During the Dussehra holidays in 2017, my family consisting of my husband and two girls (then aged 8 and 11), headed out for a trek to Dzongri Top in Sikkim with 15 other friends. The trek was challenging, but we completed it successfully and came back with a bucketload of memories. We had gone expecting great views and a once-in-a-lifetime adventure. And we got that.
What I wasn’t expecting were the after-effects of the trek.
After the trek, I noticed subtle yet profound changes in my children.
I observed my older daughter becoming more resilient. While earlier, she was quick to give up when something got a little tough, I noticed her working through them, whether it was tricky Math problems or running 5 kilometers.
The other significant change I saw in her was from being competitive, she went to being collaborative. She recognized that we all had strengths and weaknesses, and working as a team was a joyful and immensely satisfying exercise.
My younger girl, who always had a very limited food palate, started adjusting to what was offered to her. And this has held her in good stead. She, now, adapts to different situations and people with ease.
Resilience, strength and ability to face difficulties and work together make for great life lessons to take back into their lives.Picture by – Vishnu Shivanandan
Early this year, we went on the Kuari Pass Trek, and I continued to observe these values strengthening my children.
I notice that it’s not just the outdoors. It is also the facilitation of the experience that has made a big difference, something I have observed keenly at Indiahikes. That’s what I’m going to dive into today.
Family Treks And How They Tie Into Our Vision
Our vision at Indiahikes has always been this – ‘Everyone must trek because trekking transforms lives.’
“When we say ‘Everyone must trek,’ it includes the youngest members of our families too. The best way to introduce them to the mountains is with their parents. The thought was that a family trek in the mountains would help parents and children bond more strongly. We also felt this was the best way to get connected more deeply with nature, where they have the opportunity to learn so many life lessons.
Which is why in January 2018, Izzat Yaganagi, the head of our Experiential Learning Programs (ELP), came up with the idea of Family Treks.
“We didn’t know if this would work at all. We just announced one group on our website. Much to our surprise, the group filled up within days! That’s how in May 2018, our first family group went on the Dayara Bugyal trek,” recalls Izzat.
And thus began the journey of our Family Treks! That same season, over 9 groups went to Dayara with families, all of them full!
With more parents looking to get their children out into nature and away from the regular sightseeing trips or resort holidays, the interest in our Family Treks has been more than encouraging.
A Bonding with father and child. Picture by Aditya
How our family treks differ from regular treks
1. In group composition
Let’s start from the basics – the people who make up the trekking group.
A regular trek consists primarily of adults, though we do have families join these groups with their children.
On the other hand, a Family Trek group comprises ONLY of families, i.e., either one or both parents trekking with their child/children or even grandparents accompanying their grandchildren.
“This allows families to connect naturally,” says Izzat.
Children who are between the age of 8 and 17 can join these treks with their parents. Teens aged between 13 and 17 can join this trek even without their parents.
While this is the general age range when parents start getting interested in exposing their children to such adventures, we’ve had younger kids join our Family Treks too. In fact, we’ve even had a 4-year old complete a Himalayan trek with his family!
2. In objectives and outcomes
Very early on, it was clear that the objectives of our Family Treks would be very different from our regular trek groups.
The objective, for our regular groups, is to create the space for our trekkers to be more in tune with their body, mind, and spirit, which would lead to a transformative experience.
On our Family Treks, we had to be sure to address the needs of not just the children but also those of the parents and the family unit as a whole. We also wanted children to experience nature with all their senses. This requires much higher facilitation skills, which our Trek Leaders have been trained in.
Children with Indiahikes Trekleader Aditya.
To that extent, after a lot of thought and discussions, we came up with three main objectives for our Family Treks –
i) Strengthening of family bonds
Aditya, who has led many family groups, reflects on this specific objective and says, “The bonds that families make on the treks are unparalleled. In the cities, it is completely different because parents are involved in their routine and kids are doing their own thing. But here, on a trek, they are together for the entire duration with no other distractions. And they are exposed to very out-of-comfort situations and activities. What the kids get to learn about the parents and vice versa is very different”
On a trek, parents see independence, decision making and the fact that kids can take care of themselves. Picture by – Vishnu Sivanandan
Swarada, who has gone on treks with her family and now leads Family Treks, adds to it. She says, “I am completely convinced about this goal because I have experienced it myself with my family. We faced challenges and hard situations together, and when we came back, our day-to-day problems seemed very small and easy to tackle. We were put out of our comfort zone, and we did something incredible. It’s wonderful to see a deeper understanding come about within a family on these treks. The kids start seeing their parents differently, and even the parents realize how much their kids are capable of.”
ii) Allow children to connect with nature in a more hands-on way
Izzat elaborates on how being in nature impacts children. She says, “The younger they are when they start trekking and get into nature, it’s much better for them mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. They connect to nature with their hearts. They instinctively feel stronger about protecting it.
The way kids get grounded, have that freedom of spirit, the calmness they acquire when they are out in the open and not enclosed within four walls is amazing to watch.
You see their true nature. When they are barefoot and climbing trees and falling and rolling in mud, looking at leaves, looking at clouds, staring at the night sky in wonderment, they come alive!”
The children hugging the trees and feeling connected with nature as if they were hugging their mother.Picture by – Vishnu Sivanandan
iii) Bringing latent qualities such as resilience, empathy, confidence, and creativity to the forefront
Izzat details out how a trek helps bring these qualities to the surface.
“A trek naturally creates opportunities to show kindness, to help each other, to look out for each other, to work as a team. Their minds open up, and the boundaries expand. They realize how vast the universe is, how tiny they are but still how they are a part of something much bigger. You hear a lot of ‘I wonder’ when they speak to you. It’s subtle. The kind of joy they experience out in the open, it’s rare to experience that in the city,” she says.
On the other hand, Trek Leader Ayushi talks about watching how the kids slowly start gaining confidence in themselves. “One thing that I always hear is if I can climb Dayara or Chandrashila, I can do anything! This is something that most of the kids express with deep emotion,” she says
And these changes are noticed by parents and much after the trek ends too!
“I hear a lot of stories from parents saying that their children are different after the trek. About how they are looking at life from a very different perspective, how they are more confident, be it in play or preparing for exams,” she adds.
3. In program design
Izzat, who spearheaded the entire program design with inputs from our trek leaders, talks about the process of designing an experiential program for families.
“We knew right away that we had to design the entire program differently. We had to make sure that the trek itself was not too difficult. The way we prepared the families for the trek needed to be different, and we had to create a plan that made the entire experience an enriching one for children and parents alike.
“When it comes to children, we had to think about how to engage the children, what kind of activities to include, and how to break up the day. We came up with a plan and got our trek leaders to try it out and give us feedback. We refined it further, and we noticed that it changed the way children behave in the mountains and changed the way parents and children interact with each other.”
i. Roles and responsibilities of children and parents
A big part of helping children discover their inner confidence and strength is giving them opportunities to contribute and lead and we do this by giving them different roles and responsibilities while trekking and at the campsites.
On family treks, apart from fitness, parents are encouraged to get their kids involved in the planning process which includes watching videos, studying maps together, packing gear together.
Izzat, who was part of the first few family treks, observes, “Kids love taking on responsibilities and being leaders. They rise to the occasion. You see that change in their body language. As soon as they are in charge, you will see even their posture changes. They are standing bolder, their chest sticking out, that sparkle in their eyes, their step is more sure. These are subtle changes, but they indicate an internal shift.”
ii. Activities on the trek
Both family and regular treks have trail and campsite activities that help trekkers connect more with nature and themselves. However, the attempt in our family groups is to introduce activities that involve all the senses and deepen family bonds.
Swarada explains how these activities are presented differently.
“A lot of activities remain the same. What differs is the way you facilitate them. E.g., we do tent pitching with regular groups and with family groups. But the impact on families while pitching a tent together is very different. It’s like building a home for yourself. And the family is going to stay together in that home. There is an emotional aspect to it with family groups, and the activity itself has more depth. For regular groups, it’s skill-based. It’s about building a shelter for yourself.
Our regular groups have a postcard writing activity where they write a letter to themselves, usually from the summit top. This is a very profound activity but something that kids might find tough to relate to. So we adapted it and told them to write a letter/poem to one of the natural elements. One of the kids wrote a poem about the mountains, and another child wrote a letter to a butterfly. It was beautiful.”
Trekkers having a trust activity. Picture by Ayushi
Aditya adds, “Hug a tree is part of both groups. In regular groups, we ask trekkers to do it individually. Here, we ask a parent and child to do it together. That adds a whole new dimension to the exercise.
We also do trust walks where one person, either the child or the adult, is blindfolded, and the other person has to guide them to a particular point. It helps improve their communication.”
Swarada and Aditya describe some of the other activities they have done with children on Family Treks.
“I have taken kids on night walks just to take out the fear of the dark from their minds. We asked everyone to turn off their night lamps and to look around and observe. We lay down at a clearing and looked at the stars. Once, I did bouldering with the kids. We make them climb trees. And it’s heartening to see how they encourage their parents,” says Swarada with a smile.
“In one of my family groups, I told the kids that we would make natural paints. There is something called lichen, which is a symbiotic relationship between a fungus and algae. It grows on trees and rocks. These lichens give out a ‘Mehendi wala’ color. I told the kids to collect as many lichens as they could. After lunch, the kids and I found flat stones, sat down, and ground them. We saw that the color was forming. The kids quickly made brushes out of twigs and leaves and started painting. Some of the kids were using their hands and fingers. It was so much fun. Later, one kid who was exploring the campsite found a charred tree and got pieces of it to use as charcoal and draw. You show kids one direction, and you never know how they take it forward,” recalls Aditya with childlike glee.
We see family treks as a tremendous experience that deeply impacts families. The family bond gets stronger, a new dynamic emerges with children taking on more responsibility, there is a deeper connect with nature, and children become more confident, resilient, empathetic, and filled with gratitude.
Find out more about how trekking transforms families here.
Reflections are an important element of all our treks. The whole idea of having reflections is to bring about a certain awareness of how we are feeling. In regular batch treks, the reflections are always with the entire group. In family batches, reflections are sometimes with the whole group, and at other times, with just the parents or the children.
Izzat explains why this is so.
“Parents have their fears and concerns, and they open up only when they are amongst other parents. The reflections for parents go deeper when they are by themselves.
Similarly, kids are a lot more themselves when parents are not around. When parents are around, children say different things, and when they are with other kids,” she elaborates.
Aditya adds, “With family groups, we use different tools to reflect. With kids, we make them draw or share a story. The Trek Memory booklet encourages children to think back on how they felt in creative ways.”
Children filling the Trek Memory Booklet.Picture by – Vishnu Sivanandan
“When adults come for a trek, they see the changes in themselves but on family treks, they observe the changes in each other.” – Ayushi, Trek Leader
4. Choice of trails and safety
Safety is a priority no matter what kind of a group is going out for a trek and the protocols followed remain the same.
However, what is different is the choice of trails. Trails are chosen keeping in mind the needs of families and young children.
“We only choose easy or easy-moderate trails because we don’t want to overwhelm families. We make sure that there is not much walking to do every day. This allows us to incorporate trail activities. We make sure our campsites are big enough so that we can introduce campsite activities and kids can explore the space on their own,” explains Izzat.
Prathima, our experience coordinator for Family Treks, goes into more detail. She says, “In all of the trails that we choose for our Family Treks, there is an inbuilt safety element. All of these treks, be it Dayara Bugya or Deorital Chandrashila, have easy exit points. This means that we can evacuate the child, the parent, or the family quickly in case of an emergency. Also, most of the trails we pick for Family Treks have at least some network coverage, so help is only a call away.”
The Green Trails warriors doing the segregation.Picture by – Vishnu Sivanandan
Best Time For A Family Trek
Prathima recommends autumn and summer months. She points out that temperatures will be moderate, and as a result, kids can be outdoors and take part in activities.
Swarada also recommends March and April as good months to experience snow.
Want to find out about our top Family Treks? Read 6 Best and Safest Himalayan Treks for children.
Our Family Trek Parents Reflect On Their Experiences
“Our son, Vidur, is so much more socially open. For my wife, it’s a newfound love for the mountains. She’s been wanting to go back ever since we returned from Raithal. For her, seeing shooting stars for the first time was an unforgettable experience.
A few days amidst nature makes us want to look at the more significant things in life more closely – time with family and friends, good health and just being happy and at peace with what we have. Summit day was special. Reminds one to never underestimate oneself.
By the end of the trek, we, as a family, were so thrilled that we shared these wonderful experiences together.”
“I felt connected to nature and did not, for a moment, miss my mobile, internet, or work emails! This experience has left us, as a family, wanting to do many more treks!
I think I have understood more about my children’s capabilities. My children now understand more about nature more and are also more conscious about other things like water wastage and garbage disposal.”
“For all of us, the biggest takeaway was an increased awareness about the environment, conserving water, and not throwing garbage in mountains.”
Our Little Ones Have Plenty To Say Too!!
“It was so cool because I found some skulls, a cow’s skull, a horse skull, mule skull. I even got to take back a tooth from a skull! There were lots of water streams, and we could drink water directly from them. I went on all fours and drank water from the streams.
One thing that all of us liked was that a dog came with us all the way from Raithal to the summit. We fed him chapathi and eggs and named him Salsa Raja.
Our Trek Leader, Aditya, gave us lots of activities to do and also explained things. We also had jobs to take care of. Being an Assistant Trek Leader was the most fun part because we had to tell everyone to wake up, do this, do that, and we even got to use the walkie-talkie! I love trekking because after you reach your destination, it means a lot! You’ve reached the top!”
Vidur, 8 years
“I am more determined now to save natural resources such as water. I always thought of this, but I’ve only started actually implementing it after the trek.
I would like to go back to this trek because of the challenging parts of it. I don’t generally take up challenges but that too has changed now.”
Inchara Jorapur, 14 yrs
“I learned a lot during the trip like keeping the environment clean by picking the garbage on the way, avoiding campfire which has a bad effect on the environment, making new friends, pitching tents. Aditya Sir showed me how to segregate the garbage and made me the Green Trail winner because I had picked a lot of garbage.
It was a fun, learning experience for me, and I will remember it forever.”
Nirvaan Sahoo, 8 years
“There were a couple of reasons for choosing Indiahikes. One was the fact that Indiahikes offered experiential learning hikes for families. This meant that we got time to meet other families with similar mindsets and the kids got to meet other kids of their age. We liked the concept of experiential learning, where kids learn something (and not everyone learns the same thing) through experiences.
After this, the other reason was that we looked at reviews, both online and talking to other hikers who knew Indiahikes, and we only saw positive reviews. We also saw that Indiahikes had a good safety record. Since we were going with kids, safety was of paramount importance. A couple of situations occurred during the hike, but the trek leader was well equipped to handle it and handled it with composure. ”
“It feels safe and easy trekking with India hikes. You take good care of us.”
“We had done a trek at the Sahyadris earlier and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. We were looking for an organization that we could trust and IH was one of the most recommended ones.”
If you’ve been on one of our family treks, what was your biggest takeaway? If you haven’t, what more would you like to know? Ask us… we are happy to help.
Picture by Vishnu.