´the road´

Since I heard about the road connects Nepal middle-hills with Mustang, mostly follows the route of the Annapurna circuit in parts I had the idea of cycle up there. Recently I heard about more and more cyclist doing this ride and this time I was eager enough to do so, since my sister in law is working up there in a school there was also more a reason to do so. It turned out to one of the shortest, hardest, nicest and most expensive trip I have done so far.

Equipped with the ACAP permit and the useless nonsense TIMS- Card, after breakfast, a last shave from my local barber and father in laws mobile in my pocket (for give them some peace in mind) I set off but not before I recognized that my speedometer was not working anymore (I removed it quickly with my pliers), headed towards the Baglung Highway. Getting out of Pokhara was some kind of an hassle, insane traffic and the heat gave me the rest. The first km´s were very hard and not interesting at all. I had a small break sipped tea and munched some biscuits before the first big climb to Naudana began, followed some switchbacks and got overrun by many of tourist buses were posh people got pampered with air-con while I got burned by that damned hot sun, the positive with that improving weather (the weeks before it was pouring as hell and was abnormal cold) was that the mountains showed their full pride. The climb went further up to a small village called Kande, which was not an easy affair, but slowly I got used again to ride a fully loaded bike and the pleasure rises more and more (the first few hours felt like I rode a bicycle for the first time). I got a hit-back while some breaks always someone appeared and begged for anything and nothing (not those usual child’s asking for ´oneruppeonepenonesweet´), I got really pissed about that habit to see foreigner as an walking ATM or salvation army member (why shall I give a drunken man forcing me to buy him a soft drink for nothing? It was around noon and he was obviously full of raksi, a local liqueur, probably left his wife and kids working on the field while he invest the little income in raksi, hoping for some alms from stupid tourists. I just ignored that idiot finished my drink and left). After Kande the road started a long descent which gave me fast progress.Suddenly the Annapurna Range opens another view and the second summit of Macchapuchare could be seen, which gave him his nickname `Fishtail Mountain`. The road lead further through faceless dirty typical Nepali road-towns were youngsters with motorbikes posing around, tested their few English swearwords and showed their middle-finger on me for no reason (those bad behavior is more than a phenomenon in country’s like this, mostly excused with low perspectives for the youth, which might be true but there´s also a big piece of stupidity and boasting included, which has nothing to do with having opportunities or not). Finally I reached Baglung but not before I had to finish a last long climb to the center of town. I checked into a cheap charmless hotel and called it a day.

Next day I started early, backtracking down to the turn off to Beni where the road to Mustang and the real adventure began. The scenery changed fast, the ugly square houses seen everywhere swapped to old style homes built of rocks with nice balcony’s and granite roofs, settled between rice paddies or forests along the Kali Gandaki River, that’s rural Nepal I love, here the world might be still OK (of course it is not, the people still have their problems and sorrows than allover the planet). Kids shouted a friendly `Hallo´ or ´Namaste´ in my direction and I could see true happiness in their faces when I waved back. While small breaks people approached me caused of pure curiosity not because of expecting something more than a small chat. Suddenly a taxi was driving next to me and I heard someone shouting out my name `Chris, Chris´, it was TY on her way up, we decided to go up separately as I was too fixed on that idea of cycling so she was taking the public transport. In Beni we had a small encounter on the bus station and made an appointment to meet in one or two days in Kagbeni. I struggled my way through but enjoyed the surrounding mountain scenery a lot. I got a little bit worried since I realized that something went strange on my front tire. I found out that the rapid fastener went open (how that happened, don´t know), I closed it but there was still a wobble and a strange feeling while using the front brake, stopped and detected that the cone-screws (which hold the whole piece together) in the front hub went very loose, ´Shit, big Shit´, I thought. So I had a closer look, one side was totally loose and the screws fell almost out when I removed the wheel. What to do, stop the trip was not an option, thought about to ride till the hub will fall apart (not the best idea but giving up or backtracking was not really what I wanted to do). I tightened the screws with the pliers of my multitool and it turned out to be fine. The turning was not that smooth and perfect but the wobble disappeared and it was OK, so rock on. The road got worse and worse and turned really nasty with long passages almost unrideable with a loaded bike than mine, pushing was easier than cycling in some parts. Since Tatopani, were ´the road´ links to the famous Annapurna circuit the prices for food became ridiculous high, this is reasoned of difficult supplies delivery in that mountain area, but nowadays I think it is a huge rip off, ´the road´makes the access a lot easier and nothing need to be carry up by human power anymore, so I think it is bullshit and only caused by greed to keep the prices that high (yes the road is bad, really bad but even with jeeps it is not easy but still cheaper and easier than with loads of porters). Had a late lunch at Dana where I had a nice chat with a South African trekker (he told that he was wondering why not much people do this by bike because walking in parts on that dusty road means no fun for him and I told him about the Annapurna Base Camp he was heading for which I have done three years before). My plan was to stay in the next village overnight, but that was on the other side of the river and it would be nearly impossible to get there with a bicycle, so I went further to Ghasa a couple of kilometer more. A few km seems not much but on that road means hard work. Actually this road is not worth to be called a road, it really was in some parts more than a bitch of a road (but still was lucky, it was dry season, got some reports of cyclists done it in raining season and would not change with them), but it was fine, I was here of free will and I was not in a competition, there were only me, my bike and the bitch. In Ghasa I stopped at the first lodge and was more than happy to give me a well deserved rest.

Strengthened with a good rest the same procedure as the day before started again. But I was optimistic because I have been told that after Kalopani some 10km further the road was improving. A steep climb (from Tatopani to Lete the road ascents almost 1500m in around 20km) through forest took me up to Lete which offers superb views of the Dhaulagiri. Just after the Kali Gandaki opens and showed his broad river bed, passing through a small gap between the Dhaulagiri and Annapurna- Niligiri Range. Progress got much faster compared to before as the road became much better. The villages, inhabited mostly of Tharkali people became more and more simple. The whole area changed fast and cubicle white washed clay houses appeared more and more (this architecture is typically for Tibetan influenced areas). This is what I was coming for, the forests get fewer and the scenery changed into an almost dessert one surrounded by snow-capped mountains. In the far on mountains small white chortens were see able, Tibetan Buddhist stupas, could be seen and here and there the famous ´Om Mani Padme Hum´ Mantra was written in huge colorful letters on rock formations or Mani walls (walls decorated with stones carved mantras on it) waited next to the road for clockwise circulation by devotees. Another upside was the frequently back-wind, as the dry and cold high-plateau of Tibet is soaking the hot air from the humid and hot subcontinent like a vacuum cleaner through the world deepest gorge which the Kali Gandaki grinds through the Himalaya over centuries and millenniums, so I passed village by village unfamiliar fast. After a lunch in Marpha, also called the apple capital of Mustang I decided to give it a try to reach Kagbeni that same evening. I passed Jomsom, where my permit got checked another time, and left this surprisingly unpleasant town fast, still following the river in unreal beautiful barren landscape. The road follows the riverbed and like this the road was like, leading over rocks and stones. After a while Kagbeni could be seen in the distant and the last settlement of Eklebathi was passed fast. Somehow I managed to get the wrong way, left the road and followed the footpath which looked easier for me, but the way got really narrow as it was impossible to cycle on it safely, pushing was much safer on that less than 50cm broad fragile path with the bustling river deep to my left. The last section before joining the jeep-road again was a steep steep hauling affair on loose gravel where I drag my bike with the last power. I arrived in nice still ancient looking Kagbeni, met TY and her sister and was satisfied with that very short but also very nice ride…


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