Before I could devote myself to spending time on Nepal’s mountain expeditions I wanted to take out some time to see more of this incredible country and experience it in a much more personal way. Being able to travel by a motorbike seemed ideal, thereby allowing us to stop anywhere and anytime enabling us to engage with the local people rather than simply traveling from hotel to sightseeing attractions and getting back.
After a few raucous evenings testing out the bars of Thamel in Kathmandu city including our fair share of 4 raksi, a local rice-based moonshine, we were introduced to our trusty Royal Enfield bikes. These motorbikes were nothing in short of brilliance for two weeks accepting everything we threw at them and they never broke down.
The trip was split into three sections –
(1) Kathmandu to Pokhara, (2) Pokhara to Muktinath and back (3) Pokhara to Chitwan to Kathmandu- Kathmandu to Pokhara
After a crazy first half hour trying to negotiate our way out of central Kathmandu (a baptism of fire if there ever was one), it was very nice for the first few days of riding along the road from Kathmandu to Pokhara. After we had covered half the way, we spent the night in Bandipur, a beautiful hillside village. We reached Pokhara during lunch time on the second day. Pokhara is an incredible place and also a little lakeside town which offers paragliding, sailing, mountain biking, and hiking; and all are set in the most beautiful stretch of the Annapurna Massif stretching into the heavens around you and the incredible Machapuchare (Fishtail Mountain) and it gives a feeling that you can touch it.
These first few days were great for getting to know how the bikes were to be handled and most importantly understanding the way road traffic works in Nepal. Personally I really enjoyed the ride as there were very less crossroads, roundabouts, or traffic lights and there’s absolutely no road rage. Everyone keeps an eye out for everyone else and are very accommodating. On the other hand, road traffic rules are very rarely adhered to. I lost count of the number of times I went around a blind corner to see two buses coming towards me, one on each side of the road. Then there’s the animals to contend with – regularly there’d be cows, goats or chickens wandering across the road, totally oblivious to the traffic flying past them and seemingly with no one looking after them. Or so I thought, until just outside Pokhara when a chicken ran headfirst into my front tire. I was then chased down the road by a local demanding 500 rupees for his deceased bird.
(2) Pokhara to Muktinath and back
After crossing Pokhara was where the ride got interesting. About 100km in and we were off the main roads and onto dirt tracks. This meant that it got much harder and the days got longer. On the other hand, the scenery really stepped up a notch. We were now riding on part of the Annapurna Circuit, a popular three week hike taking you around much of the Annapurna Massif and the views were stunning with giant mountains looming over us and the epic Mustang Valley stretching away in front of us.
After coming off the main roads at Beni, we rode through incredible little villages like Tatopani with its hot springs, Jomson with its crazy little air strip and the cobbled streets of Marpha, famous for its Apple Brandy. Staying in different tea houses each night gave us the opportunity to experience the subtle variations on the staple Nepalese dish of dhal bhat. This simple but delicious meal is usually served on a large tray consisting of a bowl of lentils and then any assortment of meat, vegetables, potatoes (cooked in spicy sauces), pickles, chillies, some sliced vegetables and a poppadum, all placed in little piles around a central mound of rice. It’s then down to each person how they wish to eat it – all mixed up, bit-by-bit, with cutlery, with hands and of course how many portions you want. Usually this will depend on how tough your day has been, and how tough the next day is going to be, allowing you to adhere to the Nepali mantra of “Dhal Bhat power, 24 hours”.
Our final destination, and turnaround point was the Muktinath Temple at just over 3,700 metres where we ran through the 108 holy water springs, had a yak burger at hotel Bob Marley and set off back down the valley – a surreal 2 hours! After three days of tough riding up the dirt tracks to Muktinath, we were looking forward to the descent but another two arguably harder days, riding down ensured that we were very happy bikers when we reached the relative smoothness of the main roads between Beni and Pokhara and then celebrated in style on arriving back into Pokhara that evening.
(3) Pokhara to Chitwan to Kathmandu
The final leg of the trip was down to the jungles of Chitwan National Park for an elephant safari and the chance for some tiger sightings. A couple of stops along the way included a night in Lumbini, the birthplace of Buddha – a very spiritual place and definitely a place worth visiting if you have any interest in the history of the Buddhist tradition.
On finally arriving into Chitwan, it was a real geographical contrast to where we’d been the previous week with very little undulation in the terrain, and lots of jungle – quite the opposite to the barren and mountainous Mustang Valley. Personally I found the whole experience quite underwhelming – I was not a fan at all of the elephant safaris and would certainly have preferred to have been in a jeep for the experience. Elephants also have a bit of a shortcoming when trying to locate tigers in that they move very very slowly and make a lot of noise in stark contrast to a tiger; so we were really at the whim of whether a tiger wanted us to see them as opposed to us tracking them down. Needless to say, we did not see one!
After a couple of days in Chitwan we headed back to Kathmandu for some souvenir-shopping and a few more raksi in the local bars before heading back to the UK.
I would like to say that this was a trip of a lifetime but rather than leaving with a feeling of “job done”, all I felt was excited about the opportunity to come back again. If I was to give anyone advice on a similar trip, I would potentially drop the Chitwan part of the itinerary and spend more time doing day rides from Kathmandu out east towards Dhulikhel and Namo Buddha, and the same from Pokhara to the World Peace Stupa, Charangkot or even lengthen the off-road section and venture further up the Mustang Valley. For me though, next time I’ll be heading out from Kathmandu up and over the Nepal/Tibet border to Lhasa and then on to Rongbuk, a few kilometres short of the Everest north side Base Camp – can’t wait!
Kathmandu to Bandipur
Bandipur to Pokhara
Pokhara to Tatopani
Tatopani to Kagbeni
Kagbeni to Muktinath to Jomsom
Jomsom to Tatopani (via Marpha and Kalopani)
Tatopani to Pokhara
Pokhara to Tansen
Tansen to Lumbini
Lumbini to Chitwan
Chitwan to Kathmandu
TOTAL DISTANCE: 1,155 KM