You may think that the title is a little odd, after all what on earth have mules got to do with cycling ? Let me explain !
From Kathmandu we’d been following the original trekking route, over hills, through rivers, mud etc, we’d steered clear of the main highways as much as was possible but most people get a bus from Kathmandu and start there trek in one of three places…
No 1 from Besishahar, then start walking to Bhulbhule.
No 2 bus all the way to Bhulbhule and start from there.
No 3 for the really lazy, bus to Bhulbhule, jeep from there to Chamie which would be our next stop.
Why jeep your asking, well the roads may have been bad up to now but they get a whole lot worse and despite the buses and drivers being impressive they stop at Bhulbhule and from there it’s jeep to Chamie. After Chamie though things get even worse, no motorised vehicle goes further than Chamie so every single thing you can see, eat, buy, need, sleep on, wipe you bum with, brush your teeth with, drink etc is carried either “by man or mule” yes folks this really is serious, the road starts uphill and carries on that way until the Pass, altitude starts to play its part as breathing and energy levels are impaired, oh and remember were on bikes, cycling when we can but we carried, pushed, dragged and cursed all 40kg of them in turn, here’s the second part !!
Bhulbhule was as I said our first trekking lodge and there set up especially for Trekkers offering all the things you need and crave, coffee, tea, beer, snickers, western breakfast etc, it also provided for myself and Roshan a little time for bike maintenance, I’d discovered that my rear tyre despite being a Schwalbe Extreme and therefore one of the best tyres on the market, the Nepalese roads had done damage, I therefore swapped the front and rear tyres over, a little trick I’d picked up from a Mark Beaumont documentary !!
Bikes all set to go we set off for Chamie, I can’t remember how far it was supposed to be, things just sort of stopped mattering all I know is that the roads were bad and uphill….
More pushing through yet more mud and over loose stones and wearing cold wet socks and cycling shoes was beginning to take its toll and both Naomi and I were having trouble with our feet, something that would only get worse. The other problem was riding in wet shorts and top, prickly heat and what was basically diaper rash meant liberal and frequent applications of cream, this is extreme cycling and not a picnic !!
Yet again we relied on the fantastic scenery to boost our moral….
As time went on cycling became less and pushing more often but we did cycle, honest !!
Also during the day it was hot and humid, this also takes its toll and your intake of liquids needs to increase, even more so the higher you get, we found mixing coca cola with water made a flat dried with lots of sugar and seemed to help our energy levels !!
The Waterfall Restaurant provided a welcome rest stop for lunch and an opportunity to rest tired feet, great views as well as good food…
Job done, our lodge is the one at he top on the right, very welcoming, good comfy room, indoor toilet, running water, snickers bars and masala tea……heaven !!!
As I said earlier this is the last stop for jeeps and any form of transport…..from here on if you get sick there’s only one way out, turn round and go back !!!
A good nights sleep meant we were up early for a team talk with our guide, apparently there was a problem but as per normal he’d taken measures into his own hands and solved it, the next part of our route was to steep, slippery and generally to difficult to take bikes and kit together. If we had time we’d carry the kit up, two hour trek, then go back for the bikes but we didn’t have time. Step up some local porters, these guys are incredible, the carry anything up to 100kg on there backs all the way to Manang and beyond, amazing, our bikes should be a breeze. Money changed hands and while Naomi and myself carried our bags the porters set off along the path…..
Oh yes, I forgot about the waterfall, surprisingly powerful, and very close to the edge of a cliff edge, Naomi required a little help here as the water was forcing her closer to the edge !!
This was the last obstacle in our way and after lunch at a small roadside cafe it was plain sailing do to speak all the way to Bhagarchap and another lodge…
As I mentioned earlier both Naomi and myself were having foot trouble but Naomi’s were bright red and very sore, not to mention very painful by now, the kindly old ex British army Nepalese owner prepared a hot salt bath for her and with generous applications of anti septic her feet started feeling better. However the next few days were going to prove even more challenging, Naomi got the dreaded tummy bug and over the next few days I to would get it, it makes an already difficult task even more so !!
The following morning and Naomi wasn’t feeling great and our guide took the decision to hire porters again for the steep climb up to Temang, this would be a shortened day due to illness and would require some tweaking of the rest of the trip to accommodate this half day !!
The porters duly arrived and as per normal made the effort of carrying our bikes up steep hills. And over precarious bridges look easy…
Thanks to the guys again, two full throttle hours chasing them uphill with my panniers left me exhausted, wet, cold and hungry… Naomi bless her arrived a little later and took immediately to bed where she spent a slightly less than restful night but did feel slightly better in the morning, unfortunately it was my turn to feel lousy and it was decided again that this would be another half day. Our destination would therefore be Bardang and what was to be one of the cosiest lodges on the trip.
This was most fortunate as we were slowly running out of cash due to unexpected costs, porters, brakes etc and therefore we changed some travellers cheques, money in our pocket we felt better and set of for Bardang, more great scenery along the way gave us all the motivation we needed for the last few miles and there finally was our lodge….
It may not look much but the way I felt I didn’t really care, I’d made it through the day and went straight to bed, wearing pretty much everything I had with me, Naomi fussed round me but soon other Trekkers arrived and the owner decided to light the stove in the upstairs dining area, smoky at first but it soon cleared and as people flooded in the atmosphere was warm and cosy. Soon food arrived and as I ate Naomi placed our wet clothes near the stove to dry as did everyone else, some to close though and burnt socks was what confronted most people the next morning !!
I felt much better as did Naomi and with the mecca that is Menang as our next stop we were excited to get going.
I need to explain a bit here first, Menang is the basically the staging and holding area for the big push to the Pass, it’s where every single trekker without fail will sooner or later arrive, most will take a day off and most will also do some acclimatisation, eg walk up to about 4000m and go back down to Menang again, this is important, it allows your red blood cells the ability to get used to pushing oxygen round your body while at altitude.
Altitude feels like you’ve got a child sleeping on your chest at all times and takes some getting used to !!
This means that Manang is important and it makes the most of it by having more shops, cafes, restaurants, hotels etc than anywhere else on the route, hard to believe that everything here is hauled by ” man or mule ” !!
This as I said will be our destination for the day, we were close enough now to see the white topped mountains in the distance….
The last photo would also be my last as my camera decided to fail at this moment, fortunately for me Naomi came to the rescue and all the photos from here to Pokhara are due to her allowing me to upload them from her SD card, thanks luv 😉
On our final run into Menang we would run, not literally, into a group of Trekkers from Israel, three blokes and two girls…
As we passed them they all cheered us on, what a lovely thing to do, it gave us all the impetus we needed to ride on to Manang, sadly we didn’t write down there names but if any off them ever read this, thanks guys, it meant a lot 😉
Shortly after this the road tilted upward again and there in front of us was the sign post to we’d been waiting for…
Well we’d finally made it to trekker “Mecca” and so this is where part 2 will end, in the next part, titled Cycling the Annapurna Circuit, Part 3 : Aim High you’ll read how we made it to the pass and hopefully get some sense of the achievement !!