Trekking with kids: Nepal’s Annapurna Circuit
It’s at the pointy end of walking adventures, but with friendly teahouses set along the route, even an almost-five-year-old can trek Nepal’s sky-skimming Annapurna Circuit.
It’s the deepest gorge in the world and all that’s keeping us from plunging into oblivion are slender wooden planks strung together with steel cable that sway with every tentative step.
Dwarfed by snowy peaks all around, I clasp my daughter’s hand as we peer between our feet to watch the raging Kali Gandaki River disappear into tunnels carved through the rock.
Later the Rupse Chhahara – the Beautiful Waterfall – creates such a splash as it drops 300 metres into the gorge that we have to don rain jackets to picnic in the mist. As I spread crackers with yak cheese, our giddy child fills her mouth with the spray.
The village of Jharkot.
It’s only the second of 19 days of Himalayan trekking in Nepal, but we already know this family adventure with our almost-five-year-old daughter Maya is right on track.
Mesmerising mountain views are our lure as we nibble fresh apricots plucked along the trail, carrying only the essentials and making use of welcoming Nepali teahouses whose hot showers and kid-friendly menus restore us daily.
The fact that a four-wheel-drive track now parallels the trekking route may disappoint hardcore adventure-seekers, but with small kids it’s a godsend, offering an escape of sorts in the case of injury or if things just don’t go according to plan. Fortunately for us, it’s bliss.
We follow, feeling fit and happy and unaware we are about to be tested.
The longer we’re on the trail, the fitter and more acclimatised we feel, and by day seven we’re moving above the treeline through a landscape of eroded plateaus and imposing peaks.
Approaching the ancient village of Kagbeni, we’re able to peer into the once forbidden kingdom of Mustang. This lush riverside haven surrounded by apple orchards and potato fields is stunning, its labyrinth of flagstone alleys lined with rammed-earth homes and trekker lodges, Buddhist prayer walls and white-washed stupas. We buy chocolate and yak cheese for the final climb to Muktinath, our high point and the most revered, sacred site in Nepal’s Himalayas.
The next morning, early, we cross paths with a group of bare-footed sadhus carrying tridents. This group of religious ascetics is also headed for Muktinath and accept Maya’s lollies before pushing on up the mountain. We follow, feeling fit and happy and unaware we are about to be tested.
Maya reaches Ranipauwa giggly and hungry, eats well and sleeps right through the night, ticking all the acclimatisation boxes. But the next day, a gentle 100-metre climb to explore Muktinath Temple proves a hike too far and our chirpy child turns suddenly and uncharacteristically tired and teary.
Our trek ends with a divine hot shower, fresh clothes, chilly beers and much-craved hot chips.
Recognising the symptoms of acute mountain sickness, we retreat downhill. Just 15 minutes later Maya has made a stunning recovery, giggling and cracking jokes and running ahead. Her dad David piggybacks her back down the valley to our Kagbeni hotel. The drama is over but, with another eight days of trekking ahead, including a climb to Poon Hill’s famous Annapurna vista, we call a rest day and regroup.
Reaching Poon Hill’s 3210-metre lookout is literally the high point of the trip and eyeballing the Annapurna massif in clear, close view is a lucky break on this monsoon-season trek.
We walk back to Pokhara on the home run, carefully treading 1000 rainy, knee- cracking steps past waterfalls and swimming holes and through bamboo forest, nibbling samosas and apples as we go.
Our trek ends with a divine hot shower, fresh clothes, chilly beers and much-craved hot chips. We download photos and reminisce, even after only this short time wishing ourselves back on the trail to superb mountain views, intriguing cultures and accommodating teahouses in the world’s highest hiking wonderland.
- Plan your break: The busiest times in the Annapurnas are October to December and March to May, but the Lower Mustang (Marpha to Muktinath) receives little monsoon rain, making June to August a good time to trek: no crowds, discounted prices, and the warm weather means light backpacks too.
- Plot your course: Fly to Kathmandu, fly or bus to Pokhara, and get to Beni and beyond by local bus. On the trail we used an off-line mapping app (try Pocket Earth or Maps.me) and downloaded Lonely Planet trekking notes.
- Visas and permits: Obtain 30-day visas (US$40) on arrival in Kathmandu (free for kids under 10). Get your Annapurna Conservation Area entry permit and a TIMS card in Kathmandu or Pokhara (about $25 each, kids under 10 trek for free).
- Teahouses: Private rooms with warm bedding, hot showers and child-friendly menus are everywhere. Free rooms were the norm on our monsoon trek but expect to pay $15-$20 a night in November.
- Water: Bring a water filter or plenty of water purification tablets. Water refilling stations at Marpha, Jomsom and Muktinath charge 50 cents a litre.
- Money: Withdraw or exchange cash in Kathmandu or Pokhara. On the trail, only Jomsom has a pair of ATMs (Visa cash advances only).
- Avoid altitude sickness: Begin your trek at low altitude, ascend slowly and build a flexible itinerary that allows time to acclimatise. Ascend no more than 300 metres a day above 3200 metres.
A slower pace.