For Mangal Lama, the Great Himalayan Trail has been nothing but an obsession. That is all that he thinks and dreams about, and it is also the very thing that keeps him awake at night. The 37-year-old plans to become the first to cycle the entire upper route of the trail, but he is yet to find sponsors or any support.
Despite that, he is adamant. There is a drive in his voice and a gleam of hope in his eyes which show that regardless of the funding, he is going to go live his dream and rip through the trail around the highest parts of the world.
“This has been on my mind for a few years now. No one has ever done it and I want to be the first,” says Lama.
Over the course of history, many have done the Great Himalayan Trail. Some have even bicycled the lower route of the trail. But, no one has done so along the trail’s higher route that goes up as high as 6,100 metres. That is what Lama wants to do and he wants to do it in a record-breaking fashion.
The cycle of Lama’s life
Lama has been in the cycling trade for the past 15 years and it has been a few years since he has been thinking about cycling along the Great Himalayan Trail.
Starting off from the bottom, Lama has toiled hard to get where he is in life. Born in Kakani, a few kilometres away from Kathmandu, he was fascinated by bicycles from an early age as he, along with his friends, would run behind tourists who came to his village as a part of their bicycle tours. But, never had he felt that he would one day be guiding tourists around the country.
“I wasn’t great at studies and was neither going to school nor working, so my elder brother found a job in Thamel at a bicycle shop. I’ve not looked back since.”
The start was not easy. He hardly earned enough and was mostly asked to clean the bikes that had been out. He loved these bikes and wanted to ride them. But, the owners of the shop were not keen on that and forbade him from doing so.
“I used to reach the shop early, go biking and come back before the owners arrived and cleaned the bike like it wasn’t used.”
Soon, he started to learn about mountain bike races and wanted to take part in them. His first was the Damauli – Bandipur race back at the end of 2006 when he stood third. This was with his training in a laid back manner. That gave him the drive to work harder because he knew that if he worked hard, he could do a lot better.
“I even bought a bike and started to train after that podium finish.”
In 2007, he went to Sikkim to race. He had quit his job and taken loans from his friends to go take part in the race. No one had given him a chance, but he defied all odds and won. That opened a lot of doors for him.
Following that, Lama took part in many races finishing on the podium on most of them, but he knew that racing alone would not be a sustainable career choice.
“Despite racing, I started guiding almost full time. This gave me the chance to travel to many areas with people from all across the globe and helped sustain me and my family.”
A great plan for the Great Himalayan Trail
But, the past two years have not been kind to Lama. Work is scarce due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and now, he wants to use the time to do something he has been dreaming of for the past few years: cycling along the Great Himalayan Trail.
“I want to take this time to go explore and see if it is possible to bike along the Great Himalayan Trail. If I can do that, maybe a niche crowd will come to Nepal to do this specific route.”
If he manages to do it, he will be the first to do the Great Himalayan Trail on wheels and create a record. But, he is not after the record. This trail is his one true calling, something, he says, he needs to do. Maybe it is to prove to himself or to others that he has still got what it takes.
To prepare for this gruelling adventure that can take anything between two to three months, Lama is training himself both mentally and physically. Although he has not been out on the trails preparing for the trip as he is busy looking for sponsors, Lama goes to the gym and works on his physical fitness because he knows how challenging it is going to get through the Great Himalayan Trail.
He needs to get ready for the altitude as he will be mostly above 3,500 metres. Along with that, he will need to be able to battle the snow that is sure to fall at one point in his journey. And, lastly, he will also need to know how to read the map.
“I will need to be extra careful around the far western part of Nepal because I’ve been told that there are high chances of getting lost. This is why I’m planning to take some wilderness training and map reading training so that I can be prepared for the worst.”
Opportunities amid challenges
Lama also wants to hit the trails as soon as possible so that he can best prepare for the many new downhills and uphills that he will need to take to conquer the Great Himalayan Trail. But, that is not what he is worried about now as the major part right now will be funding.
As of now, there has been little to no support from Nepal or abroad. The only people who have supported so far are Everest Outfit with its lightweight sleeping bags and jackets. But, to achieve what he wants, he needs more help.
He wants to document his travels along the Great Himalayan Trail in order to inspire a new age of mountain bikers in and away from Nepal. But, that will need funds. He is also talking to many cycle brands asking for support, but none have come forward so far.
“People in Nepal tell me how good this is, but no one has pledged to support me on this endeavour. It’s okay though because I’ll do this with or without their help.”
Even though there are a lot of businesses that will gain from his Great Himalayan Trail achievement, help is scarce and that is surprising to Lama. Having been on numerous tours, he knows how much of a challenge people are into when mountain biking like and this, the Great Himalayan Trail, is going to be the biggest challenge.
But, he wants to make the route commercial so people from all over the world come and enjoy it.
“My end goal is to conduct a race along the Great Himalayan Trail and invite all the racers out there. This race will be the longest, highest and hardest. But most importantly, this race will be fun.”
All photos: Mangal Lama