That day we had to drive a final part of the off road to Beni, approximately 20 km. From Beni it is a “kind of normal road”, you can call it even a highway, all the way to Pokhara. A week ago, when we’ve driven up here, the road was very wet and muddy. But after a week of sunshine, the road became just rocks and dust. Dust that sink everywhere, under your cloth, under your skin. Can’t tell what is better, muddy road or dusty road, both seems to be not a great option, but still passable.
Quick lunch and tea in some roadside restaurant and by afternoon we’ve arrived safely to Pokhara, where another surprise was waiting for us. We could not get a room in a same guest house where we stayed last time, even after we’ve booked it with reception. We had to go around Pokhara to find a new place for a us to stay. But the real problem was the fact that it was a Nepali New Year (2074 by the way) and all of the places raised their prices in double. Oh, Oh. In most places rooms were already fully booked and our chances to get a reasonable and good room with secured parking for a bike were melting with every minute. Pokhara has many places to stay, but, not that much places with secured parking for a bike. We finally got OK room in one place, but had to change for another guest house the next morning.
Though our journey in Nepal is not over yet, but the most exited part is completed: Project 88: Kathmandu-Muktinath-Pokhara. It was rough, cold, very hard and sometimes seemed impossible. But we did it. Now we need to get some rest and find something new for us to be entertained with. Safe rides!
Today was a very long day, and the main task was to get as far as possible. The problem was the height that we climbed up, now we need to go down from 3800 m to 1200 m. There are two most difficult parts of the road: first is between Muktinath and Kagbeni and from Kalopani all the way down to Tatopani.
That was not an easy task to get down with 300 kg bike and two people, plus luggage. Such steep road down can be very hard to drive with a heavy weight, taking into account that every 10 m it can be a pit hole, a rock or an opposite traffic. In some very steep parts of the road, Kate as a passenger had to go on foot, sometime holding a bike from behind, to make sure that the back wheel goes down lightly. We noticed that we got a couple of dents on the bike exhaust and were trying to safe as much of it as possible. We had to admit that for Royal Enfield classic bike this road is quite rough and its exhaust is located very low and gets all the rocks and obstacles on the way. Passenger and luggage are not making things easier. So, our descent was quite slow, but the weather was fine and we kept riding all the way to Tatopani.
We’ve stopped for a coffee in Jomsom, there is a lovely coffee shop next to Om Hotel, where delicious cappuccino is served. Barista showed us where the post office is located and we’ve sent some lovely postcards to our parents and friends.
After 6 hours of driving we made a stop for a lunch in Kalopani and dried up our bags and shoes after passing another river.
Another 4 hours of driving and we’ve finally made it to Tatopani, very tired and hoping only for the hot springs and beer. Lucky for us hot springs are open till 9 pm. We got a room in Dhualgiri view guest house, made order for a dinner, and soaked ourselves into the hot bath…. Amazing… This was worth all the dust, pain and struggle we had that day. The was only one final hard part of the road left – Tatopani to Beni. After Beni only things that you should mind are traffic and crazy Susuki Marruti drivers.
Day X. Still not knowing where we will get today, we’ve started early in the morning to avoid the strong wind from Kali Gandaki river and pilgrim traffic.
Muktinath is an ancient temple which is sacred for both Hindu and Buddhists, located on the altitude od 3800 m above sea level and surrounded with gorgeous Annapurna range and Dhaulagiri. Muktinath bazar, or Old Ranipauwa, is also the first big settlement after Tholong La pass of popular Annapurna circuit trek.
We’ve been in this area 10 years ago, when we did this trek ourselves. The road that we’ve ridden this time on a bike was under construction and Muktinath was reachable only by foot or by horse. At that time we’ve seen only one motorbike, some Chinese brand cross bike, and we were surprised how he got there.
10 years ago Muktinath was a paradise for us, after the coldest nigh in a base camp, early wake up and 8 hours of harsh accent and descent with snow and 1 m visibility on the pass. Last time we’ve stopped in Bob Marley guest house, as it was one of the two “OK looking” places and the name was quite attractive. We were not disappointed for sure. We were very
excited about its restaurant, bar, decoration and the whole atmosphere and friendly staff. This time we had no second thought on a place to stay, we’ve even promised ourselves that the first yak steak meal in Nepal we will get in Bob Marley restaurant in Muktinath, so it was another good motivation.
Surprisingly after a steep accent from Kagbeni, the second part of the road was quite in a good condition with just couple of wet and muddy places. We’ve arrived in one piece after 2.5 hours of driving and were very excited to reach the first goal of the journey. The second one will be getting back down to Beni.
Ten years ago Ranipauwa was a one street village with just a couple of places to sleep and eat. Now it is quite a large settlement with souvenirs stalls, new hotels, restaurant and lots of construction around.
Bob Marley is still where it was. Upon our arrival we’ve got a good cup of coffee and a nice room.
We’ve spent the day visiting the temple. Following the Tibetian tradition we’ve hang Tibetian prayer flags on top of the hill above the temple, and, following Hindu tradition we’ve touched the water from 108 sacred streams and lighted the incense sticks for the Hindu gods.
There are couple of pleasant walks around Muktinath bazar to some small villages. There is also a Lukla valley which can be visited on a day hike or on the way back to Jomsom by foot.
Sunny day gave us some great views towards Annapurna range and Dhaulagiri, including Thorong La pass. But when the sun is gone, the temperature drops down to minus 11 at night. Brrr, freezing…
It is only 30 km From Marpha to our final destination – Muktinath. But we’ve decided to split them in two days, hoping that it will be warmer in Muktinath the next day. So we’ve ridden to Kagbeni – a Tibetan village, the entrance to the Upper Mustang region.
Mustang is an ancient “Forbidden Kingdom”, the Land of Lo and Lost Tibetan Kingdom. Forbidden for foreigners till 1992, it’s quite difficult to reach now days as well. Upper Mustang occupies a huge territory in Nepal and border with Tibetan region in China. Untill 2008 Mustang was a dependent Kingdom of the Kingdom of Nepal. Since democracy arrival to Nepal the last king of Mustang Jigme Dorje Palbar Bista retired in Kathmandu and Mustang became just a district.
Upper Mustang lies on the altitude of 3,500 m and up, sheltered by some of the worlds highest peaks, Annapurna and Dhaualagiri. Kagbeni is an entrance to the Upper Mustang and to travel beyond you would require a guide and quite expensive permit ($500).
Kagbeni is a big Tibetan settlement with 15th century monastery which you can visit for a fee of $2.
At the edge of Kagbeni there is a confluence of two rivers and for Hindus this is quite a religious site. There is a footbridge across the river nearby which marks the start of the road to Tiri – Mustang village that can be visited without a permit.
In Tiri we’ve observed the competition in archery, inside a special rectangular plot with quite high walls made of stones and mud. Each end of the plot has a stand with a target and archers shoots from one stands on another every game. It’s worth to mention that bows are made from bamboo, and arrows are mostly modern one, made from light alloy.
At night the rain was not that heavy as it was on the night before and again we truly hoped that road is passable. Checking weather forecasts was quite unpleasant activity, as they all showed snow and low temperature in Marpha, Jomsom and Muktinath, as low as +1C at the day time and -11C at night.
We’ve left Kalopani around 7:30 am and by 9 am we arrived to Marpha. The weather was sunny and quite warm, but strong cold wind made a cool afternoon.
On the way to Marpha we’ve passed a lovely village of Tukuche, an old important stop for traders and goods from Tibet to India. There is an old distillery in the town and we’ve tried to find it. It was amazing experience: riding along tiny streets, passing tiny houses, chortens (tibetian postament with stupas and engraved stones with mantra Om Mane Padme Khum) and prayers wheels.
Marpha is another lovely tiny village famous for its apples. Apple trees started from Tukuche and at this time of the year the first flowers started to bloom. When we’ve been here 10 years ago in October, apples were everywhere, and if you are desperate enough, you can shamelessly steel from gardens, as much as your backpack can fit.
After delicious breakfast with aloo paratha with local salsa and muesli with curd and apple, we took a day hike to Old Marpha settlement, which is located high on the ridge. The hike was good, with some lovely mountain views and through tibetan chortens, but strong cold wind made it less pleasant.
After the hike the local apple cider with apple pie was a great treat. Oh, I love this apple country.
The morning sunshine gave us a hope for a good day, and as we planned before we went for a circuit trek through neighborhood villages. Even with sunshine the temperature was still quite cold and we started fully dressed, but had to take off all the warm cloth after the first accent as the air temperature started to get warmer as well.
The views towards mountains were magnificent, and thanks to yesterdays rain, there was snow on the top of the hills, all surrounded mountains were covered in white.
The trail was easy to follow. We went through the pine forest – our favorite type of trekking. The villages were quite small and neat. The day was beautiful. We were the only trekkers on this trail, looks like most of the trekkers still prefer to walk along the road, which is a pity as this trail towards Titi lake and Taglung village is a very nice walk.
We’ve spent around 6 hours walking with lunch stop in Taglung village. Shortly after we came back to Kalopani, the weather changed and the rain started
As our backs kept the memory of a super bumpy ride of the previous day, we truly hoped that the road will become better. It did for a bit, there were no rivers to cross that day, but still a lot of rocks and boulders.
We’ve started late, planning to drive only to Lete or Kalopani, which is just 25 km from Tatopani. The ride was a little less then 2 hours. As we were arriving to Kalopani a rain started and continued the rest of day and all night. It was a pity, as we planned to do a small trek nearby and had plans to spend one more day for a 13 km circuit trek.
We chose Kalopani lodge for the night and were quite happy. It has a comfy and stylish lobby with coffee shop serving Illy coffee (in Nepal, 2500 m above sea level), newly built rooms with lots of electric sockets and free wi fi in the lobby, though electricity is not stable as everywhere else in Nepal.
Fuck, fuck, fuck – this was the only thing that I recorded in my journal in the end of the day.
We’ve started driving early in the morning, still having concerns about the weather. It was cloudy and after 30 minutes driving towards Beni, on top of the ridge, strong wind with rain stoped us in a small local tea house for a while. Luckily it was the only rain that we got that day. After delicious masala tea we continued our ride.
Road to Beni was paved, winding and in a poor condition, but we did not expect anything then that. But after Beni it was a muddy, dusty, unpaved road actually total off road that goes all the way up to Muktinath.
Muktinath is a pilgrimage site for Buddhist and Hindu, it is a temple built on natural springs on the height of 3,800 m above sea level. Just 10 km before Muktinath there are towns: Jomsom – administrative center of the region and Kakbeni – entrance to the Mustang old kingdom. On the way from Tatopani to Muktinath the road follows the deepest canyon along Kali Gandaki river with magnificent views of Dualgiri and Annapurna range.
We have been trekking in this area 10 years ago, during our Annapurna circuit trek, coming down from Thorong La pass. By that time it was still a mule trail, the road was under construction, though it still is.
We were expecting off road, but we definitely did not expect the mud mixed with stones and boulders. It is a killer road for a passenger and for a bike with such a low clearance. Traffic is quite annoying also as the road sometimes is so narrow that only one vehicle can pass. Quite scary, because you are getting into situations when it is a solid rock from one side and a steep cliff from another. There are couple of places where you had to cross some small rivers without bridges, which gives you another portion of adrenaline.
It took us 2.5 hours to ride 25 kilometers from Beni to Tatopani. Tatopani is a well developed village getting it’s name from a hot springs near by. We’ve got a room in Dualgiri Lodge and parked the bike on a small street in front of it. After the super bumpy ride hot springs with cold beer were a great treatment. In the evening, when clouds cleared, we enjoyed wonderful views to Dualgiri peak.
It was raining for many days in Pokhara and couple of times it was a storm with hailstone size of pigeon egg. Not a great weather for a mountain ride, but we still hoped for the best. We have done all our preparations for Muktinath trip so far, but the weather was the main concern. We’ve decided to spent one more day in Pokhara to give it a chance to get better.
As some noisy construction has begun in our guest house, we’ve also decided to change the place we stay. This time we’ve chosen the place in South Lakeside called Blue Planet Lodge where we got quite a good deal for a lovely place with garden, comfy mattresses and crispy bedsheets.
Last night it was raining and weather forecast for mountains shows minus temperatures. So we had to entertain ourselves with some riding around Pokhara.
The weather was foggy early in the morning, but get better by 8 am and after breakfast we’ve driven the road, that continues from Lakeside to the East, guessing what we would find there.
The ride was great, despite the road conditions (another off road test drive). We’ve enjoyed riding along rice fields, small villages, water buffalos and, my favorite, goats. We found there were few lovely villages with little traffic full of authentic and natural life. People were working in fields, taking care of corn, tomatoes, cabbages. Men were sitting in local tea houses discussing some very important business (my guess), women were taking care of the houses and kids were running to school and playing on the streets. Kind of Idyll. Plus amazing scenic views towards the lake, fields and mountains. Beautiful ride. While our backs were quite stressed after couple hours of off road driving, but all the emotions that we’ve got covered it tons of times.