Cycling the Annapurna Circuit, Part 1: Plain Stupid or Innocent Fool ?

Originally as I said in an earlier blog Naomi and I were supposed to be cycling from Lhasa to Kathmandu, a nice easy supported trip on mostly paved roads…….well that was until the Chinese bless them decided we couldn’t have visas for Tibet !! A little head scratching and a quick email back home to a friend, Navin Gurung, and we quickly found ourselves signed up to cycle the Annapurna Circuit and over Thorongla, the highest mountain pass in the world….gulp !!
The penny still didn’t drop, I just went along for he ride, I’d not even heard of the Annapurnas let alone where they were or whether you could cycle over them, I trusted the guide, Roshan and paid my money, this is what happened next !!!
It started quite civilised really, a nice little 73k on mainly paved roads, up hill into the tree line above Kathmandu…

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A few little water falls to add to the excitement but all in all a fairly ordinary day ending at a small, basic family run hotel in Trishuli…

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Our guide secured the bikes and the hotel provided good if basic food and we went to bed thinking we’d done well and looking forward to the next day, little did we know !!!
The next day came quickly as we got up with the sun and went to bed early, breakfast was hearty with plenty of coffee and we set off for Katunje, not as far as the first day but much much harder !!
It started with a fairly steep climb up and over a bridge…

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And just kept going up providing great views of Trishuli….

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The paved road disappeared and was replaced by loose stone and more often than not a river running down it…

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Yes that really is the road !!
A few dodgy bridges and flooded roads added more interest…

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Even now we still thought it was fun, we really had no idea, that was about to change !! The route took a very upward turn which resulted in both Naomi and myself having to push our bikes and kit, about 40k in total each up some very steep hills, not easy in cycling shoes….

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I confess that Naomi did receive some help pushing her bike but it wasn’t asked for and the local guy refused any payment, what a star πŸ˜‰
A few more flooded roads….

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And we finally arrived at Katunje and our first home-stay of the trip, we were put up in what can only be described as an earth shelter under the home….

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No glass at the window, no lock on the door and. It made all your clothes smell of earth for days but the family was kind, helpful and they prepared a great meal while Naomi entertained the local kids with her photos…

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A great night was had by all but as the sun set we retired for the night with another early morning on the horizon πŸ˜‰
Morning arrived and not a moment to soon as I badly needed the loo, a four hundred metre trek through the village then down a steep slope to the village toilet, at least it was clean !!
As we arrived back at the house a familiar smell wafted across my nostrils, donuts !! I’d recognise that smell anywhere, it turns out that the lady of the house makes about 1000 fresh donuts every day, by hand, and sells them the the entire village, well all but six on this day πŸ˜‰ …..

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Fuelled on donuts and coffee we set off up a very steep hill with a huge reward, our first glimpse of white tops !! …

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A real moral boost to see this first thing in the morning !!
We’d got used to the idea of there being no more paved roads, getting into our accommodation wet, muddy and bloody knackered but we didn’t expect that it could get worse, wrong, very wrong !!
The roads now all led uphill, it’s monsoon season and what little roads there are were quickly turned to muddy tracks and progress slowed to a crawl, the incredible scenery being the only thing that keeps you moving sometimes….

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Despite it being tough there were a few lighter moments like Naomi’s ability to charm the local school kids into pushing her bike for her, a proper little pied piper…..

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And our first suspension bridge…..

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The little sods were making the bridge bounce up and down, it was at this point that I found out that Naomi doesn’t like heights much πŸ˜‰
More pushing, some cycling and into sight came Shangri La or at least that’s what we called it, one mans mad fantasy made real, completely out of character with everything around it but absolutely brilliant…..

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Aircon, private bathroom, western toilet, hot showers, what luxury πŸ˜‰
More great food provided by our hosts, did loads of washing and got it all hung up to dry, problem is it rained all night and most of the next day, another day in wet cycling kit, bugger ;-(
Gorkha was our destination for the day, it’s a prominent town and we’d been promised paved roads when we got nearer but we had a few challenges to overcome first…..

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Arriving at a river crossing to find that the bridge was swept away three days ago gave our guide a bit of a headache until he asked the locals for help, they quickly mustered troops and carried our bikes and kit across this precarious cliff edge, most either in bare feet or flip flops, amazing !!

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This is a picture of the guys that helped, the guy furthest left also held Naomi’s hand on the way across, bless πŸ˜‰
You’d think that would be enough excitement for one day but just as we were getting back into a rhythm we were stumped again by a fairly large landslide !!
I watched as our guide with his lightweight mountain bike loped across the loose earth and I decided to follow him, I picked up my 40k bike and kit and followed his exact footsteps, much to his surprise I arrived safely just behind him, the only left to do was get Naomi and her bike across…

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Our guide Roshan helped Naomi as I went to the aid of two guys with a motorbike, safely on solid ground we continued yet again towards Gorkha, the roads may not have fallen away but they weren’t getting any better either….

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Fortunately the scenery was still working its magic…

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And some lighter moments when the local kids tried to ride my bike…

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All this in one day and we’d still not reached Gorkha, then all of a sudden it was there, paved road…

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We’d not seen any paved roads for quite sometime and our bikes suddenly came to life, this is there natural home and we tried to make the most of it, except for one tiny problem, Gorkha lies at the bottom of a very steep hill and even though paved, I had no brakes left so had to walk all the way down, very frustrating pushing a bike downhill ;-(
Even though I was frustrated we had arrived and as we rounded the last corner he hotel appeared before us….

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Looks great doesn’t it? Looks we’re quite deceptive though and frankly despite it being a great looking place the staff were bloody useless and the food was very disappointing, the only good points were :-
No 1, Roshans friend turned up with spare brake blocks, he’d travelled all the way from Kathmandu with them, our trip was now back on track, we’d used all our spares already, a mixture of huge downhills and grit, sand and water had taken there toll quickly !!
No 2, the groundsman come security guard promised to wash the bikes and true to his word at 5.30am he duly did exactly that, he was the only staff member worth paying, we gave him a large tip in front of everyone else !!
So with the bikes clean and with all new brakes we said goodbye to Roshans friend and headed for Paundi and our second home-stay of the trip πŸ˜‰
The paved road continued out of Gorkha and our bikes made small work of the first few kilometres as we revelled in the smooth Tarmac, it didn’t last and our first obstacle didn’t take long to manifest itself…..

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As Roshan and I took of our shoes and socks, trying to preserve dry feet for as long as possible, as we wheeled our bikes through the river we were passed by a smiling Naomi who’d blagged a lift in a pickup truck, jammy bugger πŸ˜‰
Our good spirits didn’t last long and very soon what was to become one of my least favourite mornings quickly unveiled itself to me….

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Looks innocent but thesis red clay, turned to 18inches thick mud, it sticks to anything and everything. Tyres collected it and quickly wedged it under the mudguards, our shoes collected it and made walking and pushing insufferable, we had to stop every 50m to wash ourselves and the bikes down to allow us to continue, it was so bad that it was easier to pick up the bikes and carry them rather than try and push them through it, it continued for about 1.5k but seemed like an eternity, ahhhhhh !!!! ….

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Naomi and the Captain, prior to being hosed down !!

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Naomi after a wash down πŸ˜‰
After this the rest of the day seemed rather tame, just a few bridges…

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And some more cracking scenery…

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Before tackling the final hill into Paundi….

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As I said earlier we were to stay with another family tonight and despite the basic conditions we thoroughly enjoyed our stay here, we entertained the family with photos from our travels on the iPad as they prepared what for me was some of the best food on the entire trip and with inquisitive locals….

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We were made to feel welcome and very much at home πŸ˜‰
Morning arrived with the sun again and breakfast although not donuts was equally as good as our last home-stay, fuelled on potato curry and Tibetan bread we headed for Bhulbhule and our first trekking lodge, this is where it really starts to get tough !!!!
We said goodbye to our hosts and took there blessings with us…

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At last a fairly easy days cycling, well comparatively anyway, more great scenery all round and a stop in Besishahar, to get our passes stamped, you need to different passes, one to allow you entry into what is in fact a national park and one to lock in your route and time schedule in case you get lost and don’t make the next stop in time, they can start a search….gulp, its serious now, no going back !!!

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The Trekker Information Management System or Tims, as I said its serious now !!
Nothing dramatic to report on our way to the lodge in Bhulbhule so here are some photos of it…

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Looks good and it was, our first snickers bar for weeks, decent coffee, great food and our first contact with other Trekkers, I developed a serious anti trekker attitude, after all they just walk from lodge to lodge while a local guy carries all there kit and they think they’ve got it tough, they should all have a go at pushing a 40k bike up a hill for a day, then they’d have something to talk about !!
Anyway I’ve reached the end of part one, I’m sorry it’s taken so long to get this far but what with bad Wi Fi and the fact that I wanted to do the trip justice I just needed to get my head round what we’ve done, two ordinary folks from the UK managed albeit with a bit of help to get touring bikes and panniers over Thorongla, no small feat and one I’m assured that we’re the first to do hence the title of part 1 !!
So are we plain stupid or innocent fools, I’ll let you decide.
In the meantime I’ll start on part 2, The Annapurna Circuit, Part 2 : It Came on Man or Mule !
Take care and keep reading πŸ˜‰
JC

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About John Chevis

I'm a forty something single guy who spent far to long depressed, but luckily for me I found an answer in the form of exercise !! I started running and cycling on a regular basis and now two and a half years later I'm cycling the world !!
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19 Responses to Cycling the Annapurna Circuit, Part 1: Plain Stupid or Innocent Fool ?

  1. Phil w says:

    Great update John. No mention of leeches either

  2. Graham says:

    Fantastic Stuff the pair of you! Love to you both Graham

  3. Jude says:

    Wow what an acheivement. Well done. Looking forward to part 2. x

  4. Wow Hun it looks awesome, I think you are completely mental but I knew that anyway πŸ˜‰ can’t wait to see the next post! Kim xxxx

    • John Chevis says:

      Bless you love, how you doing, I read your posts and it would seem that you’ve finally found the right man, he seems wonderful and you sound happy apart from the usual work stuff πŸ˜‰
      Miss you
      JC

      • Hello lovie! Yes I am very happy apart from work but hey that will hopefully change sometime next year, will keep you posted on that πŸ˜‰
        You look like you are having the most fantastic time, really is the trip of a lifetime!
        Take care of yourself, I miss you too
        Xx

      • John Chevis says:

        Ooh secrets, how lovely, can’t wait to hear all about it πŸ˜‰
        Yes indeed the trip of a lifetime, should have done it before I got old and grumpy though, finding change quite tough !!
        Still got over a year to go yet so by that time I should have mellowed πŸ˜‰
        Take care in whatever you do, but do something !!
        JC

  5. Sarah Breeze says:

    Hi there, I am looking into doing this cycling route later in the year and I was just wondering if I could ask you a few questions through email? I’d really appreciate the advice especially from someone who has actually done it before! Thanks so much!

    • John Chevis says:

      Hi Sarah, what’s on your mind ?
      Any help I can give you I most certainly will πŸ˜‰

      • Sarah Breeze says:

        Great! Well I was just wondering what level of fitness you think is required for this trip and how experienced you need to be with bike riding. Because I haven’t really done much bike riding before but this looks like such an amazing experience!

      • John Chevis says:

        Firstly let me say that I wouldn’t attempt this trip without a guide and if you’d like I can put you in touch with the guys who sorted out my trip. You’ll need a guide to help overcome the problems that arise on a daily basis. They will not only show you the route but book accommodation, source food and water.
        You will need to be fit but determination is probably more important, it was one of the most physically demanding things I’ve done and to be honest I loved it πŸ˜‰
        We took our own bikes and carried all of our own kit, this is not what most people do. Normally you would employ porters to carry your kit and you ride and meet them at the next lodge.
        Some of the riding is quite technical but you can always get off and push, you’ll be doing that quite a bit anyway. You’ll also end up carrying your bike at times so just be aware it’s not all rideable !!
        There are companies out there that do supported trips similar to this one, they literally take care of everything and you just concentrate on riding πŸ˜‰
        Please feel free to ask for more info and good luck πŸ˜‰
        JC

      • Sarah Breeze says:

        Thanks so much!
        If I could grab the names of the people who you went with that would be great!
        It sounds amazing and I would love to do it. I have a fair while before I actually go so I can work on my fitness a bit.
        Thanks so much for your advice! Sarah

      • John Chevis says:

        Ok, if you’ve read all four blogs from my trip around the Annapurna circuit then you’ll have some idea of what your in for. I’d also like you to talk to the lady that I did it with, she in all honesty is the brains of our outfit and it was most certainly her idea. She’ll be able to answer your questions in much more detail and to be honest there are some things you’ll need advice from a lady on !!
        I’ve facebooked the guys who helped Naomi and myself out and I’m waiting for them to send an email address. As soon as I do I’ll forward it on to you.
        In the meantime you can also reach me on
        johnpchevis@yahoo.co.uk
        And my friend Naomi on
        naomirjohnson@googlemail.com
        I’ve informed her that you may be in touch.
        Talk soon
        JC

      • John Chevis says:

        Ok Sarah, here are the email addresses of the company that organised our trip :-
        dnshchkhanal@gmail.com or info@nhvoyages.com
        The guys name is Dinesh Chetri
        If you need anything else, just ask πŸ˜‰

      • Sarah Breeze says:

        Thank you so much!!! I’ll send them an email as soon as I can!!

      • John Chevis says:

        Good luck πŸ˜‰

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