RICE

ASIA, UNFILTERED

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Nepal was always one of those #liveauthentic places I’d ooh and aah at on Instagram, but was never intrigued enough to craft a tangible plan around.I also live in a bubble that provides me hot water and stable wifi.

Then one day in April, I chanced upon a Facebook event calling for people interested to cycle in Nepal in December.

Organised by tiny local cycling interest group, No Head Wind Please, the 7-day itinerary promised a mix of mountain biking, road cycling and culture immersion. It sounded equal parts spontaneous and mad and something my mother would disapprove — I was sold.

I didn’t quite know what I was in for, but uncertainty is the best part of spontaneity.

Getting our bicycles fitted the day before our first ride.
Practising our balancing act in an empty courtyard, one of the very few in Thamel
For starters, landing in Kathmandu, we were hit with colour, chaos and a lot of dust. The intensity of Nepal’s capital was a shock to the senses, but it only took a few hours before I was inhaling carbon monoxide like a pro.

For two nights, we stayed at our guide’s village in Phujel, Gorkha, which hadn’t seen tourists before. Once again, I was left breathless. This time, by the hospitality of the villagers and serenity and grandeur of the mountains, a stark juxtaposition to city life merely a few days ago.

Our humble abode in Kathmandu: Hotel Gallery Nepal.
The streets of Thamel, Kathmandu explode with colours and textures, sounds and smells.
MissioNepalssible: Taking a photo with clear roads.
The ridiculously flavourful vegetarian momo (similar to guo tie) was our staple.
It’s easy to develop serious FOMO when the Himalayas are someone’s actual backyard view, but I soon remembered life in the countryside is charming for a day, less so for a lifetime. “They have so little but are so happy” was a common but reductive observation. I say give me wifi and convenience any day.

Every time I think I’ve seen the most beautiful landscape in Nepal, I turn around and another proves me wrong.
Even their roadside pit stops boast colour palettes out of a Wes Anderson film still.
Living quarters in tiny Gurkha district.
Beauty as far as the eye can see.
Bustling morning markets in Manakamana, Gurkha.
Stall owners openly lay out their sumptuous fare in Manakamana, Gurkha.
If you think cycling at East Coast Park remotely prepares you for mountain biking, talk to me again after your first uphill climb on rocky, unpaved roads murders your calves. And that’s just to push your bike to the starting point.

Crossing a river on Day 1 of mountain biking.
While cycling, we passed a group of villagers harvesting millet who were just as surprised to see us.
A grandmother who gamely picked up her grandchild when she saw my camera.
Overflowing baskets of oranges are a common sight in the streets of Manakamana.
Simple instant noodles with egg, cooked by our guides on a humble village stove during our pit stop on Day 2 of cycling.
At our home stay in Phujel, Gorkha, our hosts cooked and killed our dinner for us.
It’s okay, I told myself, sweat dripping into my eyes. This was exactly why I wanted to come. I wanted to challenge myself! I wanted to push myself out of my comfort zone! I needed to grow! To find myself! After 50 metres, however, the voice in my head sounded more like a deranged motivational poster than a soothing pep talk.

The thing about challenging yourself is even you aren’t completely aware of your own limits. Yet, thanks to ego, delusion or a mix of both, you push on to discover them.

A half-complete school undergoing reconstruction after the 2015 earthquake tore it down.
A roadside provision shop has everything villagers need.
Locals helping me look for my future husband. Lol jk - they are looking for a snake instead. Apparently it’s good luck to witness one in the waters near the Pashupatinath Temple.
Enticing locals and tourists with colourful beads and charms along the road to Pashupatinath Temple.
Fortunately for my legs and sanity, our small group of seven also spent much down time learning about Nepali culture and language, and building newfound friendships with our Nepali guides and each other. By the end of the trip, we were teasing each other like old friends — a pleasant ending befitting an unexpected trip.

A majestic view as reward for surviving 10km of off-road cycling.
We gave bottles of bubble solution to kids in the Phujel village, and in return they gave us the joy that comes from giving.
Every time I think I’ve seen the most beautiful landscape in Nepal, I turn around and another proves me wrong.
On our descent from a mountain, we stumbled upon a wedding celebration. Of course the tourists from out of town were invited in. Ah, Nepali camaraderie.
Call me heartless but while my friends were already missing the country before we even left, I guess I never see the need to over sentimentalise nor force some deep revelation from vacations. But particularly from this one.

After all, the essence of spontaneity is a simple exercise in letting life happen to you, taking each moment for what it is.

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