What happens when you go trekking in Nepal at the same time as Prince Harry? Well, we were definitely a step ahead of the adventurous royal as we touched down in the dreamy lakeside city of Pokhara in western Nepal. The 31-year-old royal was due to arrive any day, en route to a local Gurkha homestay.
Prince Harry visited Nepal in early April Photo: Getty Images
Although it was an official visit, it was also a personal trip for Harry, who had been inspired by the "bravery, courage… humility and kindness" of the Gurkhas – Nepalese soldiers – he met during service in Afganistan and he had made it clear he was hoping to eschew five-star hotels for an experience of ordinary Nepali life. We, like the Prince no doubt, were also inspired to see-first hand the resilience and beauty of a country still recovering from the devastating earthquakes that struck central Nepal last year.
Pokhara was still preparing for the royal's visit when we arrived, though there seemed some confusion over which Prince the were expecting. "Prince Charles!" cried a Tibetan street vendor. "He is doing homestay!" laughed his friend.
Trekking like Prince Harry meant that we also had a homestay with a Gurkha connection on our agenda. In fact, as we booked the eco-friendly Nepal Community Trek in the Dhaulagiri–Annapurna region, hopes of our paths crossing soared, not least because the trek was run by just the kind of people Harry was so eager to meet – members of the Gurkha-related 'Pun' ethnic group who established the trek in order to fund the development of education and health in their community.
We wandered along the shore of Pokhara's Phewa Lake, where a young boy helped row us through the mist to the foot of the World Peace Pagoda, a sparkling white Buddhist stupa which looks over the city, spreading serenity and good karma.
There seemed to be some confusion as to which royal was to visit, with at least one local exclaiming, "Prince Charles!" – Prince Harry's dad, seen here on his 1998 trip – when I asked Photo: Getty Images
One of 80 peace pagodas in the world, it is a focus for prayer and meditation which you walk around counter-clockwise in silence. One of it's main attractions is the stunning views it offers of the Annapurna mountains, Phewa Lake and Pokhara.
I could have spent a week, a month, years in Pokhara but it was our moment to go up in the world. Chitra Pun, the coordinator of the Nepal Community Trek, met us at the crack of dawn and took us off the beaten track to the small town of Galeshwor where we began our ascent through orange groves and remote farmsteads to our first homestay in a village called Banskharka.
A magnificent rhododendron forest on the other side of Nangi Photo: Heather Galloway
There, the sound of traffic is replaced by the bleats of goats, the shouts of children and the songs of the birds in the surrounding forest.
Like Prince Harry as he enjoyed the hospitality at his own local homestay, we also had a delicious home-cooked feast: fresh organic vegetables, steaming mounds of rice and sweet local oranges. After a spectacular sunset we retired to a basic but comfortable room that looked across the valley to the majestic 26,795ft Dhaulagiri 1 peak.
We made light work of the next day's six-hour trek to Nangi, skipping across the swinging bridges that spanned deep gorges and through villages that looked as though they hadn't changed in more than 200 years. We didn't mind that we hadn't bumped into any British royals, because we felt like kings ourselves as a bonfire was lit after dinner and we gazed up at the galaxy of stars in its glow.
A magnificent rhododendron forest on the other side of Nangi swept all thoughts of royal watching from our minds as it enveloped the scene in a great splash of color. The only other people sharing in this breathtaking beauty were local farmhands grazing their buffalo or villagers gathering dead wood in huge wicker baskets which they carried on their backs.
Prince Harry at a local homestay where he spent the night – ours was in a village called Banskharka where we feasted on fresh organic vegetables, steaming mounds of rice and sweet local oranges Photo: Getty Images
"The mountain is rising," our guide Prem Pun told us as we felt the immensity of Dhaulagiri 1 and Annapurna 1 – both over 26,250ft – bearing down on us at dawn from Mohare. Their sculpted peaks seemed so much closer and Prem's description was pure poetry.
Poetic, too, was our dip in the hot thermal pools at the foot of the impressive Nilgiri North (23,170ft) in the town of Tatopani. We were back on the tourist trail now but the soak was worth it.
So we didn't see Harry – but we did have a stay fit for a Prince! Photo: Getty Images
When Prince Harry was later to say of his own visit, "I have rarely in my life felt as welcomed as I have over the last few days," I couldn't have agreed more.
And as we massaged our weary limbs in the shadow of the mountain, we reflected that though we hadn't managed to say “Namaste!” to our favorite royal, we had enjoyed a trip fit for a Prince.
Heather Galloway (@heathernomadas) is a freelance journalist,
passionate traveler, co-founder of Nomadas Solidarios and former senior
writer for HELLO! magazine.