As I look around, soaking up the views and taking a really deep breath, it feels like I’m standing at the roof of the world and at the same time I’m only halfway. Biking the Himalayas can not be compared with anything I’ve ever done before. I’m constantly out of breath…and not just because of the lack of oxygen…
First of all, credit goes to my friend Eline who came up with this amazing idea; a mountain bike trip in Nepal! After a long travel day from Amsterdam to Kathmandu we continued the next day to Pokhara. Although we did this by jeep is was immediately clear that a MTB was the right choice in this country. The roads are in horrible condition and after 200 kilometres and eight hours of bumping around on the backseat we were wrecked!
In Pokhara our adventure really started. First we explored the surroundings of this easy going city that is a base for many trekkers who hike the popular Annapurna trail. Our legs had already done a lot of climbing after three days of biking and we were getting used to the gradient of the average road in Nepal.
From Pokhara we were supposed to fly to Jomsom, although it was not a done deal until we were actually on the plane. The unstable weather conditions meant we had to wait all morning to see if our plane would really leave. Once we were on the plane the next issue was if we would land (safely) as well. Anyway, I can just say that flying in a 15-person plane into the Himalayas is a once in a lifetime experience 😉
Jomsom is a town located at an altitude of about 2700m and the starting point of our seven-day trek. We would cycle trough the Mustang district, a big part of our ride was the same as the Annapurna trek. In Jomsom we fueled for the ride ahead with a plate of ‘Dal Bhat’ (a traditional Nepalese dish and more or less our main energy source in the coming week) and kit up. It’s just a short afternoon ride from Jomsom to Kagbeni, where we spent the night. We were immediately impressed by the landscape, it was so different! The temperature was very pleasant during the day, but we found out soon it gets pretty cold at night. Our gloves and beanies come in handy!
From Kagbeni we kept climbing until we got to Muktinath. Again, this was a short day of only 15 kilometres, but we did gain a 1000 meters of altitude. De views along the ride were breath-taking. On our left side on of the deepest canyons in the world, at our right a some of the highest mountain peaks. Mustang District is also known as ‘Tibet outside Tibet’ and the influence is very noticeable in the villages and monasteries we pass but also on our food (and the home-brewed apple cider that I can definitely recommend!).
Muktinath is located at approximately 3700 m at the foot of the Thorong La mountain pass. It’s a sacred place for both Hindus and Buddhists. After another cold night, we had some more climbing to do. We took the Lupra pass, which would be the highest point in our trip. The goat path that we rode was incredibly steep and although I didn’t suffer from any altitude sickness, I did suffer from the lack of oxygen in the air. It works almost like a natural breaking system on your body. Fearlessly I keep approaching all climbs, to find myself folded around my bars after a few hundred meters, gasping for air. Actually, it was for the best. This wasn’t an environment to ride hard or fast. This was just pure pleasure and enjoyment and therefor I needed to stop a lot and look around. The most striking to me was the idea that we were there, at an altitude of 4200 m, and we were looking at mountaintops that are twice as high. For example; the Dhaulagiri, the seventh highest mountain in the world! After this point, we dropped our saddles and started a loooong descent. Our guide knew the best single track trails, and for hours we found our way over ridges, rocks, suspension bridges and through rivers and canyons until we ultimately arrived in Marpha. We gained 600 meters and lost 1500 meters of altitude in one day and it was potentially the best day ever on the bike for me. The views, the altitude, the adrenaline!
From Marpha we rode the next days via Kalopani, Totopani and Sarangkot back to Pokhara. In a few days, the landscape changed from a desert-like appearance, to something that reminded me more of the Swiss Alps, to a tropical environment. Besides beautiful landscapes we met so many fun people. Trekkers from all over the world but also a lot of nice locals. The first time I felt some kind of disappointment was when we cycled back into the town of Pokhara. I did not want it to be over yet!
At least it was a comforting thought that we had some more time to spend and to explore other parts of this beautiful country. Which also didn’t disappoint.
Because we were new to vacation-biking we did not organize this trip totally by ourselves. We booked this trip through Pokhara Mountainbike Adventures, which is a local organization that offers some different packages. You can also do something totally customized. They’re super flexible and adjust the rides on your fitness and skills. Our guide, Santa was an amazing guy who knew where to find the best single tracks, taught us a lot about the country, and gave us a heads up when the drop-offs we’re a bit too much for our MTB-skills 😉