Exploring Nepal's 'Forbidden Kingdom'

Mar 30, 2015 at 6:27
by Tenjing Gurung  
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Nepal is becoming one of the world's premier mountain biking destinations. Yet, few have gotten the chance to ride the high mountain trails of Upper Mustang, Nepal's Forbidden Kingdom. With its pristine landscapes, isolated villages, and huge mountains, the 'country behind the mountains' is a place unlike any other. It is also a mountain biker's paradise which offers challenging high altitude climbs, fast flowy singletrack, loose rocks, sandy trails, technical switchbacks, deep canyon riding...I can go on and on. Being a guide for my father's mountain biking tour company, Trip Himalaya has given me many opportunities to explore Upper Mustang's incredible trails. Last October, I had the privilege of leading an awesome group of friends from Switzerland to the highlands of Nepal's most beautiful and mysterious region. All of the photo credits go to the incredibly talented, Thomas Knecht.

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The journey began from Kathmandu to Pokhara -- the gateway to the Annapurna Mountains. We spent one day sightseeing, relaxing, hiking, and exploring the city.

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Our experienced staff getting ready for the early morning flight to Jomsom. Bags, bicycles, and people are stuffed into a tiny twin-prop airplane.

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After a treacherous 25 minute flight through the mountains, we arrived at the Jomsom airport which stands in the shadow of the 7,061 meter Niligiri Himal. This is one of the most terrifying yet breathtakingly beautiful flights in the world.

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It is always a thrill crossing over suspension bridges in Upper Mustang--looking down at the riverbed 120 meters below.

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Philippe is getting loose in the High Himalaya.

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We spent our third night at a traditional mud-brick Mustangi house. Before nightfall, David made sure to catch a glimpse of the rock spires towering in the backyard.

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We would be lost without our incredible assistants. Despite many long, cold, and windy days, they could hardly be seen without a smile on their faces. These guys are tough. Cheyang chose to take the entire journey with sandals!

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You rarely find a flat section in Upper Mustang. Everyday we must cross a minimum of two passes--what goes down must first go up. Thomas and Philippe mastered the art of the no-handed bike carry. You are never bored while hiking your bike since you are constantly surrounded by unbelievable scenery.

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Hard work is surely to be rewarded. Riding Upper Mustang is unlike riding any other place in the world. Tight switchbacks and loose sand make for a challenging and super fun descent.

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After a long day's riding, we arrived at our homestay in Tangbe. This typical Mustangi village is simple, quiet, and remote--you will feel like you are far removed from the rest of the world.

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The local women treated us with some traditional songs and I showed the team some of my Nepali dance moves.

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While the rest of the team were resting comfortably in their tents, I chose to stay in the dining room where I had a stellar view of the night's sky.

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The Mustangi people enjoy a simple mountain life sharing prayers, food, and happiness with one another.

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Moving forward towards the highest pass of the trip at approximately 5,100 meters. This was the toughest ride of the journey and with no tea houses along the way, we carried our lunches on our backs.

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The snow along the trail was a sign that were nearing the top of the pass.

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Thomas had no need to use his brakes on this long, fast, and flowy trail that descended all the way down to the next village.

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We could not help but stop and admire the village and fields below. It was a view like they had never seen before.

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The village of Muktinath was one of our last stops before Thorong-La, at 5,416 meters it is the world's highest pass. We were excited to conquer the pass, but unfortunately things did not go according to plan. One week before, Thorong-La experienced a historic tragedy that claimed the lives of at least 43 trekkers, climbers, guides, and yak herders. The pass was closed and so our ascent up Thorong-La had to wait until another year.

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Thomas was excited to begin the next day's trail in the shadow of the 8,167 meter Mount Dhaulagiri, the seventh highest mountain in the world.

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Smiles all around as we finished this unforgettable journey through Nepal's forbidden kingdom-- "a country behind the mountains". Huge thanks to the entire Trip Himalaya crew: Nima, Kami, Cheyang, Anil, Singhe, Dawa, and Sateman. Without you guys, this trip would not be possible. And thank you to these wonderful friends from Switzerland -Thomas, Philippe, David, Sonja, Lea, and Sabrina for making such a memorable trip.

My father is my inspiration. Once a porter, he later became one of the country's first ever mountain bikers and mountain bike guides. It is an honor to work for his company. Trip Himalaya is our small family-run travel company with 20 years of experience hosting mountain biking tours within Nepal and Tibet. For more information, email me at mtbgurung@gmail.com or visit our website www.himalayabike.com


MENTIONS: @gurung




40 Comments

  • + 30
 having been fortunate enough to take my bike to Nepal - these photos are epic and really capture just how amazing the landscape is.

to anyone reading this, do yourself a favor - don't buy the latest model/version of the trail/enduro/all-mountain bike, make do with the mountain bicycle you have and travel to places like Nepal.

you will love it.
  • + 4
 This is definitely on the bucket list. Only concern is the altitude sickness. How did you go with that?
  • + 4
 Hi phillywa.First, we start from the altitude of 2800m and everyday we acclimatize more and more. We don't go continuously to the high altitude and if something goes wrong we always have backup support from our assistants.
  • + 4
 Don't try to rush your trip. If you don't skimp on aclimatisation time, you should be fine.
  • - 11
flag shaun-ridefast-michael (Apr 4, 2015 at 8:33) (Below Threshold)
 Altitude sickness would be a small price to pay in my book if it means riding in an awesome place like this!
  • + 4
 clearly you'e never had altitude sickness. You wouldn't be able to enjoy the scenery because you'd feel like you caught a nasty flu
  • - 6
flag shaun-ridefast-michael (Apr 4, 2015 at 20:14) (Below Threshold)
 "a nasty flu"?? ...good thing mountain biking is my medicine! Smile
  • + 2
 ...or you'd just be dead. Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) can no-sh!t kill you. Look up High Altitude Cerebral Edema and/or High Altitude Pulmonary Edema. Fitness means nothing in either case, and although certain drugs may help you acclimatize a bit faster, or help save your life if you get HACE or HAPE, there is really no cheating the physiology behind AMS. Not rushing your gains in altitude is the only way, and yes, above 3000m you are definitely susceptible. Here the mountaineering saying "climb high, sleep low" definitely applies.
  • + 1
 @dustalarid thanks for the info mate. Its definitely good to know that you guys are well trained if something goes wrong.
  • - 4
flag shaun-ridefast-michael (Apr 4, 2015 at 23:03) (Below Threshold)
 @kabanosipyvo, I've taught anatomy and physiology at the college level. As someone with a Master's in Exercise Science, I fully understand altitude and the effects it has on physiology (trained and untrained) more than the average person. Perhaps you didn't understand that my previous comment saying "mountain biking is my medicine" was a joke, and though it helps me feel better in any given situation, it's obviously not a treatment or cure for any legitimate disease....
  • + 2
 @OzMike that's great advice
  • + 7
 Heh. Coincidence. My grandmothers actually flying to Nepal to go hiking for two weeks today, definitely regret not sneaking into her suitcase with my bike.
  • + 5
 That's one bad ass grandmother!
  • + 4
 No kidding, when she retired a few years ago she just started roadtripping the globe whilst the rest of the family's stuck at work or school. She's loving life. lol
  • + 2
 thats one big ass suitcase!
  • + 2
 Nah he is just small, and rides a folding bike
  • + 6
 Chris speaks the truth, I'm about 2 feet tall and ride a full suspension folding circus bike.
  • + 8
 if you havent already, watch "where the trail ends"
  • + 5
 God I love those reports! Every time I add them to my favorites dreaming of visiting those places myself!
  • + 2
 Loved the trip report! One thing I find I am always interested in is what bikes were used during the trip etc? I'm some what of a gear head and love seeing what people are using.
  • + 4
 Great story, photos and movie, thanks. How do they do the "no-hands" bike carry?
  • + 5
 Those mountains... So beautiful!
  • + 2
 Such a amazing trip. I'm so fortunate to have ridden here. The only thing I had trouble with was the Altitude sickness, and the very long plane rides to get out there.
  • + 1
 Some of the best riding we have ever done was in Nepal on the Annapurna. We can't wait to go back!! Muktinath is a great little village we could see ourselves never leaving again Smile
  • + 3
 Great article tenjing! Can't wait to come back and shred!
  • + 3
 super awesome...i can only dream for now. thanks for sharing.
  • + 3
 Jaaa! Fantastiskt! Great video too Thank You
  • + 3
 Wow, if ever a video needed to be longer, that was mental, more please .
  • - 1
 Great article and photos Tenjing! It's true, Nepal should be on everyone's must ride list -- it's a great place to ride and travel. We have a killer 10-day trip there called Himalaya Heights if anyone is interested in joining us, check it out! www.ridebig.com/trip_nepal_himalayaheights.php
  • + 2
 i ve always thought these legendary bridges were made of wood and ropes ! my dream is broken
  • + 1
 Great Report Tenjing!!!! keep on showing your beautiful country to eveybody.......... your friend Simone
  • + 2
 i want learn that hands free bike carry
  • + 2
 Bucket list for sure. Incredible stuff!
  • + 2
 Epic.
  • + 2
 a beautiful place
  • + 0
 looks a lot like Mammoth Mtn to me. I wish there was more video, im sure there's a lot more to see.
  • + 1
 wow... look fanastic...
  • + 1
 I WANT!
  • + 1
 Unbelievable, do want

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