Family Fun on the Roof of the World
Most of you probably associate Mt. Everest with Nepal. I did before my first visit. But along with the highest summit in the world, Nepal also offers world-class whitewater rafting and jungles brimming with tigers and rhinos. And where else can you witness a match of elephant polo?
Nepal is an ideal family destination. There is much to do and see without breaking the bank. But decide what you want to do before deciding when you want to go—since certain activities are best pursued during certain times of the year.
Tibetan Buddhist influences abound in this deeply religious country. Temples and prayer shrines pepper every village, and even in many guest houses. If your timing is good, you may be lucky enough to experience one of the many joyous and colorful religious festivals that occur throughout the year.
Summerhowever fine for hikingis definitely not a good time for whitewater rafting, since the rains swell the rivers to dangerous levels. Rafting season lasts from March until May, and again from late September to early December.
The waters are low (which makes them safer for children) in March and April, as well as in October and November, although by mid-November it may be a bit too cold. Rafting trips range from the fairly luxurious to more hands-on trips, where you are expected to help paddle, set up camp and cook. Short trips under a week are possible, as well as longer ones.
During a typical summer trip, high-altitude hiking or "trekking" is the only adventure option open, thanks to the vicious monsoon rains. Up on the Jomsom trail leading to Annapurna (the world's 5th tallest mountain at 26,500 feet), the weather is mild and lovely. And best of allbecause it's the off seasonyou often have the trail to yourself.
Traversing the Kali Gandaki River gorge between the soaring peaks of Annapurna and Dhaulgiri makes for a picturesque hike well-suited for families. The route requires no technical climbing skills and is dotted with small villages and guest houses. This hike is so popular with Americans that it's been nicknamed "the apple pie trail."
In general, well-maintained trails pose a continual up-and-downhill challenge throughout the trekker's day. The scenery is, of course, always spectacular. Your hike will take you past herds of goats and the occasional yak, who only live at altitudes above 10,000 feet. Some treks pass through Tibetan refugee areas, and others through Newari or Sherpa villages. The native people are unfailingly friendly, and often delighted to show you around their villages.
Tourism is Nepal's top income earner, and several international and local outfitters now organize different levels of treks to all major areas. On some circuits, you can organize your own trek. Maps are easy to follow, and you can always hire a Sherpa guide to shoulder your heavy pack, freeing you to lug only your camera.
Experienced family hikers should carefully judge a child's stamina before planning a trek. Though hikers over 8 years of age do very well on the Jomsom trail, you might consider hiring one of the extraordinarily strong Sherpas to carry small children who tire easily.
Safaris and Elephant Polo
Nepal is also home to several national parks and preserves. Royal Chitwan National Park, in southern Nepal's Terai, bordering India, is probably the most famous. It hosts the world famous Tiger Tops Resort and the annual World Elephant Polo Tournament (held every December), with over 20 teams participating from around the world.
Aside from the tournament, the park offers daily elephant safaris, where the entire family can ride on one to see (if you're lucky) rhinos, Bengal tigers, and Gharial crocodiles. Many of the lodges close during monsoon, so plan your trip between October and February.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication