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Eastern Promise: A cycling adventure in Nepal with ThamBikes.

Eastern Promise: A cycling adventure in Nepal with ThamBikes.

Some time ago I was contacted by a lady I had met at one of our “Tongba nights” in Kathmandu, Jo Chaffer.
She was  embarking on a project (ThamBikes) to search for, and then package, new mountainbike routes and destinations in Nepal. Jo wondered if I “might be interested in getting involved?”
Let me think about that for a minute – “Would I be interested in exploring uncharted trails on my mountainbike in Nepal with the potential to follow it up with guided trips? Hmm?
Not many Benny!!! Absolutely I would!
And so it came to pass, that in March this year, I, along with my buddy Mitchell Bryan, found ourselves being collected from Tribhuvan International Airport, Kathmandu, by Jo and a couple of guys in a pick-up truck from Thamserku (Nepal’s leading adventure travel provider, and partner in the venture).
We stayed at Jo’s place for a couple of days, a very nice (and earthquake proof as I was to discover later!) ground floor apartment in the Maharajgunj area of the city.
Mitch and I managed to get out and about on some of the Kathmandu trails before the bikes were loaded in to a Jeep and transported east; ready for our arrival by plane in Bhadrapur the following day.
We were to be joined on the trip by another good friend of ours, Santosh Rai from Himalayan Singletrack, who had us hopping from foot to foot at the airport wondering whether he was going to make the flight on time; he does enjoy a lay-in does Santosh (and a late night)!
As is common with domestic flights in Nepal ours was delayed for an hour or so before we eventually got in the air. The 45 minutes flight to Bhadrapur can be spectacular but it was not our day and most of the mountain views were obscured by cloud cover, so I spent the time productively snoozing.

Boarding in Kathmandu.
Obscured views on the flight east.
Loading the jeep.

An outsider to Nepal could be misled in to thinking that the terrain is completely Himalayan, however The Terai Plain is a dominant landmass in this part of the country and it is pan flat as far as the eye can see; in most directions.
Utam, our Jeep driver, was waiting expectantly for us at the arrivals area; and after a quick re-shuffle of the bikes and luggage, to make room for all of us, we were soon on our way towards the distant mountains. It’s actually an amazing sight to see The Himalaya smash out of The Terai Plain; from zero to four and five thousand metres vertical with virtually no demarcation.
Our target for the day was to meet up with Jo’s friend Simon Manandhar from The Paradise Cottages Eco-Resort and to check out the development of his lovely, locally crafted, lodges.
We snaked our way slowly up from the plain on stunning hairpinned roads and in to the mountains of the Kanchenjunga Range, through the town of Phikkal, and eventually to our rendezvous with Simon at Kanyan.

Tea plantations. (Image Santosh Rai)
Neil, Santosh, Mitch. (Image: Santosh Rai)

After a brief lunch we decided to unload the bikes and ride the rest of the way to Pashupatinagar. We had fun picking out singletrack in the ubiquitous tea plantations along the route and finally finished off with a bugger of a road climb up into the town.
The resort, set in its own small tea plantation, is a work in progress and a labour of love for Simon. All the lodges are being constructed using local materials, mostly bamboo and a mixture of dirt and sand (which Simon is still perfecting), and local labour using age-old techniques that they are trying to preserve before they get lost forever in the ever expanding drive for concrete modernity. When completed it is going to be a lovely environment in which the clients will be able to relax after a hard days riding, and have the satisfaction of knowing that, just by being there, they are contributing to the preservation of Nepali culture.

Under construction, the bamboo lodges at Simon’s.

We played around on the bikes on some of the natural features at Simon’s place when we arrived, and had fun kicking up rooster tails in the dusty trail whilst Santosh took some pictures. It’s always fun playing up for the camera.
That evening we were all invited to dine at Simon’s Aunts house; it’s always an honour to be invited in to someone’s home like that, and we readily accepted it, we ate delicious local, home-cooked, Nepali food and had a lovely evening, after which we retired to our tents for a well needed rest.

Tents!
Playing around! (Image Santosh Rai)
(Image:Santosh Rai)
(Image:Santosh Rai)


Loop-The-Loop.

The following morning (let’s call it Day One of recce’ing) we had a plan to search out some trails. Map’s, Google Earth, and local knowledge helped us piece together some potential routes and we set off in pairs to scour the hillsides.
Santosh and I went off in search of singletrack whilst Jo and Mitch took to some favourable looking Jeep roads in the same direction.
A short climb up through the town got us quickly to the “Shree Antu Trailhead” and we had a blast traversing the undulating terrain across to the border with India, where we met up with Jo and Mitch for an extremely long and thrilling descent. It didn’t all go smoothly of course and we almost got ourselves in to a diplomatic incident after spotting some great sections of trail across a valley; fortunately someone kindly pointed out that they were actually in India and we probably shouldn’t go that way. Touching distance from forbidden fruit!
During one of our rest stops Santosh managed to procure us some tea from a local resident and we had a lot of fun watching the local kids trying to ride our bikes.
Throughout the whole trip our bikes created quite a buzz in the villages that we passed through.



We were able to piece together a really nice 40km loop which will be a great introductory ride to The Himalaya. We did miss a turn towards the end, that would have finished it off nicely and would have taken us directly to the Buddadam Tea Plantation, instead we ended up riding back up the sealed road again, but we know exactly where it is for next time. 
At the plantation we were given the grand tour by the owner and offered a wide variety of tea’s for tasting. Some were delicious, and some of the tea’s, for certain international markets, could be described as an “acquired taste” but that’s all part of the fun; it’s something different for people to enjoy. We enjoyed the experience a lot and came away with bundles of our favourites to enjoy at home.That evening we enjoyed more wonderful local food cooked over an open wood stove, before retiring to the hypnotic camp fire and a beer or two for good measure. It was a good day.

Forbidden fruit. Indian border trails. 
Jo Chaffer, the gaffer!



Day Two – The Up’s and Down’s.

Sadly our time in Pashupatinagar had to come to an end.
We had work to do.
Happily Simon decided he would join us for a few days and provide additional support with his own Jeep. Accompanying him was a very highly respected local fellow who we got to know as Tikka Dai. It turned out, subsequently, that Tikka Dai seemed to know everyone in the district very well, and was a great source of local knowledge; he proved to be a really useful addition to our team, and we liked him a lot, he was a very nice man.


Our objective was to try and reach Ilam, a shade over 50kms away and with around 2300m of climbing (and descending) it could prove to be a tough one. There are no easy miles in Nepal, it goes up or it goes down. The riding in general isn’t overly technical but the surfaces vary wildly, one minute you can be riding on compacted surfaces, the next you might be washing out on sand, rattling over loose rocks, or picking a line through sketchy ruts.
It may not be too technical but it is always interesting. And you always need to keep an eye out for roaming livestock!

The day started with a furious 14km descent on fast Jeep trail. We then hung out at a tea shop in the valley and waited for the support vehicles to catch up. Nothing in Nepal can keep up with a determined mountain biker going downhill.
The reward for our invigorating descent was an unrelenting 10km/1000m climb!

Mitch sitting at the tea shop awaiting the jeep support.
What goes down must go back up!


At the top sat the small town of Naya Bazaar and we enjoyed spicy noodles and eggs for lunch. As usual the bikes proved to be a big attraction for the local kids and they hovered around them like little hornets, fascinated that we had bikes that could go uphill as well as down!

Mitch, Santosh, and Jo in Naya Bazaar.


Like the gift that keeps on giving we plundered yet another 14km descent. It was fantastic; good, washed out, old Jeep trail, that took us in to a beautiful valley bisected with a sparkling river, and brimming with wild flowers. Invigorated, we rested awhile, ate biscuits, and enthused to one another just how good it had been so far. We crossed the river nervously over a makeshift bamboo bridge, we were to see a lot of these over the coming days, but it was more than a match for us and so Mitch and I rode backwards and forwards over it a few times while Santosh and Jo snapped away with the cameras for some necessary publicity shots.



We discussed the the potential of the valley as a possible camp site to end the day with clients, such was it’s serenity. It truly was a beautiful place.
Utam, to our initial surprise, managed to skillfully ford the river in his mighty Landcruiser and we set off once again on a brutal 8.5km climb to black-top and then upwards some more in to the hilltop town of Ilam, famous for it’s stunning views, tea plantations, and diverse agricultural economy. It was possibly the toughest, entirely ride-able (just), climb of the whole trip, and that’s saying something.
Once there we soon tracked down some accommodation; The delightful Chiyabari Cottage Hotel managed to squeeze us in, we showered (very necessary by this point!), washed some clothes, and watched the sun set over the tea plantations. And then maybe, you know, just maybe, managed to squeeze a couple of thirst-quenching beers in to us. We were really enjoying the whole adventure.


Day Three – More Tea Vicar?

The day dawned bright and clear, perfect for a morning of singletrack exploration around the tea plantations of Ilam. Santosh had ridden here before and so Mitch and I followed his lead. We dropped straight in to the action, immediately adjacent to the hotel, and wound our way around from there. Jo headed off to check out the potential of some local camping spots and one or two of the viewpoints around town.
The tea plantations are packed with good access paths and tiny, twisty, tea-pickers trail’s; some so tight that we collected a few scratches and scrapes along the way on the abrasive bushes. Others dropped steeply down on the precipitous slopes. We had a ball!
There is so much singletrack that we hardly scratched the surface in a couple of hours of riding. It would be possible to ride around there for a couple of days and still not cover it all. lot’s of potential there for future rides.

Me photographing Santosh photographing Mitch!


After lunch the bikes were loaded on to the Jeep and we nosed our way upwards to a high spot in the hills called Mai Pokhari.
The fairly relentless 17km+ climb up will make for another decent challenge once the trips are under way and the traditional Sherpa Lodge in the village will be a nice staging post as we explore the tranquillity of Mai Pokhari and it’s sacred lake on the hill.
Something I haven’t seen in Nepal before was the plethora of the cultivation of plants and flowers in pots and borders. Pretty and decorative gardens were in an abundance. In Nepal people grow crops out of necessity wherever possible, but here in the east it seems that they also enjoy gardening for pleasure too in much the same way that people do in the developed world.

We enjoyed an hour or two around Mai Pokhari and then saddled up  for an exhilarating 45 minute descent down to the black top road on old trade route, a pony rail, it would be unfair to describe it as a jeep road; the top half of which was fast and flowing and the bottom half rocky and loose, not dissimilar to my local trails in The Peak District National Park back home. Fast, furious, fun.



Whilst waiting for the jeep to collect us at the bottom we pulled wheelies and bunny hops to entertain the local kids in the village, rather than just sitting around anonymously. I like to entertain the kids if I can, it gives them a lasting and positive memory and will hopefully inspire a few of them to take up mountain biking one day.
The next leg of our journey, to Phidim, on the sealed road took up us up to, and along, an amazing ridge line before dropping down through 21kms of hairpin bends in to town; and a less than welcome cold shower at the end of the day! Nepal’s hill country never fails to deliver the spectacular.

Day Four – A Road Less Travelled and a Tongba Virgin No More!


We left Phidim early and embarked upon a stunning drive through the mountains en-route to Taplejung; eagles soared high above us on rising thermals, and many of the houses we passed had distinctive thatched roofs, another distinguishing feature that I haven’t seen much of in other areas but is common here.
We laughed at an advertising mural daubed on to the side of one house in a garish colour scheme “Shaka Laka Boom Boom”, Santosh told us that it was a brand of packaged noodles. It became an oft used mantra for the rest of our trip.

Kabeli. The base of the 24km climb to Taplejung.

We arrived in a valley at the village of Kabeli, 24 kms shy of Taplejung, in the now blazing heat of midday, and having tired of sitting in the jeep we decided to tackle the testing 1400m ascent on the bikes. I’m not a big fan of road riding, or blazing heat, but this was a chance to stretch our legs a little and a good climb is a good climb. If it wasn’t for the wild variation in surface conditions Nepal would be a world class destination for road cycling; the European Alps, in comparison, are small fry.
We checked in to the imaginatively named Taplejung Hotel.
We gave the bikes a good clean and service, and Santosh attempted to true up my rear wheel which was slowly starting to resemble a Pringle!

Mitch cleaning my bike at Taplejung.

Then it was Tongba time! 
Tongba, for the uninitiated, is a mildly alcoholic drink synonymous with Eastern Nepal. It consists of fermented Millet seeds infused with boiling water and served up in a traditional wooden pot.
The flavour, initially, can be quite intense but then mellows slowly with the addition of more water. It can also be best described as an “acquired taste”. I have acquired the taste!
Mitch, the Tongba virgin, was about to develop a taste for it too.
Our hostess, in the tiny little tavern, was a slightly mad Tibetan woman. Actually I’ll rephrase that, she was quite bonkers! We laughed a lot this particular evening, in part due to mild intoxication and in part due to the antics of our barmy barmaid and her habit of hiding valuable items in the refrigerator including her mobile phone!

Tongba pots in Taplejung.
Mitch, Neil, Jo, and Simon, acquiring the taste!

Day Five – Missed Turns and Dead-Ends.

Jo checking route directions to Tiwar.

Today’s destination was the remote village of Tiwar, something of an unknown quantity, on the trekking route to Kanchenjunga Base Camp. In simple terms a 38km (24 miles) jeep road traverse. In real terms a bit of a bastard; miles in Nepal aren’t often easily gained. In my now considerable experience Nepali distances can be calculated using a simple equation, they are about 50-60% harder than kilometres travelled anywhere else on a mountain bike, therefore, roughly speaking, 1km = 1 mile in the real world!
Today was to be a bit of an epic.

We left Taplejung on the sealed road, missed our turn off, and climbed way too far! It eventually dawned on us that we might have gone wrong, and so we turned back and eventually found the jeep road some distance below us. We visited a lovely Gompa (monastery), a nice spot with spectacular views, and investigated the possibility of using the grounds for camping on future trips.

Neil and Mitch at the Gompa. (Image:Jo Chaffer)

Today’s route was classic Nepal. Lots of climbing, some cheeky, some honest, and some downright mean, interspersed with some really great descending. Utam followed behind slowly in the jeep all day. We eventually arrived in Tiwar, at the very end of the jeep trail, around 4.30pm. 

Mitch.
Jo.
Santosh.
Neil.
Santosh knows how to ride a bike!

For a brief while we were the centre of attraction in the village. That was until the arrival of “The chicken man” who usurped our celebrity status and we were relegated to merely “passing folly” once more.
“The chicken man”, as you might rightly assume, came armed with a box full of chickens; and, in rural Nepal, chickens are a valuable commodity!

Santosh, Jo, and Mitch, arriving in Tiwar.

Once the chicken man arrived we were relegated to passing folly!

Tiwar is a remote outpost and so our accommodation proved to be, well, let’s call it modest. In other words a two story shed with a tin roof. Rural Nepal at it’s simplest, a truly Nepali experience, far from the madding crowds of neon Thamel in Kathmandu. The views, however, were considerably more remarkable, a fair trade off if ever there was one.

Nice views.


Day Six – (Un)Welcome to the Jungle!

Another epic day was about to unfold. Santosh, Mitch, and I left Tiwar to follow the trekking route back towards Dobhan. Jo sensibly elected to go back in the jeep with Utam and pick us up later in the day.

The first 5kms were, by and large, very tough hike-a-bike on rocky terrain above the river, the delicious smells of the jungle and the swathes of farmed cardamom were an intoxicating distraction. The terrain evened out a bit at Siwar but remained equally tough in places. By Mitlung we were getting hungry and stopped for delicious eggs and noodles washed down with the ever ubiquitous Coca-Cola, a life saver in the heat and humidity.

Mitch enjoying the lunch break in Mitlung.


Departing Mitlung, Santosh decided, in his wisdom, to explore a “local” trail rather than pursue the trekking route as first planned (a local shortcut was how he sold the idea to us!). I had my reservations having experienced “local” trails in the past, Nepali’s tend to take the shortest available route rather than the path of least resistance.
Holy mother of God! Our exploration became an epic un-rideable hike-a-bike slog through dense, mosquito infested jungle! Hours passed by, the humidity was debilitating and I grew hungrier, and grumpier, with every miserable god-forsaken step!
I swore a lot. Mitch laughed a lot. I think my misery helped to bolster his spirits.

The look of relief on crossing the suspension bridge!

Eventually, and on the cusp of near death, a suspension bridge loomed large and we picked up the trekking trail once more. My misery was to continue a while longer yet though as the village near the bridge was a simple one and had nowhere to replenish my water supply safely. A good old hike-a-bike up to and over a bhanjang finally brought us to some usable trail and we coasted in to the next village where I was able to, riskily, fill my bottles from a fresh water supply tapped out of the mountainside. 
At the next village we were able to purchase bottles of Coke, I bought three! I slurped two down immediately and topped up my water bottles with the other. I don’t normally drink Coke, in fact I wouldn’t clean my toilet with it, but when you are dehydrated and severely depleted it can be a miracle cure of sugar induced euphoria.

Three bottles of Coka-Cola!


The rest of the journey was actually really good. The trail flowed nicely downwards and, in my now recovered state, I was able to enjoy the remaining kilometres all the way to Dobhan were we rendezvoused with Jo and Utam. The bikes were loaded on to the jeep and Utam drove us back up to Taplejung. All three of us were properly knackered!
We had hot showers, cleaned some clothes, and drank beer.
The final nail in the coffin for the day was spotting a crack in the carbon on the seat stay of my bike. I decided that it wasn’t too bad and would keep an eye on it over the coming days to see if it developed further.

Day Seven – Pog Eggs and Inferno’s.


After yesterdays near death experience it was decided that an easier day might be prudent (we’ll see about that later, shall we?).
A lay-in and a lazy breakfast was the order of the day!
Pog eggs were my choice. When travelling you will often see mis-translations on menu’s and today it was Pog Eggs, I hazarded a guess that it meant Poached Eggs, thankfully I guessed correctly. I’ve never heard of a Pog, let alone an egg laying Pog!
(My son Dan and I once saw “Free Wife” advertised with a room in Indonesia! We didn’t risk it.)
We cleaned and serviced the bikes and then went out for cake.
I like cake.


Later we peddled the short yet challenging 8km/800m climb to our next port of call, The Everest View hotel in Suketar.
After settling in we headed out of the village and found a nice spot to play around in and get some photographs. We even got invited in to a Sherpa home to drink some tea which was a nice distraction, and of course everyone there wanted to try out the bikes as usual!

The bikes in Suketar.
Mitch playing the Pied Piper! 
I love pulling a wheelie!


Back at the lodge we hung out in the family kitchen, chatted, and soaked up the delicious aromas of the spicy, wood-cooked, food being prepared in the clay oven.
At some point in our cozy revelry rumours of a big fire in Taplejung began to perforate our conversations and an atmosphere of mild panic became prevalent amongst some of the family members. We could see an ever increasing glow over the town from our lofty position up here on the ridge. The lady from the lodge was worried about her sister, who lived in the town, and Utam asked if it was OK to take her and her daughter down in the jeep to check up. Jo, Santosh, and I, grabbed the med-kits and went along too to see if we could provide any necessary help.
It was crazy! The police and the military appeared to be completely ineffective and had little or no idea how to respond, or how to gain any control over the situation. I’ve never seen anything like it.
Panic ensued everywhere, people were crowding the streets near the fire, either rescuing stuff, smashing up buildings to create a fire break, or just looking on hopelessly.
In the space of a few minutes, while we were in the centre. a power line/pylon crashed to the ground through the crowd, then an errant JCB almost destroyed a balcony on one property, and then a power line, and then almost wiped out a hoard of people. It was completely nuts and soon became apparent that we weren’t going to be able to help the situation in any way. From time to time gas cylinders would explode lighting up the skyline amid gasps from the panic stricken onlookers. We lost touch with Santosh during the melee and Jo and I eventually conceded defeat and retreated back to the jeep. We edged forward a few times looking for Santosh but in the end we stayed near the jeep until he returned, it was just too dangerous. Eventually we left the scene and returned to our lodge in Suketar, there was nothing we could do to help, it was a hopeless situation. Over fifty properties were destroyed that night.
A few days later we watched a news bulletin and sat aghast at what we were seeing, some random stock-footage from CNN, or some other source, showed professional firefighters tackling a blaze; it was complete nonsense! It just shows that media and government manipulation isn’t exclusive to developed countries, the people of Nepal are being hoodwinked and mislead just the same as the rest of the world! I was dumbstruck.

Day Eight – Bike-A-Hike and Butter Chicken.

Day eight started with what Mitch and I refer to as an “honest climb”. Which really translates to relentless, neither brutally hard nor forgiving at any point, just a relentless gradient that requires consistent effort. 11kms of rough, washed out jeep road from Suketar to Phedi with over 700m of altitude gain.


At Phedi we abandoned the bikes and began to hike up to The Pathibhara Temple sitting at almost 3800m. Pathibhara is one of the most important Hindu sites in Nepal and it was a very special pilgrimage for Santosh and Utam, both were really looking forward to it. The views, from the summit, of the Kanchenjunga Range, were spectacular as usual. Views are something that Nepal rarely fails to deliver.The heavens opened on Mitch, Jo, and I, during the descent back down; we were peppered with hailstones and fairly well soaked through by rain by the time we reached the village again.
We waited out the remainder of the storm in a small tea shop until Santosh and Utam returned from praying, then loaded the bikes on to the roof of the jeep.
Utam thought it would be possible to return to Taplejung on the treacherous road, despite the rain storm.
It was, but it was a hair-raising experience! I was quite pleased that he had been praying to the gods that morning!
Mitch on the other hand took the whole journey in his stride, and whilst I was clenching my bum hole and gripping on to the door handle for dear-life, he was casually pointing out different orchid species growing in some of the trees. (Mitch is something of an amateur horticulturalist).


At Taplejung we stayed in the slightly less-than-luxurious Hotel Mountain. I had to shower in Mitch’s room because mine had no hot water supply. In the evening our dinner took an age to arrive, we sat around ravenous for about an hour and a half, growing more impatient with every passing minute.
When my Butter Chicken finally arrived all was forgiven. It was simply the most delicious curry I have ever eaten in Nepal; and that is praise indeed! All the trials of the previous few days were forgotten with the first mouthful. Ecstasy.

Day Nine – Sanguine Sangu, a Most Random of Random’s.

I awoke early. An incessant cacophony of noise rising from the streets below. Nepal sleeps early and rises early. Most places are ghostly quiet by 8pm in the evenings but come first light of the day and everything and everyone are at it! Roosters crowing, dogs barking, horns honking, workers clattering and banging, children squealing… even with ear plugs you are fortunate to enjoy a peaceful lay-in!
The crack on my chain-stay was noticeably worse, I set about an ad-hoc repair with cable ties and duct tape to support it as best I could, it was fingers crossed from now on. No more misbehaving on the bike for me.
We were also going solo now for a couple of days; Utam would be meeting us with the jeep in Chauki. So I loaded the bike up with the superb Alpkit bikepacking luggage, much more comfortable than riding with a backpack!


On our way out of town the destruction from the fire was obvious everywhere and we looked on aghast at the devastation.


At the bottom of the exhilarating, dusty, descent to Dobhan we stopped for a refreshing Coke, it was getting hot early and we had a long climb to Sangu ahead of us.
We checked out a potential campsite down by the river and then began the grind upwards.
The surface of the jeep trail was steep, loose, and soily and all of us spent a fair bit of time pushing the bikes. The spiraling heat made it doubly hard, Jo really struggled today, everyone has a bad day at some point on a trip like this.

High up the trail Santosh, in his wisdom, decided to take us on another of his “local” diversions rather than follow the obvious trekking route. The previous days Butter Chicken had clearly clouded my judgement and the lesson learned from our earlier “local trail” experience must have been forgotten.

It began well enough with a traverse of lush paddy fields and upwards in to stunning primal forest. An old wooden suspension bridge added a bit of excitement to the day as we pondered the potential for death on attempting to cross it. This was followed immediately by a tough but good hike-a-bike up rocky pathways before we emerged, some time later, back out on to jeep trail and spun the pedals in to Sangu just as it started to rain lightly, perfect timing.

 

Sangu was a lovely place. A high caste Brahman village with an impressive school, playing fields, and a radio playing on a loud speaker for all the village to hear. It even had a Ferris Wheel in a potato field! In a country that is possibly one of the most random places in the world a Ferris Wheel in a potato field provided us with a very random memory! Sadly It wasn’t operational, much to our disappointment.

It was we however that were centre of attention for the village. The arrival of foreign tourists, being an unusual event, prompted the villagers to butcher a goat. One man, a little too enthusiastically for my liking, seemed to revel in his task of plucking the hairs from the unfortunate goats testicles! I didn’t especially enjoy my portion no matter how auspicious the occasion may have been! (Luckily I didn’t get the testicles). We ended our evening slurping down a hearty brew of  local Tongba and drifted off in to a mildly alcohol infused sleep.



Day Ten – Upwards and Upwards!

Today began in the same vein as the previous ones. Roosters, chatter, loud horns, and diesel fumes, had me crawling, bleary eyed, from the serenity of my sleep at 06.15am!
I was shaken from my slumberous state by a most glorious sunrise. Sangu was truly a delightful place to start the day despite the din.


I cycled hard on my own for the first hour or so, I felt really strong all day, and enjoyed the steady gradient of the 25km push to the summit. Unfortunately Mitch was taking his turn to have a bad day and, obviously, being the good friend that I am, I aggravated him mercilessly all day about his pathetic performance. It’s what friends are for.

The tea shop.

We had tea in a small shop at the lofty bhanjang then cruised the ridgeline all the way in to Gulphar Bazaar for lunch.
Gulphar Bazaar was wonderful, barely touched by tourism it retains an authentic Nepali feel. A rural village going about its daily business whilst providing a welcome stopping point for passers-by.
The spicy pork and noodles were just what weary cyclists needed.


The weather began closing in a little as we climbed out of town and we hit a rain/hail storm on the next descent. Prudently we took shelter under a tree for a few minutes. We didn’t last long before we threw caution to wind and braved the elements once more.
Slick and slippy, wet and muddy. We had a blast!
It wasn’t long before we out ran the storm and pushed on until we arrived at Chauki.


Utam, coming from the opposite direction, arrived shortly after us.
He was very pissed off, the rain had turned his route in to a dangerous affair “I come here never again” he ranted! Oops.
The damp air turned misty just after we arrived and the normally breathtaking High-Himalayas where nowhere to be seen.
Mitch had his first experience of Raksi, a locally brewed spirit something akin to moonshine, and I befriended a baby goat.

Santosh introduced me to a lovely chicken then promptly killed and cooked it for dinner. I didn’t enjoy that either. I like meat but I don’t want to make friends with it first I’ve now concluded.


Day Eleven – It’s All Down Hill From Here.



Jo, Mitch, and I rode today. Santosh, at Utam’s insistence, went in the jeep.
We were told that it was down hill all the way to Basantapur so the 6km/500m climb shortly after leaving the village came as a bit of a surprise! At the deorali (pass) we hung some prayer flags and then started our long descent in to a swirling mist. Jo suffered a pinch flat so I stopped and helped her to sort it out in the cold, damp, dank, atmosphere. Fifty metres after setting off again we bumped in to Mitch warming himself up in a small tea shop! Bugger! It was so misty that we hadn’t seen each other! Mitch was unaware that we were fixing a puncture and we were unaware of the welcoming warmth of the tea shop. We consoled ourselves by eating the entire stock of biscuits with our tea.


We endured a little rain too, but not enough to make us miserable, the descent was too much fun to dampen our spirits and it got better and better the further down we went. Ten kilometres of roaring trail led us back to a sealed road and we cruised in to town at exactly the same time as Utam and Santosh arrived with the jeep.
The cycling for the day was over but the day itself was far from over.


We were about to leave the hills once more and head for the humid plains of The Terai.
We passed through the centre of Hile with all of its lovely looking local restaurants and stopped just outside town at an imposing resort on the hillside with a panoramic vista of the valley below. Everyone ordered pizza. Unfortunately so did I.
I learnt some time ago never to eat pizza outside of Kathmandu. In Kathmandu there are some excellent restaurants serving delicious wood-fired pizza. Against my better judgement, and because I was seduced by the splendid pictures in the menu, I put my reservations to one side. I won’t do that again! 
Our alpine-style descent in to Dharan was fantastic. Dharan is a curious city. It sits at he base of the precipitous Himalaya, and the Terai Plain stretches away to the south. A clashing point of ancient continents creating a unique geographical area.
We visited a bicycle shop (with its own coffee shop!) owned by friends of Santosh, got lost in the national park looking for an elusive homestay, and ended up getting a very cheap deal in a very posh “campsite” in the hot and humid Koshi Tappu Wildlife Reserve! (Seven rivers).

Day Twelve – Gulab Jamun and “Fucking enchiladas”!


A really good breakfast of milky porridge and poached eggs preceded a lazy morning of wonderful nothingness. It was refreshing not to have a plan, not to have to rise at the crack of dawn and pedal enormous mountains, not to do anything at all.
Over breakfast Mitch courteously asked me if I slept well to which I less than courteously replied “No, the fucking enchiladas kept me awake all night!” Mitch laughed a lot. I was obviously delirious from lack of sleep, cicadas, not enchiladas, are more likely to keep you awake at night!
We took lunch in a riverside restaurant belonging to another friend of Santosh with the majority of Dharan’s erstwhile mountain biking community for company, then hit the road for Biratnagar.
Biratnagar is a shithole. Sorry Biratnagar.
It’s an ugly, industrial, border town. Hot, humid, dirty, with only one redeeming feature; an airport to get you out of there!
Actually that’s unfair. Biratnagar had Gulab Jamun!
Gulab Jamun is a nondescript desert made from milk solids and served in an intensely sweet syrup. It’s my favourite sweet treat!
A fine way to round off any mountain biking adventure!
Shaka laka boom boom!

We bid a temporary farewell to Jo in Biratnagar, she was heading back in to Kanchenjunga on a humanitarian mission of sorts; and the following day we got a flight seamlessly back to Kathmandu where Utam was waiting patiently for us to unload our bikes from the jeep.


Thambikes will launching trips very soon. Several different packages and tours based around our Eastern Nepal recce including fully supported “Glamping” and a more adventurous “Bikepacking” option. Plus tours around the ancient kingdom of Ghorka, Solu Khumbu, and the rarely visited regions of Western Nepal.
Exciting stuff and very different from the standard packages currently offered by most tour operators in the region.
All of the trips will be aimed at mountain bike touring rather than technical singletrack and will have a strong cultural influence, visiting tea and coffee plantations, important cultural highlights, homestays, and an immersive experience of real Nepal. It will be important to be fit and reasonably experienced on a mountain bike but you won’t need to be an expert bike handler. Easy going and open minded will be far more important qualities.
Nepal is a very beautiful country inhabited by a diverse and welcoming population. Exploring Nepal is an adventure in to the extraordinary. Visit soon, after the April 2015 earthquake they need you to come an enjoy their country and hospitality more than ever before. Nepal is still in business!
I’ll see you there! 🙂

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Thank you for looking, I hope that you enjoyed it 🙂




About The Author

Neil Cottam

Neil is the founder of Chase The Rainbow. He has spent a lifetime exploring the outdoors, from a childhood climbing trees and scrambling his bike around old pit heads to hiking in the Himalaya and backpacking around Europe and Asia.

2 Comments

  1. Nat Vervaart

    Thanks for sharing Neil. I'm inspired to ditch the paraglider and join you on future mountain bike adventures!

    Reply
  2. Neil

    Glad you enjoyed it Nate; you're welcome to come and ride anytime mate 🙂

    Reply

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