“Visit Nepal” is the slogan plastered on the posters displayed around
Kathmandu. Situated slightly north of India, Nepal may not be your
first choice when you plan your next mountain bike holiday, however it
is certainly worth considering. Nepal offers a whole range of ‘high
risk’ sports including downhill mountain biking. The only way to
describe the descents in the Himalayas is steep, so steep in fact that
there is no skiing or snowboarding to speak of. So, for the globe
trotting downhiller Nepal is a must….
The word amongst the hard-core riders in Nepal is that the rest of he
mountain biking scene had better watch out. They enthuse that over the
next few years the Nepalese are going to dominate global mountain biking
and kick some serious international ass.
On paper it is easy to see
their reasoning : the country is a mountain biking nirvana; the trails
and paths are numerous and in close proximity to the city; the riding is
done at altitude which is of benefit when they compete at lower levels
and it is difficult to become bored with the multitude of descents on
offer and as such training monotony does not exist.
The reality is that
world domination is some time off…. The limited nutrition, spare
riding time and the poor quality equipment the riders routinely endure
certainly curtails their talents. It is as though they’re riding with
the handbrake on and don’t realise it. Yet in the face of this adversity
the locals trail skills and enthusiasm are second to none. If only
somehow they could take the handbrake off ….then maybe….
I arrived in Nepal not really knowing what to expect. In fact I went
there with a friend to ‘chill out’ after an epic round-the-world road
trip on a mountain bike tandem blew up in our faces, or rather snapped
in two!! -but that’s another story. After a couple of days relaxing and
getting myself together, I was itching to check out the local mountain
bike scene and hit the trails. Word had it that the best riding was to
be done at Pokhara and Kathmandu. My search led me to Kathmandu.
If you decide to go to Nepal you will hopefully arrive there under less
stressful and more conventional circumstances than myself. However,
prepare yourself for a slight culture shock. One of the first things to
hit me (the second was a tree) was how materialistically poor the
Nepalese are, yet oxymoronically how optimistic and genuinely cheerful
they appear to be. The silver lining for the tourist is that this
relative poverty means that living costs are minimal – I was able to
stay in a shared twin room in a top dog hotel for only £5 a night and £1
bought me a full-hit steak dinner with all the trimmings. The real bonus
is that you can get your mitts on a bottle of Nepalese rum for only a
quid. What a bargain!
Very little of Nepal is flat and as such what you’ve got is a whole
bunch of kick ass ascents/descents. The ascents are really only for die
hard XC riders or down right masochists… or at least that was my
interpretation the morning of the ride as I peered at the world through
rum tinted Oakleys. Instead, a few pounds will buy you a bus ride to the
top complete with an experienced mountain guide. It must be noted that
catching a bus to the top is not necessarily for wimps or the faint
hearted because a Nepalese bus ride is an adrenaline sport in itself!
Armed only with a horn (not brakes) the drivers throw the buses around
the hairpins at break neck speeds, thinking nothing about overtaking on
a blind corner. The experience is like watching the closing scenes of
The Italian Job on fast forward!
Don’t bother wasting your time planning routes before you get there
because there is no need. There are plenty of locals who will act as
guides, give you advice, and show you around for a minimal cost. A good
area to get started on is Nagarkot. Having survived the bus journey, I
stayed the night in one of the numerous hotels at the top of Nagarkot
which was aptly named the View Point Hotel. From the roof top seating
area I watched the sun rise over Everest (it was well worth getting up
early for) had a full English breakfast and then hacked my way down the
10km downhill to Bhaktapur.
The majority of the trails are adrenaline pumping, skill testing,
switchbacks which are seemingly endless. They’re a blend of fast fire
road, technical rock mattress’ and loose unpredictable dirt…it’s a
real mixed bag. They relentlessly wind themselves down the mountain
side, through Nepalese plantations, hamlets and terraces, past temples
and shrines and chai(tea) shops.
I was surprised to find that I didn’t
startle the locals as I sped past them at warp speed( have you ever
noticed how you think you ride faster when you’re hung over?) Instead I
got cheers of “hello” from the elders and shouts and claps of excited
encouragement from the kids. I was especially chuffed when a whole field
of plantation workers surreally stopped their work and waved. Once at
the bottom of this exhilarating and exhausting descent, I was breathing
like a burst Hoover bag, with every muscle and joint in my body aching,
my eyes were popping out and I had a huge ‘cat who got the cream’ grin
on my face.
The mountain air was good and I had left my hangover
somewhere near the top. I felt good …God I love mountain biking.
However, I obviously didn’t look as euphoric as I felt because a chai
shop owner worriedly ushered me into his shop, sat me down and gave me a
cup of tea on the house, muttering the sympathetic words “you’ll feel
better”. BETTER? How could I? I’d just had THE ride of my life.
Getting there: A return flight from England will cost you £500
upwards depending on the airline and when you go. It is certainly worth
shopping around because some good bargains can be found.
Accommodation: There is no shortage of accommodation in Nepal. If you
don’t mind the ‘fly by the seat of your pants approach, then your
cheapest option is wait until you arrive and choose the best option from
the plethora of offers you will receive from touts. Remember, that in
Nepal you are expected to barter – so don’t pay the initial asking
price. A good rule of thumb is to pay a third of the asking price. You
could do a lot worse than to head for the Thamel area and check into the
Hotel Lai Lai.
Things to do: Mountain bike hire is inexpensive. Very inexpensive- about
£1 a day. However, don’t expect any suspension. In fact you’ll be lucky
to get your hands on anything post 1995. A better option is to transport
your own bike. Most airlines accept bikes as part of your luggage, but
it is wise to check with your airline beforehand and pack it according
to their regulations. Nepal is famous for it trekking and white water
rafting and if you have the time, it’s well worth checking out.
(c) Copyright 1999 John Metcalfe
As well as being an MTB enthusiast, John Metcalfe is also a Sports
Scientist and available for MTB training programmes e-mail: mtbfit@m-