of Nepal and also to show your support for equality among the sexes. In Nepal, local women working in the tourism industry was unheard of 10 years ago, now you can find many women guides and porters, not to mention kayaker and mountain bike guides.
A child should not be treated like a special member of the trekking team, they should be included like everyone else. Sit them down at the start of the day and talk to them about the trail ahead, let them know what’s expected, how far it is, when you will eat, set it out for them like an adventure and you will find that your child will relish the day ahead. Uphill section will be the most challenging. At these points, engage your children in games, eye spy, counting steps, singing songs, tell stories, have them guess and count the steps to the next village. Distractions like this will keep your child engaged during the more physical climbs and you will be surprised at how the climb flies by (for yourself as well
Mealtime can be hard for fussy eaters. It’s a good idea to get your child used to local foods before you leave home. In the case of Nepal that would be rice, lentils, green vegetables and potatoes. Don’t make a big fuss about meal times. Encourage your kids to eat local food. Try and stay in tea houses with other kids and get your own children to eat with them. In case you do have a fussy child when it comes to food, ensure that you carry enough familiar food with you as it is most important that your child gets enough nutrition while trekking. Take along items like nuts, dried fruits and seeds, cereals and muesli bars that you can also use as a dessert reward for your child after attempting the local food, you can purchase most of these things in Nepal supermarkets, along with chocolate or candy if that is required. However, in Nepal the local food is amazing and it’s well worth trying, not to mention the cheapest option on most menus. In most Tea Houses you can also get items like, bread, eggs, potato chips, mashed potato, noodle soups and simple pizzas.
Along the route, get your kids to interact with local children. Carry some simple toys like a skipping rope, marbles, picture books or a doll. Try and avoid bringing modern expensive toys as this could upset or influence the village kids to ask their parents for things they simply can’t afford. You will soon see how the language barrier does not really affect kids when they are playing, before you know it your kids will be playing happily and you can have some time to relax yourself. This interaction with locals could well be the highlight for you and your children. As much as possible, you and your family should interact with the locals. Plan short days of trekking to allow time in the villages for exploring. Get the kids to help in the fields, collecting vegetables and preparing food. Nepalese are very family orientated and having children around is no problems for them, they enjoy having children from different cultures around.
Taking your children trekking is a big decision but as with all travel the outcome of your holiday all comes down to your own outlook and open-mindedness. Having done family treks before I can openly say it’s one of the most rewarding experience, and seeing the children adapt and interact with a culture totally removed from their own is truly a joy for all parties concerned.
If you do plan on bringing your children, its best to book a trek through a reputed agent, ask them to tailor an itinerary with shorter trekking days, a couple of home stays and an extra porter to help you along the way. Some of the recommended low altitude treks suitable for families in Nepal are –
Ghorapani and Ghandruk
The Royal Trek
Helumbhu and the Tamang Heritage trail
Ghalegaun village home stay trek.