Annapurna Bike Tour: Long Way to the Top

 Bruce Robertson

Today is the big day - despite the distance to be covered being only 12km. However we will climb almost 1,000m making this a much more challenging proposition. A good breakfast of traditional Tibetan bread and Tsampa porridge starts the day, then outside to a sunny but chilly morning in Kagbeni. There is a jeep on standby for anyone who doesn't feel up to the challenge and unfortunately one of our group is not well so opts for this.
We start with a fun downhill diversion at the edge of the Upper Mustang region and as it's the start of the day the ride back up to the trail isn't too onerous. However some of it requires walking due to the steepness - something that will regularly happen for the rest of the day. The elevation is more of an issue here because of the thin atmosphere at this altitude (at least that's my excuse!) - we take lots of breaks (also known as photo stops) and the walking also allows us to catch our breath.
Although we're mainly on jeep tracks today there is very little traffic on this route - the buses take a different road. The landscape is very barren but that makes the surrounding mountains of Nilgiri and Dhaulagiri stand out even more - my photos just don't do them justice. There are places here that conspiracy theorists could easily claim were used for shooting the moon landing pictures.
Almost unrelenting gradual and steeper climbs are the order of the day although some flat and even downhill sections are a fun welcome break. However every metre down means an even harder one up as we could see our destination across the valley at a much higher level. Not far ahead, and not much higher from where we are, is a village. Unfortunately not our lunch stop though as our guide, Tashi points to another village further on and higher up, "that has a better restaurant". Who are we to argue?  When we arrive in Jhong and find the restaurant - naturally at the highest point - we are the only people around and the village seems deserted. However they have a good menu and we are allowed a long leisurely lunch.
Tired rider

 The long break is fortunate as the only rain of the bike tour rolls in - not too heavy but enough to be uncomfortable for a fair weather cyclist who didn't pack for the wet! When we set off again the rain has practically stopped and we can see our destination of Muktinath across the valley - a walled temple complex at the foot of the Thorong La pass, the way through to the other side of the famed Annapurna Circuit.
Fortunately the route Tashi led us didn't go near the pass or across the valley floor - we surprisingly get there in just over an hour. Were actually in Ranipauwa, just below the temple, which is a new village especially built to cater for tourists. The old village lies a few hundred metres away further down the slope. However the new village is better known by the same name as the temple, Muktinath.
Our hotel is comfortable and thanks to the sunny day the solar powered hot water means a hot shower tonight - something that doesn't happen every day. We are now at 3,700m and the evening gets very cool when the sun starts to go down. Our rooms aren't heated but fortunately the dining room is, making for a comfortable evening after another great dinner. Luckily one of the heaters is gas as the power goes out for about an hour after dinner - a not unusual occurrence.
The following day is a free day so staying under the warm blankets a bit longer is a very welcome. However it is a nice clear day again and the chance to explore the village is too tempting. There are not many tourists about but quite a few souvenir stalls and shops open. Unlike many countries there is no hard sell, often just a smile and the phrase "no buy, just look" to wind you in. Outdoor looms let you see the women making the scarves they sell.
Our guide (and porters too) take us through the temple complex and give us a good insight and explanation into this site that is sacred to both Hindus and Buddhists. Later on they do the same for neighbouring Jharkot that like most villages has it own gompa and dzong (monastery and fortress). Again a local and friendly guide proves invaluable - not just on the bike. We do have the option of using the bikes today but the break is welcome and any rides would be either up or downhill (followed by the reverse). We save them for tomorrow's ride.

Himalaya moonscape

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.