The violent thunderstorms, fierce downpours, and thick mist during Nepal’s monsoon season bring the Himalayan nation a brief respite from the droves of trekkers who come to conquer its peaks throughout the year. As if the weather wasn’t reason enough, the haze obscures all but a trace of the spectacular mountain views so most popular trails are practically empty from June to August.
Of course, this happened to be when I was traveling to Nepal to visit my dad working there. I really wanted to make the most of my trip and experience a Nepali trek, and being Scottish I was (naively) undeterred by the rain. My boyfriend Callum and I, accompanied by a local guide, set off on a 3-day trek through Shivapuri National Park in the Kathmandu Valley and into the monsoons.
The ‘moderately difficult’ trek began with a gruelling 1,000m climb up Shivapuri itself. It was more than moderately difficult, it was a relentlessly steep trail. The Rough Guide calls it a “masochistic ascent route.” Our guide stormed ahead while we wheezed several metres below, our lungs clogged by a week’s exposure to the harsh pollution of the streets of Kathmandu. (On our return to the capital we made like the locals and bought surgical masks!)
When we eventually reached the peak (after our ‘guide’ had taken TWO wrong turns), we were 2,700m above sea level – almost twice as high as the highest peak in Scotland. We were met by a stunning panorama of, well, mist. Our reward. As promised, a thick fog hung low in the air, concealing what I’m sure was a cracking view of the valley from its second-highest point.
The rains came that afternoon in apocalyptic fashion. The trail became a river, and leeches fell from the trees and attached themselves to every exposed part of our bodies. Yes, even our faces. Having lost a little faith in our guide’s skills; we couldn’t have been more relieved when we finally arrived at Chisapani village, little more than a few lodges perched on a cliff that, with the mist, looked like the end of the earth. As we were the only people staying in the village that night, we were treated like part of the family. The wonderful innkeeper picked leeches off our legs and bundled us up in blankets in her kitchen while she cooked dinner for us and her children.
The weather improved dramatically the following days, as did the route. Instead of a steep climb, we were meandering gently through villages on the hillside. Although there were no mountains to be seen, the idyllic views of green rolling hills, crops growing on terraces, and traditional Nepali homes were almost as beautiful. We didn’t meet any other foreign trekkers at all, so it felt like we were really going off the beaten track – not to mention that when Callum ordered chicken fried rice in our lodge on the second night, the waiter ran outside and came back a few minutes later with a whole chicken, feathers and all! Saying that, though, the presence of past trekkers could be found in the local children who came out to greet us in the only English they know: “Hello miss, give me chocolate please!”
Our low expectations were greatly exceeded, and despite the slight hitches, we had a fantastic trip. There may be disadvantages to travelling out of season (there’s usually a good reason for the peak season), but what you can be sure of is a more personal experience, with a touch of exclusivity – it’s not only royals who can get a whole hotel to themselves!
Photo credit: Katie O’Donnell