We need the valley to reach the top
I cycled in Nepal from the far western border with India. I passed the southern and ‘flat’ part to get into cycling again since I took a break after an intense cycling adventure in Ladakh. I had thick and humid fog for nine days straight. Turns out it was a 2000 km long ‘superfog’, the biggest ever recorded that stretched out from Pakistan to Sikkim in India. Every day I was cold, wet and I didn’t pitch my tent ones. I was lucky because I could afford the € 3 a night for guest houses along the way. But many people in Nepal can’t, they lead a tough life. What was I bitchin’ about? I felt embarrassed complaining about the weather, especially when I saw children working in these harsh circumstances. The look in their eyes. Hollow.
Besides the fog that had apparenty blurred my brain enough to see that all is relative, it was good to be back in Nepal. I love this country, been there many times. And this time they all seemed to like that crazy bicycle man and they all wanted to get a glimpse of him when he had his tea stops.
I cycled about 2000 km in Nepal and besides fog I had lots of clear skies. One of the best stretches to cycle in Nepal’s mountains, without having to go off road, is the B&P highway. Basically you go from Bardibas through Sindhuli all the way to Kathmandu. It’s about 330 km and the biggest part of the road has been built by the Japanese which made it – I guess – a high quality road. I believe it was a gift. A really nice one for cyclists.
This part I have been cycling with a girl from Holland as well. We have been cycling for a social project in the mountains. She ‘used me’ (luv it when they do) so she could discover this way of cycling and we both decided on making a cycling contribution for the project which is called Women for Woemn, a Dutch NGO in Nepal’s mountains.
As I like mountains it wasn’t too hard for me. I remember the last part of the Pokhara – Kathmandu road being much tougher. So if you ever cycle through Nepal make sure to take this road. For the rest, I let the pictures speak for themselves.
Besides the B&P highway there is another road. One I have hiked back in 2003, which can be done for a big part by bicycle now, it’s a classic.
After the fog when I got into the mountains he sun started shining. My energy level skyrocketed! In Pokhara, the starting hub for trekkings, I decided to cycle up to Muktinath in the Annapurna region of the Himalayas. Muktinath is a holy village that I visited hiking the Annapurna circle.
I didn’t know what to expect, all I knew it was off road after day 1. Could Purple Haze (that’s my bicycle) handle it? That was my biggest concern. Traveling light would be wise but I decided to go fully packed anyway so I could go wherever I wanted without having to go back to Pokhara. Maybe not the smartest choice but we world-cyclists get all claustrophobic when we give in on our freedom.
DAY 1 – DOGGY STYLE
The first day I cycled from Pokhara to Beni. With serious climbing on a mostly paved road I could do 85 km with a 12,1 km/h average. But on this stretch in a down hill I fell and pretty hard too. This f#ckin dog attacked me, I lost focus in a curve with small rocks where people were working and my front wheel slipped. Face down scratching my chin over the asphalt, an open knee, and pain in my palms. Fortunately my Ortliebs took the toughest blow which saved my bicycle (thanks for that). The scratches I can live with.
In an act of revenge I lost my cool and started chasing the dog. The adrenalines and dopamines had taken over. The village people, collectively working on the road, were looking at this cycling guy first falling on the concrete and then running after a dog. After some minutes I got back into reality. The village was staring at me, a woman gave me back my glasses that fell off when I was hovering over the asphalt, I got my shit together, gave the people a dumb smile that kinda told them how stupid I felt, and started cycling again. Didn’t feel any pain. Yet..
DAY 2 & 3 – HOT WATER
The next day I could feel it. My knee and wrists were painful but it was my back that took a serious blow. That day I cycled only for 32,1 km to Tatopani which means hot springs. I averaged 7,5 km/h on a road with heavy dust, mud, holes and countless rocks. In 32 km there were 3593 meters of climb and descent. Mostly climb. As a bonus a motorcycle bumped into me hitting my front right panier. No real harm done. That night I decided to spend an extra day at Tatopani. To just lay myself down in the hot water and let my body recover.
DAY 4 – JOMSOM
After Tatopani the plan was to reach Jomsom the next day. I boiled 10 eggs, bought a kilo of carrots, half a kilo tomatoes, a kilo of dried food, and I still had a loaf of dark brown multi seeds bread. I kinda knew I would need it. That perhaps I’d be hungry like a bear. End of the day there was no food left in my paniers. Good choice.
Cycling from Tatopani to Jomsom was only 55,3 km’s but it took me 11 hours out of which I pedalled and pushed the bike for 9 hours. I averaged 6,1 km/h. Steep up, steep down, mud trails, rocks, the works. A beautiful trail for jeeps and mountainbikes, not for fully packed road bikes. I arrived in Jomsom in the dark with countless stars to back me up. After arrival my eyes ere like marbles and stayed wide open for another 2 hours from the hormones and energy. I checked into a guest house where the price had gone up to €4,50. An easy choice at minus 15 celsius that night. But the best had yet to come because believe it or not they had a hot shower. I didn’t have much hot water the last 5 months but now I actually had a hot shower after this epic ride. Must have showered for half an hour. Sorry about that.
That night I ate the local dish of Nepal which is Dal Baht. They keep on giving rice and Dahl when you’ve finished your plate in Nepal, one of the reasons why I like it so much. Now, after today, with all the food I ate, these poor people from the guest house just had to keep coming over and over for more food. All cyclist have this but sometimes after a crazy day you’re just unstoppable. After indulging like a mad man I went to sleep. Stared at the ceiling with my eyes open still processing the adrenalines and dopamines. And then I fell asleep like a sweet cycling baby.
DAY 5 – RETURN TICKET MUKTINATH
The next day I cycled to Mutkinath. I cycled for 7 hours to do 50 km’s (that’s a return trip Jomsom – Muktinath). Also a tough day with strong winds and cold reaching 3800 meters but after the day before I was made of steel. And believe it or not, 16 km’s out of the 50 were paved. Some Chinese or Indian guy donated an 8 km stretch of asphalt. Smile on my face! Besides that, it was the most beautiful day in the Annapurna’s so far. Stunning nature and Tibetan culture.
DAY 6 – GRATEFUL
I absorbed all the energy of this beautiful trip going back to Pokhara on the same road. I decided to give my bicycle and myself some rest so with Purple Haze on a roof of a jeep I stared at a bumpy scenery for 10 hours being grateful.
I realised again that there’s always a reward in the end. You don’t even regret being fully packed or remember the pain you had going up. All that remains are the vibes. So if you ever think about cycling the mountains of Nepal then go for it. In the end the effort you put in only makes it better. Besides, without the dark, you can’t see the stars. So go there, and go all the way.