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BHUTAN DISCOVERY 

Destined to follow in his parents’ adventurous footsteps, one teenager takes his first Himalayan trek.


WORDS and PHOTOS Aden Ciantar

I guess it was inevitable that my right of passage as a teenager would be different to most kids, seeing as my parents were the first people to trek the full length of the Himalayas. But the day my mother, Sorrel Wilby, said she was taking me trekking in Bhutan still came as a huge surprise.

Unfortunately (not!) the trip, with World Expeditions, fell during the school term, which meant a double serve of homework every night prior to leaving. We also had a strict physical training schedule to fit in, which comprised four two-hour walks every week along rough bush trails – so sleeping in and vegging out became virtually non-existent. It was boring at the time but it was all worth it. By the time I got to Bhutan I was super fit and super smart. LOL.

Our trek was timed to coincide with the Paro Festival, a spectacular three-day ceremony which gave me an insight into Bhutanese culture and Buddhism. I went crazy taking hundreds of photos of the dancers and even of the crowds. They had such colourful costumes and masks that I felt a bit under-dressed. Even the people in the crowd had their best clothes on which made me think about the enormous pride they had towards their country.

Finally, on the 28 March, we started the trek – a 10-day adventure walking from Drukgyel Dzong to Chomolhari base camp, across two high passes and back through the forest to Thimphu, the capital of Bhutan. There were 11 other people on the trip but I was the only teenager. That worked out OK for me because everyone was really kind and easy to talk to.

 

The first day trekking was not that great because we had to walk on a dusty road. But we did get up-close to some farms which was interesting… and we got to try out the dreaded toilet tent for the first time. This was, to put it nicely, not a five star experience – more of a one. It was just a hole in the ground with a fold-up toilet seat over it. Best avoided in the dark. The dinner tent on the other hand was more my style; big and warm and the food was great. Lots of rice, dahl, chicken, veggies, potatoes, tuna and even freshly baked cakes. Being a teenager, I always had seconds and sometimes thirds.

From day two on, the trek was tough. The higher we went the colder it got. I looked like the Michelin Man – needing to wear two jackets and two pairs of pants at night. But the scenery was amazing!

We were up so high that all the mountains had snow on them. Because we were above the clouds, the sky was perfect blue so I was taking postcard photos constantly. It snowed most nights so each day we would wake up to a beautiful frosty scene. Snow covered branches and frozen lakes were just the beginning of our beautiful morning views. One morning we even found snow leopard footprints in the snow not too far from camp.

Our two days at Chomolhari base camp were awesome! We had a rest day and we could either chill out or go for a trek up to see the glacier. I got to sleep for half the day and when I woke up from my ‘nana nap’ I played a game of long distance darts with some of the Bhutanese staff. They were really easy to get along with and it didn’t matter that I didn’t speak Bhutanese because games like this transcend the language barrier. So did magic, which is why I had brought along my deck of cards and a few other tricks to entertain the team!

 

 

Perhaps the most challenging part of the trek was going over the two high passes. It was -20 degrees going over the first pass and the snow (in places) was up to our knees. The second pass was just a bit higher – 4950m – but it gave me my favourite memory of the trip. It was like climbing up a giant marshmallow. It was such an awesome experience to be that high at only 14. I felt like the king of the world. The weather was beautiful and even though it was really cold, I felt amazing for achieving that goal.    

A lot of people can get sick at that altitude but everyone in our group handled it really well. We walked slowly, drank enough water and we mentally stayed on top of it. On other treks my mum has lead she has had to send people back down the mountain because they got sick from the altitude. Overall, nothing compared to the feeling we all had on the last day. When we saw the beginning of the road and that crate of ‘congratulations beer’ (I had Sprite) we were so proud of what we had achieved but also relieved.      

The trek was the hardest thing I have ever done but it was so great, I would do it all over again. After 10 days of trekking my pedometer read a total of 240,915 steps which, when you think about it, is an awful lot – especially when half of them were uphill!

FIVE STAR FACTS

Other World Expeditions family holiday treks:
Chile - Torres del Paine Explorer (Patagonia)
Japan - Backroads of Japan (Mt Fuji area)
Australia - Laranpinta Experience (Red Centre)
Europe - Mont Blanc Family Adventure 
Nepal - Everest Family Trek (Himalayas)


More Information:  
Bhutan Tourism Corporation www.kingdomofbhutan.com
Tourism Council of Bhutan www.tourism.gov.bt
World Expeditions www.worldexpeditions.com

MORE LUXURY TOURS FOR FAMILIES IN BHUTAN

Amulet Luxury Travel Bhutan
www.amuletbhutan.com

Amulet Luxury Travel Bhutan will ensure you have an entirely private, personalised family holiday. They will tailor all itineraries to suit the specific interests of travellers, making sure you encounter the highest quality experiences Bhutan has to offer. They offer packages that range from a three night Bhutan in Brief tour, to a twelve night Heart of Bhutan option, so you can browse basic itineraries and make a decision dependant on your intended length of stay.
Ampersand Travel
www.ampersandtravel.com

Ampersand Travel offers a variety of Bhutan tours, but our family recommendation would be their tailor-made Beyond the Sky journey. Over 11 nights, you and your family can experience the ultimate sites and sleeps of Paro, Punakha, Bumthang and Gangtey. Ampersand are sure to take into consideration the age and abilities of all participants, so you won’t get stuck in any tricky situations.
Aman Resort, Amankora
www.amanresorts.com/amankora

Luxurious Aman Resort in Amankora, Bhutan, offers their guests a range of luxury treks and tours into the wider surrounds, allowing a trustworthy encounter of culture outside resort confines. You’ll be accompanied by a guide, cook, assistant and at least one horseman, and you’ll arrive each night (depending how long your chosen trek is) at dining tents already warm and welcoming, brimming with delicious foods which you will have most certainly earned!
The Mountain Company
www.themountaincompany.co.uk

While The Mountain Company do offer a large number of set tours that coincide with Bhutan’s main festivals, their private, tailor-made expeditions are great for luxury-seeking families and can be arranged to match the travel dates that suit you. They are a smooth-running operation and will do all they can to help you experience the ultimate comforts and significant Bhutanese cultural elements possible.
Panoramic Journeys 
www.panoramicjourneys.com

Panoramic Journeys have a wealth of experience providing everything from adventure, honeymoon, luxury and family tours of Bhutan. Their tailor-made tour option will ensure that you can speak with them to organise an itinerary that is a perfect blend of culture, luxury and family-focused activities and encounters.

For Parents Only 

For parents that can negotiate some all-so-special solo time, Five Star Kids also recommends Bhutan tour and trek options with:

Abercrombie & Kent
www.abercrombiekent.co.uk

Wendy Wu Tours
www.wendywutours.com.au

AUTHOR BIO: 

Aden Ciantar (pictured here with mother, Sorrel Wilby) is a well-travelled teenager living on Norfolk Island. By the time he had his second birthday, Aden had already been on over 100 flights, not that he remembers many of them. He has had some awesome holidays with his family in Asia, Europe and the Pacific. He loves diving with turtles and fishing from his local pier.

My most memorable travelling moment as a child was when... "I accidentally went on a red run in the French Alps on my snowboard. I was just a beginner! Doh!"



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