For many years now the Jomsom Muktinath route has been a popular biking trail and indeed it is an awesome ride. By all means rip up the trail, but don't forget to take some time out the explore the culture,environment and architecture of the region. Follow our journey from Jomsom and Beyond.
Most people normally whizz through Jharkot on route to Muktinath, but take a moment here, meander inside the slate paved lane ways and wend your way to the 500 year old Sakya Monastry, duck your head and pass through the Tibetan Medical centre, find the young monk with the key and go inside the ancient monastry. The walls are hung with canvas and hand painted with the scenes of the seven hells and the all empowering heaven. A twelve foot tall golden statute of buddha dominates the room and small hand carved wooden benches are draped with Tibetan carpets where the Monks sit and chant. Butter candles beyond count light up the ancient chamber and make it glow with a surreal light. Climb up onto the roof top for panoramic views of Muktinath, Throng La and Jhong. Spend some time here and you will soon forget about the twenty first century.
Look left and right anywhere you ride in this region and you will see small hairy cows grazing the sparse alpine grass. Rather cutley they are called Loulous....super cute and docile, these tiny beasts produce rich, vitam fulll milk which the local people use to make butter, cheese and gee. Look to the roof tops of the houses and see the piles of fire wood, in this region wealth is gaged by the amount of wood you have stacked up. The limited rain full in the area makes a flat roof top the ideal place for drying wood.
Our modern bikes are a stark contrast to the simple surroundings of the people that live here,there worth alone more than most families could conceive. Think about this as Nomads on ponies trot past you on their way to Muktinath where they participate in the local traditional style archery competition, a sport taken very seriously among village elders and youths alike.
The forgotten road on the opposite side of the valley to Muktinath cavres its way down the mountainside and over frozen gullies, passing through the timeless village of Jhong on the way. The desire to ride fast tussles with the desire to stop and look and breath and feel this amazing place, the lush green vale with rolling fields of barley, the wizened shepards tending flocks of Changra (Mountain Goats) the sweet spring scent of apple blossom and the forboding snow capped peaks of Nilgiri and Dhaulgiri dominating the ever blue sky line.... " I dont have any words for this" is what Jevi our training guide said when we ask him how he felt on this his first time in the Himalaya.
Catch your breath after the 900 meter decent at Kagbeni, a visit to a Red House is a must to experience the true hospitality of the region where modern meets ancient. This contrast is no where more apparent than sitting on the balcony at Applebee's, sipping a cappuccino and staring down the valley to Upper Mustang.
Passing through Jomsom for most of us is just a pit stop for lunch or to get on or off a plane. But to enter this region you must carry a ACAP permint, most people pay little attention to what these are for. The Annapurna Conservation Permit monies go toward conservation in this uniquely diverse eniviroment. Conservation here is a never ending struggle between tourism, local people, developers, and poachers. Take half an hour and go inside the information office,say hello to the friendly staff and learn about the flora and funa of the area. If you are lucky, ask them to show you footage of the most recent camera traps located high in the Tilicho, Gai La and Mustang Regions and witness the elsuive snow leopards, which rangers say are actually increasing in numbers.
A half an hour battle with the head wind takes us to Marpha,a village secluded and forgotten since the development of the Jomsom Road, but not a place to be missed, do yourself a favour and help the local community by staying here overnight on your way down. While away and afternoon by exploring the meandering lane ways, discover the local style of architecture of the rock and mud houses, climb up to the monastery or venture up to the hermits cave high on the cliff above, if this does not help your path to enlightenment, the local Marpha Apple or apricot brandy certainly will...a famed product of the renowned apple growing capitol of Nepal, this stuff will knock your socks off! If you cannot stay the night, atleast drop by Neeru guest house, bask in the sunny garden and devour Didi's delicous apple pie...good fuel for cyclists.
Back on the road cross the river on one of the few hand made wood and rope bridges left in the region and enter the Pine Forest to the Tibetan Camp. From here the adventure begins, avoiding the road and the modern development it has brought, we venture along foot path and rocky trail. At times we have to carry the bikes up short steep inclines, or get our feet we in the icy cold Kaligandaki River, but this is all part of the adventure and the single track that follow is well worth it! This trail too is not just about the riding, look carefully as we drop down lower and the trees change, the environment changes and so do the people that live here. We cross from the Sherpa and Tibetain Culture into the productive Takali, Gurung and Muggar Lands. The trail is beautiful and almost forgotten, the mist laden mountains loom above and pine forests filled with birds line our trail along the holy river......
After Kalopani we drop down a bone jarring 1900 meters on rubble roads, past roaring waterfalls and into the subtropical jungle to Tatopani, this may be the end of the journey, but the memory will linger long after...
This is how we roll at Himalayan Single Track...not just mountain biking, but amazing journeys into the heart and soul of a region...