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My Kora Challenge: Kathmandu’s annual cycling event goes across Nepal, spreading hopes

Cycle enthusiasts at Biratnagar line up before the left to do their respective Kora challenges.

Manik Bishokarma from Butwal came to Kathmandu to take part in Kathmandu Kora, an annual cycling event, in 2014. As a cycling enthusiast, he was drawn by the idea of the event as he along with a few others came to the capital to participate in the spectacle.

The following year, they wanted to come again, but due to other commitments, they could not. The same thing happened again and again until 2018 when the city’s cycling enthusiasts decided to do it in the city itself.

“It was the practical thing to do as we already had a budding cycling community in the city. It’s been growing ever since,” says Bishokarma.

Since then, the city has hosted it every year in its own manner as the popularity of the event has risen.

Butwal is not the only city where the event has expanded outside Kathmandu. Kathmandu Kora, which began as a charitable event in 2011 with around 35 riders, has expanded from Mechi in the east to Mahakali in the west. This year alone, over 400 people took part in the challenge from places like Jhapa, Biratnagar, Sindhuli, Birgunj, Hetaunda, Dang, Nepalgunj, Surkhet, and Jumla.

Bigger wheels every year

“We always felt it would have gone out of Kathmandu, but we had never thought it would have branched out in this manner,” says Sailendra Dongol, the president of Cycle City Network, who has been integral in organising Kora since it started.

The event had started as a charitable initiative as it supported various organisations, schools and nonprofits. Along with that, it also developed a riding culture among cycling enthusiasts.

“Riding alone was always a thing in the city, but riding in groups wasn’t as big a thing, but Kora helps us promote that more and more people started to cycle,” says Dongol.

From last year, the campaigners have even changed the name of the event from Kathmandu Kora to My Kora Challenge as they felt it was about time they expanded. With other cities wanting to host the event, Dongol and others contacted more cycling clubs around the country to conduct similar events locally.

“A lot of people want to do it. But, for everyone to come to Kathmandu, especially during these times is not practical, which is why we felt it was the right time to take it outside,” says Dongol.

Another reason why they wanted to expand was to go and explore these cities. Having done the same route around the valley in almost every Kora, Dongol says the organisers wanted to go to new cities and cycle new routes and promote these new routes. To make sure that happens, they even changed the name as they wanted to decentralise it.

“We’ve led this route so many times and we needed something different. It’s great that these places have taken the initiation and started it in their cities,” he says.

Same pedalling at different places

The event that started in Kathmandu in 2011 is now observed in most parts of Nepal.

The first city to host this event outside Kathmandu was Pokhara, which also has a really good cycling culture. Soon after, Jhapa, Nepalgunj and Butwal followed suit as the event also reached as far as Jumla. 

Bhumesh Kaphle has been a cycling enthusiast for a while. A doctor based in Jumla, he was always looking for people with whom he could go cycling. But, he never had the chance until he found out about the Kora Challenge taking place in Jumla.

On July 17, Kaphle along with two others cycled from Jumla Bazaar all the way to Tatopani circumambulating the Chandannath temple. They spent the entire day riding as they clocked over 40 kilometres that day, cycling along the banks of the Tila.

As they went past many market areas along the way, people were puzzled about what they were doing. This was only the second time that such an event was happening in Jumla where a group of people, even though small, was riding together.

“This was a fun experience,” says Kaphle. “Three of us started from Jumla Bazaar while six others started their journey from Lamra. We did it differently, but it was quite an enjoyable moment. Hopefully, we can carry on with this tradition every year.”

Kaphle believes that events like these can also help promote the place. He feels that Jumla’s geography is ideal for mountain biking and is hopeful that people from other parts of the country can join in.

His thoughts are echoed by Sanjaya Agrawal who was the focal person for Birgunj’s Kora Challenge. He says despite the short notice, a lot of people joined in as they cycled around 20 km around Birgunj. He hopes this can start a new culture of riding in groups in the city which has some interesting cycling trails.

“We’re going to do this again next year in a more grand manner as we hope to circumambulate Gadhimai (in Bara) and come back. Hopefully, we can spread a message of positivity among the locals who seem to be interested in doing this,” says Agrawal.

Saurav Dhakal, a cycling activist, helped organise the event in Sindhuli this year. He says events like these help promote culture in these cities.

“We cycled around the core city in Sindhuli as people looked on curiously. This is a good start which may be beneficial in the long run,” says Dhakal.

Dongol says he is overwhelmed by the response he got from outside the valley but adds that it would have been better had there been no risk of Covid-19. 

“We didn’t know if the restrictions would be lifted or not. Had we known that it would have, we would have helped more cities in conducting this event,” says Dangol.

My Kora Challenge has also received international attention as a few groups in Singapore and Switzerland observed the event this year.

“The group in Switzerland does an annual circumambulation of Lake Geneva. This year, they did it on the same day we did it here in Nepal, which was quite special,” says Dangol. 

The group, Bike the Lake, is also supporting Cycle City Network Nepal through practical programmes to help promote cycling in Nepal. 

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Pant is a journalist currently working for Onlinekhabar. He writes on movies and music, travel and mountains, and culture among others.

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