I was characteristically undeterred by the obvious challenges, which would have most mothers running to the nearest caravan park. Not me – we sold all our possessions and bought a one-way flight to Kathmandu. Other than a loose objective that my partner would do some mountaineering we had no real plan or itinerary, instead keen to allow the adventure to unfold organically. The three of us would travel together at the start, but for much of the trip it was to be just myself and Josh as my partner ventured into the high mountains.
Our flight touched down in Kathmandu in the midst of monsoon rain and pollution, and the first clue that we weren’t in Kansas anymore was the troupe of monkeys who greeted us outside the terminal building. We spent the next week exploring the craziness that is Kathmandu, a teaming metropolis of 3 million inhabitants. I’ve always loved the vibrancy of large cities in the developing world – how they seem to be overflowing with life, bursting at the seams with billions of ambitions, triumphs and tragedies. One of the things I’ve come to love most about travelling with my son is getting to experience the magic of these extraordinary places through his eyes, experiencing it for the first time with the unique wonder and amazement of a child. It was a culture shock – the monsoon rains had pushed the basic sanitation system to it’s limits, as the city languished in the late summer heat. Initially Josh was overwhelmed by the noise and smell, the cacophony of beeping horns and scooter engines. After a few days however he had grown accustomed to the pulsating rhythms of the city. We explored the sites, visiting the Buddhist Monkey Temple and the iconic Durbar Square.
Food was the biggest challenge, as Josh embarked on an initial 3 day hunger strike in the hope that I’d relent and feed him chicken nuggets and chips. I was determined that food would be a big part of our adventure, and by the fourth day my war of attrition tactics had worked. Josh began to try mild curries, rice and mango lassis, and by the end of the trip he had become a curry aficionado. Out of all the positive effects travelling has had on him, I’m most proud of his new-found adventurous palette!
We soon tired of the grime and pace of Kathmandu, and took the ‘luxury’ tourist bus to Pokhara, Nepal’s second city. Although only 200km away, the journey took a bottom-numbing 8 hours. We later learned that this was actually a very good outcome, and our journey back took 12 hours! Situated beneath the mighty Himalaya, on the shore of Phewa Lake , Pokhara is as tranquil as Kathmandu is frenetic. Due to it’s location near the mountains, it became our home for the next few weeks. During our time there we settled in to the laid back pace of life, and allowed Pokhara and it’s residents to embrace us warmly, and adopt us as their own. The gentleness and hospitality of the Nepalese people is famed, and rightly so. I have never encountered anything like the warmth and generosity of spirit we encountered there, in a city where the average monthly wage is $100. We found ourselves sharing impromptu scooter rides, being welcomed into our new friends’ homes, and sharing traditional family meals. One of the highlights was joining in several Teej parties, a traditional Nepalese celebration of women and sisterhood. Women dress in their best clothes, and share food, music and dance. Dancing to Indian pop music with my new girlfriends was one of the highlights of my trip. These random, unscripted moments are one of the joys of travel, where you lose yourself in a moment, as a place and an experience get under your skin. You emerge from the experience somehow different, as if the memory has inexplicably altered your DNA from the inside out.
In Pokhara we slipped into a comfortable daily routine. Our days consisted of pancakes for breakfast, kayaking across the lake for a swim or a jungle hike, eating street food for lunch, and dinner in a small local restaurant. The Nepalese adore children, and Josh became something of a celebrity. Everywhere we went he was greeted with smiles and selfie requests. He played every day with the local children, as his confidence and curiosity soared. Other highlights of our trip were a day of paragliding together over the lake, although I must admit that I had a moment of doubting my own parenting wisdom as we leapt off a cliff strapped to a small Nepalese man with a Justin Bieber haircut. A similarly inspired/dubious parenting decision was renting a Royal Enfield motorcycle from a local gentleman and riding the switch back bends into the foothills of the Himalayas. Even though I’ve ridden motorcycles in the hairiest of places, swerving around cows, post monsoon potholes and the crazy Nepalese drivers with my child on the back took a bit of getting used to. Josh, as always, felt no fear and adored the whole experience, as did I when I relaxed a little. By the end of our motorcycle odyssey I began to really enjoy the freedom our bike brought. I smiled to myself as we pulled up at our various destinations and parked our bike outside, drawing admiring/bewildered stares from the local youths.
However all good things come to an end, and all too soon it was time to leave. Civilisation, and in Josh’s case Senior Infants, beckoned. To say that our trip to Nepal was one of the best experiences of my life would be an understatement. For the first time I felt as though I was really experiencing motherhood in a way that was authentic and unique to me. Like lots of mothers, I struggle with feeling hopelessly incompetent, wrestling with the heady cocktail of guilt and inadequacy. Having spent the past 6 years as a working single mother I was exhausted, and desperately wanted to reconnect with both my son and the things that made me feel alive. Through travelling I found my place as a mother. Though I won’t ever be the mom with the cleanest school uniform, the best school lunch, or the chairperson of the Parent’s Association, travelling together I started to see that I had so much more to offer my child. I could show him the world and give him a love for travel and adventure. The trip was also life changing for Josh – he went from being a timid, clingy child to being confident and adventurous, and hungry for the next challenge. Since then we’ve gone on to have many more adventures, but Nepal will always have a special place in our hearts.
When to go
The best (but also the most expensive) times to visit Nepal are late Spring and Autumn. If you think your life is too comfortable I recommend doing like I did and visiting during the monsoon. Expect flooding, lightening storms and rain that make the Irish climate seem drier than Ghandi’s flip flop. On the plus side, things are even cheaper than normal, and there are far fewer tourists.
Where to Stay
Accommodation is very cheap in Nepal, especially in the off season. However standards vary greatly, with lots of the budget hotels lacking warm showers and air conditioning. In our experience what these more basic digs lack in facilities they make up for in charm and hospitality. Sometimes, however, you need some creature comfort, and we were lucky enough to get some very good off -season rates. We stayed in one lovely 4 * hotel for $40 a night in a family suite.
Nepal is served by several small airports and airstrips, but be warned that Nepalese aviation has an appalling safety record, with Lukla airport having the dubious distinction of being the most dangerous airport in the world. We opted for the cheaper option of the tourist bus – a snip at $20 each way. Make sure you are taking the super ‘luxury’ tourist bus – your backside will thank you for it. Journey times tend to be long, so make sure your little ones are entertained, and all devices are fully charged. There are relatively frequent stops for nappy changes and food breaks.
Food was an issue for us until Josh accepted that there were no Happy Meals in his immediate future. Nepalese food is similar to Indian, with lots of vegetarian options, and limited availability of beef. In tourist areas there are plenty of Western options, but the best food in our experience was the local restaurants. Our favourite in Pokhara was New Marwadi – the best Southern Indian vegetarian food I’ve tasted, and for a slicker option Linger Restaurant and Bakery, owned by an American ex pat chef. We had no issues with food hygiene, but the usual warnings about salad and ice cubes apply.
Things to Do
Kathmandu has several interesting historic/religious sights which are worth a look, such as the Monkey Temple and Durbar Square. We found more to do in Pokhara, with plenty for all ages. Older kids will enjoy activities such as trekking, paragliding, zip-lining and rafting. For families with toddlers there are boat rides across the lake, and many organised sightseeing tours. Other parts of Nepal such as Chitwan offer jungle safaris, and there is a wealth of trekking in the Everest region. While a full base camp trek is expensive and lengthy there are plenty of shorter treks for older families, or for families with babies if you are prepared to give them a piggy back!
Safety and Hazards
Nepal is a very safe country, with the gentlest people I’ve ever encountered. That being said it is important to exercise common sense, especially when travelling in remote areas with children. In terms of health ensure that everyone has travel vaccinations, and take medical advice on malaria. During monsoon season the countryside is resplendent with leeches and other creepy crawlies, and mosquitos are always present. We were very lucky with stomach issues, but be sure to use bottled water and be vigilant with food.
Thank you Lyndsey for contributing this amazing piece on your travels in Nepal with Josh!