Tour de Nepal – April 2008
This trip was a long time in the planning – to cycle from Lhasa in Tibet to Kathmandu in Nepal. One of the classic cycling routes in the world, and over some of the highest passes that it is practical to cycle. Remote and exotic. I booked the trip with the adventure company “Redspokes” more than a year in advance and looked forward to it with great excitement and no small amount of training.
All the planning started to come unraveled just a week or so before I was due to leave Windhoek.
There was concern in China regarding the possible disruption to the journey of the Olympic Flame across the country, and so the Everest Base Camp on the Tibetan side of the mountain was to be closed to visitors. That was scheduled to be part of our trip; but we could live without it. Then there were rumours that the borders to Tibet would be closed to all tourists over the critical period that we would be there. Redspokes gave us the option of rescheduling the trip at no additional cost to ourselves, but all the preparations were in place and I decided to go ahead.
After the flights from Windhoek to Johannesburg, Johannesburg to Singapore and Singapore to Kathmandu, I met up with the rest of the group and we heard officially that we would be denied entry into Tibet. We sat with our extremely competent and knowledgeable guides, the chief guide being Suresh Dulal, and he described an extremely challenging alternative circuit that stayed entirely within Nepal. Although everyone was extremely dismayed to be denied the opportunity to cycle from Lhasa, we soon settled down and accepted the “Tour de Nepal” route.
The group was comprised of the following cyclists (where they are mentioned in the following report by a name not obviously their own, this has been indicated in brackets) –
Mr Christopher (Chris) Taylor
Mrs Emily Taylor
Mr Paul Connell
Mr Keith (Keith-S) Swanson
Mr John Wagstaff
Mrs Dorothy (Dot) Wagstaff
Mr Rob Wilkinson
Mr Robert (Bobby) Buck
Mrs Patricia (Pat) Green
Mr Keith (Keith-G) Green
Mr Stephen (Steve) Horsman
Mr Ivan Prince
Mr William (The Williams) Murphy
Mr Timothy (Todd) Collins
Day 1 – Sunday 6 April 2008
I went with Suresh and Chris and Emily to a cycle shop in Kathmandu to collect the cycles that we had hired. Only Chris, Emily and I had hired bikes; the rest of the group had brought their own cycles from home. I was given a Trek 3900 and immediately changed the pedals for the cleats that I had brought with me.
Later in the day the group went for a short cycle of about 30km through the streets of Kathmandu. What a nightmare! There were simply no discernable traffic rules; no stop streets or robots. It was every man for himself, and yet all the barging was done in good humour and with a great deal of patience. And with a great deal of hooting. This is bad enough if you are in a car or bus, but on a bicycle I felt extremely vulnerable. I was, after all, more accustomed to the rural roads on Namibia!
Once out of Kathmandu the ride was mostly on jeep tracks, with steep hills and plenty of mud. There were great views of the Kathmandu Valley from the top of these hills and the descent back into the valley was fast and furious.
Day 2 – Monday 7 April 2008
We took another group ride around the Kathmandu area, climbing about 700 metres to the Rinpoche Konchok Dhondup monastery, a steady climb of about 14km along quite loose gravel and stones with rough going in places.
The ride back to the hotel through Kathmandu was quite challenging, but we were getting used to the way in which the traffic behaved and it was becoming less threatening. I took quite a hard fall on the tar on the way back, but didn’t loose too much skin.
Coincidentally I met Todd Collins, the only other South African in the group, at the gate when I got back to the hotel, but he told me that he had decided not to join us on the cycle if we couldn’t ride from Lhasa and that he would use the time to go trekking on the Annapurna trail instead.
In the afternoon we visited the Monkey Temple and Dhurbar Square and in the evening we had a briefing from Suresh on the tour that would start in the morning.
Day 3 – Tuesday 8 April 2008 – Kathmandu to Kakani.
The first day of the tour! We were all pleased to be on our way and to leave Kathmandu to head for the more open countryside.
We got away at about 9:30, which was a change for me as I was used to cycling very early in the morning, preferably before first light. But this was a group of 16 and the starting times were dictated by Suresh and his team, as were all the stops along the way, often calculated to keep the group together.
The route was tough and there was quite a bit of walking on the really steep, rock strewn tracks that made cycling very difficult. The views of the valleys with their terraced fields were really inspiring, as was the ride through a wonderful forest. There was a long hold-up at a military roadblock that seemed to be in the middle of nowhere as some of our papers were missing. We assumed that the roadblock was connected with the elections to take place in a few days time, and was there to prevent disruptions. Once the paperwork was sorted out we went on our way.
We covered only 50km on the day, but as the going was so tough and most of the riding was on single tracks, the true extent of the effort could not be measured purely in terms of kilometers covered.
We camped at a lodge for the night – eight of us opted to stay in tents, the others in the lodge itself – and so we had hot showers! We were also blessed with good views of the snow covered Langtan Range in the far distance.
Day 4 – Wednesday 9 April 2008 – Kakani to Mulkharka
The cycling today was exceptionally testing. We started out when it was already quite hot and went straight into a muddy section of track that was almost unrideable in parts and resulted in quite a number of falls, but no serious injuries. When we reached a tarred section the going was easier although the hills were very steep. We rode through part of the Shivapura Park and the ride got progressively better for me. We had lots of stops, and although personally I found these too numerous and too long, they were necessary to keep the group together.
The distances covered were surprisingly short for the effort involved as the tracks had very poor surfaces and the hills were very steep.
Tomorrow the national elections would be held in Nepal and no cars would be allowed on the roads without special permits. We would be allowed to cycle, but would have no backup vehicle and would have to send all our luggage onward this evening, keeping only what was absolutely essential.