Wheels that meander

Features Issue 148 Mar, 2014
Text by Anuj D. Adhikari / Photo: Anuj D. Adhikary

Four seasoned travelers recount their experiences on their favorite wheels, breaking away from the conventional travel methods of foot, air and buses that have defined the way Nepalis have journeyed for so long now.

Jayendra Kakshapati (4WD)
An avid adventurer, Jay Kakshapati is currently preoccupied with his family business, the Nanglo Group, which has come as a blessing for his passion of traveling in his pick-up truck.

From Illam and Darjeeling in the east to Bardia in the west, 4WD aficionado Jayendra Kakshapati has travelled far and wide in Nepal and northern India in his Mazda pick-up. Setting out on journeys a few times every month, for Kakshapati it started simple enough. “Traveling was imbibed in me since childhood. Visiting relatives meant frequent long journeys with my family in our Land Rover Defender.” It was only natural that he couldn’t wait


to get his hands on his first ride. “I was the happiest kid on the block,” says Kakshapati, recalling the day he got his license. “I rode a KIA Sportage through Kathmandu and had my first off-road experience in the backyards of Palpa and Butwal, my ancestral homes.” Kakshapati remembers following rugged trails through thick woods that he claims were as fascinating as they were precarious, a perfect mix of adventure and nature.


“It’s heartbreaking that most of us are eager to travel abroad, but not within Nepal,” he maintains. “There are such lovely and exotic places here but we don’t have a clue what they’re worth.” Kakshapati considers himself lucky as family business requires him to traverse frequently to several cities in Nepal, especially Tansen and Kurintar, an opportunity he seizes wholeheartedly to embark on a new journey. “I’m a lone traveler, and I love the freedom I get when I’m in my Mazda. Solitude gives me a peaceful time to reflect. For shorter excursions, I don’t wait for a job assignment. Every couple of weeks or so, when I feel like escaping the chaos of Kathmandu, I drive off to nearby places like Hetauda and Chisapani.”
Excited to discover new places, see new cultures and meet new people, Kakshapati always looks forward to adventures that, he admits, come with challenges and risks. “One time, my engine fuse blew up in the middle of nowhere with not a soul around – never mind a mechanic - and all I could see were mountains far off in Helambu’s horizon.” While this, for many, may seem like a mishap, as a hardened traveler Kakshapati knew that when things don’t go as planned, they only get better. He remembers walking up a ridge till late that evening to finally come across a Tamang house where the folks let him stay for the night. “The food was absolutely awesome, so was the company,” shares Kakshapati. “Under the stars and on Lantang’s lap, it was quite an experience sipping on genuine tongba over a quiet conversation!”

Kakshapati has never been a huge fan of traveling by bus for one simple reason: He’s not the one who’s driving. “Besides, bus drivers are notorious for drunk driving!” he adds. He chooses an enjoyable ride over the destination, he says, because he can stop at several places en route and simply revel in an incredible journey. “Quite frankly, buses can’t take me where I want to go. I need a robust SUV to explore trails high up in the hills and mountains.”

All great trips must come to an end but at each appalling sight of a dust-choked Thankot on his way back, Kakshapati plans his next escapade, to travel in his beloved pick-up and find an overwhelming salvation in a secluded world.

Rashik Maharjan (motorbike)
A software developer by profession, Rashik Maharjan travels to distant villages on his motorbike for a noble cause through his photography organization, Colors of Nepal.

Ever since his teenage days, motorbikes had always enthralled Rashik Maharjan, whether it was due to their upbeat styles or their roaring engines and daring speeds. He recalls his first memory riding a bike - a failed one at that - when he sneaked into the garage and tried to start his dad’s motorcycle. Falling off and spraining his ankle only made Maharjan more determined but it wasn’t until he was 19 that he had the opportunity to venture out on his own. “There wasn’t a day I didn’t ride my dad’s bike around the city after I got a driving license,” he says. “But honestly, I never used to be a nature person nor was I too eager to ride anywhere beyond the usual likes of Nagarkot and Dhulikhel.”

It wasn’t until a chance trip to Jiri the next year that he acquired a taste for long distance motorbiking. “My friends insisted we head over to Jiri for a friend’s farewell,” recalls Maharjan. Though hesitant, he didn’t want to miss out and reluctantly agreed. “It was quite monotonous initially, but as I rode further, I was instantly hooked by the exhilarating feeling, watching everything around fly by as we whizzed through the chill. The feeling was like none other and I soon found myself pursuing more thrills on my bike.”

Maharjan has since been traveling on his motorcycle to distant places every other weekend. “Makwanpur and Nuwakot have always been my favorites, thanks to the variation in landscape and impossibly humble people. I have several off-road detours to choose from to get to serene villages,” he states. “I’ve been on countless motorbike trips now with each being a new experience and a different adventure to savor. Because I have a full time job, it’s often difficult to make time for longer trips, but there are several places off the beaten track I can ride off to on weekends.”

Motorbiking has also perfectly complemented Maharjan’s interest in photography. “Capturing my rides and photographing people, getting to hear their stories, their emotions. It’s all quite heart-warming,” he says. It was a trip to Nuwakot’s Valche village in 2010, where he saw the plight of poor children, that prompted him to make a change. “While many of us take our privileges for granted, I saw kids who couldn’t afford even books or pencils for school.” Riding to such places made Maharjan look at life differently and thus inspired him to get together with like-minded friends to start Colors of Nepal, an organization that works towards child welfare through photography.

Traveling with his team to desolate villages, Maharjan takes pictures of schools and children. “We make postcards from the pictures and sell them at charity events,” he elaborates. “In fact, our friends have been generous enough to sell them in Cyprus and Turkey as well. We purchase stationery goods and refurbish dilapidated schools with the proceeds.” The encouragement and support Maharjan receives has motivated him to travel more frequently and thus strengthened his cause.

Every motorbike trip is a new mission for Maharjan, an obsession to find solace and to feel complete. Through persistence and diligence, he’s merged a desire for traveling, photography and social work, none of which would have been possible without his motorbike.

Dawa Sherpa and Shyam Limbu (mountain bike)
Professional mountain bikers Dawa Sherpa and Shyam Limbu travel to the nooks and corners of the country searching for new trails and guiding tourists on cycling trips.

For almost ten months each year, Dawa Sherpa and Shyam Limbu are not home. As the most sought-after mountain biking guides in the country, they are found traveling on their bicycles with tourists high up in the mountains. Many have a hard time comprehending how riding bikes can become a living, but for Sherpa and Limbu, it was a matter of commitment that led to them taking up their hobby as a full-time profession.

Born in the mountains of Solukhumbu, Sherpa is one of the youngest biking professionals in the industry. He remembers riding an Avon bicycle he purchased with his pocket money, but over time he started training with professional cyclist and athlete, Rajeev Rai. The skills Sherpa acquired gave him enough confidence to travel long distances on his mountain bike, marking the beginning of his cycling career with his first guiding assignment in the Annapurna circuit at age 19. Today, he travels on long-haul cycling trips run by El Yak Mountain Biking, a company he co-founded in 2003.

Limbu shares a similar story though his passion for the sport goes back to his days as the Manager of Life Cycle Resort, Hetauda. Seeing all the mountain biking action inspired him to follow suit and purchase his first bike, a Chain Jomsom.

Riding with accomplished bikers like Buntay Pandey and Nirakar Yakthumba meant rolling through rough trails that his bicycle wasn’t built for. After a bad crash on a downhill track in 2011, Limbu finally got a full suspension bike with the support of his mentors. After three years of pursuing biking professionally, Limbu is now a part of the national cycling team.

As active mountain bikers and long time friends, Sherpa and Limbu find themselves riding on an endless chain of tracks. “For shorter biking getaways, I love pedaling to Kakani, north-west of Kathmandu,” says Limbu. “The uphill ride is strenuous but reaching the top sure is an accomplishment. From there, rolling down through a dense forest towards Budhanilkantha becomes the highlight of the week.” For longer trips, Lubra Valley near Manang gives them their biking fix. The bumpy trails are fabulous for all-mountain bikes with just the right section of climb and a ton of downhill sections crisscrossing through a surreal desert landscape. “It’s not too difficult, but proper stamina and fitness is required to enjoy such a high altitude ride,” cautions Limbu.

“When you’re on your bike, there are no rules on the trails, just blazing past trees, along brooks and gorges as kids cheer you on and chase you on foot,” explains Sherpa. You can either choose to push your limits on unnerving rocky cliff paths or simply have a pleasant time on easy flat ones. Whatever it may be, mountain biking, in the end, leaves you sweaty and muddy, usually with a few celebratory bruises here and there. With every drop and climb on virgin trails, there is an immense feeling of accomplishment and peace. In mountain biking, there is a sense of camaraderie with fellow riders, while staying healthy and relaxing the mind. “Of course, at the end of the ride, we make a point of unwinding with a bottle of chilled beer or anything brewed locally!” laughs Sherpa.

Mountain biking for them was, at first, just about trying something different but soon Sherpa and Limbu will be biking through knee-deep snow in Thorung-La and hammering down the most unwalkable of trails in Shivapuri. For the duo, traveling on mountain bikes has been more than just a profession - it’s a deliberate lifestyle!