x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Boy, 7, tackles Himalayas with mum

Seven-year-old Hassan Hamza from Dubai confronts his fear of heights and goes hiking in the Himalayas

Real lessons in life: Hassan Hamza, 7, and his mother Hala Kazim hiked for nearly 70km on a Himalayan mountain track. Courtesy Mekh Paijai
Real lessons in life: Hassan Hamza, 7, and his mother Hala Kazim hiked for nearly 70km on a Himalayan mountain track. Courtesy Mekh Paijai

DUBAI //As Hassan Hamza crawled under the covers of his bed in the wooden cabin, every square inch of his skin shivered.

"There was no heater and the water was ice cold," says Hassan, 7, of the lodgings he shared with his mother. "We'd have to wear layers of clothes and cuddle in order to keep each other warm."

While other boys his age spent last spring playing video games or hanging out at shopping centres, the young Emirati was hiking along a mountain trail in the Himalayas.

The trip was the Dubai youngster's first walking holiday abroad. With the encouragement of his mother, Hala Kazim, he covered nearly 70 kilometres over five days in Annapurna, north-central Nepal.

And the back-to-basics lifestyle only added to the adventure.

"Everything was different," Hassan says. "They would milk the cow, boil the milk and drink it straight away. It was like living during the olden days. It's not like Dubai or London, where everything is developed."

Throughout the arduous trek, he would stop to slip-slide down streams where he encountered cows, donkeys, goats and chickens.

He played with local children and talked to villagers who live on the mountain range.

"They would know little or no English, so I'd have to communicate with them using sign language," Hassan says.

Hiking for nearly six hours a day, he says the trip tested his willpower. But he was determined to finish the walk.

To refuel, he and his mother took half-hour breaks along the edge of the mountain where they would enjoy a hot cup of tea.

"I did get tired and it was exhausting, but it was all worth it," Hassan says. "I can't wait to do it again alone when I'm older."

But as he walked higher up the mountain, his fear of heights kicked in. He says at moments like that he would recall the words of his father, quoting the title of a self-help book by Susan Jeffers.

"Feel the fear and do it anyway," Hassan says. "So that's what I would do, I'd feel the fear at that moment but then continue the climb anyway. It's nature, so there's nothing to be afraid of."

Ms Kazim says she was impressed by her son's perseverance.

"Not once did he complain and he'd just push through it," she says.

As well as exercise and an opportunity for bonding time with her son, the trip taught Hassan important values, Ms Kazim says.

"It teaches you to do so much more than travel for the sake of it," she says.

"It teaches you to explore and allows you to interact with different cultures and people of other nationalities and be more open and accepting of the world. That kind of human contact is extremely powerful."

Ms Kazim, who works as a counsellor, says such trips take children out of their comfort zones.

"It makes them leave their leisurely life and forces them to see what a tough life truly is," Ms Kazim says.

But Hassan's adventures won't stop in the Himalayas. His next destination is Kenya.

"I love anything that is full of nature and has a strong history," he says. "I want to explore things, go into the jungle and see the animals."

Hassan says if he had to choose between his lifestyle and the life he experienced along the mountain range, the answer was simple.

"I would rather live like the people in the Himalayas," he says.

"There is so much to do, so much to explore, so much to learn from the world around us."

mismail@thenational.ae