The 230km Annapurna Circuit in central Nepal is rated as a world-class hiking destination. But ever since the Nepali government carved a road through the mountains making the region more accessible than ever before, it has opened up a whole new world, not just for the Nepalis living there but for a new breed of adventurer cycle-tourers who were now able to ride the entire circuit.
Inadvertently, it has also spawned a new group of hikers – those who, thanks to the Besisahar-Manang Highway, can now jump on a 4×4 Tata taxi and ride it all the way to the town of Manang (3,500m) before proceeding to the base camp at Thorong in just 2-3 days.
The purist hikers are still grieving and griping about this sacrilegious approach to hiking their beloved Annapurna Circuit.
As a biking adventure, riding the Annapurna Circuit is a hard act to beat. Winding through some 230 kilometres of the spectacular Annapurna mountain range, it crosses the often snow-covered Thorong Pass at an altitude of 5,416 metres.
Incidents of Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) among trekkers are not uncommon, with some badly-affected ones having to be airlifted to Kathmandu hospital by helicopter, a short but very expensive ambulance ride.
Most hikers complete the trek in an anti-clockwise direction, usually starting from either Besisahar or Bhulbule in the Marshyangdi river valley on the eastern side, and ending at Kali Gandaki Gorge on the western side, taking anywhere from a week to 20 days.
We planned to ride it in the same direction.
Like many other cyclists who, in recent years, rode the Annapurna Circuit, we have the Nepali government to thank for constructing the highway on the Annapurna Circuit.
Even so, in typical Nepali style, the road is not a fully completed one, leaving the higher sections the way it was meant to be traversed – on foot; and in our case, often achieving forward momentum only by pushing or portaging our heavy, fully-laden bikes.