My interest in Nepal was spurred over 40 years ago by my grade five social studies teacher.
I fell in love with Nepal when Mrs. McLandress enchanted us with heroic tales of Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary summiting Mount Everest. The mountain looked so remote, and so beautiful, and I couldn’t get enough of the story of their climb. (I’m still fascinated by tales of mountaineering; both Into Thin Air and Touching the Void kept me up reading all night.)
So Nepal became an almost-mythical destination for me.
But I’m not a mountain climber!
There was only one problem with this dream – I’m not a mountaineer. I’m healthy, and my regular Pilates classes and walks keep me in decent shape. But mountain climbing is totally outside my area of expertise, and I wasn’t interested in taking it up as a new hobby.
The practical details didn’t keep me from reading everything I could about visiting Nepal, including Intrepid’s website.
That’s when I noticed that they offer 32 itineraries in Nepal. Many involve trekking, of course, like the Everest Base Camp treks (rated 5-star difficult), or the nearly-as-challenging Annapurna circuit. The truly fearless can hike both in one trip.
Then I saw their Classic Nepal trip. There were no strenuous treks at altitude, but between canoeing in Chitwan National Park, full-on cultural immersion and jungle resort stays, it offered plenty of adventure.
Because here’s the thing: I may not want to hike eight-hour days at altitude, but I’m not ready to give up adventure travel. I spent much of my 30s and 40s enjoying “soft adventure” journeys. I’ve walked through moonscapes in the Atacama desert and hiked in the Atlas Mountains. I’ve snorkeled at the Great Barrier Reef and gone sea kayaking in Belize. I’m in my 50s now, but I’m no more interested in a beach holiday than I’ve ever been.
And so I booked my trip to Nepal.
From the beginning, I knew the highlight would be the scenic flight by Mount Everest. On our first day in Kathmandu, our group boarded a 16-seater plane. We soared into the air and peered out the windows as we approached the Himalayas, identifying each mountain by a chart the flight attendant had passed out. At last we approached Everest, that mythical mountain that I’d imagined in grade five, and read about as an adult. Even from a distance was it imperial and remote. It seemed impossible that I was seeing it in person.
And don’t just take my word for how impressive it was – on our way back to Kathmandu, I visited the cockpit to speak to the copilot. “Do you ever get tired of seeing Mount Everest?” I asked. He smiled. “Never,” he said.
That was day one. How could the rest of the trip live up to that?
Luckily, Nepal is a country full of highlights, and every day brought completely new experiences. In Pokhara, we took a beautiful sundown walk around Lake Phewa, and in Bandipur we explored a mountain village that only recently became accessible to outsiders.
At Chitwan, we stood a few feet away from a hungry Greater One-Horned Rhino, and were amazed by the number of crocodiles basking in the Rapti river. At night, we watched members of the Tharu ethnic group perform a traditional stick dance.
Bhaktapur, a UNESCO World Heritage site and former kingdom of the Kathmandu Valley, is crammed with architectural marvels – and we were wakened early (oh, so early!) by devout villagers ringing bells in Taumadhi Square.
The trip seemed long in the best possible way. Every day was so jam-packed with new sights, sounds and flavours, it seemed like three. (Don’t overlook those flavours! My trip became a quest to find the best momos – plump Nepali dumplings, often stuffed with spiced ground chicken and dipped in a savory chutney sauce.)
And as thrilling as the scenic flight by Mount Everest was, I was even more dazzled by the helicopter trip to Annapurna Base Camp. I wouldn’t have believed the contrast between the snow-covered peaks and the impossibly blue sky if I hadn’t been there myself. With fewer than a dozen travellers, it was easy to find a secluded spot and savour its sacred beauty in silence.
Making new friends
Before I left, I wondered how I’d feel about travelling with a group of people I didn’t know. As a solo traveller, would I feel part of the group? And what would their travel styles be?
I needn’t have worried. There were just seven tour members, and travelling solo wasn’t a problem, as five of us were on our own. I realized early on that the people who sign up for Intrepid journeys are, by definition, people who want to explore and enjoy the world. They were fun and friendly, and definitely open to meeting others. By day one we already had jokes that no one outside the group could possibly understand.
I loved getting to know my travel mates. Flavia is a professional photographer, and I spent an afternoon exploring Bandipur with her, watching as she took photos and learning how I might take my photography to the next level. In a town so picturesque, there were plenty of subjects, but I especially loved the small sewing nooks set into sides of buildings, where villagers sat outside to sew goods for sale.
Another evening, Steph, Mary and I took a night rickshaw tour of Kathmandu. We lit candles at the Kaal Bhairav temple in Durbar Square and posed by the Basantapur Temple under a full moon. Durbar Square is lovely any time of day, but is especially evocative in the dark, accompanied by new friends.
And the trip wouldn’t have been as special without our wonderful leader, Satya. His English skills were perfect, and his knowledge of and love for his country were obvious. Even more impressive, he had an instinctive read on the group, and seemed to know what we needed even before we did.
Adventure travel for the over 50s
I loved my time in Nepal – it was the most satisfying answer possible to a fifth grader’s daydreams of exploring the world. I’m already poring over Intrepid’s website, dreaming about the next holiday I might take.
This trip reminded me of something my husband and I have always said – travel when you can, because you never know when your health might stop you. And we’ve tried to take full advantage of that premise over the years.
But my trip to Nepal also made me realize I can keep travelling the way I love for as long as I’m able.
And I will!
(Image credits from top to bottom: Beth Pollock, Intrepid Travel x2, Beth Pollock x6.)