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The Road to Salvation

To start off with, I am your average Nepali guy but fuelled to the brim with an extraordinary passion for touring to new destinations accessible on wheels. However, I do have a soft corner in my heart for doing these travels especially on motorcycles, hoping to inspire many wheelers to undertake such tours and help promote domestic tourism in the country. A road trip may seem a risky venture, but if undertaken with total concerns for safety in mind, it could be one of the most amazing and adventurous experiences one could have in a lifetime. Here, we have on feature an unforgettable and mesmerizing road trip to Muktinath in the lower Mustang district of Nepal. Brace yourself for the ride to Mustang as I take you across the black-topped highway to Pokhara, through the rocky trails of one of the world’s deepest valley of Kali Gandaki and up to the arid Tibet-like mountain desert areas of Mustang.

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My first ever obsession with riding to Mustang was triggered after watching videos of some off-road enthusiasts from BikerzNepal riding all the way up to Muktinath on their Japanese dirt bikes. This was dated about six years ago and that was way before the roads were actually entirely ride-able! Ever since, I had sparked that drive in me to do the same road trip someday and began my research on Mustang. Lucky for me, an off-road route all the way up to Muktinath was built by the government in a couple of years and I simply had to pick a date for the ride. Finally, stuffs materialized and I found a partner in my ever-ready amigo Sohyal Karki to do the road trip together.

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At first I did try to get my hands on a true blue Japanese dirt bike for pure off-road fun, but again that somehow seemed impossible. So I had my faithful Pulsar 180 tuned up for the trail and both the ageing tyres were replaced with new tubeless ones that were filled with anti-puncture liquid. This way I did not have to worry about any punctures, although I did carry along a portable manual air pump for back up. Finally, I was all set to venture out on the mother of all my previous rides. A lot had been said, heard and seen about the captivating beauty of Mustang but never experienced first-hand. Things were now going to change. Lock, stock and barrel we rolled out of the crowded and polluted Kathmandu valley to check for ourselves if all that universal appreciation of Mustang’s beauty really held true to the fact.

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We departed from the capital at around eleven in the morning. Yes, it was a late start, so we literally chased our way through Pokhara without much stops on the familiar route. The 200 km to Pokhara came up pretty fast on the odometer and the idea was to travel the furthest for the day before the night fell upon us. We quickly covered the one-time ridden in the past 80 km paved road to Baglung, destined to make it until Beni for the night. It was pitch dark by the time we made it to the diversion to Beni from Baglung. We still had to cover a 13 km off-road stretch to Beni, which would prepare us for tomorrow’s total off road hammering. Trying hard to figure out the smoother trails in the dark, we were finally done with about 300 km for day one. We then checked in at our hotel at Beni, had our dinner and hit the sack by 9 pm. Beni is the last of the totally commercialized township on the way upto Mustang. It is a popular stop for trekkers since the hike to Mustang begins from here.

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The lazy bums that we were, the next morning we were up from our deep slumber only at around 10 am. After a heavy brunch, we immediately hit the road, pretty much excited about the scenic galore that awaited us. It was going to be all off-road from here until Muktinath. Up on the pegs and leaning backwards with elbows out we were all set to tackle the tricky sections as it came along. In no time, we were already navigating through slushy sections, streams and roads with loose dry mud and gravel. Our skills were being put to test and that definitely prepared us for the rougher terrain up ahead.

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Twenty-five kilometres into the ride and we were at the village of Tatopani, a village en route famed for its natural hot water spring. Bathing in these springs is believed to have a soothing effect on tired muscles and aching bones. After watching the local crowd and foreigners relax in the hot bath, I could only darn myself for not having set out early the previous day and spent the night here. It would have been a soothing experience to sit back in the hot water pool with a bottle of beer after the tiring ride. With mass amount of self pity, we continued the ride on the worst of the roads. As we rode along, we came across people with bright faces leading their herd of sheep and goats down the road. One instance we had to stop to let a huge herd of sheep pass through due to the limited road space. It was an amazing experience to be in the midst of the herd. Thank God, it wasn’t a herd of bulls though! Otherwise, with both of us on red bikes we could have easily found ourselves in a stampede.

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So far, it had been a rough ride through the green countryside with the Kali Gandaki River continuously raging alongside. We were yet to witness the towering mountain ranges for which we had come all the way. Nevertheless, something we had least expected surprised us. Just about seven kilometres from Tatopani we came across the ‘Rupse Chahara’ waterfall, which means beautiful waterfall. Looking at this huge creation of nature, we couldn’t agree more with the rightful name. I suppose it would be a visual treat watching this waterfall especially during the monsoons when there’s abundant rush of water, but then the area would probably be impassable.

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All charged up after soaking ourselves in the beauty of the waterfall, we decided to move ahead. The vista gradually began to change from here and we saw plenty of pine forests around. After around 45 km into the ride from Beni, we had our first magnificent view of Mount Annapurna. The mountain range was literally plastered right in front of us. The views began to improve as we gained altitude. The ride wasn’t easy at all, but one look at the scenic landscapes and all that fatigue would eventually wear out. We stopped by in the next village of Tukchhe for some hot noodles and tea to beat the chill and hunger. The heavy brunch seemed a joke with all that effort required to stick through the constant jolting and rumbling moving towards Marpha, the apple capital of Nepal. As it was already late in the afternoon with wind starting to set in, we decided to check into Marpha on the return leg of the ride. By now, we had already been through the worst imaginable roads.

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Finally, after a gruesome ride uphill through amazing landscapes we made it up to Jomsom at around 5 pm after a 70 km ride from Beni. There it was, Mt. Nilgiri right in front of us, welcoming us into the mystic land. The mountains appeared so massive making us feel as if they were just a stone’s throw away. I can understand how avid trekkers must be smirking at my claim, but this is exactly how exaggerated feelings can be, when you make it up to unimaginable places in something you are passionate about.

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Jomsom, the district headquarters of Mustang is located at an altitude of 2800 metres. We got our bikes checked for minor glitches at the nearby garage, which was run by probably the only Madhesi in the area and went around looking for a hotel. As soon as we checked in, we literally threw ourselves on the bed. Having spent hours on the saddle in the unforgiving terrain, the soft bed was like a god sent for our numb butts. After a quick rest, we freshened up and set out for dinner at Hotel Xanadu, recommended by the Lonely Planet guidebook for its yak steak. And boy was it good? It definitely has to be one of the best and juiciest steaks I ever tasted in my life. We tried other delicacies too and it was all a total delight. This place is definitely a must visit in Jomsom if you love quality food. Surprisingly there was a pool parlour too down the road and we played a few sets before calling it a night. Sleep had never been so deserved as that night. The taste of the yak steak still stuck to our taste buds and we both literally passed gas away the whole night. Maybe the yak meat proved to be too strong for our digestive system!

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After a good night’s sleep, we were again all set to hit the road. It’s always a wonderful experience to wake up to the calm and peaceful surrounding for us urbanites who are surrounded by the usual rush and commotion of city life. Though Jomsom, I must say was indeed a lot more developed than I had expected.

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Finally, after a gruesome ride uphill through amazing landscapes we made it up to Jomsom at around 5 pm after a 70 km ride from Beni. There it was, Mt. Nilgiri right in front of us, welcoming us into the mystic land. The mountains appeared so massive making us feel as if they were just a stone’s throw away. I can understand how avid trekkers must be smirking at my claim, but this is exactly how exaggerated feelings can be, when you make it up to unimaginable places in something you are passionate about.

 mustang-7

Jomsom, the district headquarters of Mustang is located at an altitude of 2800 metres. We got our bikes checked for minor glitches at the nearby garage, which was run by probably the only Madhesi in the area and went around looking for a hotel. As soon as we checked in, we literally threw ourselves on the bed. Having spent hours on the saddle in the unforgiving terrain, the soft bed was like a god sent for our numb butts. After a quick rest, we freshened up and set out for dinner at Hotel Xanadu, recommended by the Lonely Planet guidebook for its yak steak. And boy was it good? It definitely has to be one of the best and juiciest steaks I ever tasted in my life. We tried other delicacies too and it was all a total delight. This place is definitely a must visit in Jomsom if you love quality food. Surprisingly there was a pool parlour too down the road and we played a few sets before calling it a night. Sleep had never been so deserved as that night. The taste of the yak steak still stuck to our taste buds and we both literally passed gas away the whole night. Maybe the yak meat proved to be too strong for our digestive system!

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After a good night’s sleep, we were again all set to hit the road. It’s always a wonderful experience to wake up to the calm and peaceful surrounding for us urbanites who are surrounded by the usual rush and commotion of city life. Though Jomsom, I must say was indeed a lot more developed than I had expected.

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Having bought some puja offerings from the local vendor, we proceeded with our rituals at the temple. After bestowing our respects to the Almighty, we collected some offerings for our people back home and got back to the restaurant for our lunch that was already waiting for us. Again, it was a Nepali set meal with yak curry. We also tried the famous Mustang coffee, a concoction of the local apple brandy, coffee and butter. A cup of the cocktail wasn’t enough to get us high but it was sufficient enough to keep us warm. For the night, we decided to stay downhill at Kagbeni – a village located in the valley of the Kali Gandaki River. It’s a detour about halfway from the Jomsom-Muktinath route. Since we pretty much had the entire day to cover the 12 km route, we stayed a while in the restaurant terrace observing the beauty of the area. At around 3 pm, we bid goodbye to Muktinath and set out for Kagbeni.

With our frequent photo stops, we reached Kagbeni in an hour. We went looking around for a hotel, came across this unique Yac Donald’s Restaurant cum Hotel, and decided to spend the last night in Mustang in the Mc Donald’s inspired hotel. The hotel owner was an interesting guy and entertained us with some stories about the area over a couple of rounds of beer. What was more interesting was the Yak Burger Set Meal on their menu. The meal comprised of yak patty on homemade Tibetan bun, complimented with green salads, French fries and a fresh juice of one’s choice. There was no chance we could miss this speciality and it turned out to be a choice well made. Again, that night, we slept taking turns killing the silence with our indigestion problem.

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The next morning we were up pretty early and went for a stroll around the village and the riverside. We then got back for a quick breakfast and checked out with a kilo of dry yak meat each to our disposal. We had to cover around 170 km for the day to make it into Pokhara for the night, so we quickly began the descent. On the return leg, we stopped over only at Marpha for our lunch that comprised again of thukpa with yak meat for the last time in the trip. We gave couple of local kids a free ride through the narrow alleys of Marpha and hit the road.  Soon we reached Beni and bid one last goodbye to the amazing land.

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The off road adventure had come to an end and our wheels were finally back on black-topped roads at Baglung. It was already 6 pm at Baglung and we quickly proceeded towards Pokhara riding in tandem, keeping sight of each other in the dark. By eight we made it to Pokhara and spent the last night of the trip listening to some good music being played at Club Amsterdam and finally calling it a night after a heavy dinner. This was without doubt the most challenging yet beautiful 800 km of my riding life till date. Although the faithful Pulsar didn’t disappoint, I would definitely love to be back here again in the near future on a true blue dirt bike or a reliable and rugged 4X4 off roader.

We rode back to Kathmandu with gloomy faces realizing that the most awesome trip of our lives had ended and as always, Kathmandu welcomed us with the usual traffic jam, pollution and all that commotion.

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The ride to Mustang was an amazing adventure through the worst terrain possible but the most dramatic landscapes imaginable .Along the route, there were several great scenic spots with the mountains looking down on every step we took. There is so much going on along this path. People with smiling faces go about enjoying their simple lives, while the several prayer flags along the route keep fluttering in the constant thermal winds that blow in the valley, calling upon the Almighty to protect, preserve and guard the sacred land.

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RIDE TO MUSTANG TRIP DETAILS

Kathmandu    –           0km

Pokhara          –           200km

Baglung          –           275km

Beni                –           288km

Tatopani         –           310km

Marpha           –           355km

Jomsom          –           365km

Kagbeni          –           377km

Muktinath       –           390km

When To Go:

March-May or October-December

What To Take:

–           Sufficient Warm Clothing, ankle length boot and a windcheater jacket

–           Preferably an off road bike or a rugged reliable 4 X 4

How Much To Take:

Rs. 800 per day excluding fuel costs

Recommended Hotels Along the Route:

Hotel Yeti (Beni)

Hotel Xanadu (Jomsom)

Yac Donald’s Restaurant and Hotel (Kagbeni)

Bob Marley Restaurant and Hotel (Muktinath)

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