Nepal - Spring of 2021

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by Quitou, Apr 20, 2021.

  1. Quitou

    Quitou Himalayan Ride Guide - Nepal

    Joined:
    Jan 20, 2016
    Oddometer:
    281
    Location:
    Colorado / Nepal
    It's been a tough year for international travel for everyone, but we finally made it back to Nepal for another season of trips. We started with a few usual scouting rides, the first only two days, the second trip was a punishing three-day push with 35 hours of ride time. That was the precursor to our 10-day ride with a bunch of guys from Colorado.

    This trip included roads we have never ridden before in regions of the country no outsiders ever visit - ever.

    Kathmandu - The Gritty City
    Like most of our romps we started in Kathmandu. There are not many cities in the world with more romantic evocations. To just say the word is to transport yourself to the early days of expedition. It's a fantastic place to start a Himalayan epic. One advantage of pandemic travel, there are no tourists. Places typically overrun with foreigners were completely void of non-local faces.

    _DSF1688.jpg

    Pandemic Tarmac - It's a thing
    I spent all of 2020 in Nepal, much of it confined to our home. I knew the authorities were busy paving many of the beat up roads in the hill country, but it wasn't until this March we started to seek out these new strips of pavement. Overall, I'm never one to long for blacktop, but Nepal's roads are brutally rough. Fresh bitumen with painted lines is rare. This road is certainly a well kept secret. Even if I told you where it was, most people would never be able to find it.

    2021_0406_14475700.jpg

    2021_0406_14483100.jpg

    Diesel and Dust
    As if the pandemic wasn't challenge enough, mother nature decided the Indian subcontinent needed a drought peppered with tens of thousands of forest fires. This part of the world often suffers from fug-filled skies, but this year the sun barely burned through a sepia colored haze. It cut into our visibility, but we were able to climb out of dust and smoke into the high peaks.

    2021_0416_04031500.jpg

    A few days were pretty brutal with regards to dust. People frequently dismiss the capabilities of the Royal Enfield Bullet, but it punched through deep furrows of powdered dust with no problem. Even where the dust drifted to over a foot deep, the old Bullets lugged on.

    2021_0416_04024600.jpg

    These guys were super troopers. They wanted to embark on a legit expeditionary ride, and that's what they got. Our route took us from just shy of the Indian border (5.8 miles away) to the edge of Tibet (31 miles shy). They crossed the full width of Nepal in 12 days while taking on some of the most rugged roads in the foothill regions.

    Screenshot 2021-04-21 095411.jpg
    #1
    scudo, Red liner, ScotsFire and 7 others like this.
  2. Quitou

    Quitou Himalayan Ride Guide - Nepal

    Joined:
    Jan 20, 2016
    Oddometer:
    281
    Location:
    Colorado / Nepal
    Bridges and Singletrack
    You can't take a trip to Nepal and not ride a suspension bridge. In fact, by trip's end we usually trundle across a dozen or more, sometimes in a single day. Most are quick little rips almost too short to notice. A few however will put fuzz on your peaches, particularly if you get a little crosswind.
    2021_0417_09593700.jpg
    2021_0417_09551200.jpg


    Big Peaks & Ancient Monasteries
    We don't tend to travel into the Mustang Valley very often. Not because it isn't spectacular, but over the years it has become increasingly popular. In peak seasons, prior to covid, it wasn't uncommon to be stuck in traffic for hours on small shelf roads which just 20 years prior, didn't even exist. Knowing we would be the only outsiders in the Mustang, we took the opportunity to have it to ourselves.

    I think anyone to join us in the fall or spring of next year will be the last to see the unspoiled Mustang. Road work continues to widen the route which includes more buses every season. If you want to see the real Mustang as it has been for thousands of years, do it now. In just 2 years, it will be totally different.

    marpha2.jpg

    2021_0407_19273100.jpg


    We're super lucky to travel with both of the famous Sijali brothers. Vishu Sijali is our Road Captain and knows Nepal better than anyone I have ever met. An accomplished expeditionary guide and climber, he has summitted some of the world's tallest peaks including Everest. His little brother, "Bicky" Sijali, pictured below, is a legit badass. A professional climber and mountain medic, he has climbed several 8,000 meter peaks. Both of these guys are tough as nails and love to ride. It's how they get to see their country and then share it with other riders. Awesome guys. I'm thrilled to have them on our staff. (Vishu is my biz partner)
    2021_0417_10033900.jpg

    Always a trip highlight, our route scrapes the feet of some of the biggest summits in the world. This route not only plumbs the depths of the deepest gorge in the world at 18,500 feet deep, we slide right under the summit of Dhaulagiri Peak, the seventh tallest mountain in the world at 26,975 feet. If big mountains are your thing, this is the place to ride.
    2021_0417_09562500.jpg
    #2
  3. Quitou

    Quitou Himalayan Ride Guide - Nepal

    Joined:
    Jan 20, 2016
    Oddometer:
    281
    Location:
    Colorado / Nepal
    2021_0417_09555600.jpg
    The Mustang Valley (Lower)
    The Mustang Valley is one of only a handful of corridors permitting north/south access through the Great Himalayan Range. For more than 600 years it was used as a tributary of the Silk Road trade route, namely to move salt and silk between China and India.

    The first Westerner to visit the Mustang, also known as the Kingdom of Lo (Lo Manthang), didn't arrive until 1952. The region was not open to outsiders until 1992. Nepal's civil war restricted access again from 1996 to 2006. The road was not fully completed to the lower portion of the Mustang until 2010.

    On this trip we topped out at Muktinath (12,400ft), but rode right on the border with the boundary of Upper Mustang. To get into Upper Mustang takes some doing. Aside from the limits on who can get in, the permit for Upper Mustang is $600 for just 10 days. For this reason we stuck to Lower Mustang.

    DSCF1688.jpg
    This is the ancient Buddhist village of Jharkot in Lower Mustang. The monastery at the center of the village is 400 years old as are most of the surrounding villages. We really work hard to provide authentic experiences for the people we travel with and on this trip we stayed in a small lodge within one of these ancient structures. It was a scene right out of a movie. This is adventure motorcycling at its best. Why do what everyone else does?

    2021_0416_04035800.jpg
    #3
    scudo, Red liner, bomose and 6 others like this.
  4. Quitou

    Quitou Himalayan Ride Guide - Nepal

    Joined:
    Jan 20, 2016
    Oddometer:
    281
    Location:
    Colorado / Nepal
    What's up with the old bikes?
    I'm a purist, or pedant depending on your perspective. I've always been a firm believer in horses for courses. When I rip the length of Baja, I do it on a long-travel adv bike. I think the passes of Europe are best done on a zippy sport tourer.

    For the Himalayas, only one bike seems fitting, the Royal Enfield Bullet. For more than 75 years, in its current form, it has been the ultimate vehicle of the world's tallest peaks. Sure, it's misplaced and has no suspension. It's small and weird. But it's also an absolute legend of Himalayan expedition travel.

    I will be the very first person to admit, charging through the Himalayas at full tilt on a KTM 790 or 500 dirtbike would be fun in it's own way, but it's not the right choice. People who feel they can only ride a full-blown adventure bike in Nepal - don't get it.

    I will say, in the coming years we will start using the Royal Enfield Himalayan more often as the reliability improves, and we may knuckle under to the pressure to ride modern steeds like a KTM 390A. I will do so only to bend to Western whim. For me the Himalayas are the turf of the Bullet. Nothing stops a Bullet.

    2021_0417_09565800.jpg

    2021_0417_09580700.jpg

    2021_0417_09552900.jpg

    2021_0407_19275300.jpg

    DSCF1772.jpg
    #4
  5. Cyclenaut

    Cyclenaut Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Feb 20, 2012
    Oddometer:
    177
    Location:
    Desert S.W.
    Great images & RR
    #5
  6. pedalpics

    pedalpics n00b

    Joined:
    Sep 9, 2016
    Oddometer:
    9
    Spectacular images!
    #6
  7. Farioli

    Farioli "just do it" Supporter

    Joined:
    Aug 18, 2004
    Oddometer:
    557
    Location:
    Escondido, CA
    Great pics and write up !
    #7
  8. jwrover

    jwrover Long timer Super Supporter

    Joined:
    Jul 30, 2006
    Oddometer:
    1,144
    Location:
    Ouray, Colorado, USA
    As the Guy in the Black helmet; I'll be adding a Riders Perspective write-up once my wife get's done editing it! :jack

    In Short...Absolutely Spectacular!!

    In the mean time, here's a quick video teaser!

    #8
    Quitou and Bigger Al like this.
  9. Quitou

    Quitou Himalayan Ride Guide - Nepal

    Joined:
    Jan 20, 2016
    Oddometer:
    281
    Location:
    Colorado / Nepal
    I did say there would be goats on the road. :)
    #9
  10. Quitou

    Quitou Himalayan Ride Guide - Nepal

    Joined:
    Jan 20, 2016
    Oddometer:
    281
    Location:
    Colorado / Nepal
    Nepal - Expect the unexpected.

    We have done enough trips in Nepal to know to expect the unexpected. Like for example, a truck breaking down on a busy road, right at it's most narrow spot, in a creek, with a cliff on one side. Fortunately, a scenario that has stymied our forward progress for hours, only resulted in a brief delay and entertaining break from a bumpy road.
    _DSF2332.jpg


    On our past expeditions deep into the western reaches of Nepal we have used a mix of support trucks, mostly Land Rover Defender 110 vehicles formerly registered with the Royal Gurkha armed forces. For this romp we decided to go big. Real big.

    Because we seldom venture into regions serviced by hotels and restaurants, we pack a massive amount of gear so we can camp in style. That includes a dedicated kitchen tent complete with head cook and two assistant cooks. We roll with a lead guide, our co-founder Vishu Sijali, and a dedicated mechanic, Raj "Ramdev" Kumar. Our friend Boudha, the sweetest guy I have ever met, has been our main driver for years and also works in our dining tent serving meals.

    Sure, it's excessive in many ways with a hot shower and private sleeping tents, but we really do ride pretty hard.
    2021_0417_09564700.jpg


    Camp life on our trips is a pretty fun affair. Our support crew often drives ahead to set up our roving compound so we can roll in and get cleaned up for dinner, which is often already being prepared. Ramdev the mechanic never gets a moment's rest. That guy is the best. At the end of every day he's busy washing bikes, making repairs, and getting things ready for another day. For this trip we found another young mechanic to help him out.

    2021_0417_09565800.jpg

    The genius behind our mobile expedition camp is my partner and co-founder, Vishu Sijali. It was his idea to fold camping into our trips. As a longtime mountaineering guide in the Himalayas, he saw the potential to replicate the cushy base camps of Mount Everest and other peaks into our motorcycle travels.

    I come from a long background in expedition guiding in Alaska, South America and beyond. We're constantly making adjustments to our expedition camp, but it's pretty great. We can go anywhere. Literally - anywhere.
    2021_0406_14464300.jpg
    #10
    scudo and Red liner like this.
  11. Quitou

    Quitou Himalayan Ride Guide - Nepal

    Joined:
    Jan 20, 2016
    Oddometer:
    281
    Location:
    Colorado / Nepal
    A Land of Extremes

    When people think of Nepal, they often think of big Himalayan peaks. There are plenty of those. While only a few of our trips focus on high mountain routes, getting a glimpse of the world's tallest summits is always a highlight of any trip.

    DSCF3850.jpg

    As trip planners, we know riders want to see big mountains, but we also fold in as much of Nepal's diversity into the trip as possible. That includes a romp into the jungled lowlands along the Indian border where wild elephants, rhinos, and monkeys share space with King cobras and the world's largest population of wild Bengal tigers.

    2021_0416_04021200.jpg

    We also spend a bit of time in Kathmandu exploring the ancient temples and palaces of the former kings of Nepal. It's all about creating context and getting to know what makes Nepal tick.

    2020_0306_10284500.jpg

    The people....That is the real treasure of Nepal.

    There are a few motorcycle travel companies in Nepal. Most place riding at the top of their list of priorities with very little consideration for exploring the cultures or natural gifts of the country. We think that's a real shame. Everyone to ride with us gets more than their fill of ride time, but we place an elevated importance on meeting the locals and getting to know the awesome people of Nepal.

    At our favorite camp in the Mustang Valley we often stay on a farm just below the summit of the world's 7th tallest mountain (pictured above). The family at that farm has known us for years. We have watched their son grow from a wee baby wiggling in the grass, to a rowdy boy eager to play with tall strangers. Everyone to ride with us goes home with loads of riding memories, but I think it is their interaction with the locals that impacts them the most.

    2021_0417_09591700.jpg
    #11
  12. Red liner

    Red liner Long timer

    Joined:
    May 16, 2013
    Oddometer:
    1,000
    Your pictures are just epic.
    #12
    Quitou likes this.
  13. Quitou

    Quitou Himalayan Ride Guide - Nepal

    Joined:
    Jan 20, 2016
    Oddometer:
    281
    Location:
    Colorado / Nepal
    Young Arjun: Opportunity Knocks

    As a nonprofit organization we're always looking for fresh approaches to helping as many Nepalis as we can. It's easy to get sucked into the notion that we must help thousands of people, or none at all. The reality is, if we can impact just one life in a meaningful way that makes it all worthwhile.

    At about the halfway point of our trip it became apparent we were putting the mechanical hurt on our fleet of bikes. Each day was a futile exercise of mending busted mirrors, bent levers, mangled crash bars. We needed help.

    Our faithful mechanic, Ramdev, was hastily dispatched to the nearest town to troll the streets for motorbike shops. There he found Arjun, a bright-eyed kid of 16 with a perpetual smile and hands greasy enough to serve as a resume. He was our guy.

    In a conversation that took less than 15 minutes, Ramdev asked him if he wanted to join a tour company for a few days. With his eyes as big as sprockets he jumped at the chance. Our Nepali guys gave him a quick debrief, let him borrow a down jacket for the cold nights ahead, and after shoving a blanket and toothbrush in a bag, he was off on his big work adventure.

    2021_0417_09560000.jpg

    Arjun is like tens of thousands of young Nepali guys. At 16 he had likely never left his home town, or if he did, it was probably just down the road to fetch motorcycle parts. He certainly had not been up the road just 35 miles into the spectacular Mustang Valley amidst the world's tallest mountains. That's the painful reality of Arjun's situation. In order for him to see one of the most stunning parts of his home country, literally his back yard, he had to be scooped up by an American tour company.

    For our part we were stoked to have his help and he gave it his all. Over the course of five days Arjun's skilled hands never stopped. He lubed chains, adjusted brakes, and scrubbed our bikes until they were sparkling clean. When he was finished with the bikes he pitched tents, washed pots and pans, and smiled every minute of the day knowing this opportunity was fleeting. Our Nepali team spent all of ten minutes getting to know him before they folded him into the family just like one more brother. He was quickly given a nickname, razzed as the rookie, and given more respect as a teammate than I'm sure he expected.

    The entire time, Vishu and I watched as Arjun soaked it all up, his inner wheels turning as we hoped they would. We could have picked up any mechanic as there are plenty of them. We chose young Arjun because we wanted him to see a special part of his native land he would never see on his own. More importantly, we wanted to give him a taste of the budding tourism industry in Nepal. We wanted him to know he has options in life beyond his neighborhood moto shop. Vishu took time to edify Arjun on how to interact with clients and teammates, what's expected of a worker, and maybe just to think beyond his seemingly limited life options. Vishu is a quick mentor, eager to help young guys find their path.

    Near the end of our trip, I felt like total crap. As a type 1 diabetic I sometimes suffer minor health issues that force me off the bike, and I have a pretty nice one. In a land of a million 125cc cheapies, my 500cc Royal Enfield Classic is exceptionally rare. Ready for a long break I climbed into our support truck and tossed my moto key to Arjun.

    At the ripe age of 16, the kid who had never been out of his town spent the whole day riding a 500cc Royal through the majestic Himalayas. At the end of our trip I thanked him graciously and handed him a modest sum of $50. For our western sensibilities that seems an insultingly low wage, but for Arjun it was more cash than he's ever held in his hands.

    We will keep tabs on Arjun and hopefully fold him into our crew. His outlook, like many young guys in Nepal, has two paths. He will either stay in Nepal and eek out a living on less than $100 a month. Or, like millions of twenty-somethings, will end up in Dubai, Malaysia, or some other foreign land as a disposable laborer grinding himself to the bone to send money home. Maybe, just maybe, his few days with us will pique his interest and he will stay in Nepal, work for a rafting company, trekking agency, or join us to turn wrenches.

    Arjun. Not just a kid we picked up for a week, he's very much the future of Nepal.

    I'd like to think we're not just a motorcycle touring company. Maybe we make a difference with these little efforts. Maybe. It's worth a shot.

    (The 300 year old Buddhist monastery in Kagbeni is just 50 miles from Arjun's home. Chances are he would have lived a long life having never seen it. Now he has.)
    _DSF2521.jpg
    #13
  14. Quitou

    Quitou Himalayan Ride Guide - Nepal

    Joined:
    Jan 20, 2016
    Oddometer:
    281
    Location:
    Colorado / Nepal
    Here is a short vid from our eighth season in Nepal, albeit a brief one this year. Ever the optimist, my return ticket is booked for October 3rd.

    (Best enjoyed with the sound on.)

    #14
  15. Red liner

    Red liner Long timer

    Joined:
    May 16, 2013
    Oddometer:
    1,000
    Close to election time there as I follow the news. You think electioneering jams things up on the road? Certainly does in neighbouring India. October is riding season there…
    #15
  16. Quitou

    Quitou Himalayan Ride Guide - Nepal

    Joined:
    Jan 20, 2016
    Oddometer:
    281
    Location:
    Colorado / Nepal
    I was in Nepal shortly after the 2015 quake as a journalist, then again that fall during the devastating blockade with India. I was there through the entire 2020 pandemic and previous regional and federal elections. Not to say I have seen it all, but I have been there during landslides, floods, and outbreaks of typhoid, cholera, and dengue. I've seen a bunch. As a tour company we are quite experienced with all manner of challenges. I think the pending election cycle could provide typical chaos, but there is a fervent desire to improve their lousy government, so I'm hopeful there will be more positive action than chaos. We shall see. I work with various levels of their government from time to time. It is the worst in that part of the globe.
    #16