Louisa Thompson tells us about leading an adventurous Escorted Tour to Nepal in October 2022…

This was my second time leading an Escorted Tour, my first being the ‘Kerala Backwaters’trip back in March 2020. That unimaginable time when the pandemic struck, and we were stranded for the last three days of our itinerary. With flights cancelling and the world closing around us, I was prepared for these eventualities to happen again. Luckily, they didn’t!

Although it’s fantastic to see tourists flocking to Asia once again, it’s clear that the effects of COVID-19 have taken their toll. Not just in the East but worldwide. There is still a staffing shortage, and it will take a few years to get back to normal. One of our safari guides in Chitwan National Park apologised profusely for his lack of proficient English. He said that without tourists, he hadn’t been able to practice speaking the language. This was sad to hear, as he was trying so hard to educate us on the surrounding area but struggling with the words.

When you think of an Escorted Tour, what might spring to mind is a slow, steady holiday for the aged. Well, this trip proved the opposite entirely. We were all up at six every morning, whether it was to catch a glimpse of the sunrise, take a jeep safari or go walking through the Annapurna foothills. I mean, I was exhausted! They were an adventurous lot, with nine of my 14 clients choosing to paraglide from the top of Sarangkot in Pokhara!

From the very first day, after collecting the group from the airport, there was no time to waste. Although we had an independent afternoon, the group didn’t want to just sit around the hotel. There was too much exploring to be done. First stop, Pashupati, the crematorium. Not the first place I’d choose, but it’s regarded as one of the holiest places in Nepal and a UNESCO World Heritage Site where Hindus bring their loved ones to be cremated. Cremations happen in plain sight; it’s pretty eye-opening, but there’s a sense of peacefulness surrounding the area. It’s one that I don’t think anyone will forget. 

In the days that followed, we explored the wondrous Kathmandu Valley, a place rich in bloodthirsty history, tales and colour. You could spend weeks here getting lost in the little alleyways, completely engrossed by the culture and the beautiful buildings, all intricately carved by hand. If only we had more time. 

The weather can turn in an instant in Nepal. It’s said that if a flight departs within 24 hours of the original time, it’s on time. If it goes after 24 hours, it’s considered late. It was a little disconcerting having this in the back of my mind as I rallied the troops for our three internal flights! Luckily, we only got delayed for about two hours on one of our flights, while the other two were pretty much on time. Phew!

It’s never dull when you’re out on safari searching for animals deep in the dense undergrowth of Chitwan National Park. Unfortunately, you can’t just click a button and see every animal you’ve seen in the brochure. Its nature and sightings really are down to luck. But just when you start to feel a little deflated, keeping your eyes wide open for any movement, nature takes you by complete surprise. Up ahead on the path, a rhino with her calf stares directly towards the jeep. It’s one of those truly heart-stopping moments. 

One client on the trip hadn’t travelled for nearly 30 years, and getting their take on Nepal was really refreshing. We can all tend to get slightly jaded with things we’ve seen so many times. We switch off when we have a long journey ahead and don’t necessarily absorb our surroundings. Seeing Nepal through his eyes was uplifting. The tiniest things interested him. After stopping the jeep to get a closer look at everything from cobwebs to termite mounds, I think we all began to appreciate the littlest things again. 

The parts of a trip I love the most are often the spontaneous ones. Having some free time to walk through local villages is always fulfilling, meeting families and little people who are so excited to show you around their homes and mainly to practice their English. A couple of us were invited into a school and asked to teach a lesson – a slightly daunting prospect for me as I was never great at school! After catching a glimpse of what they were studying (velocity and kinetic energy, which went completely over my head), I decided to teach these astute five-year-olds their nine times tables on my fingers. Although I messed it up initially, this went down a treat, and they were happy. The other client, however, decided to delve deep into the British Monarchy. He spoke about the execution of King Charles I in the 1600s, saying that he hoped the same fate didn’t befall Charles III. I’m not sure either lesson was of any benefit to the children, and I’m not entirely sure whether the teachers were glad we’d come or not!

Staying at Tiger Mountain Lodge in Pokhara was incredibly special, especially waking up to the razor-sharp Machapuchare (Fishtail) and Annapurna Mountain Range. Even if the clouds draw in and cover this impressive landscape, it simply adds to its beauty, with hints of the sun reflecting off the peaks. We were told we had to be careful returning to our bedrooms at night because there had been sightings of two mating leopards patrolling the area in the last couple of days. As you can imagine, some in the group claimed they’d seen these inconspicuous animals on their way to breakfast. Whether figments of the imagination or not, it all added to the excitement. 

I’ve completely and utterly fallen in love with Nepal. Not just the country itself but the people too. If you’re ready for an adventure, are happy to go with the flow and don’t mind the early mornings, it could be just the trip for you!