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The Overland Entrepreneur : Rabi Thapa

Rabi Thapa, CEO of Sacred Summits Pvt. Ltd., has been in the travel and tour business for over 2 decades. Sacred Summits caters to a niche group of people who want to explore Nepal in arguably the best way possible, on a two wheeler that never quits. A fleet of Royal Enfields are always at the ready for anyone interested.

A veteran in his trade, we first met Rabi Thapa in 2012 when we took part in the fourth edition of the famed Poker Run, arguably the biggest thunder ride in the country. He handed us the keys to a Royal Enfield Standard and asked us to join a convoy of over 200 Enfielders who would be thundering towards Pokhara to celebrate Nepali New Year’s. We’ve been participating every year ever since.

From colossal Bullet (Enfield) trains to Pokhara to coasting through the straights of the Tibetan Plateau, Rabi Thapa brought in a completely new dimension to the travel and tourism industry with overland motorcycling tours. Rabi Thapa isn’t the type to sit behind the desk and a pile of paper work; opting instead to slip into his iconic green leather jacket and straddle his trusty steed to participate in the tours whenever possible.

We caught up with him over some of the pork leg curry and rice, a speciality at the Kathmandu Handle Bar Café.

AL: How did you first learn to ride/drive and which is the first car/bike you had a go on?

Rabi Thapa: The first vehicle that I learnt to drive was the Willy’s Jeep in the summer of 1978 when I was studying in Kalimpong, India. My Uncle bought this jeep and our driver used to let us have a go in it. So, on one of these drives from Kalimpong to Darjeeling, an army man on a motorcycle dashed into our Jeep in Teesta Bazaar. A bit of trouble ensued and there was a police case filed. When we had to return to Kalimpong I thought it would be a good idea to drive the 26 kilometer from Teesta to Kalimpong Bazaar.

My first motorcycle ride was on the 100 cc Honda. I was visiting Kathmandu for my winter holidays in December of 1978 and my brother in law’s friends invited me on a ride. They taught me how to get rolling and I was able to do the section from Satdobato to Godavari.

AL: What do you prefer more? Bikes or Cars? Why?

Rabi Thapa: Like the saying goes, “four wheels move the body, two wheels moves the Soul”. Although I’m always up for an adventure on 4 wheels as well.

AL: Is there a driver usually behind the wheels of your car or is it you who takes charge ?

Rabi Thapa: These days, I prefer to let my driver drive the car because I spend a lot of time entertaining guests/ meeting clients, which means I have to indulge in a little drinking. I prefer to not embarrass myself by breathing into a policeman’s face, I’d rather save myself the hassle. However, if I’m travelling outside the valley, I’m rearing to sit behind the wheels.

AL: Till date, on which car or bike you have had the best ever riding/driving experience?

Rabi Thapa: Well, the car that I used to drive around was the Opel. The 1395 cc hatchback was ideal for Kathmandu and handled very well and loved driving to the Last Resort, Pokhara and Chitwan. And as for the motorcycle, I still prefer the 350 cc standard Royal Enfield any day of the week.

AL: One wicked or crazy thing that you have done on wheels?

Rabi Thapa: It still amazes me how I did it. While attending the Rider Mania in Sohra, Meghalaya in January 2012, our group from Nepal was held up till 3 am and then were assigned with The Bulls of Assam to ride from Shillong to the venue a distance of about 30 kilometers. However my head lights gave out and had to ride the distance depending on the light emitted from my fellow riders. But once we left the main road and hit the dirt track, everyone started to overtake me and all I remember is desperately peering over the handle to avoid all the rocks and pot holes, trying desperately to not lose track of the last tail light. After what seemed like endless hours, I eventually lost the last biker and there was no one. It was pitch dark and soon after the only sound in the silence of the night was my own engine. I stopped to look around and realized I had missed a turn. I parked my bike and let my vision better adjust to the darkness, only to realize that I was parked at the edge of a ridge. Turning back, gingerly, I saw a faint glow in the sky coming from behind another hill and followed the light with fingers crossed. Eventually I reached the venue, in one piece. It still sends chills down my spine thinking of what might have happened if I had parked a little further.

AL: Tell us about your most memorable moment on a car or bike?

Rabi Thapa: The Friendship Highway from Kathmandu to Lhasa is one of the most beautiful roads in the world. As you come up to the Thong La Pass (5126 m) while returning from Lhasa, there is a point where the road meets the sky and all the mountains disappear. And as you start to progress forward, the mountains from all sides start to emerge and you are eye to eye with the Himalayas. It is an amazing breathtaking experience.

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AL: If you could wish for one automobile marquee to have a showroom here in Nepal, not yet present, which would it be?

Rabi Thapa: Probably Lamborghini. We have the mountains and if we had the roads to drive on as well, the roads of the alps would have to hide for shame.

AL: Where do you think is the best destination to drive/ride to in Nepal ?

Rabi Thapa: For diversity, I would definitely suggest a drive/ride through to the far West. With places like Lumbini, the magical gardens of Tikapur, ethnic tharu culture, the banana resort, Bardia and Suklaphanta National park for wildlife viewing, it offers the complete blend of great roads and rich culture. The 1 and 1/2 kilometers of the Dodhara – Chadani suspension bridge is an architectural feat worth seeing.

But for those with a passion for mountains and off roading, nothing beats the route from Pokhara to Muktinath and to Upper Mustang. It takes you through the deepest gorge in the world, Kaligandaki Gorge, and offers breathtaking vistas of mountains, high altitude desert landscape, ethnic ancient cultures and monasteries; and time just stands still.

AL: In the dynamic world of tourism, your company stands on a different pedestal. Tell us about how you started the business.

Rabi Thapa: After my share of involvement in the travel industry, I was looking for something else worthwhile. In 2003 my friend, Maggie Burgess, called and requested me to assist her in her research for “Stigma of Leprosy”. This included a one and a half month stay at the Khokna Leprosy Colony of Kathmandu. Before long, I was all packed and living in the colony. Here, I met Rakesh Prasai. An avid Enfield rider and founder of Himalayan Enfielders, our conversations led us to the topic about the possibility of a Ride to Tibet and the prospects of visiting Lhasa on an Enfield. It was an exciting idea and I didn’t see any reason to just go to Lhasa and not do the Everest Base Camp (North) area too. Of course there were many obstacles, like obtaining permits for Tibet for instance. Despite the obstacles and people saying that conquering Tibet was impossible on Enfields, we were able to get the first group of riders started for Tibet on 18th September 2003. That got things rolling for us and as they say it, the rest is history.

AL: What made you look into the domestic aspect of tourism on wheels, especially when people were pretty much preoccupied with treks, rafting and other common paths?

Rabi Thapa: In 2003, there were already a lot of people involved in the Travel and Trekking Industry and I was looking for a way out. I was at a point in time where it was no longer about the money. That is when I came across motorcycle tours, which was a completely different and exciting story. I’m always up for a challenge and operating motorcycle tours to Tibet seemed like something right down my alley.

Horrendous roads, bad weather, motorcycle breakdowns, altitude sickness, trouble with the border patrol; you name it we had them. There was never a dull moment. In spite of all the chaos, it always felt like the right thing.

AL: Tell us about your most recent undertaking: MotoHimalaya.

Rabi Thapa: MotoHimalaya will be the division that will handle all motorcycling and 4X4 driving events. Although Sacred Summits started it all, it will now focus more on trekking, mountaineering, rafting and other adventure / culture related programs.

AL: Apart from the fleet of Royal Enfields, what else is parked in your garage? Which one are you usually on?

Rabi Thapa: At the moment I drive the VW Polo. My wife bought it for herself, but then she took up an overseas assignment and lives there most of the time. So I guess I inherited it. But I’ve grown fond of it.

AL: There is a pretty decent fan following for the Royal Enfield in Nepal. What is your opinion regarding the prospects of initiating an event like Rider Mania here in Nepal?

Rabi Thapa: The Rider Mania is an awesome event for Enfield enthusiasts and, in my opinion, must happen in Nepal. This event is surely on my “things to do list” and the only thing holding us back is the lack of support from the Tourism governing body, the lack of sponsorships and because of security reasons. There is always some sort of political commotion in some district or the other and with rampant fuel shortages, bringing in 1500 – 2000 riders might pose a great security risk. But I am optimistic and the possibilities of a Rider Mania look promising.

AL: In your opinion, what is the worst thing about driving/riding in Nepal?

Rabi Thapa: The worst things are the quality of the roads and the unruly drivers/motorcycle riders who stop suddenly without warning or park in the most atrocious places.

AL: If you were given complete control of the country, what changes would you bring about in the automotive scene of Nepal?

Rabi Thapa: Thorough evaluation and education for all motorists prior to obtaining their license on the rules as well as the finer etiquette of driving would be priority number one. I’d also make an effort towards further strengthening the lane driving system and also make helmets a compulsion for pillion riders, especially Children.

AL: Have you ever been in the MA PA SE police checkings? If so, any funny incident?

Rabi Thapa: Luckily, there has not been any Ma Pa Se incident for me. But I heard that a guy who had 5 holes in his license had his license returned even after being caught for the 6th time. It had me confused.

AL: Your message or word of advice to all the auto lovers and owners in the country.

Rabi Thapa: Life is precious. Ride/Drive Safe.

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