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Tour de Lumbini (Cycling from Kathmandu to Lumbini)

I have a dream, to see Nepal host world’s top cycling event ‘Tour de Lumbini’ watched by 100’s of millions worldwide, just like the ‘Tour de France”.

Photo credit: Dharan biking clubtour de lumbini - photo credit: dharan biking club above 2 photos credit: ” Dharan Biking club

I would like to see the world watch cyclists travel from the base of Mount Kanchenjunga (3rd highest mountain in the world, all the way through beautiful hills of Nepal down to the birthplace of buddha, Lumbini. I am sure, this would be the loveliest as well as the toughest cycling race in the world! And this would take one concrete step closer to building a prosperous Nepal within our lifetime. I decided to enter the annual ‘Tour de Lumbini’ to help fulfill this big dream I along with many other Nepalese have. ‘Tour de Lumbini’ is an annual cycling rally (not a race yet) from Kathmandu to Lumbini on the eve of Buddha’s birthday. I decided to support this noble initiative which has a potential to make it big within the next decade. This event is hosted by “Tour de Lumbini” a non-profit with support from World Cyclist Foundation headed by World cyclist Pushkar Shah along with various cycling activist movements such as Kathmandu Cycle city, Dharan Biking club and Butwal cycling club along with noted environment activists like Megh Ale and Lumbini, birthplace of Buddha promoters like Rajendra Thapa.   3 days before ‘Tour de Lumbini’: May 8, 2014 As I started preparing for my event I had a stark reality in front of my eyes. I had barely ridden a cycle (bike) for 10 whole years now. So a few days before ‘Tour de Lumbini’, i borrowed a mountain bike and start training for an hour or two a day to ready me mentally for my trip and minimally prepare my body for the drubbing i was about to receive. As the bike I had was not in condition to go on an extended trip, I managed to borrow a newly bought mountain bike and gears from a friend, Ishan Adhikari. I met with the organizers and veterans, taking advice from them what to bring and how to prepare myself both mentally and physically. Day 1: Boudha (Kathmandu) to Kurintar (120 kms) – 3 days until Buddha’s birthday -May 11 The day started ominously. I started from home with a flat tire which luckily i filled the air at the local bike maintenance store nearby. ‘Tour de Lumbini’ started from Boudha at 7:30 am in the morning and it passed through the holy Pashupatinath temple and then proceeded to the historic Basantapur Durbar square (ancient palace of the Kings of Kathmandu). There we stopped to buy Nepal flags and posed for a quick group photo before we moved on to the base of the famous monkey temple of Swayambhunath. We were soon off to Kalanki the door way out of Kathmandu. The total distance we would be cycling today was 120 kilometers with the end destination being, Kurintar besides the beautiful Trisuli river famous for its white water rafting. day 1 map Photo credit https://www.facebook.com/TDLP4P   As I started riding off to Kalanki, I could feel my lack of preparation. I was given a crash course along by experienced cyclists on how to change gears, how to move down-hill and uphill efficiently (basically to conserve my energy). I was already having a hard time as I passed Naikap, harder by the time I reached Thankot and finally i reached Nagdhunga the exit point of Kathmandu valley. My butt was beginning to hurt a lot since I was not used to the hard cycle seats on such long trips. The long downhill from there on all the way to perhaps Malekhu was a huge relief although it was a dangerous descent with sharp bends and big trucks and adventurous micro-buses constantly cornering us along the edges of a tight, badly maintained highway. Which reminds me why don’t we citizens, ask why the roads there are not maintained as they should be. We do have a law “Right to information act” through which we can use to easily get information from any public institution in Nepal on where they spent, what they spent on, who the contractors are, and what was the deal made etc etc. I do recommend we all use this act, when we see any problem. As we descended towards Malekhu we made our first major stop for lunch along the highway where we ate a quick lunch and refilled our water. Our tour doctor along warned us of dehydration and asked us to fill our water with “jeevan jal” oral rehydration packets as they were the best antidote to cramps and other critical problems faced on such an exhausting journey. I must add that  I had never had that many jeevan jals ever in my life as on this trip. (not even when I had severe dysentery). I easily was drinking 5 packets of jeevan jals a day along with at least 9 liters of water each day during the trip without having to go for a single round of pee :) . Surreal but interesting !

The locals constantly mistook my “jeevan jal” bottle for petrol ( “Why are you carrying petrol ? does this cycle run on petrol ? ” They would ask :) )

The whole day, my cycle’s back tyre was turning up flat every few hours. I had to stop and pump it with air about 5 times. Only when i was nearing the end of the day, when it dawned upon us that i was probably riding a bike which was actually half-punctured the whole time. I realized in hindsight that this was quite dangerous actually since the bike would always slide along the road every time I went downhill. I reached the end destination of the day on the campgrounds at Riverside Spring Resort at around 8 pm in the evening escorted by other bikers as it was already dark and i was riding a half flat tire. So ended perhaps an adventurous and many times dangerous day. I was so tired that i promptly went to sleep  in a tent. While others were singing and dancing nearby to celebrate their journey. I was busy recharging my body because I knew Day 2 I know was going to be tougher and much hotter! Day 2: Kurintar to Narayanghat to Arun Khola (92 km) – 2 days till Buddha’s birthday day 2 map photo credit https://www.facebook.com/TDLP4P I woke up around 6 in the morning and went near the river Trishuli to reflect on the wonderful beauty and serenity of Nepal’s country side. If only we can harness the power of this serenity, Nepal will be prosperous in our life-time. I also did some warm ups to prepare my 37 year old body for the exhausting day ahead [ that incidentally now looks like a 47 year old :) ] Around 7 in the morning we were debriefed by our tour organizer Rajendra Thapa and our tour doctor followed by a minute of silent reflections recommended by Tour promoter Megh Ale to spread positive energy among all the participants, we again head out towards the Terai (plains) of Nepal. Our initial burst of energy slowly became tempered with the increasing heat as we descended down onto the hot plains of Narayanghat (about 42 kilometers away). As we neared Narayanghat I could feel that more than anything the heat would be my worst enemy. It was one thing to cycle through uphill but with the sun bearing down harshly on the cyclists, I had to buy water at every few kilometers and had to rest in shade in order to avoid the ever increasing chance of a heat stroke. As we neared the forests overlooking Narayanghat, I knew I needed a longer rest than usual if I were to cycle through this day. Painfully just before noon, we reached Narayanghat where the local Lions club had prepared a welcome for us and had sponsored a lunch for us there. We rested there for a few hours. We were joined here by cyclists from Dharan. I was beyond exhausted from the heat stroke so had to give up cycling for the rest of the day. Our destination for the day was Arunkhola about 50 kms west of Narayanghat. We reached ArunKhola around 6pm and the local school there had provided for us tent space on the school grounds and food which we accepted with gratitude. Arunkhola town lies on the banks of a river. Because of the extreme heat, we dared to go down to swim in the river and had a good splash with local kids eager joining with us, curious strangers. We got a pleasant surprise from nature as in the night a cool breeze flowed through camp grounds which eased our rest (unlike the upcoming night at Bhairahawa).   Day 3: Arun Khola to Daaune to Butwal to Bhairawaha (89 km) ( 1 day till Buddha’s birth day) day 3 tour: photo credit Tour de Lumbini The highlight of the day was two-fold. One was the big climb uphill of 8 km of the Daunne hills and the midday rest at Devdaha ( believed to be the maternal home of Siddhartha Gautam Buddha ). I started my uphill ascent into Daunne at 6:30 in the morning without even having breakfast because I wanted to avoid the intense heat from the morning sun while I was climbing Daunne. At around 9:30 am I finally reached the village of daunne at the top of steep 8km, and was instantly wowed to find Daunne had free wifi internet! The Rest of Nepal should learn from Daunne on how to be entrepreneurial and customer friendly :). I finally managed to upload my pictures of the trip to social media from here. The terrible Nepal Telecom 3G network is literally non-existent outside of kathmandu despite its outrageous claim that it’s internet is widespread. [ I have only disgust at the way Nepal Telecom is run and how it is grossly mismanaged and going down the drains, because of political interference. Plus I believe the Government has no business doing business in Nepal. It should do what it is best at which is ‘monitoring’ and leave running businesses to the citizens!] As I uploaded my photos of the trip, I couldn’t help notice a nearby restaurant owner was making fresh “Cell roti” in a huge frying pan. I rushed in to buy 5 of  these super-fresh Cell Rotis and gorged them down with fresh milk tea. It was probably the freshest Cell Rotis I had ever tasted in my life and I loved them. To add to that, i gulped down fresh locally made curd. After an hour of rest and experience sharing with other riders,  I added ‘jeevan jal’ to a fresh bottle of water and was off a terrifying 7 or 8 km steep downhill ride. My fingers ached from the constant brakes I had to use to slow myself down from falling off the cliffs of daunne.   As we reached the plains, the roads became one torturous straight line and hot air started catching up on us and by the time we reached ‘Buddha’s mamaghar (maternal home)’ we were gasping from the hot air that was tormenting our faces. Each ‘chautari’ I could find, I would rest. It gave me an opportunity to mix with curious locals, informing them about our purpose and our dreams to make a prosperous Nepal.   In Devadaha, the local chapter of FNCCI hosted us and kindly provided us with Dal bhat with fresh salads for lunch. The local salad was with cucumbers, and carrots and onions cooled both our mind and bodies. As we rested for a welcome function, my mind became restless with anticipation as I was in a place Buddha probably came by in his youth to his maternal home. My curiosity got the better of me and I decided to explore the nearby archaeologically excavated areas even in the scorching heat. The positive energy of Buddha probably flows in these areas even today. A friend and I cycled to 3 major archaeologically important areas which Lumbini development trust had identified as possible maternal home of Siddhārtha Gautama (Buddha). Plus it gave us a chance to mingle with a few local young men and women and find out about their dreams, their values, their concerns for their nation and their ideas to transform this area. A lot of people we met were ones who had immigrated from the hills decades ago in search of better future and local Tharus, indigenous to this area. At Butwal, the local lions, butwal cycling club chapters, local business houses invited the cyclists to a ceremony where they kindly helped us with water and other needed refreshments. At Bhairahawa, a political party local unit made us cyclists stand along their on-going campaign (unrelated) which caused such a severe headache for the organizers and tired cyclists. On top of this, it caused us to miss a more important press release that evening with local journalists. There seems to be a wrong perception in Nepali society that if we don’t make grand speeches and acknowledge everyone grandly, the organizers feel they have let down their guests (which is a terribly wrong assumption). As guests and participants I was saddened that the organizers were more concerned with acknowledging themselves, and celebrities than to listen to our experiences and our reasons for all this, which surely would have helped widen their perspectives. We need a revolution in “management of welcoming” is needed.

A 21st century relevant leader should focus on helping citizens meet their dreams than holding them hostage to glorify his dreams. I guess our mainstream politicians are still stuck in the 19th century.

Bhairahawa, the gateway to Lumbini, seemed like a place where average citizens stopped holding their leaders accountable, toxic, dusty, hot and roads in disrepair. I wish it could have been managed better. I can feel the lack of elected local government has been a disaster to the city’s prosperity. I had a forgettable night at Bhairahawa right from the arrival into this polluted town, added by the lack of enough rooms for all of us at the local hotel Sayapatri. I hope Lumbini never catches the Bhairahawa disease! As I tried sleeping in a room that was a little bigger than a big bathroom, I was desperately hoping the last day would be much better !”   Day 4 (Last Day and Buddha’s birthday): Bhairahawa to Lumbini (24 km) – May 14 day 4 map photo credit https://www.facebook.com/TDLP4P Today was the finale, Buddha’s birthday, the last day of our Tour de Lumbini. For me it was a day of reflections, a day to cleanse myself and renew my vow to build a prosperous Nepal within my life-time. We started our day at 6:30 pm at Lumbini Gate in Bhairahawa and waited for the Chief secretary of Nepal Government Lilamani Paudel, an avid cyclist to join us all the way to Lumbini. We started in a straight line 100 of us, joined by cyclist friends from Butwal. As we made our rally to Lumbini, we passed through a nice road surrounded by Mango trees all the way to the birthplace of Buddha. By the time we reached Lumbini, the prime-minister of Nepal along with other dignitaries were there to welcome us and acknowledge our contribution to raise the profile of Lumbini around the world. Bikers resting at the holy grounds of Lumbini where buiddha was born: Dharan Biking club credit

Above photo credit: ” Dharan Biking club

 We rested near the closed museum of Lumbini for awhile (why do museusms close on holidays? that’s when the rest of us are free to go there !). Then we set towards the Mayadevi temple, the exact place believed to be the birthplace of Siddhartha Gautam Buddha. We rested in Lumbini for some time after which we all went on a pre-planned trip to Tilaurakot the palace area where Buddha spent his first 29 years of his life, which happens to be in Kapilvastu area of Nepal. As we went through the ruins, I couldn’t help imagining what would have gone through Buddha’s mind when he decided to leave that palace complex to wander around in search of enlightenment and meaning of life. It gave me much needed positive energy to build our nation on the spirit of Buddha’s message and to spread his message throughout the world.   It is a wonder that such an enlightened being was born in what is now Nepal. He gave such a wonderful gift to the world and here we are in 21st century, having learnt not much of his gifts. I made my wish, that Nepalese in the next decade will internalize Buddha’s teachings and set out to make Nepal the center of prosperity and peace in the way he has envisioned. We already have Buddha. With his middle path we can be an example to the world just like he was thousands of years ago! If we can only manage to keep Buddha and Lumbini as the center of Nepal’s development, we can transform the face of Nepal by 2030. We already have with us a golden key to prosperity and peace. Will we use it or keep waiting for someone to open the door to prosperity for us? The choice is ours! Use your ‘bibek’ (common-sense wisdom).    

To know more about Tour de Lumbini contact here. All photos credited in blog are copyright of their owners.

Trek the majestic 8000m Annapurna base camp in Nepal- a travel diary

Annapurna glowing

I hope this guide inspires you to do the beautiful Annapurna Base camp trek (also known as the Annapurna Sanctuary trek). We decided to trek up to the Annapurna Base Camp, in Western Nepal in October when the skies are clear and the weather is warm.  This trek is also called the Annapurna Sanctuary trek. It takes you to the heart, the valley of the 8000 meter mountains. And the perfect time to there is after the monsoons and before the onset of Winter, so the skies are very clear while being warm enough and before snow and ice makes it treacherous to trek near the base camps.  But as a traveler I also dread this time because Continue reading

Nepal doesn’t need to change. We do

Nepal doesn’t need to change. We do.

Here is why. Recently I hiked as part of a “Green Hiker, Green planet” group of change-makers, along the Langtang region in Rasuwa, north of Kathmandu for four days. As we hiked, I couldn’t help but realize that Nepal is simply beautiful and it is just fine the way it is. Sadly it is us who are abusing it. Here are some of the experiences that convinced me, we need to change ourselves, not Nepal.

Where else would you be garlanded with assorted vegetables like tomatoes, potatoes raddish (mula), maize, onions, beans and garlic! For you non-believers, here is a photo of Miss Nepal Sadichha Shrestha wearing just that on the trip :)

Where else can you play “Chipleti” i.e desperately crawling and slipping downhill on a slippery red mud path with rain pouring over you for hours. Here we were swinging crazily between fun and danger like little children.

Where else can you sip hot, therapeutic, Seabuckthorn juice (made from wild berries found in high himalayas) and watch the panaromic mountains as clouds disappear below us.

Where else can you feast your eyes upon white, pink, red rhododendrons on the backdrop of beautiful Langtang mountains, that shine like one of Monet’s painting?

Where else can you have “Nettle Soup” (Sishno) with Maize pudding (dhedo) for dinner?  My favorite punch line was: “Aaja nikai Sishno khaiiyo”.

It was snowing up there, in mid April. We didn’t mind.

Where can one  sip fresh nyak milk from a local yak dairy as well as nibbling nyak cheese while chit-chatting with yak herders, surrounded by majestic Ganesh, Langtang and Gosaikunda mountains. (btw, a female Yak is called nyak, Hence I use the term, Nyak cheese.) :P

Imagine taking midnight photos of Ganesh himal glowing on a full moon night! Listen with awe, to a local village girl recite poems about impacts of climate change on her village.

Where else can you find local lamas (shamans), at our behest start elaborate masked dance rituals, to scare away specifically the ghosts who are stopping our constitution assembly members from making the consitution?

Nepal is full of wonderful experiences. But Climate change instigated by our own actions in the past and present, threatens this way of life. If we don’t change our habits today, decisively and collectively, the next time you or your children go up to Langtang, you might not get to sip Yak milk or nip its cheese. Erratic climate changes might mean, yaks no longer find greener pastures and lose their habitat. You may no longer enjoy the beautiful forests color painted with rhododendrons because the rampant forest fires (which we saw ourselves) burnt it down.

Playing “chipleti” in the rain becomes out of the question as it either rains too much, causing huge landslides or became drier creating a dusty arid trails devoid of life.
The locals may only welcome you with a plastic “khasa made” rose garland instead of these fresh assorted vegetables because people could no longer grow vegetables in their unproductive lands.
You may not be able to watch the local Sherpa/ Tamang songs, dances and rituals because they all had to scatter away because of shrinking water supplies from the mountains.
And you might just have to be satisfied with photos of bare naked mountains because the snow melted away, leaving you with ugly ash rocks to snap at.
You may not be able to enjoy poetry slam-fest with local young poets because they had to leave for “Arab” to sustain their families as local means of income through agriculture, tourism dried up as a result of climate changes.

The rampant forest fires, the erratic rains and landslides are just the tip of the iceberg. Climate change is persistently trying to turn Nepal into an inhospitable, inaccessible, unsustainable place.

So, lets take a stand today, to protect and enjoy Nepal’s beauty as we still see it. We have a moral choice. Are we going to keep being part of the problem or a solution. As you finish reading this, turn to your best friend, and talk about how the two of you can start right away to keep our Nepal beautiful. This would be a wonderful start to turning things around. Because at the end of day, Nepal doesn’t need to change. We do.