For the first day's ride, waking up to a lovely sunny day was a great start. Our group of five plus guide are already in Jomsom, having endured a wet and muddy nine hours in a jeep yesterday. The ride today to Kagbeni is only about 12km long and a100m climb. Distances on this tour aren't significant as the terrain and altitude are the main challenges. However today should be relatively easy with an earlyish scheduled arrival in Kagbeni, a good introduction to cycling at altitude - Jomsom is at 2,700m.
First thing, well after a hearty mountain breakfast and a stroll around this one street town, is to get fitted for the bikes. The sizes were booked in advance so this doesn't take long - the new bikes that came up the mountain with us are excellent but the others are fine and well maintained.
Stocking up on clean drinking water was the first stop. Safe drinking water is available cheaply in most towns (usually at the permit check points) to help cut down on the scourge of plastic bottles that pollute and spoil this beautiful landscape.
The clear air is a nice change from the smog and dust down in the towns of the valley. However there are also breathing issues here - the thin air as well as the altitude mean that frequent stops are required - not a big problem as the photo opportunities are endless! It is good not to rush things and Tashi, our Tibetan guide, is very patient.
The advantage of having a local guide soon becomes very apparent. Tashi knows the whole Mustang area very well and regales us with Buddhist stories and legends as well as anecdotes from local life. One such story is about the mad river, a tributary of the mighty Kali Gandaki, which can rapidly change course in this flat riverbed and often cuts people off as they try to cross. Another being the attempt by the government to build a road across a cliff-face, despite being told by locals that the spirits wouldn't allow it. After many attempts they gave up due to the hardness of the rock and re-routed the road - the Buddhist temple under the rock is now a popular shrine with locals.
Fortunately this is the dry season and the Kali Gandaki isn't so mighty now - often reduced to a few channels across the alluvial plain, albeit fast flowing and icy cold from the higher mountain snow and glaciers. It isn't too hard to imagine how big it can get and how disruptive this can be for those who stay during the wet season and the harsh winter (may choose to decamp to Kathmandu).
Temporary bridges across these channels often need to be moved throughout the season but are washed away when the waters rise. The only way to move around is to use the high suspension bridges that are only suitable for walkers - and cyclists! These steel cable bridges are high and sturdy although they sway in the breeze but are such fun on a bike - at first they are a bit nerve-racking as slow is not an option and it is hard to avoid looking at the river or valley far below. Once comfortable with the idea that you won't fall over the side the speed is a good thing, as it’s needed to get a run up the other end.
Further along a green oasis emerges. Farms and terraces bring life to the otherwise barren landscape around all Himalayan villages. As we arrive in Kagbeni at lunchtime we have the afternoon to explore.
We visit the 400-year-old monastery where a group of novice monks are (carefully) playing cricket in the yard between the old and new buildings. Around the corner an archery contest is taking place with competitors from many villages. We are led though winding alleyways to a point looking into Upper Mustang (the Kingdom of Lo), which is a restricted area and requires a special permit.
Down below are a couple of large herds of goats that have come down from grazing on higher slopes. They look like black dots crossing the massive Kali Gandaki valley, As well as being extremely wide this valley is the deepest on earth, being between two 8,000m giants (Annapurna and Dhaulagiri). The goats need little herding and know where they are going as they head into the village to be housed for the night.
Tomorrow is the biggest cycling day of the tour so after a good dinner of Dhal Bat we are also ready to rest up and keep warm under a layer of blankets.
The author was a guest of Infinite Mountain Adventure and the tour was the Annapurna Fun Ride. To read more of this awesome adventure please check out the Nepal Blog.
This tour took place in April 2015 and finished just days before the devastating earthquake. You can support the victims through your local Red Cross or other humanitarian organisation. However beyond much-needed immediate help one of the best ways to support the Nepalese people and economy is to visit and rebuild tourism, Nepal's biggest industry.