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Speeding through the world's deepest valley, Catriona Sutherland discovers Nepal's once-forbidden landscapes by mountain bike.

riding the mountains in nepal donald shearer

Engines rumbled and blades burst into action. The tiny body of our twin prop plane gently juddered as it gathered height. We were leaving the city of Pohkara and heading for Jomsom; the town that would be our gateway to the beautiful, barren and once forbidden Mustang region of Nepal.

Historically known also as the Land of Lo, ironically, this place is anything but. One of the most remote and sparsely populated areas in Nepal, the Mustang is a place where Tibetan culture and customs are still very much alive and well.

8,000 metre peaks framed either side of the flight path as the pilot steered us through the world's deepest valley. Huddled at the back of our miniature plane, I watched out of the window, in awe of the peaks around us. A tap on the shoulder brought me out of a daze. I turned left to see a tree at eye-level; the juxtaposition between plane and plant causing my mind to flip for a moment.

First sight of the Annapurna range ©Donald Shearer.jpg


Arrival on the Rooftop

As we set down on the tarmac sighs of relief filled the cabin. Our group of twelve riders had come together from as far as Canada, Poland and Switzerland to explore this sacred mountain landscape with H+I Adventures. Having started our day before sunrise, I was grateful our plane had made it; flights here are frequently cancelled due to erratic winds, and we'd been saved a lengthy mountain drive.

Under the lead of our affable guide Mandil we collected our bags in the tiny terminal building and spilled out onto the street. Modest stone buildings, prayer flags and cattle welcomed us; a contrast to the previous four days spent adjusting to culture and climate in the foothills of Kathmandu, Nepal's capital city.


Lofty heights on mountain bikes

Our systems were somewhat in shock - Jomsom's altitude reaches a breath-shortening 2,700 metres. We were reunited with our bikes at a teahouse, and I was grateful for full suspension on mine; the rugged, rough terrain around us was going to be a challenge. My Scott Spark was the perfect partner for the forthcoming adventure; the addition of a dropper post an absolute must for the tight twists and turns ahead.

Accompanying our gaggle of rides and our bikes were H+I Adventures' trusty guide team, Mandil, RJ and Suraj, who'd all driven the long and hideously bumpy road from Poharka, a total of 15 hours, to make sure our kit was ready and waiting. I was honoured to meet RJ - not only a respected guide, he's also the Nepalese Downhill Champion and a nominee for the 2018 National Geographic Adventurer of the Year award. We were clearly in safe and reliable hands.

We took off from the teahouse for the tiny neighbouring village of Falyak. The trail seemed simple, until the wind whipped up and we arrived at a narrow suspension bridge crossing over a deep ravine. Colourful flags flapped in the wind - said to spread prayers of goodwill and compassion, we hoped they were sending good vibes for the ride ahead.

Riding through the tiny village of Falyak ©Donald Shearer.jpg

Wobbling over the bridge, we came face to face with our first punchy ascents, riding over a rock-strewn trail that felt like a lunar landscape. As we climbed towards the small settlement, my heart was pounding in my chest. Catching our breath, we pulled over to the side of the trail. Our presence startled a flock of feasting vultures and they took off into the sky, massive wings spread wide.

Altitude is a strange thing. I seemed to move at sloth-like pace, the closest I've come to an out-of-body experience. I was ready for our first stop, a local farmer's house where a small boy proudly led us up a narrow tree trunk ladder to the roof, the perfect platform for taking in the jaw-dropping mountain views with a restorative cup of tea.

Legs revived, we headed for our final stop at the village of Kagbeni, descending at speed through the outskirts of the settlement and finding relief from the lashing wind. Savouring the descent, we weaved through the narrow alleyways, trying to avoid a head-on collision with herds of cattle and flapping chickens, not daring to look anywhere but the narrow path directly ahead.

We chuckled at a 'Yak Donald's' restaurant sign, a reminder that western culture is creeping into Nepalese life. And everywhere we rode, the rattling sound of prayer wheels spinning in the wind echoed in the background.

Negotiating the narrow alleyways of Kageni, Nepal ©Donald Shearer.jpg

We pulled up at The Red Lodge, a friendly eco-guest house in the heart of the village. Simple but comfortable, it was a stark change from the comfort of the plush hotel we'd started from in Pokhara. Our traditional lodgings for the next few days were nevertheless a much better taste of how the locals here live. H+I's trips aim to leave a positive mark on the communities their riders meet, and the lodge had been chosen for the work it does to support local businesses and provide employment for local young people.

We even had our very own private monastery, called Tharwa Chyoling, nestled in the centre of the lodge. Entering inside, we were met by bright colours, beautiful artwork and a huge clay idol of Maitreya - the name given to a Buddha yet to come. With many more miles to ride and metres to climb, I was thankful to hear that, according to tradition, our trip would be blessed after our visit to the idol. As night came, the chill of the mountains crept in, and I huddled by the blazing log burner as we waited for dinner.


The road to Muktinath

The next day we met over breakfast to feast on fresh eggs, garlic potatoes and porridge; no calories left unconsumed given the hard work ahead. On our route from the village, we would gain 1000 metres of altitude over just seven miles.

We climbed into the mountains in near-silence, and I found a solitary spot amongst our pack, content to concentrate on my lung-busting riding in silence as we gained height into a peaceful world of mountain peaks. A mid-way stop was most welcome for my burning lungs. We pulled into a small mill, yak wool scarves and colourful shawls lining the roadside. As we sipped hot tea and munched on crisp, fresh apples, we chose woven wares as souvenirs, keen to take home cosy memories of our remarkable journey.

Back on my bike, I kept a steady pace as I reached the top, cheers from the team spurring on my final pedals. After a well-deserved chocolate break, we were oxygen-starved and sugar-loaded - a good combination for a rapid descent. The route down the mountain was ours for the taking.

We took off, speeding down animal tracks and mountain passes and joining the Beni-LoMangtang track, the village far below our eventual goal. Heavy-legged, we were ready for generous helpings of Dal Bhat (traditional rice and lentils) and well-earned beers in Kagbeni.


Lung-buster to Lupra Pass

Catriona rides the lunar-like landscape under the watch of some of the world’s tallest peaks ©Donald Shearer.jpg

Our legs were saved the same climb the following day - we jumped on a bus to our starting point at Muktinath, closer to the day's prize, the summit of Lupra Pass. I had to beg my legs to piston me to the top as we cycled around crater-sized holes and up off-camber turns to the top. Our helpful guide Suraj came to the rescue when a fist-sized rock tore a hole in my tyre and I made it to the top in one piece, where prayer flags flapped over a carefully crafted stone cairn at 4,100 metres. We rallied together in its shadow and gasped the thin air. Straight ahead of us was Dhaulagiri, the seventh highest mountain in the world, the south face still unclimbed and tantalising to look upon.

Downward delights were soon to follow. Swooping turns looped us down the mountain; tiny stones and rocks were in constant motion below our tyres. Further down, the exposure was surreal. We traversed steadily, making progress until we hit the riverbed and levelled out towards the familiar town of Jomsom.

Soon enough we were on the well-known path back to our first tea stop for more warming masala chai. After some time to relax and re-fuel, we left for the village of Marpha, whose name literally translated means 'the hard-working people', to sample their famed apple pie, washed down with a nip or two of the equally reputed Marpha brandy. A long and much-needed sleep ensued as we huddled in sleeping bags, wrapped in multiple layers of merino and down.


The World's Deepest Valley

I woke feeling decidedly dozy and slow; the altitude had taken its toll. Bouncing over boulders, we followed the flow of the riverbed from Marpha through the Kali Gandaki valley, the effort of every pedal stroke easing as we lost height. Whipping through a vast and varied landscape, we eventually reached warmer, wetter climes.

The final descent involved 27 miles of rutted, rocky and unpredictable track, made even more interesting by the steady flow of buses, cars, people and livestock streaming past us. At the bottom, we felt the marked rise in heat and humidity from our descent from high altitude and laughed at each other's faces, caked in dust and dirt.

We washed grubby faces and eased aching muscles in a nearby hot spring, knowing the next day would be our last and that soon we would be back to the hustle of city life. For now, though, there was time to relax and reflect on the epic trails and lofty heights we'd conquered together on two wheels.

 Breath-taking mountain scenery of Nepal ©Donald Shearer.jpg


Four other must-try experiences in Nepal 

Visit the Garden of Dreams

A peaceful haven in amongst the hustle of city life, Kathmandu’s Garden of Dreams is gloriously exotic, and an ideal spot to stop and relax over a cup of chai after a busy day exploring the capital.


Yoga in Thamel

Unwind from your long-haul flight with a yoga class in Thamel, a laid-back neighbourhood in Kathmandu that has plenty of studios and classes on offer – we like Pranamaya Yoga. Or pop back after all those challenging bike trails for a relaxing massage.


White water rafting

Fancy extending your trip? Switch your pedals for a paddle and take an adrenaline-fuelled ride down one of Nepal’s world-class white water rivers. Raft Nepal offer single and multi-day trips to suit all levels.


Sample Nepali tea

You’ll never go short of delicious local masala chai on this cycle tour, but you can also indulge your love of the tea leaf in one of the many teahouses in Kathmandu and along trekking routes - some have over 500 flavours to try.


Travel info

Simple map of Nepal.PNG

Health & safety 

Nepal is an incredible friendly country, with bikes widely welcomed. Check to make sure you are up to date with relevant vaccines before you travel.


What to pack 

Temperatures vary from the Kathmandu Valley to the Mustang Region. Pack warm clothes, gloves and layers for the mountains, plus shorts and flip flops for the warmer climes. 


Our trip 

Catriona travelled with H+I Adventures on a 12-day tour through Nepal as part of a group tour. Arriving in Kathmandu, the trip is designed to gain height steadily, helping to avoid any issues with altitude.

Find out more at Prices from £2,250, excluding flights. 


Getting there 

Catriona flew with Etihad Airlines, but bikes are expensive to add. BA also fly from the UK, with bikes a more reasonable additional charge.


Getting around 

Ground transport is included in the trip, as well as internal flights. Taxis are reasonably priced within main city locations.


Food and drink 

Dal Bhat is the traditional staple, but a wide mix of tastes are catered for on the trip. Within the Mustang, food is traditional and simple, but delicious. 


Where to stay 

Accommodation on the trip is a combination of guesthouses, hotels and tea houses. In Kathmandu Catriona stayed at the Ambassador Hotel,



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