Bicycle Network: Ride On magazine
Tony Olejnicki describes the thrill of bike trekking against the backdrop of some of the highest mountains in the world and the welcoming nature of people who still live as their ancestors did hundreds of years ago
Imagine flying to the scenic village of Jomsom at 2900m, trekking up 900m to the village of Muktinath, visiting ancient Tibetan Buddhist villages and monasteries while witnessing people still living a traditional life like their ancestors many hundreds years ago; and then finally the reward of a 2800m downhill ride.
For decades the Annapurna Circuit has been an incredible adventure destination for thousands of hard-core trekkers; however there is a big change on the way. The quaint village walking trail is being upgraded to a 4WD road, opening up a new range of possibilities for two-wheeled tourism and this is where the new Annapurna bike trekking concept dream begins. The road will provide improved quality of life to the local inhabitants and an exciting fresh way to experience this fascinating region of the world. Although some visitors pine for a more nostalgic era filled with rustic images of villagers carrying unbelievably huge heavy loads on their backs, the advantages for all who experience this place, herald its change as a positive.
Mountain bikers trekking Annapurna, will for the first time have access to a paradise beyond measure with the ability to explore this place and its wonders on two wheels, and the excitement of the possibilities has many hard core riders preparing for this epic trail with fervour. Nepal is renowned for limitless mountain biking opportunities and no other country offers as many trails and Jeep roads with low volume, slow traffic with various levels of technical grades. Bike-trekking is an exciting way of exploring mountain trails and is extremely popular in Europe, especially in the Italian and French Alps as well as the Pyrenees. Nepal is destined to become as popular, with its Buddhist based culture on the highlands and the connections to western climbers and tourists makes this Sherpa nation an ideal place for bike-trekking. Finally the gates are opening for high altitude mountain bike-trekking in this paradise for Annapurna Circuit Bike Trekking adventures.
I have just returned from one of the best bike trekking adventures in the world, riding with a cool group of very athletic Latvian bikers. The group consisted of 5 females and 3 males ranging in age from 30 yrs to a super fit 62 year old couple. I was amazed to witness this incredibly fit couple bike-trekking the Annapurna Circuit. As long as you’re fit for your age, crossing the 5450m Thorung La pass and riding down 4500m of one of worlds’ longest and most spectacular downhill rides, is now yours to experience.
Our adventure started with a spectacular private bus ride from Kathmandu to Besi Shishar, a small town gateway to Maryshiandi River valley. The road from Kathmandu is interesting follows the deep valley of Trishuli river, which originates in Tibet from melting glaciers of Shishapangma (8020m) and Chu Oyu (8200m). These mountains are only about 150km away but it takes a few hundred kilometres for the river to cut and meander through number of parallel ranges finding its way through natural gorges. This creates a paradise for extreme rafting through river gorges with steep walls towering more than 1000m above, reminiscent of an Indiana Jones adventure film. The road cuts into steep sides of the gorge and snakes its way up until it reached a point of a future tunnel, which will connect in few years with the road coming down from Manang valley. On this section of the trail we had to carry bikes up the hill on steep steps in true mountain bike cross-country ride style, but It was all worth it to witness the spectacular views of tremendous valleys, mighty Himalayan Rivers and awesome views of two 8000m massifs Annapurna (8090m) and Dhaulagiri (8167m). The two highlights of the trip for me were the amazingly beautiful lake Tilicho located at the elevation of 5000m with a 7000m Tlilicho peak and the tremendous 4500m downhill from 5450m Thorung La pass. It was mostly pushing the bike up to the pass for 1200m from Thorung Phiedi, the last village before the pass at 4200m. The reward of the downhill ride far out ways the hardship of trekking the bike to the top of the journey and it is a reward worth working for. This incredible back drop visual feast takes mountain bike-trekking to a new level of unparalleled experience. The excitement of riding down from the pass is unbelievable, with the first stage of 500m drop being fairly wide and protected allowing a very fast and wild ride, even for low skilled mountain bike rider.
The second 600m stage of the road was very technical and my personal skill was not good enough for fast downhill speeds, and though it was at a slower pace it was no less exciting. The final section down to the village of Muktinath was on the winding newly laid out road and the trail, a very hard-core section for the bike.
Our remaining three days took us downhill from Muktinath to Beni, a 2800m of elevation drop along mighty Kaki Gandaki River. The river roars down through the deepest valley in the world dividing two 8000m massifs of Annapurna and Dhaulagiri. The depth of the valley is as much as 6000m from the bottom of the valley to the summit of Dhaulagiri. On the way there is a Nepalese mountain bike training ground at Larjung, where the Nepalese Olympic mountain biking squad prepares for the London Olympics with support from a French mountain biking team.
Mukinath is the location of Hindu Temple of 108 water fountains and it has been a pilgrimage destination for both Hindu and Buddhist for over 500 years. To this day it is alive with pilgrims, sadus, Tibetan traders and monks mingling together and creating a very colourful community. You will see Indian pilgrims conducting cleansing rituals and the village is part of Mustang province with kingdom of Upper Mustang. The Kingdom of Mustang is located at the edge of Tibetan plateau in Nepal, but historically, culturally and economically it is connected more with Tibet than Nepal.
Muktinath has lots of mountain biking trails and a few interesting villages to visit on mountain bike with traditional Tibetan Buddhist inspired architecture and monasteries including the biggest nun monastery in Nepal, located at the outskirts of Mukhtinath.It is also the place to acclimatise for mountain bike expedition to Lake Tilicho (5000m) via wild and spectacular Mosakanta La pass (5200m). The quality of the mountain bike treks varies and there are different route options available for different skill levels, from fun mountain bike ride to highly technical and advanced. The level of physical effort also varies from technical but easy downhill, up to an extreme mountain-biking expedition grade adventure.
Bike-trekking in Nepal was a unique and breathtaking experience for me and is a stand out compared to bike-trekking in Alps, Andes or other parts of the world. What made this adventure special for me was the incredible scenery with breathtaking views of the highest mountains in the world, while riding through villages of living cultures reflecting a past of many hundreds of years ago. The inhabitants of this place make you feel genuinely welcomed with an incredible amount of tolerance that is un-matched anywhere else in the world. The experience of Tibetan Buddhist culture in the natural environment of Himalayas is a life changing experience for most of the visitors and the whole adventure is a memory that will stay with you forever.
Copyright © Tony Olejnicki 2011.
For more information on bike-trekking in Nepal and Tibet go to www.snowyhorizonadventure.com
Acknowledgement: Many thanks to my friend and journalist Ms Robyn Whittaker for generous help editing this article.