The next morning when I woke up and stepped out of my tent in the high mountain pastures of Demul village at 4200m, the view that greeted me was simply stunning. In front of me a small collection of square Spitian houses perched on top of a series of rich agricultural terraces hung precariously at the head of a steep gorge. Our planned ride for the day, a thrilling switchbacking 800m descent headed straight down that gorge. The local were a little surprised to say the least, shouting at us as we passed that there was no road that way and the road was broken (meaning that the road was blocked by landslides). We smiled and carried on anyway.
The next couple of hours were filled with switchback after switchback followed by steep stony runs and impossibly tight singletrack. ‘What a way to finish the trip’, I was thinking. The trail was changing its character from moment to moment. One minute the corners would be straightforward, then just on a bit they would suddenly become tight and technical with tricky little drop offs right on the apex of the bend.
On one of the more daring switchbacks, trying to ignore the hundred metre drop to my left, I realised mid-move that it was all going horribly wrong. I was picking up more speed than my brakes could cope with in such a short distance and I decided that the only way to stop this becoming messy and spilling blood all down the mountainside was to throw myself and the bike onto the ground whilst there was still ground around me. I came to a painful sliding stop with my bike hanging over the void, still held on to me by my feet in the clips. Looking around, nobody had seen me, thank god, pride, bike and body still intact, I gave the trail a little more respect after that.
At the bottom of the gorge, we crossed the river on a narrow bridge and continued along on wheel wide singletrack to a short hike up and then more narrow trails to arrive on a wide truck road heading up to Lalung Monastery. I was keen to see at least one monastery during my visit. We were now just kilometres away from the Tibetan border and Buddhism was all around us. At the monastery we took off our shoes and covered our legs and shoulders as a sign of respect and entered the inner temple. Lalung monastery is almost a thousand years old and the walls were covered in paintings and carvings designed to both inspire and put fear into the devout.
Leaving the temple we were asked if we would like to visit the Lama and take tea. I felt privileged to be part of this ancient ritual of giving tea to strangers and sitting on the low benches of the lama’s room took a moment to reflect on the uniqueness of this region. I hoped that I wasn’t the first of an influx of tourists that would change all that. For the riding, the scenery, the unique culture, and the people it would be hard to beat a trip like this. For the ascents, the altitude and the Delhi belly, it would be hard to ignore the pain, but for anyone wanting an ‘out there’ experience it was worth it all.
Even after two weeks on the trail with two people who knew the area pretty well, I came away thinking that we had only just scratched the surface of what was possible in terms of riding. Everywhere we rode, we saw yet more interesting looking singletrack snaking off to who knows where in the distance. For anyone wanting an adventurous trip be that heading out to explore on your own or as part of an organised trip the area has much to so much to recommend it.