CYCLING NEPAL – MOUNTAIN HOME STAY WHERE THERE ARE NO TOURISTS /29 NOV 2016 / KATHMANDU
The taxi carrying our Lead Cyclist (LC) was travelling through colourful Thamel slowly to avoid potholes as well as tourists doing their shopping. The taxi driver was skilful as tourists would jump in front of the car to avoid puddles of water on the street. The road condition in Thamel, where travellers have gathered for decades, has not changed much, but that has not stopped mountaineers, kayakers, pilgrims, cyclists and just about anyone from coming here. There are not many places out there that could rival Thamel for its atmosphere. You need to be here to feel it.
It was not long before the taxi made a turn into Z street. As the taxi was coming to a stop outside the hotel that our LC was going to put up for the night, he saw 6 brave Singaporeans standing in the chilly night. The 5 ladies and the only gentleman have signed up with No Head Wind Please (NHWP) to cycle a portion of Nepal that has not seen organized tourist groups. They were going to be trailblazers.
30 NOV 2016 / KATHMANDU – GORKHA BAZAAR
We had breakfast at the restaurant of the newly furnished Hotel Gallery before our LC assisted our 6 clients to choose a bicycle that would fit them well. A bicycle that fits well is important as that will affect how enjoyable one’s ride will be. The bikes were then loaded onto our 4WDs before we drove to Gorkha Bazaar. Getting out of Kathmandu was good, as the entire city seemed to be under construction. The Prithvi Highway was jammed by cars, trucks and buses and that prolonged our travelling time to Gorkha Bazaar.
1 DEC 2016 / GORJHA BAZAAR TO MANAKAMANA / CYCLING DISTNCE 3.9KM
It was a pleasant surprise when we visited the Gorakhnath Temple as there was a family who had arrived to seek blessing for their new born. Then there was a friendly sadhu who agreed without hesitation to pose for pictures together. What a bonus for us all. After the visit, we checked out of our hotel and our dedicated vehicles took us to a spot that was a distance away from Gorkha Bazaar to let us begin our very first riding day in Nepal.
Our LC checked the bikes of our clients again to make sure that everything was the way it should be. A briefing was conducted and the importance of braking gently was emphasized. The ride began or rather the push started. Many of our clients had not climbed slopes on a bike in recent time and it was not long before several had expressions that made our LC petrified. He was worried that the trip would end as fast as it had just started. He was also concerned that the cycling route NHWP had crafted out of nowhere with their Nepali counterpart was too challenging.
The struggle was however short-lived as the uphill was only 300meters and this challenge taught all of us to respect the mountains. For the remaining 3600meters trail riding, there were plenty of smiles and laughter as the road slowly descended all the way to a stream. Although going down required less effort than going up, it could be dangerous if one was not careful with braking. Our attentive LC knew this the painful way as he had fallen many times and hence he was always shouting out to our clients to work on the brake lever with 2 fingers. At the scenic stream, everyone was delighted to get our shoes wet as we did river crossing. Some of us even took sips from the river. The water was pure mountain water. It had been an exhilarating 3900meters ride and seeing the joy on everyone’s face and how fast all the cameras were clicking away made our LC more relaxed. He knew that the very first ride for the trip wasn’t a disaster.
The terrain had been challenging but our resilience had not been challenged. Today, everyone became a Himalaya mountain biker. At the stream, we got into our vehicles as the road would start to climb and climb to Manakamana.
Manakamana was good and we stayed at the picturesque Fulbari Resort. The resort sits at the edge of a cliff overlooking a valley of oranges. It was a good reward for everybody.
2 DEC 2016 / MANAKAMANA TO PHUJEL / CYCLING DISTANCE 10KM
We started the day early with breakfast before we wandered in the town that many Hindus consider as a very holy site. It was an experience seeing how the large crowd of locals went about with their religious activities. We then took over our bikes to begin our cycling day which was mostly downhill. After riding 10km of mountain trails where we had several photo-breaks, we came to a tiny village that sat on both sides of the trail.
As we were in a village that probably had not seen many tourists, our Nepali guides took over the kitchen of a tiny shop to start preparing our meal. Although it was instant noodles, we were happy with it as we did not come here expecting to have the comfort of Singapore. Our NHWP LC felt that it would be prudent to get to our host’s village 2 hours before dark and hence, after communicating the idea to our guests, we got into our jeeps.
Our LC remarked that it was really pleasant to serve these 6 clients as they were all so chin-chye.
Initially, we had planned to ride 20km but the well-being and comfort of our clients were our top priorities and hence our LC on the ground would change the itinerary when needed. We did get to Phujel before dark and the parents of our host presented each of us with a garland of flower to welcome us. We were the first organized group to arrive in Phujel in the Gorkha District of Nepal.
Our host promptly showed us to our rooms that were on the second floor of the mud-brick-wooden building. Getting up there was easy as there was a wooden staircase. The five ladies in the team had gracefully agreed to bunk into the same room. One of them was sleeping on the mud floor cushioned by a straw mat. They did look happy though as they smiled and giggled a lot during their stay. Our LC from NHWP was touched by how easy-going these 5 ladies were. The resilience demonstrated by these 5 lovely ladies made the job of our LC and our Nepali host easy. It was a joy serving them and we at NHWP have started to love them.
Food preparation took time in Phujel as many dishes were prepared from fresh material. For example, the chicken that we ate had to be slaughtered and its feather removed before it was roasted on a fire. Then further preparation was done to it. At the dining table, many of us exclaimed that the chicken served to us was the freshest they had tasted. It was worth the 2hours wait. That evening, the locals performed a cultural dance for us. There was a lot of dancing to local musical instruments and many of us were invited to join in. It was an eye-opener for many of us. The party lasted till 2am the following morning.
3 DEC 2016 / PHUJEL / CYCLING DISTANCE 0KM
We took the day easy and we used our dedicated vehicles to visit the local clinic and school. Being able to see the local facilities in rural Nepal put in perspective the standard of service and care that we all are so used to in Singapore. The condition of the local school allowed many of us to understand how fortunate the students are in Singapore. For the later part of the day we went to a scenic viewpoint and we later descended the hilltop by walking through the local village. It was educational as our local guides explained to us how we could tell the caste of the occupants by looking at the house. Along the way, we walked beside beautiful canola fields and chanced upon streams.
For dinner, we were again housed in the dining room that our host had specially created for our Singapore group. Our personal assistant for the trip, Mr Ganesh, was especially attentive and always made sure that we were given a hot drink whenever we needed one. He also made sure that those few of us who could consume alcohol were served home-brewed millet at the right junctures.
Our LC remarked that it was the first time he had tasted warm millet. The smoothness and fragrance of the warm alcoholic drink was unforgettable. It was fantastic.
4 DEC 2016 / PHUJEL – DHADING BESI / CYCLING DISTANCE 9KM
As we stood in the coolness of the early morning mist in 12-14 Deg Celsius, our hospitable and alert Ganesh was always quick to put a warm drink in our hands. It was magical that a simple warm drink would do so much to satisfy one’s soul. Perhaps it was because we were in rural Nepal, a place with no tourists and modern amenities. We said goodbye to our hosts after breakfast and we left in our jeeps to get to our start point. The terrain was mostly flat and we passed by villages. We got to our endpoint after 9km and that was the highlight of the day. From the elevated viewpoint, the scenic Budhi Gandaki river was raging hundreds of metres below our feet and the Ganesh Himal mountains towered with aloofness into the sky with its white peaks in the far horizon. It was a perfect spot for photos. From the viewpoint, we took our jeeps for the remaining distance to Dhading Besi.
5 DEC 2016 / DHADING BESI – KATHMANDU / CYCLING DISTANCE 18KM
Today was the first time we had good road for 18km. It was mostly downhill but the ride still took us about 2 hours. We had a lot of greenery during the ride on a road that occasionally had a few cars. For a certain portion, we had a river running beside us. The last bit was emotional as it would mean the end of cycling for the trip.
We jeeped back to Kathmandu shortly after. Many of us were going to fly back to Singapore the following day and hence we had a good combination of last minute sight-seeing and shopping followed by a good BBQ dinner.
Our attentive Ganesh helped us to bargain. Thank you Ganesh.
CLOSING REMARKS BY OUR LC
When the 6 of you came to us at NHWP, you were our clients.
Today, we are fellow Himalaya mountain bikers.
We will ride, where there are roads!
No Head Wind Please
10 Dec 2016