Ride the Mustang: Journal of a Mountain Bike Tour in Nepal

December 11, 2019

Seen during the bike tour in Nepal, the slope of a mountain in Nepal cutting diagonally across bottom half of image with blue sky behind it.

Won­der­ing what it’s like to ride two wheels through the world’s high­est peaks? Read author and pho­tog­ra­ph­er Bryan Cole’s expe­ri­ence on one leg of our moun­tain bike tour through Nepal, the 12-Day Trea­sures of the Himalaya Ride. (You can also check out Mandil Prad­han’s write-up of our tour on Pink Bike.)

Sto­ry & Pho­tos by Bryan Cole @bcolective

A Tour Guided by the Top Rider in Nepal: The Mountain Bike Adventure Begins

Thanks to a loose thread of an email and a mind set on explor­ing the poten­tial for leg­endary Himalayan moun­tain bik­ing ahead, I intro­duced myself to Mandil Prad­han, long time Nepali pro rid­er, a thriv­ing moun­tain bike guide and busi­ness own­er. For­tu­nate­ly, our paths came to cross through our mutu­al sup­port of the recent film “RJ Rip­per” by our friend in com­mon and super rip­per in his own right, Joey Schusler. Mandil was a key play­er in pro­duc­ing the film, but more impor­tant­ly, Mandil is the one behind pio­neer­ing a lot of the moun­tain bike scene in Nepal and help­ing Rajesh Mag­ar (com­mon­ly known as RJ) find his path to free­dom and his career as today’s top rid­er in Nepal. Run­ning all of the on-ground oper­a­tions and guide ser­vices for Sacred Rides Moun­tain Bike Adven­tures, offer­ing mul­ti-day moun­tain bike trips and cul­tur­al immer­sions into the Himalayan high­lands, Mandil hired RJ as a guide and has helped him over the past few years to con­nect with spon­sors and refine his tal­ents as a moun­tain bik­er ready to rip and race in a more glob­al arena.

Mountain Bikers in Nepal
Mandil Prad­han (right) and RJ (mid­dle): On a tour like this, you only want the best moun­tain bike rid­ers in Nepal guid­ing you!

Soon after drop­ping into Kath­man­du with my fam­i­ly, at the start of a six week explo­ration of all things adven­ture and advo­ca­cy, Mandil and I met up for a drink and quick­ly began to dis­cuss the best way to get out rid­ing togeth­er and shar­ing our pas­sion for rolling through wild places. Mandil has been scout­ing trails and guid­ing rides through­out Nepal for the past two decades and has built an incred­i­ble net­work that brings peo­ple from all over the world to join Sacred Rides Nepal for unfor­get­table two wheeled expe­ri­ences and cul­tur­al connections.

With a deep pas­sion for full-blown adven­ture rid­ing and over 20 years in the adven­ture tourism indus­try, Sacred Rides wel­comed me to jump in on one leg of their Trea­sures of the Himalaya trip to ride along, snap some pho­tos, and share a few words to cap­ture the expe­ri­ences that we shared along the way. The fol­low­ing is a por­tion of my per­son­al account after a few days incred­i­bly well spent with Mandil, RJ and a hand­ful of strong rid­ers from around the globe.

A mountain bike tour in Nepal is only for the most serious of adventurers (and earliest of risers)!

Octo­ber 23rd, 1:00 am — I’m wide awake and the alarm is set for 4 hours from now. It’s not time yet, but there’s no way I’m going to miss my 20-minute flight out of Pokhara straight to the south­ern ter­mi­nus of the Tibetan Plateau. My des­ti­na­tion? The incred­i­ble Mus­tang region of North­ern Nepal.

2:00 am comes and goes , then 3:00 am and 4:00 am. 

Final­ly it’s time to get up. I grabbed my bags, kissed my fam­i­ly good­bye, and bolt­ed for the sleepy Pokhara street and hailed the only cab I could find. “To the air­port.” Gouged for the fare by nor­mal stan­dards, I pay the equiv­a­lent of a whop­ping $3 U.S. dol­lars for a 10-minute ride. A drowsy board­ing, sun­rise from the sky over the Anna­pur­na mas­sif and the icon­ic Macha­puchare and a few short min­utes lat­er we are descend­ing into Jom­som, alti­tude 8,976’ (2682m). 

The rest of the crew is behind me on a slight­ly lat­er flight, but I quick­ly found my way to the Om’s Home Hotel where I met up with our guides and Nepal’s finest rid­ers, RJ Rip­per and Nis­hant Shah. Man­i­cal­ly build­ing bikes to make the arrival of the froth­ing and ready to ride crew, I sat at the near­by café and fueled up on Dal Bhat and bot­tom­less milk coffee.

Guides & Riders prepping equipment  for the mountain bike tour through Nepal
Famous Nepalese moun­tain bik­ers stand­ing over a blue moun­tain bike as they pre­pare for tour group arrival

Ramped up and ready to roll, the gang comes togeth­er, I intro­duced myself and before we know it, our gear is gath­ered and we are slow­ly rolling out of Oms Home head­ing high­er into the Low­er Mus­tang (the world’s deep­est val­ley) en route to our first nights stop. As we roll out of town, we are in the shad­ow of what appears to be the equiv­a­lent of Mt. Ever­est from our per­spec­tive. It turns out the peak we can see is Nil­giri 23,166’ (7061m), the 99th high­est peak in the Himalaya. Ho hum. Only num­ber 99. But high­er than any oth­er non Asian peak on the planet.

Suck­ing wind on an extreme­ly low angle uphill dirt road, every­one feels like a fish out of water. Wild­ly excit­ed to final­ly be ped­al­ing our way through this oth­er­world­ly land­scape and way out of our com­fort zones at the same time, I am beyond words excit­ed for the days ahead, Mandil intro­duces the day as our “eas­i­est”. A few miles of rough dirt road, which is the “high­way”, and we regroup before the first of many skin­ny, swing­ing, sus­pen­sion bridges across the Kali Gan­da­ki riv­er. Excit­ed to leave the dou­ble track, I race ahead and cross the bridge, to reach the far side and fire off a few pho­tos of the rid­ers oncoming.

The author begins his tour by crossing through the mountain “semi-desert” by bike on the way to the Upper Mustang in Nepal.

Group of Bikers on Gravel Road

Most­ly famous for the Anna­pur­na Cir­cuit, per­haps the most well-known mega trek in the world, we can­not wait to leave the well trod­den super­high­way and ham­mer into our first big climb of the trip. Off the cir­cuit and up we go. Up and up and up into the town of Phalyak, 9,514’ (3200m). Mandil stops to gath­er the group and impart on us all how spe­cial this place tru­ly is. The peo­ple of this small vil­lage still live in the old ways, most­ly sub­sis­tence farm­ers and prac­ti­tion­ers of Tibetan Bud­dhism. Rarely vis­it­ed by west­ern­ers, but thanks to Mandil’s long stand­ing rela­tions, we were warm­ly wel­comed onto a rooftop for the cus­tom­ary hot tea and soon to be famous amongst our crew, Coconut Crunchies. If you ever get to meet Mandil in per­son, be sure to have him sing you the jin­gle. The locals could not have been more friend­ly. With the biggest smiles you’ve ever seen, they draw you in with their time­less eyes and opened their hearts to each of us through their silent­ly wel­com­ing ways.

A woman and child in Nepal, sitting on the ground in front of stack of wood as the mountain bike tour passes by

After our casu­al refu­el, the cama­raderie of the group has begun to build and it’s time to turn tail and rip our way back down to the riv­er side. We sin­gle file our way down and out of the nar­row cob­ble­stone alley ways. Before I know it we are mob­bing full-speed down some sandy, loose and down­right laugh­ably good sin­gle­track. I quick­ly have to remind myself to back off the gas. A fall here would be bru­tal. We are deep and any med­ical help is hours away at best. About 20-min­utes lat­er and we are back by the river’s edge, cross­ing the same swing­ing bridge. Only this time, the wind is whip­ping so hard it’s most­ly unride­able, but way too fun to not try. Lungs and legs com­plete­ly blown and we are back on the road and ram­bling our way fur­ther up our ini­tial dirt road towards the vil­lage of Kag­beni, our first day’s des­ti­na­tion. Hours lat­er and proud of our first “easy” high alti­tude day, we wind into town par­al­lel­ing flow­ing aque­ducts of fresh water and make our way to the Red House, an ancient monastery turned trav­el­ers home­s­tay. Lit­tle has changed there over time with the excep­tion of the peo­ple who inhab­it it and the lay­out of the indi­vid­ual rooms. Beers and cider served and the sweet­ness of sin­gle track already fad­ing fast into mem­o­ry, I show­er up and feast on local fare ready to hit the sack and ral­ly again. Tomor­row is going to be big!