Explore’s Michelle Laverick has recently returned from her third trip to Nepal having progressed from novice to hardened trekker in the folds of the Himalaya.
My love affair with Nepal started over 12 years ago. I lived in Glasgow at the time and spent most weekends bagging Munros (Scottish mountains over 3,000ft) and I had always dreamt of going to Everest Base Camp – but never thought it would be possible – especially as no-one else I knew shared this dream. After a little research, I plunged straight in at the deep end and booked a 21-day trek, High Passes of Everest, around the Everest Region crossing three high passes and climbing Kala Pattar.
I had never been at altitude or on a real trek before, so I had no idea what to expect; I got many things wrong – especially my packing. I packed far too much and only needed a quarter of the kit that I took. After arriving in Kathmandu with two big bags, I was offered some advice from a fellow trekker – which included only taking five of the 21 pairs of socks I had with me. I was horrified about what I was leaving behind in Kathmandu – but looking back now, it was the best advice I’d ever been given.
This trek really took me out of my comfort zone. There would be no showers (or hairdryers) on the trek – just washing in a bowl of water each morning– a scenario that most of my friends back at home found highly amusing, as it was very unlike me. I had never trekked or camped for such a long time before. But I have to say, this was the biggest life-changing experience I’d ever had. The scenery in the Everest region absolutely blew me away and I couldn’t wait to get up every morning – just to make sure it was still there. The people I met – and not just my fellow trekkers – were the friendliest and kindest I’d ever met. Nothing was too much trouble; they tried to make the daily challenges we faced as pain-free and enjoyable as they could – and they never stopped smiling and singing.
Many people worry about camping (this trek is now a teahouse trek) but I can truly say that I have never felt so relaxed or at peace with the world whilst so remote as I did whilst camping – although it was a little cold at times! The food on camp was outstanding and my total ‘OMG’ moment was when they made a birthday cake while we were camping at nearly 4,500m. They catered for us really well and even included comfort food, including mashed potatoes, Angel Delight, rice pudding and not forgetting tomato ketchup!
Altitude can affect people in different ways; our Tour Leader provided us will all the information we needed to make sure we could identify the first signs of altitude sickness and offered loads of advice. The itinerary allowed plenty of time to help us acclimatise and no-one suffered from altitude sickness.
The trek brought 16 people of different ages from all walks of life together with the one common goal - to trek in one the most beautiful places on earth. We all had an amazing time and 12 years on, we are still in touch.
Last year I was lucky enough to go back to Nepal to trek in the Annapurna region, on the Mini Annapurna Circuit. I was worried that I would be disappointed going back to Nepal after such a long absence. But Nepal was still as friendly and welcoming as it was 12 years ago – although Kathmandu was a little busier than I remember. The sites we visited hadn’t changed and this was really refreshing and for some reason I felt like I had come back home.
I was also a little worried about trekking again as I had had a couple of children since my last visit; fitness was a concern – we had an ascent over the Thorung La Pass (5416m) to do. Trekking in the Annapurna region was very different to the Everest region. The scenery was just as amazing but more diverse as we started the trek in the lower foothills before ascending to above the tree line. Here we were treated to truly breathtaking mountain scenery with the 8,000m+ peaks of the Annapurna range soaring in all directions. The trek is in true Nepali style - a little bit up and a little bit down.
This time I stayed in teahouses, rather than camping, which was a bit of a novelty – especially as these had hot(ish) showers every night (at lower altitude levels). It was only when we climbed to Manang (3,000m) that we decided it was too cold to have a shower! I was really impressed with the teahouses. They do vary in comfort and facilities do become more basic the higher the altitude you sleep at. However, several of them had en-suite facilities which I never expected. One element was the same as camping – bed time is early. I don’t think we ever went to bed after 9pm!
Every meal on the trek was included in the price which was brilliant because we never had to worry about having money on us at meal times and splitting the bill at the end. It was excellent value for money and also enables your support crew to make sure everyone consumes enough food to give them the energy for the next day’s trekking. We always ate in teahouses with the meals prepared by one of our Sherpas. This enables the control over cooking hygiene which is critical on a trek but also using locally produced goods enables us as trekkers to give back to the local communities. There was always plenty of choice and the groups choose from the menu every night. Lunch was a two-course meal and dinner was always three courses. We ate everything from Mo Mo’s (local dumplings) to rice pudding (with apple and sultanas) and popcorn to garlic soup!
Our Tour leader and support crew turned our great trek into an outstanding one. We learnt so much about the history, religion, wildlife and local traditions along the way which brought us closer to the local communities and our new surroundings. They partied with us along the trek but they saved the biggest party for out last night in Jomsom, where we ate, drank, danced and sang songs until the early hours. They managed to change our lives whilst we were there and I hope we managed to change theirs – in a positive way!
Nepal has touched me in many ways over the last 12 years and it is one of my favourite countries, which is why I returned again this year with my family on the Family Himalayan Discovery trip. We all enjoyed this trip immensely and when my youngest daughter said to me “mummy I want to live here” I knew that she had loved the tour too.