“A 2004 350cc? She’ll barely make it up there.”
Lucky we don’t take no for an answer and shiny 500cc bikes don’t have shit on LG and her 1950’s engineering.
Imagine riding on a rock beach, mid-winter, at 3,700 meters altitude. Except instead of the ocean, it’s a 500 meter cliff. You’re surrounded by the highest mountains in the world, in an environment reminiscent of Lord of the Rings vs Planet of the Apes vs Avatar vs Star Wars.
The ride to Beni is what they call a “good” road. Although it doesn’t seem like it at the time, we find in hindsight it is. From here on up, road quality really doesn’t bother us as much as it should because we’re in awe of the light blue river, towering mountains, indigenous peoples, and the smell of pine. That is, until it takes you over four hours to cover less than 50 kilometers. But still, it’s worth it. Don’t turn back.
We stopped in Tatopani for the night after only managing to get 18 kilometers into the conservation area. Tatopani is known for its hot springs- both medicinal and leisure purposes. Silly me for thinking after a 6 hour riding day I was going to get an onsen. It’s about the size of a kitchen and everyone is fully clothed, which, for someone coming from the onsen culture, is weird.
The roosters wake us up at dawn after a cold night. In the next 10 kilometers (which took us an hour and a half), we stop at the first checkpoint to check our TIMS card and Conservation Area Permit. *If you’re doing this trip, make sure to stop at the blue house on the left after the checkpoint and order his chai. He literally goes out to milk the cow when you order. Also on a more important note, you get to play with these guys:
These checkpoints turn out to be a great spot to meet other Enfielders, as we meet several on the way who have the same fears of puncturing a tire, cracking the engine on a rock, or simply breaking down without a soul for miles.
Eventually, after a lot of photo stops, too many GoPro videos, and multiple scenic bathroom breaks, we bump our way into Jomsom. At a casual 2640 meters altitude, we are unprepared for the cold but three duvets later our tootsies are toasty. Wrapped in blankets, we ask grandma to cook us up two thukpas and some momos. As per routine we’re in bed before 9 from the cold, our aching bodies, and sunrise starts.
The ride up is bitterly cold despite the crystal blue sky and happy sunshine. So grand yet so barren- like Mars. You’ll never think dust is beautiful until the journey up to Muktinath (sans getting a mouthful of it). The ride up is colder than Muktinath itself.
Higher we go, and it finally it feels like what a winter vacation is ‘supposed’ to be like: burst pipes spewing icicle fountains, streams frozen over, and yak fur blankets (the smaller furrier cow cousins are my new favorite animal). It’s almost as if they live in another dimension where they use (what we would call) satellite dishes as kettles, casually stroll a couple of hours for firewood, yet have perfect a wifi signal.
Although Muktinath is spiritual and lovely, the ride from Jomsom to Muktinath personifies the phrase: life is a journey, not a destination. You’ve never felt so small and insignificant, but I mean that in the most beautifully fulfilling way. From shouting off mountains to dancing between the prayer flags to frolicking through elf-sized doors, the journey to and from Muktinath may be the most fulfilling three hours I’ve ever spent.