DESTINATION: CONQUERING THE
HIMALAYAS WITH HERO MTB
The word Himalayas for most people conjures images of Everest and Nepal, but it is little known that the vast majority of the Himalaya Mountains reside in Northern India; also the home of the HERO MTB Himalaya 7-day stage race (www.mtbhimalaya.com) for the last 11 years. Bikezilla global correspondence Daniel Carruthers was in India for this event and was awed by its grandeur and toughness.
HERO MTB HIMALAYA
It is arguably the toughest MTB race in the world, with this years riders climbing over 15,000m and 690km of hard core riding over every possible terrain including river crossings, single-track, cobble-stones worse than your nightmare ones found in Belgium, nice flowing double-tracks through tall pine-trees, steep rocky bone-jarring descents that require all of your concentration, lost villages with spectators looking on in awe, numerous stray Indian cows in the way, crowds of school kids lined up the trail-side giving riders high-fives or handing over red locally grown apples, never-ending lung busting climbs, and of course numerous sightings of wild monkeys on the road looking like they were ready to pounce on riders for their bananas.
It is billed the premier mountain biking race in Asia, and rightly so with the adventure-filled days riders will face on their journey in the saddle and making new like-minded friends at camp with hot unlimited Masala tea in hand and tasty Indian food in the belly. This event is a true adventure and even more so if you have not experienced Indian culture and food. You have to like Indian food, as that is the main staple for all meals at camp. Many of the top riders present, like Pau Zamora (BUFF) and world no.9 marathon mountain biker Luiz Pinto, saying the event was more of a hard-core adventure and not really a race. The days on the bike are long, with the flag-off at 8.30am and the top three world-class riders finishing the days on average in four hours. The vast majority of riders would be suffering out in the mountains and jungle from five to 10 hours. It is even more challenging for those riders who take longer to complete the arduous route as they have far less time to get organized for the following day.
KING OF THE HIMALAYA
Luis 'Machine' Pinto wins for the second time (first time in 2013). This year 88 riders started with 40 international riders taking part. Only 54 completed the race in full and received the coveted finishers medals. In the women’s category, Catherine Williamson (winner of Cape Epic 2014) won the overall with ex Tour de France rider Reimund Dietzen winning the overall in the Master’s category. In the teams of two category, Nepal riders Ajay Pandit Chetari and Buddhi Bahadur Tamang were the victors and also claimed 150,000 ruppies in prize money of which they donated a quarter to help rebuild Nepal post earth-quake. The most inspirational rider came from Mumbai, farmer Datta Patil, who has attended 10 editions of the race competing barefoot. Imagine conquering the Himalaya mountains over the roughest terrain possible in bare feet. This Mumbai farmer is a legend and has even cycled from Mumbai over 13-days to Shimla several times over the years to race. He has placed on the podium in the Master’s category a number of times.
It was a whirl-wind Indian adventure for myself, landing in mega-polluted Delhi after a Hong Kong flight that was delayed by 10hrs, a quick visit to the Lotus Temple, a serene place to visit in the middle of chaotic packed Dehli that sees 3.5 million visitors annually before jumping on a public bus that would take us on an 11 hour journey and some 1000 mountain bends to reach Shimla, the old RAJ capital that resembled a Swiss village with a distinct middle-eastern flavor and dotted with old English churches. Shimla is also known as the RAJ summer time capital and the small city is jammed packed with interesting British architecture, narrow twisting streets with not one flat road in sight. The streets are also teeming with dogs and monkeys as they seek scavenging opportunities. Shimla is becoming increasingly popular with mountain bikers, as there is a whole fusion of old mule, countless worn villager single trail, and jeep tracks to keep the most avid mountain biker busy for days. If you are not keen on racing, then there are mountain bike tours that can be arranged year round. Having done Mongolia Bike Challenge twice, I now regard the 2015 HERO MTB Himalaya event the toughest adventure I have yet endured but looking forward to experiencing it again in 2016. It is rumoured that the race will go much closer than just a glimpse of the big snow capped majestic Himalaya Mountains.
Special thanks to Daniel Carruthers for the story and photos