Motorcycle ride to Manang, Annapurna Circuit, May 25th 2015

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Posted on: October 23, 2015 | Location: Annapurna, Nepal | Type: Adventure, Nature


Alan Wittner

Alan Wittner


Visited Nepal:
May 5, 2015 – June 4, 2015

Even before this trip, my Nepali friends were concerned and warned me about dangers on the way….landslides, avalanches and tough road.  In the morning I was about to start the western route from Pokhara to Jomsom, I received a call from Ananada my Nepali friend in Kathmandu: “Hi Alan, you can’t go to Jomsom, there was a landslide and the road is blocked”. I replied: “Well I have a good dirt bike, I may pass….” he answered: “The mountain fell into Kali Gandaki river around Totopani, river rose 15o meters, I don’t think you will pass”! That is how the eastern route from Besisahar to Manag via Chame was chosen. Sometimes we end up in most amazing places by chance, not a choice….this is a story of the most beautiful, most demanding, most dangerous ride of my life….with unforgettable reward waiting on top!

So the road to Jomsom was blocked, and I stayed one more day in Pokhara to relax and study the eastern route of Annapurna to Manang. Around noon I departed Pokhara and reached Besisahar around 3PM. I figured there is 4 more hours of daylight so I decided to keep going. Besisahar is the end of tarmac. Now the real adventure begins. For the next 5-7 kilometers, the road is actually very good and easy. I was progressing fast all the way to a construction site on the river Marshangdi where China is building a huge dam. That may be the reason why the road was in such good condition, because after that dam, the road got so demanding that it took all my riding skills to keep going. This is where the uphill section starts very rapidly. The road is carved into the hill on the western side of the river, rising through breathtaking scenery with a river raging below. In this lower part of the canyon, hills are steep, but green with villages every now and then virtually hanging from the slopes. It is impressive how people inhabited those places and find the way to exist in such a demanding area. The road was as narrow as one car, and local jeeps that operate in the area drive on the edges of the cliff, providing a lifeline to villages above and Besisahar. It is chilling to see them drive, sometimes with wheels barely gripping the ground below them. It is dangerous and accidents do happen. As the road ascends further, it passes very small villages that gave me reassurance that I am not completely alone. Another amazing feature of the road and surroundings are amazing waterfalls that fall over the road and water needs to be crossed. It was another fun addition to the ride. Night was ready to fall, and I have barely covered 15-20 kilometers in three hours. So demanding is the road. I stopped in Syange where there is a guest house. But what a guest house. It hangs below a 100m cliff, and it hangs 30 meters over the river that is raging below. I had no option but to sleep there, but the fear that night was enormous. There was an earthquake a month ago, there was a landslide two days ago on Jomsom road, and in addtion to that, there was the worst rain in months just three days ago that made ground completely soft. Great combination for a serious landslide. my fer was also fueled by my stay in Kathmandu for three weeks prior to this and experiencing everyday 5.5 Richter afterchocks and 7.3 Richter on May 12th. But of course nothing happened, and next morning I continued up to Manang. From Syange to Chame, the road gets very steep and in the worse condition. The river canyon gets deeper, and drops next to the road are become so high that it is better not to think “what if”. At some points, the road is carved into a vertical cliff with drops of some 500 meters vertical down to the river. And the rod itself is not more than two to three meters wide. But the views are so breathtaking it was difficult to believe that I was actually there at such an amazing place. I took many photos, but the photo simply does not capture one tenth of the beauty that surrounded me. It took me half a day riding to cover next 20 kilometers to Chame, a small town that also acts as a regional centre, and some 20 kilometers from Manang. Luckily everyone assured me that after Chame the road is much better, so I will be able to progress faster and reach Manang before dark. But in Chame, the highlight of the trip happened. I stopped in a local small shop and bought 2 liters of petrol and a snack. As I was sitting on a bench, a little girl showed up and set next to me. She started to copy my moves and that is how we played. Whatever i did she did. And then I made a bubble ot of the chewing gum, just to see the reaction, and she popped it with her hand. Then I made another one, and she popped that one too…and that was repeated again and again….our play lasted for half an hour and no word or photo can describe how it felt to bond in such a way. Her parents and some villagers observed all that show, laughed and enjoyed it as well. Then she did another amazing thing. As I bought her the chocolate, a child of some 2-3 years that grew up in a small town on a mountain opened it, broke a piece of it and first gave it to me s I can also have some, and then started eating the rest of it herself. I was mind-blown by such an amazing consideration for others at such a young age. However, wherever I went, Nepali people were the kindest, most considerate and warm!

The road after Chame really was easier and the land structure changed. Elevation of Chame is 2650 meters and next 30 kilometers to Manang (3650 meters) were not so steep. What opened few kilometers after was the most magnificent rock formation I have ever seen. The name is “Gateway to Heaven”. It lays between Chame and Pisang and it looks like a giant skateboard ramp. Sloped rock that curves at 90 degree angle, however I estimate it is about one kilometer high and some three kilometers long. On top it has a rock formation that looks like a palace, and that is where it got its name. After Pisang, the scenery becomes really magical. The road is almost horizontal, while mountains are all around you peaking up to 7000 meters. The nature here is so beautiful…and so huge!!! Since that part is flat, there is an airport in Humde, some 10 kilometers from Manang. Unfortunately it was closed at that time so I could not see planes land or take off. it started to get dark and I had to proceed. For the last 20 minutes I rode in pitch darkness, only seeing what was in the reach of my front light. Road was flat and easy and I relaxed doing 40 km/h…and that is when I crashed….bike went left, i fell to the right and rolled few times in the dirt….ground was soft and it was an amazing luck both me and the bike were left unharmed except a few bruises and scratches. A lesson learned….I got relaxed before reaching the destination, and that is when accidents happen. I got back on the bike and in 5 minutes I was in Manang. Temperature around zero degrees. I got a room for the night in a hotel “YETI” (I love the name) and fell asleep without the slightest idea how the scenery looks around me as I arrived in the dark. That surprise waited for me in the morning. I woke up to a crystal clear sunny day, visibility perfect, sky was as blue as it can be. And there was IT! The mountain you hear about since you are little, an object of dreams and one of those places that are so powerful that they border with legends. Annapurna dominating over Manang. It is truly majestic in every sense…normally we observe nature. Here we experience it, because the effect of it is so powerful it touches a person beyond just the eyesight. There is small temple some hundred meters above Manang. I took a walk there just to get a better view of the town and sit and just take it in. As I sat down there thinking it can not get any better than this, it did. There is a glacier formation I was looking at in a distance….and in that moment the lower part started to tear off and begun to fall down the mountain. This was followed by a deep rumbling sound and then it all went quiet again. Beautiful sight. But these sounds came quietly from a distance few more times, reminding me that Himalayas are alive. There are tectonic moves, glacier glacier breaking, avalanches, landslides…all that is happening there. I remained there for two or three hours just taking it all in, and having a hard time believing I was actually there. Around 2 PM I started my descend from Manang. The views were again amazing but from different direction. I reached Syange again by the evening and stayed at the same place that was hanging over the river. Next day, I got back and by the evening I was in Kathmandu. My face was dirty, my body was covered in dust, I lost weight during the ride, I was exhausted….but happier than ever. I felt like my body and mind are reset and even as am writing this, and reliving it all again I can’t believe I actually did it in a way I did. And again I have witnessed all along the way the amazing amazing amazing kindness and hospitality of Nepali people.

Places described here are a part of Annapurna Circuit trekking route that takes around 12-14 days walking. Altitude sickness can be an issue at Thorung La pass, but fast descend to lower elevation should take care of the problems.

This is only one in hundreds of attractions Nepal offers. Many are adventurous, many are more relaxed, historical, cultural….Nepal offers so much. I am finishing this article with a thought….I am wishing the best for the people of Nepal, and I wanna go back ASAP!!!