• Riding in Pokhara. (Steve Thomas)Source: Steve Thomas
When it comes to mountain biking there simply can be no challenge higher than the Himalayas, and the Nepalese city of Pokhara could well be considered the capital of Himalayan fat tyre adventure, as Steve Thomas finds out.
Steve Thomas

Cycling Central
13 Nov 2017 - 8:28 AM 

It had taken a snip under 20-years for me to finally make the return trip to Nepal. An ill-fated late 1990’s trip, followed by two recent near misses that resulted in the loss of flights all factored in, but finally, and on something of a last minute whim I made it.

Pokhara had been my aim the first time around, but sickness forced me out of action, and I’d vowed ever since to visit and ride out of this famous lakeside town, which sits at the feet of the mighty Annapurna range of mountains, some of the highest and most dramatic mountains in the world.

Needless to say, things have changed some during that two-decade pause, in just about every conceivable way. Mountain biking was still very much in its infancy then, and I was amazed just how well developed and high-end it’s become in Nepal, and quite fittingly Pokhara has earned its self the label of Nepalese (and probably Himalayan) mountain bike central, and it’s not hard to see why.

You don’t have to ride far out of town to find yourself on great trails – all natural and without the frills of the manmade trails of the major western resorts. Here it’s all old school, and so is the approach. Uplifts are a rarity (but can be arranged), this is real down to earth trail riding, with a natural enduro slant to it.

Many mountain bikers come here on fully packaged tours, which take on the classic but gruelling Annapurna Circuit, the high rise trails of nearby Mustang, or to ride from Kathmandu to Pokhara. Those who come solo often cut their teeth (or return after organised options) on the endless lower altitude trails that weave around the hillsides surrounding Pokhara and the Fewa Lake, which is on the edge of town.

Here you will find Alpine style trails and great circular routes that can be tackled in a single day without the need for backup, making them ideal for those looking for pure riding fun with a chain-slapping backdrop.

The town is also really well facilitated, and highly budget-friendly, so it’s an easy place to spend a few days, or much longer. From Pokhara the fat tyred world really is your oyster; from rolling all day rides to remote multi-week adventures and expeditions into the highest peaks on the planet. It really does not come much better than this.

Be sure to add Pokhara towards the top of your bucket list, but be wise with your timing and preparation (see below).

Getting there
From Kathmandu to Pokhara is best done by internal flight. There are various airlines and many flights on this route every day at around US$120 each way (35-minutes). It is possible to take a bus or minibus, which takes around 9-hours from KTM-Pokhara. This is much cheaper (around US$25), but is often uncomfortable and cramped. Pokhara airport is just a 5-minute cab ride from the main Lakeside area of town, where most guesthouses and eateries can be found.

Visas and permits
If you can get to a Nepal Embassy to get a visa in advance that’s great, but for most nationalities, visas up to three-months duration are available at the airport on arrival, but it can be a slow process. Be sure to have US dollars to pay for visas, and also always have a stash of recent passport photos. To enter the Annapurna or Mustang region you will need a TIMS permit, which can be obtained in Pokhara.

When to go
Weather and conditions vary dramatically throughout the year, and in different regions of Nepal. Peak season for tourism is October-May, with a lull around Christmas time. June-September is monsoon time, and not great for visiting Pokhara. Air pollution is becoming a serious issue throughout Nepal, especially after long dry spells, when forest fires flare up. Based on my personal experience the prime time for Pokhara is from September-November, after that you could strike unlucky with air pollution (as I did), although a good rain will clear things for a week or so at a time.

Backup plan
Straight out of town you have some superb trails of just about every grade - all natural and not too high rise. It is also the gateway to some of Nepal’s best riding – with Mustang being less than half an hour of flying time away it makes for a great base. Pokhara is very well set up for bikers, with Pokhara Mountain Biking leading the way in all aspects. The company is very much dedicated to all-mountain with some XC as a backup. They have some great guides, top range western rental bikes and full backup too, you really do need to hook up with these local experts to at least find your feet.