It’s 9am on a Monday. I'm in Kathmandu. I throw my bike into the back of a Mahindra Bolero and give my guide friend Mangal Lama a big welcome hug before we hop into the cab and squeeze in next to our driver, Procus. I should probably be visiting the temples and historic sights that most other visitors come to see in Nepal’s capital city, but after traveling 30+ hours half-way around the world, I’d rather go mountain biking. Besides, there would time for all that tourist stuff later.
Through the magic of the internet, we’ve kept in touch over the years
With our bikes wiggling on tail-gate of the truck, we head west to the community of Nagarkot to ride shuttled runs for the day. It’s exactly what I need to stretch out my legs from the long-haul flights. It’s been five years since my last visit to Nepal. That’s when I met Mangal who was a guide on my first-everorganized mountain bike trip. Through the magic of the internet, we’ve kept in touch over the years, and when I booked my tickets to return, I was excited to schedule a few days of guided rides with Mangal before my big effort to bikepack the Annapurna Circuit.
During the drive to Nagarkot, we caught up on life while Procus weaved through the busy streets of Kathmandu, eventually transitioning from the denseness of the city into therambling countryside. To some, Kathmandu is complete craziness with life spilling out everywhere from all directions. Certainly, the layers of buildings, people, cars and animals seem like a vast, never-ending sea of disorganised humanity. To me, it’s perfectly normal, exactly how I’ve witnessed life happening in a developing country. It’s the kind of organized chaos that I’ve grown to love - it makes me alive and peaceful at the same time.
In Nagarkot we spent the day riding and shuttling with plenty of stops for tea, food and chats with the locals. It was pretty much the perfect day while traveling in a faraway place - bikes, food and cool people.
On the second day of riding in the Kathmandu Valley, we head in the opposite direction towards Shivapuri National Park. Our plan is to be dropped off and ride all the way back to my hotel in Kathmandu. During another exciting and long drive I take the window seat to be ever-so-close to the energy of Nepal and its people.
When we arrive on the outskirts of the national park, in the village of Kakani, I remember that we are also in the place where Mangal grew up. As we off-load our bikes and gear, Mangal quietly greets members of his family including his brother and cousins. As we drink tea and prepare to ride, Mangal’s father appears. It’s a special moment for me when I take a picture of the two of them standing together.
We roll out of Kakani and into the forest. The trees and vegetation are thick at first, eventually opening up to a big wooded paradise with a sinuous line of singletrack flowing down the middle. It’s definitely a contrast from the day before. This part of the Kathmandu Valley is one of the last remaining areas of expansive forested woodlands. It feels much like riding through the backcountry at home in the United States. The trail is narrow and unrefined with a mix of evergreen and deciduous trees as far as the eye can see.
About half way through the ride we find staircases, a common component of mountain biking in Nepal. Thankfully my skills and bike are more equipped to handle this challenge compared to my experience five years previous. In addition to some bone-rattling sections of trail, we also get a chance to witness some of the religious culture that’s ever-present in Nepal. While hiking to a temple along some high cliffs, I'm able to get up close and personal with the vibrant colors and statues of the Hindu religion.
From there we plunge back into forest, down the rowdiest trails of the day. It’s good, spicy fun as we creep down knife edge ridges on the slippery needles layered on the forest floor. These are the kind of trails that we call “old school” at home. They’re completely unpredictable and 100% fun.
These are the kind of trails that we call “old school” at home. They’re completely unpredictable and 100% fun
We finally reach a late-lunch stop by mid-afternoon when Mangal ducks into a dining room that appears to be on the first level of someone’s home. We enjoy big plates of fried noodles and scrambled eggs, the lunch de jour in Nepal. After the customary cup of tea we complete the final part of the day’s ride, finding sweet sections of trail through the outlying villages of Kathmandu before rolling up to the doors of the Hotel Shambala with huge smiles on our faces.
And after two full days of pedaling the jet-lag out of my system, I was finally do the “tourist” thing, experiencing what everyone else was doing in Kathmandu. Rather than ride, I find my way to the heart of the city and hop in a pedicab, a bicycle-driven cart that’s slow-going and rough riding. As a cyclist, I can appreciate the effort of the driver and the speed of this mode of transportation. It’s really bar none to seeing the vibrant sights, consuming the peculiar smells and listening to cacophony of sounds that this old world, yet newly emerging city is known for.