image from own source
If you’re after a heart-pounding solo adventure, a motorcycle ride of a couple of thousand km right across Nepal, why not consider a trip to Rara Lake in its remote Western part?
Most people know that Nepal is home to Mount Everest. But maybe less known is the fact that the world’s highest peak lies in a country that barely spans a few hundred kilometers north to south. It’s a testimony to its unique, scrunched-up topography of incredibly challenging terrain — an endless jumble of hills, rugged mountains, and steep gorges.
Navigating your motorcycle to Lake Rara isn’t easy as it takes you straight through this beautiful natural mess.
Most of the roads across the tiny country are still in deplorable condition and require resilience and skills in mad traffic. Remote areas like Lake Rara continue to be challenging to get to. Only a few men and even fewer women have dared to journey to the lake on a motorcycle.
So this ride really isn’t for the faint-hearted. But therein lies the challenge some of us simply seek.
The magic between Nepal’s many flaws
The traffic is insane along the only westbound arterial road that takes you out of Kathmandu. This first stretch nearly boots you off your bike. You get stuck behind old trucks that blast jet-black soot straight into your face while reckless driving on twisty roads makes for heart-stopping moments. The never-ending pollution clouds your goggles and your initial enthusiasm in no time.
No doubt, the start is brutal.
But the rewards come thick and fast once you get out of the congested valley. On the first 600 km westwards, Nepal shows off its magnificence as if on a silver platter:
You follow rushing rivers on roads skillfully winding along their banks, catch glimpses of the Himalayas, with their snow-capped peaks skimming through nearby forests, and cross through national parks, which cover part of the pancake-flat southern Terai.
Intimidating signboards warn you about the danger of some severe wildlife, including elephants and tigers.
A startling moment if you’re riding by yourself.
The easier winks
Without time pressure, I was cruising along through sunny days, stopping somewhere in nowhere and often enjoying random chats with locals along the way. Thanks to an extended stay in Nepal years ago, I still master the local language well enough to get by without a problem.
And if you’re not too fussy with food, you’ll get along just fine on this less touristy route. Nepal’s national dish called “daal bhaat (rice with lentils and vegetables) is always cooking somewhere on a local stove. It’s reasonably priced (including refills until full) and heavenly tasty. Even more so, if you can manage to eat with your hand, which many Nepalis still favor over cutlery.
And it is like rocket fuel that gets through some exhausting riding days.
The unforgiving highway
Once you hit the final 300 kilometers which follow the famous Karnali Highway things change dramatically. It is the western region’s significant and only traffic route. Named after the Karnali River, it remains one of Nepal’s most extreme and, in parts, hazardous roads. A scattered on-off-mess, with relics of former road surfaces sticking out here and there.
Karnali Highway is pretty much single-laned despite traffic that would require two. As a result, motorists often witness hair-raising reversing and overtaking maneuvers on dizzying slopes just inches away from serious cliffs.
The tiniest mistake can end deadly.
Dust, dust, and ever more dust — it’s perhaps the biggest challenge on this mountainous highway as it meanders up and down through countless tiny roadside wards. It relentlessly wraps around humans and nature like a second skin. Locals simply shrug their shoulders while patiently waiting for the tarmac to arrive at their doorstep one day.
I had little time to enjoy the surroundings. Though the going was slow, my gaze remained glued to the road in constant search of the best track across slippery sands, gravel, mud, or waters.
The grand arrival that wasn’t
Final stop Rara. It dawned when I finally got off the bike after a strenuous day’s ride. Cold, tired, and with terrible shoulder aches, I was looking forward to a hot shower and a comfy bed. I was demoralized to find out that the shore of the lake was still several kilometers away from where I had to park the bike.
I was loaded onto a ramshackle pony along with my motorcycle gear. “The very last stage,” a skinny horseman promised while he smiled at me crookedly as we trotted off into the darkness. When we finally reached the lakeside accommodation two hours later, it was pitch black. What welcomed me was a taste of long bygone times.
The iconic (and only) lakeside hotel turned out to be no more than a basic shed beneath peeling green paint with small openings masked by thick foil. After the first whiskey, my initial distaste melted into acceptance in no time. I was too exhausted to resist, anyway.
And never had a razor-thin mattress and a cold shower felt more satisfying than in this scruffy little lodge.
The jewel at last
Lake Rara is probably one of Nepal’s remotest and most inaccessible destinations. But it plays a vital role in the life of the Hindus. Every devotee is said to have visited the lake at least once in their life. Nepal’s largest lake, which swallowed part of the royal family many years ago in a tragic helicopter crash, lies tucked away and deeply buried in between the rugged mountains of Mugu.
At 3,000 meters, it’s pleasantly cool up here after the suffocating heat of the lowlands. The scent of the pine trees encircling the lake like guards in a kingly place keeps wafting through the air. Blissful silence hovers over the lake, only occasionally interrupted by the steady beat of horse hooves cantering along its sandy shores.
The tranquility at Rara is heartwarming and a stark contrast to the business of the regions you need to cross to get to the lake. As if time stood stands still, which allows the onlooker to immerse in the lake’s exquisite serenity. There is nothing left to do but enjoy it moment by moment.
With a quench of courage
Although the ride to Rara has fantastic sights, it is not Nepal’s most scenic route. But in terms of the challenge, yes, it’s probably way up the top of the list. For several hundred kilometers, it’s an ordeal with severe climbs and drops. You keep disappearing in clouds of annoying dust while you ride close past dizzying spells that will have your heart hammering your throat several times a day.
And you may face the urge to turn around and give up. Ultimately, it takes a quench of courage to keep pushing until you reach the final biking point.
Something you can’t test carefully, but is hugely liberating once you do.
Without gathering courage at times, we may miss out on some of life’s the most extraordinary journeys. Journeys that teach us what we’re capable of once we overcome fears and self-limiting beliefs.
Truth is, I got hooked!