First impressions of Kathmandu Nepal upon arrival were quite a culture shock. The driving and riding street chaos is nothing short of epic. It’s as you would have seen from an Indiana Jones movie. No rules, or if there were rules no one abided by them. People pulled out in front of you, drove on the wrong side of the road and just generally took any gap that existed. It was fun and tiring all at the same time. In terms of riding a motorcycle, it’s not for the faint of heart or new riders. The overall infrastructure is what you would expect from a third world country still trying to figure its way into development. It was exciting and vastly different than any western country.
Once we left the city we got into the more rural roads of Nepal. Mainly two-lane roads and many of them dirt roads. It was hot in the lowlands, very humid but somehow the roads were still extremely dusty, and still with lots of traffic. A stark contrast to riding in Patagonia, a place where you can ride for a long time with little to no other vehicles around.
Once we started up the Mustang Valley Road, we went from hot lowlands up into the foothills as they are called in Nepal, still reaching 10,000 feet or more. The traffic died down and the road deteriorated. The riding became more interesting but still quite slow. We were on the vulnerable Royal Infield Himalayan. The bikes we had could have been better in terms of pre-trip maintenance, but they were getting the job done non the less.
Once we left Kagbeni we officially were heading into the Upper Mustang Valley, riding towards Lo Manthang. The road leaving the small town of Kagbeni was one lane and had a small river crossing with a little wooden bridge to cross for motorcycles. It was unassuming considering the vast area we were about to traverse and the high elevation we were riding into. A short while after leaving we came to the permit station, which was no more and a couple buildings and some police checking who entered and who left the area. After that the road was great, very few vehicles and the road was in good condition, wider and with a bit more flow for riding a motorcycle. We rode up to 12,500 feet to Lo Manthang where we would camp for 3 nights. Up high it is a vast desert with little vegetation. Hot during the day and freezing at night. Dry and arid with huge rolling hills all around.
While in Lo Manthang we did go see the Tiji festival and visit the Sky Caves near the border with Tibet. The Sky Caves are a huge array of man-made caves dug into cliff sides and found to be at least 2000 to 3000 years old.
Once our visit to Lo Manthang was over it was time to ride back down out of the Upper Mustang on the same road we came in on. Somehow it took half the time to cover the same distance back down. We ended up riding into the foothills of the lowlands where it was much more green, hot, and humid. From there it was a short ride back into Pokhara and we all started our long journeys home.
I went into this ride with no expectations. Nepal is a place so far removed from the rest of the world the things you see and the differences you experience have to be taken with that in consideration. It’s remote, its crowded, its hot on one side and freezing on the other side. If you want to experience something different and unique in terms of culture, it’s worthwhile. If you want great motorcycle riding then maybe lower your expectations, it was fun no doubt but slow and clunky at times. However, I do think the motorcycle is the best tool for the job in terms of traveling around Nepal and so do thousands of other locals as there are 10 motorcycles to every car!
Overall, a great winter time ride for me and a big cultural experience to add to the book of world travel.