By Dana Hansen
To round off a year that has already been full of some pretty fantastic cycling adventures, Morten and I topped it all off with an epic cycling vacation in Nepal. We went with a company called redspokes, based in the UK. Check out their website and you will find many interesting destinations. Be warned – hide your credit card first – all of their offerings look pretty cool!
Our Adventure Began
Once we arrived in Nepal, a local guide named Ox (photo below) took over. He has led this tour for many years and has done an amazing job of designing the entire itinerary. Our route led us through a surprising diversity in landscape, climate and terrain. We started in Khatmandu, where we met up with four additional participants. Then we picked up our rental bikes (hard-tail Trek mountain bikes) and began our journey southwest, towards the border to India.
Our arrival in Nepal corresponded with a religious festival called Dashain. Unfortunately for my sensitive vegetarian eyes, the gods must be appeased during this time and many animals are sacrificed. This often occurs in public – out on the street or in town squares and temples. On the positive side, it also meant that people were blessing their vehicles for safe journeys and out on the road we met many cars, busses, motorcycles and tractors decorated festively with brightly coloured ribbons and strings of flowers.
On day two of our journey, we received a ceremonial blessing by an elder and were adorned with a thick red tika made of rice, yogurt and vermillion. Almost everyone we met out on the street wore the same gooey red dot that day and we proudly displayed ours until the sweat drove it off our foreheads.
After a few days of riding, we arrived in Chitwan National Park, where we stayed in a luxury suite and spent our first rest day enjoying an elephant safari, a crocodile-viewing canoe trip and some poolside R & R. Feeling rejuvenated, we cycled towards Pokhara, which is closer to the Himalayas and provides a starting point for many trekkers. This is where the most magical part of our journey started.
Some Air Travel
From Pokhara, we boarded a tiny 10-seater twin prop plane for a quick flight to the mountain village of Jomsom. Morten and I sat right behind the cockpit, kept a close eye on the pilots and watched the impressive mountain peaks get closer and closer. Our bikes had been transported the 150 km by van overnight. What took us just 25 minutes by plane took a whopping 10 hours for the bike transport by vehicle, thanks to the dismal state of the highway. We landed at 2800m and the day’s agenda called for a nice hill climb (photo below) up to the temple at Muktinath, located at 3800m.That night we stayed in a cozy tea house in a small village with a medieval feel, complete with a maze of narrow cobbled streets that we shared with herds of livestock being led through town.
Our time on the roads of Nepal gave us a true appreciation for the infrastructure that we are lucky to have in a country like Canada. Although we kept to trails and quiet dirt roads as much as possible, we also found ourselves on busier thoroughfares. Sometimes these were paved roads, but the pavement would suddenly turn into rubble for several hundred meters. Other major roads were unpaved and challenging to navigate even on a mountain bike – sand, calf-deep water, mud, rocks, goats, lumbering busses – these all became the norm. In fact, by the end of our 15 day trip with 10 days of riding, we had completely destroyed the drivetrain on our rental bikes! The conditions, combined with the difficulty in ensuring regular cleanings, were super tough. Something as simple as a $20 MEC chain cleaning device simply isn’t available in Nepal.
Usually it took us the better part of the day to make it to our destination, but instead of feeling like a long slog, it was a day full of stops to admire the scenery, refuel or visit temples and monasteries along the way. We were well fed throughout, pausing frequently at the support vehicle or at roadside shacks to sip on fresh ginger tea and devour Nepalese donuts or a round of fried noodles. Riding though the rural areas, small children would literally be hanging out of windows, enthusiastically waving and yelling Hi or Namaste (hello greeting in Nepal) as we rolled by. It was easy to feel like a bit of a celebrity – albeit a very sweaty and dirty one!
At the end of the trip, it was with some sadness that we parked the bikes (destined for donation to a local school) and returned to Khatmandu for our flight home. This was our first tour with redspokes, but will most certainly not be our last. Each cycling adventure we go on convinces us more and more that the ideal way to explore the world is on two wheels!
Thank you so much Dana & Morten for sharing the details of your cycling holiday. You can read about their PEI cycling trip in this post.