Okay, you’ve done all the challenging mountain trails in Europe – the Alpe d’Huez and Les Arcs in France, Norway’s Mefjellet and Galitzenklamm in Austria – and you’re ready for something extraordinary, something epic. How about Nepal?
That’s right, Nepal – home to the world’s highest mountains and a mind-boggling number of trails created and beaten smooth over centuries by Nepalese walking across the country to markets or their families. In addition, mountain biking is the country’s fastest-growing sport today so you’ll be sure to find like-minded MTB adventurers if you need them.
And, of course, no matter which trail you choose to ride, you’ll find uniquely spectacular views whether you’re in a valley looking up or looking down from a high Himalayan perch.
Spring and autumn are the best times to bike in Nepal because there’s little rain, the weather is stable and temperatures are either climbing (spring) or moderate (autumn). There are marvellous festivals during both seasons – Holi in March and Nepalese New Year in April; Dashain in October and Tihar the following month.
Here are three special biking trails of Nepal starting with the Annapurna Circuit, which has been called the world’s best biking trail for many reasons. One being its magnificent landscape with Himalayan vistas and small villages along the circuit. It’s also very challenging and you need to be very fit as its highest point, the Thorong La Pass, lies some 5,400 m above sea level. As you can imagine, there is much uphill, downhill and single-track riding and you may have to carry your bike for hours at some point.
You will also need to ride across a number of hanging bridges, which seem challenging at the beginning but become second nature once you get the, um, hang of it. Finally, tarmac eventually turns into jeep tracks and finally into a trekking path as you ascend so you will need to travel as light as possible. That’s the bad news for those who want to ride the entire trail. The good news is that the trail is well maintained and there are many restaurants and guesthouses along the circuit so you won’t need to take much. On your own, you will need about two weeks to cover the trail. This trail is not recommended for beginners or the faint of heart or breath.
The Lower Everest Region is another exciting Nepalese trail that, though rough, is not as daunting as Annapurna. But, like Annapurna, it does offer long, steep climbs and exciting downhill rides past forests, lovely mountain villages and Himalayan streams. One section of the trail takes you to the base camp at Pikey Peak, at 3,640 m of altitude, which Sir Edmund Hillary, the first climber to reach the summit of Mt. Everest, called the best viewpoint in Nepal. A vantage point that offers unforgettable views of Everest, Ama Dablam, Kanchenjunga and other Himalayan peaks above 8,000 m high. (Actually, all along the trail, you will be riding in the Everest’s shadow.) In addition, the region offers a variety of trails that make it ideal for nearly all mountain bikers, from the relatively green to champions.
The Upper Mustang is the place to bike if you are part daredevil and part explorer. You ride a dry, dusty trail to the ancient kingdom of Lo, which was forbidden to outsiders until 1992. Though it is now accessible to tourists, there is a steep permit fee for those who want to enter. As a result, not many visitors come to this remote part of the world.
Lo is part of the Tibetan Plateau, a high-altitude desert bordered to the south by some of the Himalaya’s highest mountains. The area receives almost no rainfall so the landscape is dry and stark. Passing over rough and rocky trails, the trails pass isolated settlements, ancient Buddhist shrines and incredibly sculpted canyons with cave dwellings and monasteries built into the sides of cliffs. The fact that it now lies in Nepal rather than Tibet has enabled the people of the region to preserve their Tibetan Buddhist culture and lifestyle. If you are fit and intrepid, you’ll learn something about a unique corner of the world and its ancient way of life.
The Upper Mustang trails are mostly rough, following jeep tracks and single tracks that pass over high passes, long sweeping downhills and savage ridgelines – surrounded by the Himalayas!
There are many rugged and unforgettable trails in Nepal and dozens of online agencies offering bike tours for this marvellous country. Signing up for a tour will cost you, of course, but vehicles are often provided to shorten the trip and/or get you over the rough spots. Check the offers and compare – or take off on your own with maps and plenty of information, of course.