For the first time during our journey we wanted to feel how it is to travel light. We spent so much time travelling with all our equipment and Nepal seemed to be a perfect place to try bikepacking (travelling by bicycle with only the essential gear). After more than four months in the high mountains of India we had been quite tired, but just a couple of weeks was enough to make us ready for a new adventure.
Nepal is a country popular for high mountain trekking and, unlike in Zanskar, the trails are well maintained, sometimes being closer to a road than to a narrow path. What makes trekking in Nepal a real breeze is the network of small guesthouses and restaurants built along the major treks. One of the most popular destinations for tourists seeking for an opportunity for an epic Facebook picture or a thrill of being in the wild Himalayas while being secured by the system of facilities is the Annapurna Circuit (or Round Annapurna Trail). The route runs through probably all climate zones of Nepal, starting in the lowlands with rice fields and jungles, through Switzerland-like pine and spruce covered steep, rocky slopes reaching snow caped over-eight-thousand-meters-high peaks with Buddhist influenced Tibetan villages. The biggest highlight of the trip is the Thorung La pass (5416m) – for many the first experience of high altitude (and altitude sickness), and a glimpse of Upper Mustang on the other side of the pass.
We knew that this is something for us – a perfect, short but intensive adventure. We had got plenty of information from the people who finished the Trail and it was obvious for us that bringing a full camping kit to a trekkers paradise would be an overkill. We got rid of all the things we could survive without and ended up leaving Pokhara with only one pannier, one drybag, a small handlebarbag and a camera case.
Cycling paved roads with much lighter bikes quickly turned out to be much easier than with a fully loaded bicycle, especially climbing the hills and starting from zero. But the real benefit of having almost nothing became obvious once we entered the Annapurna Circuit in Besishahar. There the tarmac road suddenly turned into a clay-and-cobbles jeep track. The first section of the trail goes parallel to a trekking path and both of them are all the way uphill. The biggest difference for us was the amount of tourists that would pass by, so we ended up cycling on the jeep road, not necessarily easier or harder than a path.
It was really fascinating to cycle through so many different landscapes in such a short time! The variety of plants and rock formations was truly spectacular, not mentioning all those beautiful people.
We did not have much luck with the weather during our first days of cycling which resulted in flooded roads with a lot of muddy sections and wet, steep climbs.
We built our bikes for touring, not for muddy mountain bike trail riding. We were more than happy to find dry and rocky parts of the road.
Undoubtedly one of the funniest things to ride were the hanging bridges! Most of them were in spotless conditions and going over the river was like cycling on a narrow cycling lane.
As we passed a town called Chame, the landscape changed into something that we know from Norway. A beautiful, deep valley covered by patches of forest. From now on we had known, that the real adventure begun. That was also a moment of being fully exposed to the masses of tourists.
Most of the people (80%) we passed were walking with a Nepali guide and almost half of them had porters carrying their additional luggage. For the local people it is a common thing to carry heavy loads on their backs, so most of the porters had 2-3 duffelbags tighten together to form a neat but heavy load. We did not meet many tourists walking without a backpack, so you can only imagine what kind of useless stuff they bring on the trail.
We decided not to care much about the totally unprepared and inexperienced tourists and just enjoyed the beauty of the mountains.
The higher we get, the more the landscape started to look familiar to us. Stupas and praying wheels, just like in Ladakh! It was a good feeling to be back to the Himlayas!
It was fun to watch children playing in their best (wildest) way! People of the mountains seemed to have their own life, not much disturbed by the passing masses.
We were super lucky speeding towards Manang. We arrived just in the middle of a local celebration and a lama mask dance! It was a kind of a fertility festival, and we were told that unmarried girls should stay at home. Everybody seemed to be happy and there was a nice, relaxed vibe in the air. Even the lamas were drinking!
That is the end of part one. The rest (including the high pass) will come soon!