From the moment we stepped out of the airport into the hot, dusty air, we were swept along in a tide of people and noise. Desperately trying to keep a hold of my bike box whist part the seas of bodies, we made our way towards the smiling, waving Rachael. She had landed a few hours before us, and having spent a few months in Nepal previously, looked alive and calm among the chaos. Bike boxes shoved on the roof of a tiny taxi, secured with fraying threads and we were off on a mad rampage rally into the heart of Thamel.
We spent a few days in a hostel doing some fairly desperate planning and map buying. Our original plan to fly west and ride the Great Himalaya trail back towards Kathmandu was abruptly changed on learning the price of flights and all the park entry fees. Sometimes it can be really hard to get the info you need until arrival in a country and Nepal had been a challenge. Although now what we know of the trail surface of the GHT it may have been a blessing in disguise! Our new plan was now to fly east instead, to attempt to ride some less visited trails before joining the GHT back west.
So it was we bagged up the bikes in rice bags for a nervous journey through the disorganization of the domestic terminal and finally onto a plane bound for Tumlingtar. At 400m this was far lower than we had planned to go on our entire journey but we were excited to escape the gritty pollution of the capital. The view from the porthole windows showed us ridge after ridge of parched, landslip scarred hillside. The reality of the terrain began to sink in and i hoped my smallest gear would be enough.
Arriving in the clear warmth, the air sweet and easy on the lungs was a delight. We waited nervously to see if the bikes had made it. Is it possible to travel worry free with bikes? It turned out only mine had actually come on our plane, but we were informed the other two would be on the following flight in a couple hours or so. With nothing else to do, Racheal went to examine the accommodation possibility in the town whist I set about building my bike with an ever growing audience. Luckily for me, the men seemed to think despite the fact I was building it myself, Huw, as the man, was the one to talk to. So I was mostly left in peace, whilst he fielded endless questions in stumbling Nepali. This proved to be a continual theme all through the Rai communities of the mid hills. It wasn’t until we got higher, into Sherpa country where woman are more equal, that Rach and myself were considered worth talking to. Not that I minded, I like my space but poor Huw got frustrated with our constant audience from very early on!
Our first brief, doomed attempt was to head for a trail called the Milki Danda. The name appealed to me with the description of a quiet remote trail through rhododendron forest. Sadly we never made that far, as after a 1400m climb and a night in an unpleasant concrete room, we had our first major mechanical. The locals, really interested in the bikes had been keen to try them. So far only hilarity had ensured once they hopped on board but unfortunately for Rach and her yellow velo, that did not last. We are still not sure exactly what did happen, but the result was a twisted splintered mech, a horribly opened, twisted mech hanger (steel and built into her frame) and a few mangled chain links. Disaster!
Some good metal bending by Huw, attaching the amazing Surly Singleator and we set off, back down the 1400m climb. The milki danda now a distant dream. Luckily Racheal has some good friends in Kathmandu from her last trip and a lot of desperate phone calls ensured. The result, a shiny new mech hanger flying out to meet us in Tumlingtar. The hostel we had stayed previously, run by a man we dubbed Mr Suave, was distinctly less friendly this time around. We were locked out of the bucket shower room and felt very awkward as we waited for the plane. We worked out later, that the caste system, which is very strong in Nepal, probably placed us as low, and the Suave family as high, meaning they thought us dirty (which we were increasingly so, denied a shower) and reluctant to share. Finally the mech arrived! Great excitement, until we realized it was a ten speed. But in answer to that age old question, yes, a 10 speed will work with a 9 speed chain and cassette, only just not as well. Poor Racheal spent the next several hundred kilometers and thousands of steep uphill meters with slightly grinding, jumpy gears. Not that it ever stopped her from powering onwards.
But, having lost time we headed off into the mountains on the GHT. Starting on rough dirt road, the trail deteriorated slowly until after one full days ride, we reached unrideable footpath at Gothe Bazaar. Our night here was spent at the small Bapti, with saked up ancient ladies and in the early morning, a large earthquake. Feeling those tremors, and picturing the hillsides we had travelled to get here, the way perilously carved into the steep, muddy sides, I felt very remote and vulnerable. It really brought home how easily entire towns were destroyed and cut off for weeks in the 2015 quake.
Not giving up without a fight we gave Rach her first taste of loaded bike hikeabike, and humphed and sweated for half a day in the hopes the trail might magically improve. Fortunately the reality hit before we set off up the next 1500m climb and we made the sensible decision to turn around. Despite the haemorrhaging disappointment, knowing our plans were once again falling though, I still really enjoyed those few days. They took us into real remote Nepal, the only access by foot, or scooter.We had a chance to witness life at its very basic, not even a road for supplies. The scenery, a mix of tropical jungle with drier forests higher up, was stunning.
Stopping short of Tumlingtar that night, we got all the maps out and came up with our next rough plan. Having seen the trails, we decided the dirt roads would be a better option, and given what we had seen of them so far, definitely not a boring one! So riding as fast as we could, with our heads held low, we whizzed though Tumlingtar in the morning, hoping that would be the last time we ever had to see it! We hit the dirt roads heading west and soon discovered that our Nat Geo map hadn’t even put the roads in the right place, or marked on even half of them. A much better navigational method was to ask at every town and we were soon finding our way.
Although carrying bivvy equipment, the closely populated terrain and cheapness (4-6 dollars for a room and two meals) of the Baptis had meant we hadnt used it yet. So our first night, hot and exhausted from sweating up a barren, water less hill for several hours we had great fun getting to know all our kit. I had bought a multi fuel stove in preparation for not having gas, so we had our first time using it with liquid fuel. Cleverly we had brought only a sparker, not a lighter and trying to light kerosene.. Leaving Huw in charge, Rach and I set out to erect the tarp. Having not used one before we were pretty happy with the system we came up with, using the bikes on either side and one central line holding the middle up.
We returned to Huw, who had engineered a way to light the stove using scrapes of fabric and an hour later were eating our sad noodles by torchlight. Not great food for filling that bottomless touring hunger, we were chased to bed, hungry, by a roaming tarantula.
I will get around to part two, where we get wined and dined by the army, hike our bikes up to 4000m, ride incredible singletrack and eat lots of yak cheese…
As ever some photos are from https://topofests.com/