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…
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…
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….
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…
A great night was had by all but as the sun set we retired for the night with another early morning on the horizon 😉
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 😉 …..
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….
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 😉
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…..
Aircon, private bathroom, western toilet, hot showers, what luxury 😉
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…..
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 !!
This is a picture of the guys that helped, the guy furthest left also held Naomi’s hand on the way across, bless 😉
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…
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….
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….
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 😉
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…..
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 😉
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….
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 !!!! ….
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….
We were made to feel welcome and very much at home 😉
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…
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 !!!
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 😉