The Thorang top
I was following pole after pole while climbing to the top. Poles which are meant to guide me along the often ambiguous path leading to the highest pass in the world, set high mid the Himalayas of Nepal. Winds were dry and cold, apt for a desert set 5000 metres into the sky, my legs were sore, my heart pounding, bruises peeking through the tapes I had hidden them with and eyes eagerly searched for what I imagined to be a board draped in fluttering, colorful prayer flags.
I had started off from an elevation of 4200 metres at the break of dawn, with 1225 metres to climb to reach the cycle-able top of the world. From what was a terrain draped in small flowery shrubs at the start, to this gravely, mountain of a desert, which was devoid of any other trekkers. I had to shake off dirt of my camera everytime I turned it on take a picture. It refused to open its eye, which apparently had been itchy with all the sandy dirt.
But like it always it always it, the only to end the struggle is to push through it. The body becomes a machine and the mind takes a back seat, not meddling with the endeavors of the limbs. Step by step, pedal by pedal, it comes closer.
And then I sat in the hut. Looking out the door, at the fluttering flags which draped the board. “Congratulations for your success it read”.
The metal cup full of mint tea which I had bought from the highest dhaba was warm, tasty, comforting and apparently ever lasting. I drank from it for a long time, staring out of the door. The endeavors of the limbs had paused, as they had done their task, but the mind was still sunk in the back seat, sinking further into it, with every sip.
Eventually I let the still not empty cup settle on the wooden bench infront of me. “Aren’t you going to finish it?” the man asked. The unfinished tea stared at me from inside the cup, pulling the mind deeper inside. Thats when I realized that I had to get out of there.
I lay on the gravely ground, the width of the trail was hardly enough to fit me and the front wheel of my cycle extended over the edge of path, peeking into the depths. The seconds of thrill which had swept by while I was trying to bring my steep into control, pulling both the breaks and scraping the ground with my foot, had ended. This was the second time this had happened and I had been second time lucky to still be on the trail.
From here I walked much of the distance, only saddling up when the ground was wide. I had realized that my mind was still in the back seat, still sipping on the cup of mint tea and still staring at the fluttering, colorful prayer flags. I had to get of here.
The Landslide in Mustang
The conductor was tapping on the metal body of the bus, guiding the driver as he was trying to turn it around on the narrow road. The way back to Pokhara had been blocked by a landslide and sun had set, waiting for the block to, be unblocked. Rain was still pouring down and my hopes to reach back to base had been washed away in the mighty monsoon.
The bus halted at a lodge set in a farm by the side of the road, just a few minutes away from the landslide. There was no electricity and soon all the passengers were trying to talk their way into getting a room for themselves, each talking to the lady of the house, in her kitchen, in the dim light of an emergency lamp. I had to wait a while before I got alloted a room, then snuck into it, hoping that the block would be clear tomorrow and that the night would swiftly pass and that I would be eating fast food soon enough.
The rain had stopped, but clouds still lingered around, keeping the fear of downpour intact. It has been 3 hours since the sun had popped over the horizon behind the mountains, but the bus was yet to move. The atmosphere was chill, breakfast was being paid for and lunch was being planned. I was time for action.
The conductor handed me my cycle, from the top of the bus, where it had stayed latent, waiting to reach Pokhara while still atop the big mile muncher. But the big mile muncher couldnt munch anymore and so it was the cycle which had to get me onwards.
So, the mind took a back seat again and limbs got on with their endeavors. I climbed through slid masses of land, broken patches of road, bridges on the verge of being washed away. I walked past trucks and jeeps stuck in the mud and pedaled past people walking because their 4 wheeled friends had failed them. Mustand didnt want to let go off me so easily, I liked that.
The plan for this ride was a bunch of expectations patched together and pasted on the calendar. Expectations were based on the past and conveniently neglected the what lay ahead. The roads, the cycle and the weather conditions were all new for me. I had never done off roads before, never ridden an MTB before and not those these during the monsoon. These three factors had a major impact on the way this route was covered, but still, here is how it went down.
Day 1 : I started off from Besisahar at around 3 pm. It was raining most of the time on that day. I managed to reach a place called Gnadi. There I got a room, dal bhaat for dinner and slept off.
Day 2 : I started from Gnadi with the target to reach Chame. People said it would be hard to reach Chame because of the road conditions, but riding through the day, I did manage to reach there by sunset.
Day 3 : Started from Chame and reached Manang at 11 am. I was quite surprised as I had expected to reach Manang by evening. Although, I had lunch, did some basic fixes on my cycle and started off at 12:45. I reached Ledar by evening. There was still scope to go ahead but I was tired and there was no sense in going ahead into higher altitudes in the evening anyway.
Day 4 : I crossed Thorang La at around 11:30am and then went down towards Muktinath, reaching there before evening, very tired and sore. Stayed there.
Day 5 : Went to Jomsom, which I reached at 7am, got into a bus and through out the day the bus tried to make its way through bad roads and landslides, but finally at 6pm, it gave up at Ghasa and I had to stay at a local tea house.
Day 6 : The bus was supposed to start off again from Ghasa for Pokhhara at 7am this day and it did, but then got stuck again at the same place and I waited till 10am, before I got my cycle out of the luggage and started cycling again towards Beni. I reached beni by 4 pm from where my driver and friend Prem picked me up in the car and we drove back to Pokhara
Permits for covering this route are the TIMS and ACAP permits, which cost Rs.500 each for Indian Nationals. The permits are valid for 30 days and can be procured personally or through and agent. You need to carry the permits along on the entire route for checking at all check posts. The check posts are only on the Jeep route and not on the trails.
Like all my rides for this one too, I put together my luggage and gear carefully to get the best value for every kg of weight. Here is a list of stuff which was new. For the usual stuff you can also check out my post about the Manali-Leh ride.
- Cycle : This was an off road route and my first one, so I needed to get myself and MTB to get through it. I went ahead and bought a Rockrider 900. The reason I bought that was the low weight and simplicity of gearing due to use of Sram nx 1X11 gearset. The cycle worked well, although the gearing was not as smooth as I had expected it too. Also, the chain was never stable on the 42 tooth ring and would drop to the 36 tooth ring on applying pressure. This was a major irritant. I will like to have this issue fixed before the next ride.
- Nutrition : Like everytime I took some protein bars and BCAA powder along to get myself ample nutrition and energy throughout the ride. The protein bars I took this time were 6 30Gm protein bars from rightbite. The only thing I would change about this from next time is that I would take different flavors of bars for each day as eating the same flavor each day was slightly difficult. The BCAA was my usual choice Scivation Extend.
- Shoes : I had been using jogging shoes from Liberty. These are very light and well ventilated with velcro closing, so all over good. But as this was off road, I went to for leather sneakers with hard soles from Liberty. These turned out to be a good choice as I had to put foot down a lot during the off road descents and the hard sole and thicker leather material kept my foot safe. The only issue was that these had laces which were slightly harder to use than velcro.
Here are some things I would recommend if you are looking to make this trip
- Food : Stay in the tea houses is as good as free as long as you eat dinner and breakfast there. These two cost around NC 1000. Dal bhaat in the primary food here. Although prefer to have Dal Bhaat in Thakali Kitchens and something else like fried rice in Tibetan Kitchens, as the latter somehow dont make good Dal Bhaat. Seabuckthorn juice, Mad Honey Tea, apple cider are things to try out. For breakfast, a popular option is Milk with Museli, which I will not recommend as its very hard to chew and takes a long time to eat.
- Weather : I went in September and had to bear the brunt of the rains. The roads throughout lower Mustang we ridden with mud and landslides. In the Manang Part I think I was lucky to not run into any landslide.
- Places to stay : Overall, Manang is the best place to stay out of all. If you have visited Kaza, then you can think of it as a better version of that. Food here is great, lots of trails around, lots of stay options and its a total chill out place. Other than this, Chame and Tal are best. In the Mustang side, Jomsom and Marpha are best place to stay at.
- Transport: I had planned to get a bus from Jomsom to Pokhara. Buses are cheaper, albeit a bit slower than jeeps. Although they fall prey to even smaller landslides are their are two wheel drive. Jeep transport is considerably costlier, but if there is chance of landslide, then definitely get a jeep.
- Overall : Overall, this was an experience of a lifetime. I will recommend this as a cycle ride or trek to anyone who wants to travel in the mountains