I am not going to lie here. I had doubts. After the week-long ride from Kathmandu to Pokhara I was tired and I did not know, if I would be able to bike in Himalayas. The plan was to cycle the Annapurna circuit. The world famous hiking trail, which is becoming popular amongst cyclists because of a new „road“ from both side of the circuit. But many of them go with an agency, which sort light mtb bikes and porters carrying all their stuff over a pass. We had neither. In my mind it looked like: two weeks of hike-a-bike uphill, sweat, tears and pain and then one week of difficult downhill. And what was the reality like? Yes, it was painful. There were tears and I had to hike-a-bike. Uphill and even downhill. And there were moments, when I was not able to even push my bike. But it was unforgettable experience and one of my best three weeks of my life. I could feel the big power of Mother Nature as well as the even bigger power of friendship. But let start from the beginning:
Actually, I didn’t have to make any decision. When we met Gary again and I saw Gary’s and Jakub’s faces full of enthusiasm, everything was clear. I am not going to miss this opportunity! At least I wanna try it. After a few days in Pokhara we managed all formalities and we were almost ready to go. Almost. Only one thing was missing – Gary’s bike. Fortunately it wasn’t a problem. He calculated that buying an ex-rental bike was chepaer then renting a bike and after a couple of hours we could welcome the Giant mountain bike a.k.a. Parrot – a new team member. We were ready.
If you know us you know that we like doing things in different ways. So we had decided to cycle the circuit in the opposite direction. Why? We had heard that there might be a better downhil on the other side of the hill and also Gary would like to finish in Besisahar. That almost everyone (including all cyclists) does the track in anti-clockwise direction (start in Besisahar) didn’t bother us. We knew what we were getting ourselves into. Or, we assumed we knew:-) And when we said the circuit we meant the circuit. From Pokhara to Pokhara.
We left Pokhara April 10 and the first day was one of the hardest. And we hadn’t even been on the trail yet. Fortunately it got better next days and we could slowly build up a daily routine: waking up after 6am, breakfast at 7:30am, leaving accommodation around 8:30am, biking, biking, morning tea, biking, biking, find a nice teahouse preferably with a lovely lady/owner, lunch, tea, afternoon nap, playing cards, tea, dinner and go to beds after 8pm. Yep, we biked only a couple of hours in the morning, we didn’t rush anywhere and we had plenty of time to admire the magnificent scenery. I expected big steep hills and a terrible road but it wasn’t bad at all. Or maybe I was just too happy to be there and I didn’t want to complain. Another good thing was that there were some road constructions which stopped all the traffic (jeeps and buses) for hours but we could pass. That means we had all the road only for ourselves. Nice.
We slowly make our progress from approx 700m asl. to 3800m asl. in a few days. As we rode, we were fascinated by beautiful landscapes changing from a subtropical jungle through alpine forests between snowy peeks of Annapurna and Dhaulagiri to a mountain desert in the wide and dusty Mustang valley. And I was fascinated we were still able to cycle even in the higher altitude. Of course, we could feel the lack of the oxygen, we were slower than usual and simple running few steps up was pretty hard. But it was awesome.
The road/jeep track ended in Muktinath, the last bigger town before Thorong La pass and where we planned a rest day. Muktinath is also a sacred place for Budhists and Hindus. We left bikes in a hotel, visited a temple and then hiked up to 4200m asl. There is a restaurant/lodge, the last chance to get food and accommodation. That day we only got tea and then we went down again. Next day we did the same but this time with our bikes. At this height we weren’t able to pedal anymore so we pushed. But what made us really tired was answering to trekkers: „Are you going to carry your bike over the pass? You are going the WRONG way! You can’t do it!“ Hmn…what to say… Fortunately after 2hours was all done, we got a very simple room and we spent rest of the day drinking tea, eating and watching people going down the hill. When sun went down, we got dinner and went to sleep.
„The pass day“ started early. I couldn’t sleep properly. I knew we had done everything, we were strong and acclimatised, the weather was good and we were the good team… But I was nervous anyway. The alarm clock at 3am was a deliverance. We ate breakfast in silence and around 4:20 we set out. Suddenly there was no time to think. One step after another. Breath in, breath out. Slowly we pushed our bikes uphill. I got Gary’s Parrot to make it a little bit easier for me and they both helped me as much as they could. It was beautiful watching sun rising up but it was also freezing cold. Just don’t stop moving. After a while, the sun was high enough and we felt much better. One step after another. Breath in, breath out.
And here we are. After approx. 8 hours we finally saw the top, the stone monument and prayer fags blowing in the wind. Last few meters we were going together, side by side. We put bikes sideways and hugged tightly. Thorong La pass, 5416m asl. No words needed to be said. After a couple of minutes we were back in reality. We needed to go down. We tried riding down but rocks, slushy snow and fatigue made it too risky. Only some parts were fine, otherwise we hike the bikes down.
It was around 2pm, the weather got worse and we saw first snowflakes in the air. Going down was almost as hard as going up. I was tired. High Camp (4800m asl.) wasn’t too far. We sit down and ordered food but I wasn’t happy. The lodge was fully booked, no room left. Tears started run down my face…We made a decision. Boys let me go first, Thorong Phedi (4500m asl.) was only half an hour walk down and they looked after my bike. Altough it meant they had to do that part twice. When we met again in Thorong Phedi, it was heavily snowing. I gave them a bear hug and couldn’t express how happy and greatful I was. We did it!
Next day it looked like in a winter fairytale. The sky was blue and the sun was shinning. And there was the singletrail we had been dreaming for ahead of us. The smooth undulating track amongst some of the highest mountains in the world. We didn’t rush, we were enjoying every single meter, every curve. We were amazed by the beauty of nature up there and how local people were friendly. To spend more time in such an enviroment, we left bikes and went for a two days hike up to the Tilicho lake and then biked back to Manang.
The singletrail ends in Manang which meant more bouncing on a rocky „road“. As we rode down, the forest was greener and denser, the valley deeper and narrower and the road worse and worse. And we couldn’t be more happy with the direction we had chosen. Cycling this way up must be very very hard.
After 21 days we found ourselves in Besisahar. The place, where most people start their trek and where we had to say good bye to Gary. We promised to each other we are going to meet again in Europe, we said the last Ciao! and left. We had another 2 days of biking to get back to Pokhara.
Back in Pokhara we had to decide where to go next. After those 3 week in mountains and almost with no people around, the original plan of biking in hot and crowded India wasn’t very tempting. We hesitiated for while but then we bought tickets. May 16 we took a plane directly from Kathmandu to Dushanbe and we are going to cycle the Pamir Highway. Another mountain adventure can start!