Having returned from Nepal a few weeks ago, H+I Adventures director Catherine, tries to get her head around the experience to capture the essence of mountain biking in Nepal
Trying to capture the essence of mountain biking in Nepal
Mountain biking on the roof of the world. How easily it trips off the tongue, but the reality of actually riding your bike in Nepal is much, much more difficult to get your senses around.
It would be fair to say that the whole experience is overwhelming and one that you can’t fully process when you’re there, it’s just not possible. And I’m not just talking about mountain biking in Mustang, with the highest mountains in the world towering above you. From the very minute you land at Kathmandu airport your senses are assailed by myriad sounds, smells, sights and people.
Nepal, more than anywhere else I’ve travelled to, is truly a land of contrasts. As I stepped into the apparent disorganisation of Kathmandu airport, then into the chaos of the city itself, I’m also struck by a sense of being quite liberated. We’re so structured in the western world; we have so many rules, things you must do, things you mustn’t do; lines and lights and signals you must follow on the road… it’s all so restrictive! In Nepal, things are simpler. Everyone has right of way on the roads – especially the cows – and everyone takes their turn, with respect for other road users.
“…the whole experience is overwhelming and one that you can’t fully process when you’re there, it’s just not possible.”
Much more than just mountains
No, it’s not just the Himalayas that will blow your mind when you travel to Nepal, the feast for the senses starts long before that, perhaps with the transfer up to your first accommodation at Shivapuri Hill Cottage, when you’ll find yourself hiking the last 15 minutes or so, because your vehicle can’t make it up the monsoon-riven ruts in the steep incline that passes for a road. The welcome glass of home-made lemonade you’ll receive from your hosts when you make it up the last few steps, gasping for air, will be even more welcome than they know! You’ll then have the humbling realisation that, while you just managed to drag yourself up to the cottage, your local hosts have carried your bikes and all your luggage up that same, precipitous route… on their backs.
Once you’ve caught your breath you can take in the view over the city, which is nothing short of spectacular. Even if cities aren’t your thing, there’s no denying that this elevated view of Kathmandu and its surrounding ‘hills’ (not mountains, if there’s no snow on top, it’s not a mountain) is something to behold.
Whilst you all probably had the Himalayas in your sights when you booked the trip, the trails around the Kathmandu Valley are not to be underestimated. They’re fun and flowy, diverse and technical all at once, and over the three days you’ll start to feel like they are your local trails, as you ride up through forests and down past villages and along paddy fields, back to your hilltop accommodation. But, just as you get comfortable, it’s time to move onwards and upwards.
The two ‘halves’ of your Nepal adventure are punctuated with a stop in Pokhara, the party capital and gateway to the Himalayas. After saying a very early goodbye to your wonderful hosts at Shivapuri, you’ll board your first internal flight from Kathmandu to Pokhara, arriving somewhat dazed at your next hotel. From three days of working hard on the bike, tackling long climbs in the humid conditions of the Kathmandu Valley, you’ve now been transported to the serenity of the Temple Tree Hotel, complete with pool and spa. It would be rude not to take advantage of the facilities, and massages are booked all round, rejuvenating tired muscles, ready to take on the real mountains.
Another early morning flight the next day, this time, directly into the heart of the Himalayas. It has to be experienced to be believed, flying through – and not over – the valleys and mountains of the roof of the world. Absolutely breath-taking.
The essence of mountain biking in Nepal
When you arrive in Jomsom, if you’re not used to being at altitude, you’ll feel slightly disorientated as you wait for your luggage in the tiny arrivals hall of the airport; a sense that’s amplified as you then walk along the street, with cars, cows, mopeds, carts, horses… all vying for space and attention. As you reach your destination of the ‘Mountain Bike Base Camp’ hotel/restaurant, you’ll find your bikes ready and waiting for you, having travelled over two days on Nepal’s notoriously wild and dangerous roads, to get from Kathmandu to Jomsom, while you were relaxing at the pool in Pokhara! After a recuperating cup of Himalayan Java coffee, you’re ready to make your first turns of the pedal on Mustang trails – and what an introduction it is.
Riding out of the village, you’re quickly assailed by the vastness of the valley around you. Dry, dusty, ravaged by sunshine and wind, you’ll ride up a steep, loose road, then encounter your very first suspension bridge. This is it. You’re in it. All the dreaming and imaginings are actually happening! From this point onwards, it’s a roller-coaster of tough climbs – tougher than you feel they should be, but that’s altitude for you – tremendous descents; jaw-dropping landscapes; suspension bridges; fabulous riding through villages with the smiling faces of locals greeting you at every turn; dodging hens, ducks and cows; and rich, sometimes unexpected, cultural experiences.
“Dry, dusty, ravaged by sunshine and wind, you’ll ride up a steep, loose road, then encounter your very first suspension bridge.”
I won’t go into describing the Mustang experience in every detail, partly because it has to be lived to be believed, and partly because I don’t want to spoil it for you. This really is an adventure like no other, and one that you’ll enjoy reliving again and again, almost as much as the tour itself. Nepal has a way of getting under your skin, like an invisible tattoo. Your reminder of the time you spent riding your mountain bike through this exceptional, surprising, beguiling country. That’s the essence of mountain biking in Nepal!