Mustang – A ride to remember


The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough. They’re there to stop the other people.
–  Randy Pausch

It was by far the toughest off-road ride I’ve ever undertaken, and I wouldn’t do it again on a fully loaded GS Adventure. The experience, however, is priceless and by no means would I want to miss these days. It was probably a challenge I was looking for when going into the Himalayas, but it was much more energy-sapping than I had expected …

On the day I left Kathmandu it became obvious that the bad roads with all the dirt and trash will take it’s toll. An approximately three inch long nail had drilled its way into my rear tire and in several places I noticed small pieces of glass and deep little cuts. This was all the more annoying since my tires were still pretty new. Nonetheless, from this day on a long patchwork series was to start.

I spent the night in Pokhara and was at 5:00 a.m. next morning on my feet. It was still dark when I left the city one hour later to make my way to Muktinath, a little mountain village 180 km further north and located in the Annapurna Conservation Area. After a few kilometers on the road the day welcomed me with a breathtaking sunrise and lit the snow-capped mountains reddish. What a marvelous day!

About halfway between Pokhara and Muktinath one will reach Beni. The road up to Beni is in considerable good condition as long as you take the right turns. Accidentally I ended up on the west side of the river following a road that runs parallel to the one I should have taken. This way I got a first taste of what was waiting for me. The really “interesting” part, however, began after I left Beni …

There were only 90 kilometers left to Muktinath. I knew that the remaining distance would be an off-road stretch, but I had no idea what the Himalayas kept in store for me that day …

The road from Beni to Muktinath starts at 800 meters above sea level and snakes its way up to 3,800 meters. The first kilometers were characterized by deep mud and slippy rocks. After about an hour, I dropped the bike for the first time on the rocks. That wasn’t a good sign. It was not even noon, my condition was good and my physical “batteries” fully charged. What would I have to expect on the remaining 80 kilometers? I started quarreling with myself. Should I turn back? This wasn’t a road anymore. I was climbing slopes over step-like rocks, big stones, rinsed river beds, coarse gravel and sand.

As long as you are standing on the bike while marching forward, even the most difficult passages can be managed. While one hand controlled the throttle, the other one was working with the clutch and my front wheel was just jumping left and right uphill over rocks and large stones. But there comes a moment where you have to calm down your horses to stay in control. If you come to a halt, however, you will lose your momentum. To get back into gear on such slopes and such rough ground carries an increased risk to crash. I did not even get the chance to stand on my footpegs. The rear wheel slipped sideways over rocky edges when starting up and I crashed for the second time hard on stony ground.  F-U-C-K !

The idea of simply turning around crossed my mind a couple of times on the first 30 kilometers. The last two crashes left some damage which I could temporarily fix with cable ties. But what if any crucial part of the bike would break? The BMW was simply too heavy for this kind of climb. This track was anything but comparable to what you will find in the Alps and there was a zero chance to get suitable spare parts for a 1200 GS throughout Nepal. Still, I wanted to go to Mustang, the former Kingdom of Lo. The region now forms part of north and central Nepal, bordering China on the Tibetan plateau. While debating with myself, I decided to do only one big off-road trip into the mountains of Nepal. But it would be exactly this one. I wanted to see Mustang and I wanted to go up to Muktinath …

Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out
how far one can go.  –  T. S. Eliot

Around noon, my batteries were running low and I can’t remember when or where I was ever that much wasted. By now I was already driving several hours standing on my footpegs, moving primarily in first gear. This way I had to push a total package of 400 kg uphill. Despite refreshing 16 degrees my shirt was soaking wet and I must have used a variety of swearwords that day. By noon I had decided to stay the night in Jomsom and tackle the remaining 25 km the following day. However, there were still another 40 kilometers left to get to Jomsom. This meant another four hours of torture for the bike and myself and it appeared to me like a little eternity. There was no time to pause more often, as the sunset would definitely mark the end of my day and it was more than just a good idea to have spotted a safe place for the night before it was getting dark …

It will remain a most memorable trip into the Himalayas and the pictures speak for themselves. Right before reaching Muktinath, the road turns into a hiking trek and my adrenaline level got boosted for the last time. By the time I finally reached Muktinath the next day, I had blisters on both hands and after a hot shower I realized that it was time to tighten the belt on the smallest hole.

The photo, which shows my bike in Muktinath is one out of many pictures taken on this trip. It’s not even a very brilliant shot but it stands for an unexpected challenge, doubts, frustration, breathtaking moments, beautiful landscapes and at the end of a destination, which knew to compensate me for all the hardships.

The night was cold and my thoughts revolved long around the descent. At some time the helpful idea of lowering the seat crossed my mind. This would allow more control when balancing the bike on uneven terrain. When I left the little village in the morning, the thermometer showed only one degree Celsius. I wiped the white frost from the seat and started the engine. Despite a chilly morning, it took less than five minutes and man and machine were back to “operating temperature” thanks to the narrow trekking path I had to overcome first. In the end, the way down turned out to be less nerve-racking than expected and I reached Beni in about 7 hours.

The next days I continued to explore the Western Development Region of Nepal and especially one night stuck on my mind. It was a Sunday and I wanted to go to Lumbini, the birthplace of Siddhartha (Lord Buddha). The place itself, however, is rather unspectacular. It’s a big park surrounded by walls in which various temples are built (many under construction) and off-site one will find a few hotels. It was early afternoon when I made up my mind to travel further west and came at sunset through Bahluwang .

Bahluwang is an inconspicuous place in transit. When checking in to a guesthouse, I wasn’t aware that I would have to share my room at night. Hundreds of small brown locusts intended to stay in the same place. From the light magically attracted, you had to struggle with these grasshoppers already at the dinner table. The “menu” consisted only of Dal Bath (rice with lentil soup) and a few pieces of sheep or mutton with little taste. Besides, I had to fish one or the other locust out of my meal. Back in my very modest $ 5 – room, I realized that I was no longer alone and had already dozens of roommates. Great! Believe me, I would have loved to change the hotel but I had checked all the available accommodation in town before. Changing the hotel was not really an alternative. My hotel seemed to be the best choice on the spot. Hence, I wished all my little friends a good night and switched the light off.

Before I left Nepal, I spent a few pleasant days in Birendranagar where a significant part of my time was dedicated to sort out the dilemma with the Indian visa. Sumit, the son of the hotel owner was extremely helpful and took quite a few phone calls in my affairs. From here I made a nice day trip to Dailekh and left the place two days later towards Dhangadhi. Four weeks had passed and I was waiting on a small airstrip in far western Nepal for my passport to arrive.

A day later, I would cross the border to India …