Kathmandu is not the best place to be based if you’re planning to do much biking around the valley. For rides toward the south, you’ll make a cleaner escape from the traffic by staying in Patan. The highly rideable eastern valley and rim routes are best explored from Bhaktapur, Nagarkot, Dhulikhel or Panauti.
Shivapuri National Park
Shivapuri National Park, which afforests Kathmandu Valley’s northern rim, offers some superb possibilities. The scarcely used network of dirt roads begins right at the Budhanilkantha entrance. The road to the left snakes generally westwards for at least 15km, at which point the hill resort of Kakani is only about 2km further east along the ridge by a trail with some challengingly technical sections (some carrying required). This ride is more enjoyable from Kakani to Budhanilkantha. For a shorter loop starting and ending in Budhanilkantha, ride to the Tokha Hospital and then descend along a steep, sandy road.
The road to the right (east) of the Budhanilkantha gate contours and climbs out of the valley, passing the monastery of Nagi Gompa and reaching the watershed’s easternmost point at Jhule after about 20km. From Jhule you can bike southwards to Nagarkot, or make a jarring, stone-paved descent to the valley floor at Sankhu, a ride of 45 to 60 minutes. Alternatively, you can stay on the park road for another 8km beyond Jhule, rounding the Shivapuri ridge and reaching Chisapani, a village on the main Helambu trekking trail, from where you can cycle the long way to Nagarkot. Along this route, accommodation is available in Mulkharka, Chisopani, Chauki Danda and, of course, Nagarkot.
Nagarjun Ban variations
Nagarjun Ban, an annexe of Shivapuri National Park, offers wilderness-style riding under a beautiful canopy of trees – though there have been a few attacks on tourists, so solo riders are usually prohibited for safety reasons. Seek local advice before committing to the following rides through the park.
Entering via the southern gate, you embark on a challenging 18km ascent on a jeep trail; the last 2km increases in gradient to reach a final elevation of 2096m. The return trip to the north gate is an additional 12km via a less established trail.
A marvellous section of trail leads to Nagarjun’s western entrance from Sitapaila, a village west of Swayambhunath. Contouring high above the Mahesh Khola, this sometimes narrow single-track provides excellent riding for intermediate and advanced riders. The road beyond Ichangu Narayan, a temple northwest of Swayambhunath, links with this trail beyond the village of Baralgaun. Once in the forest park, keep to your left and you’ll come out at the northern gate, on the main road to Kakani.
Another way to get to or from Nagarjun is via Tokha, a well-preserved village reached by trail from the Ring Road at Gongabu. From Tokha you can proceed in a north-northwest arc along excellent undulating dirt trails and through traditional villages all the way to the southern gate. Even if you skip Nagarjun, this is a great day on the bike, and can be extended all the way east through to Budhanilkantha (roughly 1hr 30min from the southern gate).
The Lele Valley
The Bungamati, Chapagaun and Godavari roads provide the backbones for some easy loops through the southern valley (see The square). For something a bit harder and longer, head east from Chapagaun past the Bajra Barahi temple (this track eventually meets the paved Godavari road), then strike south on a smaller road that crosses a steep, forested ridge and enters the Lele Valley. From there, you can choose from a number of trails heading south into little-visited hill country. Just south of Tika Bhairab, a rough road ascends to more than 2000m at Tinpani Bhanjyang before descending via Bhattedanda and Makwanpurgadhi to Hetauda and the Terai. Conditions are highly variable, however, and there’s no bridge over the Bagmati, so you won’t be able to get right through during the monsoon.
The Lakuri Bhanjyang
The 30km road connecting Patan with Panauti is a superb intermediate-level ride that can be done in either direction. From Patan, ride out of town on the road past Sundhara and the Eastern Stupa. The first section to Lubhu, a brick-making and hand-loom centre 6km beyond the Ring Road, is busy and uninteresting, but the pavement soon peters out and the road climbs as a jeep track before commencing a serious 500m switchback ascent to the Lakuri Bhanjyang. On a clear day, the view of the valley and mountains is splendid. The second half of the ride is a sweet descent through the rural valley of the Bebar Khola and its scattered Tamang, Chhetri and finally Newar settlements to Panauti, where you can spend the night. From there you can link up with Dhulikhel and Namobuddha area rides, on paved or dirt roads.
From Nagarkot the options before you are almost unlimited. Rough roads and trails radiate in all directions: northwest to Sankhu; southwest to Changu Narayan; south to Nala and Banepa; east to Hiuwapati, Sipaghat and Panchkhal; and north to Chisopani and the Helambu trails. However, there are endless forks, many of which lead to dead ends or treacherous descents, so don’t bike alone.
Unless you’re a very strong rider, the ascent to Nagarkot will probably be all you care to do in a day, and in any case you’ll want to spend the night for the views the next morning. Most bike tour operators run popular two-day trips, including transportation up, an overnight stay, and the amazing descent back to the Kathmandu Valley, taking more pleasant back roads.
Dhulikel, Namobuddha and Panauti
Dhulikel is the traditional starting point of a very popular circuit to the Buddhist stupa of Namobuddha and (optionally) on to the Newar town of Panauti. Panauti is perhaps the better starting point nowadays, given the increasing urbanization around Dhulikhel. There is also the so-called Namobuddha circuit, which offers several hours of biking.
The Arniko Highway to the Tibet border
The Arniko Highway from Kathmandu to the Tibet border at Kodari is an adventurous three- to five-day round-trip. The road gets much quieter and better for cycling after heavy traffic turns off at Dhulikhel for the southward road to Sindhuli, Bardibas and the Terai – so consider approaching via Nagarkot, Nala or across the Lakuri Bhanjyang. From Dhulikhel, the Arniko Highway descends 600m and then ascends more than 800m to the border. You can make a fascinating side trip by making uphill off the main highway to Palanchowk, the gateway to further rides down to the Sun Koshi River.
If you want to cross the border on a bike, you’ll have to join a tour. Some companies offer adventurous excursions into and back out of Tibet, notably the so-called “Longest Downhill”, an eleven-day round-trip from Kathmandu that allows you to spend time in Lhasa before you begin the epic drop from Yarle Shungla (Tibet) to Dolaghat (Nepal) – 4380m over 157km.
Trisuli, Kakani and Nuwakot
The Trisuli Road heads northwestwards out of the Kathmandu valley, skirting the hill station of Kakani before plunging nearly 1500m to Trisuli Bazaar and the subtropical valley of the Trisuli River. Kakani is usually considered an overnight ride, since it has (limited) accommodation and mountain views that are best seen in the morning. A tough alternative route to Trisuli avoids the main vehicle road altogether, taking you steeply up through the northwestern side of Shivapuri National Park, over the watershed, then along flatter or descending sections of rough track for about 30km, before a tough final 500m ascent to Nuwakot, perched above Trisuli Bazaar. From Trisuli, rural roads and tracks extend for miles in several directions: east to the historic forts of Nuwakot and beyond, south and then east up the Tadi Khola, west up the lovely Samari Khola towards Gorkha, and north up to the Langtang trailheads.
The Tribhuwan Rajpath
The spectacular and little-used Tribhuwan Rajpath racks up a total elevation gain of more than 1700m from Kathmandu to a cloud-forested pass through the Mahabharat Lek, before descending an even more dizzying 2300m to the Terai.
For a classic two-days-plus loop out of Kathmandu, make for Daman a mountain viewpoint just below the pass. It’s a very long day’s ride up the Rajpath, taking between six and nine hours in the saddle, almost all of it climbing. Even if you’re an expert you’ll want to skip the first traffic-choked, oil-slicked 26km – put your bike on a bus as far as Naubise, where the Rajpath branches off from the main Kathmandu–Pokhara highway. After overnighting in Daman, you can return via Markhu, the Kulekhani Reservoir and Pharping in the southern Kathmandu Valley.
Dakshinkali, Pharping and the Kulekhani Reservoir
The sealed Dakshinkali road strings together some fascinating cultural sights and while the ride out is largely uphill, it’s gradual. The return, of course, is a fine descent. You can explore further – potentially as far as the Terai – on one of two roads (see Cycling in the Terai). The major route, now used by jeeps almost year-round, heads south from the Dakshinkali gate, making for Hetauda – 60km in all from Kathmandu.
The slightly longer and rougher road is better for bikers. It heads broadly west and uphill from Pharping, making for the dam on the Kulekhani Reservoir. From here you can take the road north along the eastern shore to Markhu (1600m), a small, newly built village (with lodges) at the reservoir’s northern extremity. From Markhu, a rough spur road heads northeast for Thankot, on the Prithvi Highway; a longer but better-graded route heads 13km northwest on a good, pine-shaded road to join the Tribhuwan Rajpath 15km north of Daman. From the dam, you can also climb a 1920m pass on the Mahabharat Lek range and head down a steep valley to the historic but now pleasantly sidelined town of Bhimphedi (where there’s more accommodation); from Bhimphedi, a paved road descends to join the Tribhuwan Rajpath at Bhainse, some 8km north of Hetauda, in the Terai.