This year's tour is a little different from the previous ones. First of all, I am not travelling alone, Dani accompanies me. For 20 years we have been talking about doing a tour together, now it finally works out. Secondly, I'm not on a touring bike, but on my full suspension carbon mountain bike. There will be a few long stretches where every kilo counts. Also our luggage is extremely reduced. Actually we only have warm clothes, a sleeping bag and the camera with us. In this area there is a guesthouse every few km where you can stay overnight and eat, so it is ideal for travelling with light luggage.
We want to go to Mustang and then ride the Annapurna circuit over the Thorang La. 5 years ago I was already on the Annapurna-Circuit, but had to leave the bike behind because of too much snow. So this time it should hopefully work out, even if it is again in February, in the middle of winter.
We plan the circuit this time clockwise. Main reason for this is the Mustang section. We are only allowed to do it with a permit and a guide. So it is easier to do this part first. Whether we will make it over the 5416m Thorang La in winter is not certain and therefore planning is easier.
In Kathmandu we organize all permits and meet our guide Nayna. He will be on foot and we will meet him in the evening. We arrange to meet him in 5 days in Kagbeni, the entrance gate to Mustang.
Of course everyone still wants to dissuade us from our plan. There is too much snow to go to Upper Mustang and the Thorang La with the bike in winter and then from the side...
Of course, we stay with our plans and take the bus to Pokhara the next day. There we start the next day with the bike. Right on the first day we enjoy one of the big advantages of winter in the Himalayas: the perfect view. On the ride from Pokhara we have a magnificent view of Machapuchare and the surrounding mountains. On the first day we ride on the main road to the west. The traffic is bearable but almost the whole distance is a construction site.
After Baglun it really starts. Still on an almost continuous construction site, but now already with hardly any traffic we climb a good 2000m up. Already here we have great views of Daulaghiri and Annapurna.
After this ascent we follow a wide river bed via Jomson to Kagbeni. As planned we meet our guide here again. Because Nayna accompanies us on foot, we have not planned our daily stages to be longer than 30-40km. This may sound very little but it fits perfectly. At the beginning we still have time for additional detours, but soon the progress is not so easy and we are happy about such short stages.
We are now riding in the very north of Nepal towards the border with Tibet. The landscape adapts accordingly. It is becoming increasingly barren, a kind of high mountain desert. In the valleys there are beautiful small villages, similar to Spiti or Tibet. The area is often dominated by red shining rock formations.
On the way to Lo Manthang there are 4 4000m passes to cross. Of course we are especially curious how much snow there is. At the first pass we reach 3600m without problems. Then there is often snow on the road. But it is mostly hard and icy and we can ride on it quite well. Of course there are also some places in the shade which are covered with snow and where we have to dig our way through. But all in all we always get through quite well. With another vehicle it would be definitely impossible and so there are practically no other tracks on the whole route except ours.
In the evening we always meet with Nayna in one of these villages. The people are amazed when we show up: we are the only tourists in Mustang at the moment! But the people are well connected and soon many seem to know us when we show up. The villages here are still really traditional, with these narrowly interlocked stone houses.
When we arrive in Lo Manthang we ride to the village square where the men sit together. We are greeted with a big hello, apparently we are the first tourists to arrive this winter and they are still isolated from the outside world.
Lo Manthang consists of a city wall which encloses about 100 buildings including 3 monasteries. These and especially their murals have been extensively restored in recent years and are fantastic. One of the painters who worked on the restoration is showing us around.
Back we follow the same route but stay overnight in other places. During the day the temperatures are quite pleasant to ride, unless the notorious wind blows, which can be very cold. As soon as the sun sets in the evening (late afternoon) it gets really cold. We usually spend the evenings with our hosts by the stove in the kitchen and are often already at 19:00 in the warm sleeping bag in the 0 degree cold room.Meanwhile we got used to riding on snow and ice and that is also fun. After noon when it gets warmer, the road is regularly softened by the melting water and becomes a real muddy track. This is much less fun and so we usually start early when everything is still frozen.
After a week in Mustang we are back in Kagbeni. We say goodbye to Nayna and start the second part of our tour. We will now continue over the Thorang La to complete the Annapurna circuit. The reason why almost all trekkers make the round in an anti-clockwise direction is that the longer approach gives you more time to adapt to the altitude. There are also more options to stay overnight before the pass. From the High Camp it is only 700m to the pass, on our side it is a steep 1800m. Because we were in Mustang for a week between 3500 and 4000m, we are acclimatized very well.
From Kagbeni there is a good paved road to Muktinath at 3650m. We clean our bikes once more from the mud and try out the best carrying option before we start. To make things a bit easier we plan to take the bikes up to 5000m on the first day and then come back down to 4200m to spend the night before we cross the pass.
As if it was nothing special, we ride out of Muktinath in the morning. But after 300m the riding is already over and we mount the bikes on our backpacks. From here on it is now too steep and there is a closed snow cover. Although the checkpoint assured us that one of the guesthouses at 4200m is open, everything is closed when we arrive there. So we change our plans at short notice: today we are going over the pass. That is 1800 vertical climbing at 5000m altitude. Slowly and evenly we start the climb.
Luckily we have no problems at all with the altitude. But after some time our backs start to hurt from carrying the bike. In the snow there is usually a quite good track and so we make good progress. In the early afternoon we reached the Thorang La at 5416m. Now as fast as possible down to the High Camp, because a cold wind is blowing. Because of this wind the tracks on this side are often covered and we have to make more tracks through deeper snow. But luckily we finally reach the camp, toast with a beer to our success and warm up again at the warm oven.
The next day the descent continues. Of course still carrying through the snow. This does not seem to become less - on the contrary. Often it is now a tedious wading through soft splash. Only shortly before Manang we can finally get on the bike and roll the last Km into the village.
The next day we leave the bikes behind for a change and instead go on a hike to Ice Lake on foot. As the trail is completely on a sunny slope, everything here is free from snow. 1000m we climb up again and get a fantastic view from very close at the Annapurna Range, wow!
This side of the pass looks very different. While on the other side it was rather a high mountain desert, here it has now beautiful forests. But the forests have the disadvantage that there is even more snow in their shadows. And so there are still some pushing passages in the following days.
Since we still have a few unneeded reserve days, we can take it easy, take a hike in the woods in between and slowly get deeper before we definitely leave the snow behind us after a big avalanche cone.
Finally the valley becomes a narrow gorge and the road sticks spectacularly to the steep rock face. Finally we reach the main road in Dumre again and with it the corresponding bustle of traffic and people. We take the bus back to Kathmandu where this tour ends.