Nepal was high on our list prior to the whole world got in lockdowns, countries were closed, and flights were cancelled. When we heard that Nepal was open for trekking again, we knew immediately that this would be our destination after Brazil. We would put the bikes down and do a multi-day hike in the Himalayas. We had the most fantastic time in Nepal, but the one thing we did not do was a multi-day hike… we will explain why!
When we arrived in Nepal the air quality was probably the worst ever because of the many forest fires and the lack of rain since a very long time. We were super impressed and surprised by the quality of the coffee in Kathmandu, even in the smallest shops – so against all plans we decided to do a Barista course and wait for the sky to get a bit clearer. In the mornings we planned out our trip in Nepal and in the afternoon, we practiced our Latte Art at Himalayan Java in Thamel.
We started reading blogs from @projectpedalfurther and @farawayistan who both wrote great articles about cycling the Annapurna Circuit, which includes a pass of 5416m. We were really inspired and decided to go for it.
With help from our guide for Upper Mustang we managed to arrange the permit and the TIMS card, which you need to enter the Annapurna Conservation Area. When we went directly to the office, we were told that we could only do the circuit with a guide, because rules had changed since the first lock-down. This turned out not to be true, and you can easily access and pass the checkpoints without a guide, you only need an agency to arrange the permit for you. Of course, regulations and requirements are constantly been changing due to the pandemic.
The bike-set up and gear list
After checking the route and exchanging information with with others who did the same ride, we decided to do some upgrades to our bikes. We would certainly need wider tires with better grip and a cassette with a bigger configuration to climb the rocky Annapurna range. The guys at the himalayansingletrack helped us with the upgrades. It was not possible to find wide gravel bike tires (28″) in Kathmandu, so we decided to try MTB tires (29″ – 54mm width) and they fitted. It did not leave much space, but the wheels were rolling. The cassette was changed to a 11-42 configuration (11-34 before). Josien loves to cycle heavy gear, and she is really not too weak, but she was so extremely happy that we made this change. It just made it a bit easier to climb the very steep ramps of the Annapurna region.
Bike Configuration Overview
- Ridley Kanzo Adventure – 2020 Model
- Wheels: DTSwiss G 1800 SPLINE
- Tires: Kenda 29×2.1″ – (700x54mm)
- Group: Shimano GRX RX800 Mechanical
- Cassette (11-42 teeth)
- Chainrings: 48/31
- Franklin: Ortlieb: Seat-Pack + Handlebar-Pack + Frame Pack.
- Josien: Apidura: Seat Pack + Frame Pack.
We read in the blogs that it would be best to travel as light as possible as especially the last two days are hard because of high altitude and very steep climbs where you have to push the bikes. Temperatures would vary from -15 to 30 degrees. We had to cut down the amount of luggage drastically. Afterwards we could have taken even less, a good lesson learned for the Pamir highway.
- 1x cycle jersey
- 2x T-shirts (1x would have been enough)
- 1x cycle shorts
- 1x thermo pants
- 1x long hiking pants (used a lot but thermo and ¾ pants would have been sufficient)
- 1x ¾ running pants
- 3x pair of cycling / running socks
- 1x pair of warm hiking socks
- 1x down jacket
- 1x wind jacket
- 1x rain jacket
- 1x rain shorts
- 1x buff
- 1x winter hat
- 1x cycling gloves
- 1x thick winter gloves (Josien learned her lesson after Kilimanjaro)
- 1x towel
- 1x sleeping liner
- 1x cycling sunglasses
- 1x helmet
- 1x trail running shoes (we did not ride with mountain bike shoes to save weight)
- 1x trail running backpack
- 1x sleeves (only Franklin – which was the one thing Josien regrets, these would have been super useful)
- Josien: iPhone X; Franklin: Realme X3 SuperZoom
- GoPro Hero 4
- Drone Dji Mavic Mini
- Garmin Forerunner 930
We decided not to take the solar charger to save weight. Afterwards this is the only thing we missed sometimes. Electricity is not always as reliable, so it would have been useful. On the other hand, a few hours or days without phone is also quite refreshing 🙂
So far, the technical and hopefully useful information, now time for the real fun part – riding the Annapurna Circuit!
DAY 1 – 08.04.2021
Besisahar (760m) – Jagat (1300m)
When we woke up the sky was still hazy and covered in dust and smoke. Since decades there had not been so many forest fires and so little rain in Nepal. We had breakfast at 07:00 and as always during the first day of a trip, we had a slow start. We left around 09:00 to make our way to Chame.
Immediately after leaving Besisahar, the asphalt turns into bumpy gravel. We were so happy that we changed the cassette and the tires for this ride. Without these changes, we probably would have been walking most of the way. And honestly, without the wider tires, it would have been a lot less comfortable.
The weather was good, but because of the smoke and dust we could not really see many mountains. However, the ride and the environment, in general, were spectacular! Almost the whole day we cycled along a beautiful blue river and the walls of the mountains were rising on both sides. Around 13:30h it started to rain lightly. We decided to eat some lunch in Jagat and wait for the rain to pass. This did not happen. From 14:00 – 21:00 there was hard rain and beautiful thunder. We were super happy for two reasons: 1) We made the right decision to call it a day, 2) After so much rain the sky must be clear the next day! We just hoped the roads would not be too muddy.
The whole day we did not pass any check-post. Maybe all the stress we had arranging the permit and the TIMS card were in the end all for nothing?
Cost Teahouse (guest house) and food:
- Night at the Teahouse: Free – if we had our dinner and breakfast there
- Lunch: 350 NPR (veg fried rice) – 550 NPR (Dhal Bat)
- Dinner: 550 NPR (Dhal Bat)
- Drinks: 40 NPR (hot water) – 80 NPR (Milk Tea)
- Breakfast: 350 NPR (Porridge with Apple)
- Snacks: 350 NPR (Veg Momo)
On average we spent about 30 USD per day in total for water, food and a place to sleep. All the Teashouses work with the standard menu of the ACAP (Annapurna Conservation Area Project) and have the same menu and prices. In the low season they will offer you to stay for free as long as you have the meals there as well. Depending how much you eat, it can be cheaper to pay the 500 NPR for the room and eat in a local restaurant instead.
DAY 2 – 09.04.2021
Jagat (1300m) – Chame (2650m)
We woke up at 05:30 and planned to leave around 06:30. The goal was again to make it to Chame. But without a tight timeline, we did not want to go too fast and enjoy it as much as possible. The environment is too beautiful to rush through, so if we would not make it to Chame, that would have been no problem. And this day the sky was blue! Mountain peaks were rising all around us, and we felt so incredibly happy. Riding in Nepal, doing what we love. The owner of the tea house we slept in Jagat, told us that the beginning of the way to Chame would be flat. When we asked him if he meant “Nepali flat” he started laughing really hard. Yes… Nepali flat. For a Dutch girl Nepali flat is the same as cycling up a mountain. Soon after we left Jagat we passed many beautiful waterfalls. And right after passing the town Gandaki there is an incredibly steep uphill. Followed by a curved road on the left side of the mountain wall, and on the right side – steep cliffs down to the river. The road varies from gravel, concrete, big stones, sand, you name it. Some parts were so steep that we had to walk up. Good preparation for the last few days when we would have to push the majority.
This day we passed three check-posts:
We arrived in Chame around 13:30, where I watched my grandmothers’ funeral via a live stream. Weird weird world we live in. First of all because of the pandemic & second of all because there is WiFi in the middle of the Himalayas.
Around 15:00 it started raining again. Lucky us! Sitting inside a cozy tea house & having blue skies again the next day!
DAY 3 – 10.04.2021
Chame (2650m) – Manang (3519m)
The destination for the day would be Manang, about 30km from Chame. We saw on the map that the beginning would be quite tough, with climbs up to 30%. And yes, the beginning was hard! But so far this was the most beautiful scenery. White mountain peaks were rising all around us, and we just had to stop all the time to take pictures. It is so hard to believe that you are already at 3000m altitude and the mountains around you are higher than what you would ever see in Europe.
After the town of Humde the road gets flatter and we had some parts where we could really ride well for kilometers on end. Horses were walking around and there were no other people on the track. It was really magical.
Manang is a wonderful town to stay and rest for a few days. There are many day-hikes possibilities, perfect for acclimatization, nice tea houses and local restaurants and even a wonderful bakery. We were there during the pandemic and there were only a handful of other tourists. But normally there are also cafés and even a small cinema. If the weather is good, we would really recommend spending some days here.
Below a video showing the first three days at the Annapurna Circuit. For us the purpose of the videos is to show others the stunning views, but mainly the road conditions, which makes it possible to make good decisions regarding the type of bike, tires, cassettes etc. We really enjoyed this trip and hope it inspires others to do the same!
ACCLIMATIZATION DAYS MANANG
Manang is stunning and we decided to stay at least three nights. We woke up early every day and saw the sunrise over the mountain peaks. Two mornings the sky was really clear, and we could see the Annapurna II (7937m). The first morning we hiked to the viewpoint (map). It took us about 30 minutes to hike up and enjoy the view. We decided to keep walking further and went up to 4000m. It is a nice area to explore, and we should have brought some breakfast and spent more time up there. After breakfast, we walked around the town and enjoyed the sunshine as long as we could. The afternoons got very windy, and the temperature would drop drastically. Our room felt like a fridge and we got so cold at night. We even slept in thermo pants and winter jackets.
The second morning we left early again to hike up to the Ice Lake (4600m). Easy peasy of course because we are super fit. Well NOT. The path was steep, and the altitude made it even harder. But it is a beautiful hike and 100% worth it. On the way we passed the town of Braga. We left a jacket there which we would pick up on the way back because Josien was wearing 6 layers… still cold from the night. The hike up took us about 3 hours. We stopped 100 times to take pictures, and we felt so small with these giants around us. This was really a walk we will never forget. Right in front of the Ice Lake is another small lake, with about one million mosquitos or flies? Passing them was horrible because we did not know if they would sting, and I am quite allergic. At the Ice Lake there were no flies, and we had a wonderful breakfast: Snickers 🙂
By the time we reached Manang again, it was hot and we were hungry. We ate 3 portions of the best potato Momo’s we have had in Nepal in a little local restaurant close to our Hotel.
In the evening Kumar arrived. We met him in the bike shop in Kathmandu and he is the owner of the hotel we stayed. We talked for four hours about the history of Manang and Tibet. He showed his family home & explained the structure of the houses in the area. Super interesting and very memorable.
One thing we did not do in Manang was to visit the Tilicho Lake. We thought this would be a one-day trip, but it’s very likely it will take 2-3 days, including a night at the Tilicho base camp. The weather forecast said rain would come in the next days and we hoped to cross the pass without snow. Therefore, we decided to continue to Base camp and cross the Thorong La Pass as soon as possible. On the map we saw that we could also go to the lake from the other side (Jomsom), but local friends told us that this route is way harder and not recommended). Looking back, this is one of the highlights we missed.
DAY 4 – 13.04.2021
Manang (3519m) – Thorong Phedi Base Camp (4540m)
We read that this day would include lots of walking, so we were prepared! We had a last breakfast overlooking in the mountains of Manang and hit the road. Kumar would also come to the base camp – by horse!
Right after leaving the town the road goes quite steep up to the next village (Gunsang). Josien usually never checks the routes in advance and just follows Franklin, so it was not a good idea when she rode in the front when passing Gunsang. We rode a beautiful and steep downhill until Franklin said that there was not supposed to be a downhill like this at this point. He checked the map and it turned out we took a wrong turn. Oopsie. We turned around and walked back up.
It turned out we should have turned right and walked up the stairs, instead of going left to the downhill. After some stairs we ended on a beautiful, very well rideable single trail. Some parts were too steep for us and we had to walk, but most of it was ridable. We passed some beautiful suspension bridges and again it was stop-go-stop-go so we could take pictures. Now we understand where the name @pedalandstop comes from…
After 11 kilometers we walked down an incredibly steep downhill, it was quite hard to navigate down with the bike. We crossed a little bridge and walked back up on the other side. At the same time a man with two horses came down. It’s incredible how technical and strong the horses are in Nepal, and it looks like they have no fear at all. My horse would have politely thanked for this trail. Or more likely, she would have turned around and walked home.
On the other side of the river the narrow trail was crossing the mountain. On the left side there was a wall of rocks (big and small) and on the right side the cliff towards the river. Some parts were ridable, but right before reaching the base camp is the “landslide” area. We were warned not to stop here and take pictures, but to continue as quickly as we could. Well, we did not really recognize the landslide area, so we made videos, took pictures & maneuvered along the path. Some parts were so narrow and covered with rocks that we had to carry the bikes. Looking back, it was quite scary. In the moment we just made our way forward.
We reached base camp, our home for the night, before Kumar. Kumar is also the owner of this place. In the high season they service up to 300 guests per evening, and sometimes it is so busy that people have to sleep in the restaurant because all the rooms are full. Today we were the only people there.
After a quick lunch we decided to bring our bikes up to the High Camp (4900m), walk back down to base camp and walk back up with only a bag in our hands in the next morning. The trail from Base Camp to High Camp is the steepest of the whole route (1.4km and 23.1% avg. incline). Two men with horses (friends of Kumar) also walked up and offered to carry the bikes for us. We politely declined, because we were too proud and wanted to do the whole track unsupported. How stubborn. It was a 45min walk up and a quick hike down. And afterwards time to relax. We sat around the fire with Kumar, listening to music and playing guitar. A wonderful evening.
When the sky is clear here, it will be covered in thousands of stars. But not that night, it was cloudy and very, very cold.
DAY 5 – 14.04.2021
Crossing Thorong La Pass (5416m)
We woke up around 4:30 after a horrible night of sleep. The night before we talked about altitude sickness and somehow it got into Josien’s head. It was indeed a bit harder to breathe, and in her half-sleep state she was sightly panicking. What if we would walk up to the pass and she would get sick? It’s a very long way down. At the Kilimanjaro she also slept very bad the night before summit climb. She also remembered that the walking part was way less bad than the sleeping part, and this gave her some confidence for walking up the pass.
We left around 5:00 when the sun was already out. Walking up to the high camp was harder than the day before even though we did not have the bikes. Maybe because our muscles were not warmed up yet and we did not eat any breakfast. We arranged to have breakfast at the high camp to show some appreciation for stalling our bikes there overnight. If we would do the Annapurna Circuit again with the bikes, we would probably just walk up to the high camp once – with the bikes and luggage at the same time.
From high camp to the highest point of the pass, we walked all the way with, pushing our bikes. Some parts of the trail are really super steep, but other parts are probably ridable. But the altitude really impacted our power and even the thought of swinging a leg over the bike to start riding, was taking up too much energy. After a 3-hour walk, we made it to the beautiful sign which is covered in prayer flags. On the top of the Kilimanjaro, it was cold, and Josien felt quite bad, but here we felt super good and took time to make pictures, fly the drone and enjoy the views.
And then… we were ready for the fun and fast part – the downhill! Well NOT. The first part we could ride, but then it got really steep, and we switched constantly between riding and walking. Josien’s hands were painful from breaking and had a close call when hitting a big rock. We ended up walking 90% of the downhill. We are 100% sure that good mountain bikers would love this trail & that our friend @Stevenlehyaric rode the whole way down. But not us, not with our (lack of) technique. It would have been similar to a suicide attempt.
We reached Muktinath where it was warm and sunny. The first thing we saw when we arrived is a large temple which was packed. It turned out that this is one of the most important Hindu temples in Nepal, visited by lots of people every day. At an altitude of (3750m) and a 7-10 hours drive from Pokhora, visiting this temple by car is even a huge undertaking. If you plan to go straight down to Kagbeni or Jomsom, it is really worth to visit this temple when you are up there.
We stayed 2 nights in Muktinath. Enjoyed a semi-warm shower and good cappuccino at the Bob Marley Hotel. The best food we had at the Annapurna Inn, which has great rooms as well. Beyond the temple, the cappuccino and good breakfast Muktinath does not have much to offer. It mainly consists of hotels and is focused on the many (mainly Nepali and Indian) tourists. But a bit further down the road are a couple of beautiful old towns. For a more local and cultural experience it is more interesting to stay there.
DAY 6: Muktinath (3600m) – Kagbeni (2800m)
Elevation: 82m (downhill ride)
For this part of the route there are two options: beautiful smooth fantastic tarmac or a single trail. We would say depending on the bike and your personal preference – pick your favorite! If Upper Mustang is on the planning, there is also a single trail straight down to Chhsang. Surprise, surprise, we picked the tarmac. What a beautiful 10km downhill. We stopped again for many pictures. We found it so nice that we cycled back up the next day to have breakfast in Muktinath and to enjoy the downhill once again. It is most fun to ride down in the morning, because it gets super windy around 12:00.
From Kagbeni we would enter Upper Mustang with our guide (read about our Upper Mustang tour). We had a 10-day permit for Upper Mustang and for this we had a fixed entry date. We spend three nights in Kagbeni, which is a lovely town to explore. It has a good mix between the old and the new part.
Across the river there is a single trail which is not too steep and good for running. From this trail we entered the river bedding and ran on the rocks. Again, stunning views. Franklin was running like a Gazelle and Josien was running like an injured donkey. Cycling at altitude was fine, but running can be an extreme killer.
DAY 7: Kagbeni (2800m) – Kalapani (2400)
Elevation: 240m (mainly flat and downhill ride)
After Kagbeni we spent 10 days in Upper Mustang. On the way back, leaving Upper Mustang, we passed Kagbeni again. For the love of cycling, we decided to keep riding till Pokhara even though our guide took a jeep back.
The road from Muktinath to Kagbeni is by far the best part of the track & from Kagbeni to Jomsom is the worst (for cyclists). There are so many rocks, it just feels like riding endless high speedbumps. No fun without suspension, but also not the end of the world. In Jomsom there are many options for restaurants and hotels as well. We had delicious cappuccino at Himalayan Java. On their terrace you sit out of the wind & in the sun. It is the perfect spot to enjoy the view and good coffee.
After a break we continued. After Jomsom there is an open valley, and the wind gets insanely strong after 10:00 in the morning. Flat and downhill parts still felt like riding uphill. When riding here and if you have the chance – ride in the morning! There were lots of roadworks going on, and we were told that they will not be finished for the next years. Probably it is also possible to ride parts of the hiking trek, but we heard the news that the country was slowly going in lockdown and we wanted to slowly make our way to Pokhara.
On this side of the trekking path, the views must be amazing as well. For us it was cloudy and we could not really enjoy them, but still a fun ride along the river. Around 13:00 the weather really started changing, and the sky got dark. When we arrived in Kalopani it started raining and thundering. We decided to stop here and slept at the Kalopani Guesthouse. Super rooms, the best bed, a hot shower (!) and the best Dahl Bat we have had on the track. It was a shame that the sky was not clear, because the view from this town is one in a million. On one side there is the Dhaulagiri with 8167m and on the other side the Annapurna range with the Annapurna 8091m . An incredible environment for hiking. We decided that we would hike to the Titi Lake, a close by lake in the next morning if the weather would be good.
DAY 8: Kalapani (2400) – Baglung (1020)
Elevation: 650m (mainly downhill ride)
We opened the curtains and… clouds! Lots of them. No hike for us. The weather for the next days also looked bad and we decided to just continue our way down.
We had Takali bread for breakfast, you have to try it – so good! After the town Lete, the downhill really starts. The road varies from very rocky to super smooth gravel. But the whole way had one thing in common: roadworks all the way. We think that the road conditions here will vary day by day as so much work is going on. Between 06:00 and 11:00 the road was closed for cars and the only traffic we had were bulldozers and tractors.
Just before Tatopani Franklin had no brakes left. His front brake stopped working in Upper Mustang, because he got air in the hydraulic system. The pads of his back brake was simply done. But well prepared as we are, we had spare brake pads. We stopped at a small restaurant and Franklin took out the old brake pads to quickly replace it. And then the pistols came all the way out and there was no way we could put in the new brake pads. Eventually with the help of two borrowed screwdrivers Franklin could push the pistols back in. After about 30 minutes of slight stress, we could roll down the mountain again. We had some lunch in Tatopani (Samusa + boiled eggs) and continued on the jeep road direction civilization.
After we passed Beni the road varied between gravel and tarmac. It was a pleasure to ride a road that was a bit smoother and actually covers some distance. At the crossing in Maldhunga we discussed if we would go left to Pokhara or turn right to explore Baglung. We decided to spend a night in Baglung, which is a super nice town with lots of local restaurants, a good hotel (The Rajan) and the longest suspension bridge (for pedestrians only) in the world. The sister of the owner of the hotel was celebrating her engagement in the hotel and we were invited to join after the ceremony for drinks. Bad idea, after 4 weeks of no alcohol, the drinks kicked in hard and the next day we were more dead than alive.
Day 9: Baglung (1020) – Kathmandu (1400)
We spent three nights in Baglung and had the plan to cycle to Pokhara. In the meantime Kathmandu and Pokhara were in lockdown and we started to get the feeling that we should leave the country and skip the Everest Base Camp trekking. The plan we made was to spend two nights in Pokhara, take a car to Kathmandu, spend two more nights in our favorite hotel in Kathmandu & then fly to the next destination.
Things turned out a bit differently. when we woke up in the next morning we found out that the airports were going to be closed for 14 days at least, and we decided that we would leave the next day.
Our initial plan was to stay 2-3 more weeks and hike to the Mount Everest Base camp, where our friend Jonathan is preparing to go to the top. This plan needed to be postponed, no real hiking for us in Nepal!
Within one hour we had arranged a car to bring us to Kathmandu and our flight to Dubai was booked. We started cycling to Pokhara which was really a fantastic last ride. Normally this road is busy, but due to the lockdown it was almost empty. We rode about 9km of a 20km uphill. Oh my, we would have loved to finish this whole ride, including the downhill, but our taxi driver needed to be back in Pokhara before midnight (before they would fully close the city) so he met us halfway to speed things up a bit.
A six-hour ride to Kathmandu followed… it would have probably been the once in a lifetime chance to cycle the beautiful highways in Nepal without the constant fear of being hit by a truck. We would have loved to stay, but it was too risky to get stuck in Nepal for a long time.
When we arrived in the hotel, we had to face the necessary evil of the PCR test. The easiest and the fastest way was to go to the clinic by bike. Cycling the empty streets of Kathmandu was very special and we enjoyed riding the last kilometers in Nepal, even in the rain.
The next morning, I picked up the results of the test by bike again. A couple of QOM’s on the empty streets, passing the armed army guys. It felt a bit like a computer game. In a couple of hours we packed the bikes and our other stuff and made our way to the airport.
Here we had the longest struggle so far to get our bikes on the plane. It honestly took us about 2.5 hours, many discussions and phone calls. If you are curious to read more about our experience with the different airlines – here you find all we have learned so far!