In September Matt Hogg returned to Kathmandu to lead our first Nepal Dirt Bike Adventure since the devastating earthquake earlier this year. Matt joined us on our Nepal trip in April and he was assistant team leader on our Bolivia trip in June, and we were delighted that he was up for the challenge of leading this off-road adventure in Nepal along with our fantastic local team.
Matt has written a fantastic account of his time in Nepal which we will publish in 3 separate posts. Here is Part 1. Enjoy!
As much as I wanted to, I couldn't peel myself out of bed at 6am to go meet Peter Wilner, the first client to fly into Kathmandu for the September Big Adventure Company Nepal dirt bike trip. Four hours sleep after 28 hours of travelling and a 12-hour time zone change couldn’t fire my engine, so I napped on deliriously. An hour later I was wide awake and greeted Peter, the dirt bike riding proctologist from Hungary, outside our hotel room at the wonderful Dalai La Boutique Hotel. He seemed very happy to have finished the trek from Budapest, and quite rightly so. The clammy daze of international travel is one I’m all too familiar with, and is always best once completed.
We ate a well presented breakfast under a warm blue sky and waving prayer flags in the cute Dalai La courtyard, and got to know one another, before I climbed into the hotel minivan and wound through the busy streets of Kathmandu to meet Shaun from Newcastle, UK, at the airport. He was full of geordy laughs and observations from the moment we met in a sea of wide-eyed Nepalese taxi drivers, and we rolled back to the hotel in great spirits and chatter. Shaun was an inexperienced rider, about to get a serious dose of off road riding, and we were all eager to see how he faired in the tail end of rainy season, in the land of the biggest mountains on earth. His positive attitude and the just fact he was present, told me he’d do just fine.
Our local guides Pasang and Ashish stopped by the hotel once we arrived back, and we had a great catch up and discussed the details of the impending trip. I was in Nepal in April 2015 for the infamous earthquake trip, and I was eager to learn of their months since. As always the Nepalese guys were calm and low key about the epic adventure they were about to lead us on, and their eyes sparkled as they told me of the landslides and damaged roads between us and our end goal of the Muktinath Temple, hidden far away in the Himalayan peaks. I couldn’t wait to get at it!
The rest of the day involved some $4 haircuts, a delicious Tibetan lunch and collecting Peter Lagan, the third and final client on the trip, from the airport. Having just travelled from Belfast, Peter was understandably tired, so he self-medicated with a series of bottles of Nepalese beer to ease the jetlag. Peter Wilner, from here on known as The Doctor, approved the prescription, and countered with an apparently equal unquenchable thirst for the watery local brews. Nothing however got out of hand, and we were all in bed early, to get ready for our 5:30am departure for our scenic flight over Mt Everest!
Flight over Mt Everest & sightseeing in Kathmandu
We crept out of the hotel early the next morning and returned to Kathmandu airport, where we boarded a small and noisy prop-plane of dubious mechanical integrity, for a breath-taking one-hour flight over the massive Himalaya Mountain range. We were blessed with incredibly clear views of Mt Everest, Lhotse Peak and the hundreds of other peaks in the world’s highest mountain range. It was a fantastic welcome to a very special part of the world and a memory I’m sure we’ll all keep forever.
Later that day we had an opportunity to explore the palaces, courtyards and temples of Kathmandu’s Old City. The earthquake has left serious marks on the city, with some key temples and religious areas being majorly damaged, but the people continue to smile, a real sign of their humble will to live on. In the evening we enjoyed a delicious and huge pre-ride dinner at Thamel House, a Big Adventure Company favourite.
Ride Day 1 - Kathmandu - Nagarkot
That morning we finally got on our dirt bikes and wove through the bustling city of Kathmandu, to soon face the military, guarding and protecting our destination and playground for the next three days: Shivapuri National Park.
Riding day one is always interesting, as you’ve spent a couple of days together in the city, recovering from jet lag, adjusting to the climate and slowly getting to know everyone, then everyone throws a leg over their bike for the first time, some quite nervously and we really start to discover peoples’ personalities as riders.
The subtropical jungle paradise of Shivapuri National Park lies on the Northern edge of Kathmandu. It is an important and abundant water catchment area for the Kathmandu valley and protects a number of important wildlife species such as Indian leopard, Himalayan black bear, wild boar, cobra and everyone’s favourite, the brown-toothed shrew. Its borders are heavily protected by the Nepalese army, as there are military training facilities inside and hunting and poaching is fiercely prevented in the park.
There are only a few trails that run through the 159 sq km park, and these are long, steep, narrow, winding paths that cross rivers, traverse mountain ridges and delve deeply into the dense, untouched Nepalese jungle. Too narrow for a jeep, too steep for a mountain bike, these trails are a dirt bike paradise. They are exciting, challenging, interesting and dangerous motor-biking. There are frequent exposed edges along the sides of trails, often hidden by claustrophobic bush that looks friendly enough, but will happily suck you in and take you down a steep jungley slope if you place your tire just inches from the correct line. Rocky ledges appear constantly and must be climbed or descended, demanding continuous physical and mental focus. Generally these rocks are slick with moss and mud, so varying techniques are required to traverse these fantastic trails, such as vicious acceleration, delicate brake control, lifting the front wheel to overcome obstacles and often just pointing the bike where you want it to go, hoping and hanging on for dear life.
The trails were saturated from the past four months of daily rains. Monsoon season being barely over, threatening thunder storms still appeared every afternoon to cloud the epic views of the Kathmandu Valley below. Our first day had us traverse the National Park eastward, which meant we rode the steepest sections in a mostly downhill direction. Conditions were slippery, messy and wildly difficult to maintain control on. We arrived that night in Nargakot thrilled and exhausted with the intensity of the first ride day, and salivating for more.
We were all relieved to reach our hotel that night and the first cold beer at the end of the day was well earned. It was also Shaun’s 50th birthday which we celebrated in style and were amazed that his birthday cake had survived the journey in the support truck relatively unharmed!
Ride Day 2 - Nargacot - Shivapuri
The second day of riding required us to ride up the same steep sections we descended the day before. This we tried. And this we failed. We hauled bikes, we pushed bikes, we dragged bikes, we wheelied bikes, but the conditions and the trail got the better of us. By 11am we had to turn around, having spent nearly two hours travelling a measly 500m. It’s always hard to give up a challenge, but we made a new plan and rode back down to paved roads, and attacked the National Park from another entrance. We still battled severely challenging riding, which kept our knuckles white and hearts pumping, but we eventually rolled into our accommodation in the west side of Shivapuri as dusk fell, to be greeted by smiling faces, cups of warm chai masala tea and delicious local Nepalese dishes.
Ride Day 3 - Shivapuri - Chitwan Valley
Riding day three took us through the edge of the Park and further west, into a completely different climate, of the Chitwan Valley. There it was hot, humid, dusty and unforgiving. We rode rough, eroded, damaged tracks that link remote villages in the hilly regions to the west of Kathmandu. Huge views off the side of the trail urged us to stop and gaze at the stepped, green farm land and jungles spread out in the enormous valleys below. Smiling locals stepped to the side of the track to allow us to pass, all generally staring or smiling at the unusual sight of motocross-clad aliens riding modern dirt bikes on their usually quiet tracks.
The finale of day three is a mighty decent, from spectacular mountain top to jungle river valley. As you decend, you can see your future laid out before you - the dry winding track, following the ridges and hipnotising mountain curves, way down to a mighty river snaking the huge valley below. It’s a long day, and I find that decent a real mind game. It goes on and down and on and down for longer than my arms can cope. My hands were crumbling to pieces when we reached the river road, I was gasping for a break and wanting to lie down. And the temperature and humidity was overhelming! We took lunch at a village kitchen, stripped down to just out riding trousers, sweating buckets. We drank as though out lives depended on it. Litres and litres of bottled water were handed to us and quickly consumed or doused on the head. We were absolutely spent, and we were all smiling. It felt awesome to have conquered such an epic route so far.
The day finally ended at the Riverside Resort, with us sprawled out in the massive pool, recovering and poised to reach the picturesque lakeside city of Pokhara the following day, the gateway to the Himalayas.
Ride Day 4 - Riverside to Pokhara
Ride day four was a short ride day on the main highway, so we took a much needed sleep-in at Riverside and left around noon in the blazing sun. The highway can be a wild experience, with trucks overtaking buses overtaking a families on a scooters taking their goats to market. This makes for a surprising scene when encountered, and often all you can do is head for one of the sides of the road, and hope you don’t get taken out by a high speed goat.
The evening was spent in Pokhara, relaxing at our hotel, then out for dinner and drinks. Pokhara is the jumping off point, or finishing point, for hikers of the Annapurna Circuit, so there’s usually a few scruffy backpackers hanging out. We met a few over the evening and blew them away with the news we were going to ride in a day, what took them many days of walking.