What do a group of young Kathmandu printing press workers do on long weekends: a) stay home and watch Hindi movies on cable, b) stay home and play cards, c) hang around the Bagmati Bridge and watch the world go by. The answer is: d) none of the above.
Ram Tuladhar, Krishna Hari Magar, Sita Ram Gurung, Man Bahadur Gurung, Raju Shrestha, Sunil Babu Dhungana, Suren Shrestha, Puran Nagarkoti, Shyamu Joshi, Prahlad Thapa Magar, Kapil Budathoki, Nar Bahadur Gurung, Sanu Babu Tamang are names that represent a cross-section of Nepal. And they are all colleagues at a printing press in Patan who are bike aficionados. Every chance they get, they're off to see the world. Well, not exactly. They're off to see Nepal.
Inspired by the Nepali round-the-world cyclist, Pushkar Shah, who is currently somewhere in South America, the group has bicycle-trekked roundtrip from Kathmandu to Trisuli, Kodari, Gorkha, Pokhara and Narayanghat. They have even done the gruelling Kathmandu-Hetauda Tribhuvan Highway via Daman.
"People along the highways are not used to seeing Nepalis on long bicycle tours," says 30-something Ram Tuladhar, "village children along the way call us 'Nepali kuire'."
So far, the tours have lasted four to five days with up to ten hours of bicycling every day. Some days are easy, like coasting downhill all the way from Dhulikhel to Dolalghat. But others are strenuous and need tremendous muscle power, like the Mugling to Thankot stretch.
At tea shops along the way, locals are surprised that it is possible to go such long distances on bicycle, and even more astonished that the "tourists" are working class Nepalis like them.
"Many people ask us why we take all the trouble if no one is paying us to do it," says Sanu Babu Tamang, "they are puzzled when we say we're just doing it for fun." Many of their friends and relatives have warned the bicyclists that it may be dangerous to do these tours at times like these.
"Some told us the police would harass us, but the policemen have all been friendly. They warned us that the army would stop us, but soldiers have never bothered us. Others warned us about Maoists, but we haven't yet met a single Maoist on the trails," says Ram, seen rounding a hair-pin bend on the Kodari Highway in the photo above.
The group's next ambition is to do a 1,200 km tour from Mechi to Mahakali right across the length of Nepal.
Says Sanu Babu: "When you are pedalling, one thing that strikes you is that in Nepal, it is up and down all the way. Everytime you have an easy donwhill, you know that sometime, somewhere, there will be a hard uphill."
Sounds like life itself.