There are 30 of us at Vajra guesthouse in Bhaktapur city, popularly referred to as the city of devotees. All of us are assembled here to attend Yeti Cycle’s first International Tribe gathering. We are gathered in Nepal 6 months after the devastating earthquake to ride mountain bikes. Bhaktapur was one of the worst hit cities by the earthquake, says Mandil Pradhan lead guide for H&I Adventures, which is running the trip. As we are exploring around Bhaktapur, the impact of the earthquake became more visible. Bhaktapur is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and until a few months ago, there were more temples here than houses.
At the same time, vendors are hawking their wares–some from bicycle seats, others squatting in the wooden doorways that line the city’s choked cobblestone alleys. Plump cauliflower and spicy green chili peppers are piled on bright swaths of fabric along the sidewalks, where students walk home from school in starched and spotless uniforms. Men are playing cards on the street and dogs snooze in the shade of temple steps.
About 6 months before the trip was scheduled to start, Nepal was hit by a 7.8 earthquake. Landslides buried the mountain towns and buildings across the nation staggered turning them into rubbles. When the dust settled, Yeti’s president, and H&I Adventures owner, Euan Wilson had a hard time deciding whether to run the trip or cancel the trip.
“We had Mandil look after everything from ground checking trais to accomodations, health supplies to fuel and more”, said Wilson. “Every part of the tour was intact but one restaurant, from roads to trails to food and lodging. And everyone we work with in Nepal was saying, ‘Please come–we need you.’ ”
So, here we are. 30 of us pedalling around Kathmandu Valley in our mountain bikes. So far H & I’s intelligence has proved to be spot on. Everything is managed properly from food to hotels. Every other people we pass by, be it a 2 year old kid or a 60 year old vegetable vendor, greet us with warm smile and NAMASTE 🙂 The first day of riding, we ricochet down a slippery cobbled walking trail just wider than my handlebars, and a cluster of sari-wrapped women cleaning rice at the side of the road flashes toothy smiles at our “namaste” greeting as we pedal past. The next day, a family who were engaged in rebuilding their small portion of the house waves hello to us. A little girl welcomes us as we pass, nodding namaste with her hands pressed together like she is praying as each rider passes.
“With all the troubles that Nepal has had since April–to not put tourism dollars back into the economy would be a shame,” said Wilson. Tourism is the backbone of nation’s revenue. And bringing a group to stay at a tea house, eat at a local restaurant, and employing Nepali riders as guides all impacts people and businesses here in ways that aren’t immediately obvious.
Locals were extremely appreciative of the tourists who were still coming. “There was a major downfall in tourism sector in Nepal after the earthquake”, says Mandil. The main reason behind it would be false information that was widespread around the globe. Accurate message needs to be spread globally inorder to revive tourism. “Yes, there is damage, but in most of Kathmandu it’s business as usual. We have hot water, electricity and people here in the service industry who want to keep their jobs–I worry how long the service industry can survive without people passing through here,” says Mandil.
It feels vibrant and energising to be here. Despite the hardships, we are treated specially and people are very kind and welcoming. Whenever I get time, I hangout with my tribe members. It is always an amazing experience bonding with them. The ride so far is very exciting and is full of adventure and anticipation. It was mostly about sharing your stories, hanging out and bonding over a glass of beer. That’s quintessential mountain-biking culture, and it transcends language, nationality and economics. Doing everything in a land where yeti came from is an absolute joy. It has been a delight so far and we haven’t even gotten to the mountains yet.
I overhear other riders marvelling at the brilliantly clean and deliciously cool hotel pool, the wood-fired pizza and the trails that dish up the best of the Himalayan foothills. We are moved by the gesture of people at every turn. Locals appreciate tourist even more now because we’ve come at a time where most people are staying away. “I would have been gutted if H&I canceled the trip,” said Jeremy Hanrahan, also a first-time visitor to Nepal, from Brisbane, Australia. ” The best thing you can contribute to rebuild Nepal is to pay a visit to this beautiful country. Though our trip will be over in the next 2 days, it was the most epic experience of my life. I will cherish it for my entire life.
“Get on the plane,” says Mark Nickolls, another Nepal first-timer, from Queenstown, New Zealand. “Doubt and false impressions are the reasons why Nepal is in trouble. Come to Nepal and support the businesses that these people rely on to make a living–the tourist shops, the restaurants, the small lodges–that’s the livelihood of country.”
We are here buying beer and souveneirs and snacks , and paying for washing, shaves and rest-day paragliding. We’re purchasing bike parts–one rider is renting an XT drivetrain. Most guests on the trip will donate chains, tubes, tires and other spare parts as well as medicines, clothings, etc. When the quake hit, Mandil raised more than $5,000 from past H&I tour guests to help fund the rebuilding of 20 houses in a Kathmandu suburb. The support will continue to flow from H&I and Yeti. They will bring a group of other mountain bikers to Nepal in the year 2016.
“Mountain bikers everywhere in world share the same values,” says Conroy. “Mountain biking brings people together–and that’s what we’re doing here in Nepal.”