We were back in Kathmandu from our 3 day trip around Kathmandu Valley. We had a busy night trying to rent lighter bikes. Our bikes were decent, around 15kilograms, but we hoped we could rent some light ones. We wanted light bikes because we took a last minute decision of biking the Annapurna Circuit. Alina trekked it last time she was in Nepal, but it seemed like a good idea to cycle it. She said it’s OK to cycle, because the paths are good and it seemed like a good idea. She kept reminding me that she has a lot more cycling experience than me and that she’s in a much better shape than me since I didn’t get to do that much cycling at home, basically none in the last 6 months. I also never went as high as 5416m (Thorung La pass) as we’re going to get on this trip.
We got this “Biking The Annapurna Circuit Map” from a store in Thamel and it looked pretty ok. According to the map you covered twice as much as you’d cover by foot in a single day, so our chances of catching the flight back home were pretty good. I even thought of cycling harder the first few days (at low altitude) and then stick to the maps’ plan above 3500m alt so we wouldn’t have any acclimatisation issues.
Well, things didn’t go as we planned. After looking through all the bike rental shops we could find we didn’t find any bikes to rent. As I said, our previous bikes were good, but heavy. We found some really expensive Trek 4300’s, but they were basically the same as our previous bikes. The 4300 weighs around 14 kilograms, ours were around 15, with basically the same Alivo line. We went back to Binu from Cheetrapeti and got our bikes back.
The first day was the easiest. Take the bus from Kathmandu to Besisahar, and then a Jeep to Syanje. Normally we’d skip the Jeep part, since everything’s bikeable, but we didn’t quite have the time.
Just as a small disclaimer. The Jeep is actually not a Jeep, it’s a Mahindra, but they like to call it Jeep :)
So after a full 2 hours of good night’s sleep we woke up to go to the bus station. There are 2 types of buses in Nepal: tourist buses and local buses. You usually want the tourist buses, because they’re a lot safer. Since there’s no tourist bus to Besisahar, we got a local bus. Strapped the bikes onto the bus and waited to leave Kathmandu. Biking the Annapurna Circuit, here we come!
I found this bus trip to be just great. It’s a raw example on how well people adapt and live. While here in Romania I get annoyed that there’s no bus lane and that my contact less buss pass doesn’t work as it should, in Nepal there’s a totally different approach to everything.
So there’s this bus, the driver and 2 young lads. The bus (obviously) carries us and our luggage. The driver (again, obviously) drives the bus and there are these 2 lads that help load the luggage on the roof of the bus.
But wait, why would you pay 2 people to load the luggage onto the bus. Well, that’s not all they do. As we left the station, the bus had about 6 or 7 people inside, us included. As we got on the main road, the bus would slow down, the 2 guys would get off (while the bus was still running) and they collected people from the street to get onto the bus. All this while we were stuck in traffic. The bus was nearly full before we left Kathmandu. Not everybody was going the full way to Besisahar, but that same thing was done when they got off.
The bus being full didn’t mean that people stopped getting on. After you could cram no more people inside, they’d get up on the roof. That only happened after we left the big road and went onto a smaller unpaved road.
Push horn – Wait for signal. You gotta love their trucks.
We took a lunch brake and got a chance to look at our bikes, on the roof of the bus. We were a bit worried for them since I don’t think that there are any bike shops at 5400m altitude in the middle of nowhere. We had some tools, oil and a spare tube and some tire patches, but that was kinda’ it. Crammed all the clothes, bike tools, food, water and a 3kg camera in a 25liter backpack and hoped that we’d get back in time to catch our flight.
The odds didn’t seem to good, and I’ll tell you why. I went on this short 50km cycling tour about one and a half years ago and I broke my chain. There was a lot of sticky knee-deep mud and it snapped. 10 minutes after fixing it with a chain tool (which we didn’t have here in Nepal) it broke again, this time bending the rear derailleur with it. Couldn’t fix it right there because of the strong rain and the huge mud, just pushed my bike uphill and didn’t pedal when going downhill. We finished climbing and then, 200m after starting our descent, the front brake cable broke. It just snapped. The front brake takes about 70% of the brake load, so it’s pretty important. Going down was a pain, since the rear brake is cvasiuseless. I skidded left and right and still gaining speed, luckily there were short downhills with flats between, so I had time to loose the speed I gained. Fixed the chain again, but the brake was dead. Sun got out and the terrain got dryer. Started pedaling, and after a couple of kilometers I had a flat tire. I couldn’t believe it. Two broken chains, a bent rear derailleur, a broken front brake and now this??? A flat tire? :)
Well, all that in 50km. Now we had 6 days of biking the Annapurna Circuit over 250km and 4500m of altitude gain. I’d still worry if I carried 2 dismantled bikes in my backpack. Frames included.
After the 8 hour drive we got to Besisahar, some 200km away from Kathmandu. Checked for extra batteries and double checked what we had with us (including a small pile of medicine, most of them for Acute Mountain Sickness, or altitude sickness). Before getting on the Jeep we ate the best Chowmein we ever had, signed at the Tourist Check Post and we went down to the Jeep station. Tourist Check Posts are all over the Annapurna Circuit. They do a great job in keeping statistics about tourists in the Annapurna Circuit and check to see if you paid for your Annapurna Range visa. Not a lot of people Biking the Annapurna Circuit.
We were 15 people in the Jeep. 6 in the back, 5 in the back seat, 2 girls on the front passenger chair, the driver and the occasional person on the roof.
We got to Syanje late at night. I didn’t get to take any more photos since we were kinda’ on the run and a bit disoriented. Took our bikes from the Jeep’s roof, put them inside a warehouse, got a room, took a shower, ate some Dal Bhat and had a good night’s sleep. I feel lucky for not having difficulties getting used to new places.
I also made a short video during the bus ride. Here it is.