On bucket lists of adventurous people, trekking in Nepal is often found near the top.
Whether it's an expedition to the Annapurna Base Camp, Everest Base Camp, or one of the less travelled routes such as Tsum Valley or Upper Mustang, a few days (or weeks) walking in the Himalayas is a "must-do" for anyone looking for a physical challenge, a spiritual odyssey and a cultural immersion.
That's unless you're a 14-year-old girl from Squamish who prides herself on finding a way out of every local hike I plan. Trekking in a country on the other side of the planet was definitely not on her bucket list, which featured Hawaii, Disneyland and a Beyoncé concert.
And I hadn't told her about the squat toilets yet.
But, if you're a 14-year-old-girl from Squamish, your mother still has the right to drag you to places on her bucket list. So, with a little spice thrown in—a few nights in the exotic city of Kathmandu, monkeys and yaks, and after our trek, a side-trip to the jungle to see rhinos and elephants—I exercised that right.
We began in Pokhara, a 25-minute flight from Kathmandu, and drove to the trailhead, near a town called Nayapul. After a hearty lunch of spiced lentil dal bhat—our go-to meal for the majority of the trek—we started walking.
Along a rutted road strewn with garbage: water bottles, plastic bags, packages and wrappers of all kinds.
In the pouring rain.
I wondered what I'd gotten us into. The hiking pole I'd rented broke. My rain poncho was too small to pull over my pack. I thought for sure this would be the last time daughter Lilah fell for my, "Trust me! It'll be fun!" line.
Most trekkers hire guides; locals who know the mountain trails and conditions, whose connections ensure a bed at a tea house or lodge along the way. Our guide Danu had a laugh that sounded like a chicken being tickled. We also had an "assistant." Although at first it felt awkward to pay someone to carry some of our gear, we learned that for a few extra dollars, the assistants are eager to hone their guiding skills, practice English and earn an income. Our assistant Nisa spoke very little English but enjoyed singing.
Eventually, the downpour stopped, the road became a footpath, and the litter subsided. We felt we were entering a magical kingdom. We saw we'd been hiking through hillsides cut in terraces for crops and grazing. Small wooden homes dotted the landscape. Colourful prayer flags were strung between trees and rooftops. We shared the trails with horses and donkeys, bells clanging around their necks, as they carried all manner of goods.
"Namaste! Namaste!" said people when we passed. The light within me honours the light within you.
Our first night was spent in a small lodge in the village of Hille. After dinner, someone put traditional Nepali music on, and the party began. Between the hosts, their children, guides and a few other trekkers, laughter and joy filled that small room. I couldn't help feeling that a candle inside me had been illuminated, and the light within me was blazing. When Lilah accepted the invitation of a local Nepali and joined the dancing, I pegged the moment as unforgettable.
Our trekking days were filled with steep climbs and knee-trashing downhills. We walked through mountain villages, past shrines, parades of clanging animals and children playing like mountain goats on the slopes. We spun prayer wheels and stacked rocks at a river's edge. We saw sheep, goats, water buffalo, and langur monkeys. We marvelled at forests of blooming red and pink Rhododendron trees. Every day, despite it being about a month before the monsoon season, we got drenched. And there was Lilah, ahead of me, singing "Rishom Piriri" with Nisa and Danu, chatting with some Aussies we met along the way, and stopping to pet every stray dog she saw.
The rain obscured many of the views we'd hoped to see. One day, we began hiking at 4:45 a.m. to catch the sunrise from Poon Hill, (3,210 metres) only to have the view completely socked in. But, to be honest, it wasn't really a big deal. It was amazing to see the high peaks poking through clouds a few times, but we were in Nepal for the adventure, the culture, the people, and the experience of exploring a world away from the comforts of home.
Despite not getting the best mountain views, I'll never forget the towns of Hille, Ghorepani, Ulleri, Tadapani, Ghandruk, and the people we met on our journey.