Celebrating the Himalayan Outdoors
When a group of passionate rock climbers, trail runners, mountain bikers, and event managers came together to organise the Himalayan Outdoor Festival eight years ago to combine all three adventure sports, only a few dozen people participated.
Adding camping as an attraction the next year did not help. But as with long-distance running, perseverance paid off. The Festival has now become a firm fixture on the Himalayan adventure calendar, and one of the most anticipated sports event of the year in Kathmandu.
The three-day Himalayan Outdoor Festival (HOF) is an opportunity to welcome back spring for fun amidst nature. This year, the games will be held on Hattiban Ridge from 22-24 February and will have 450 competitors and more than 1,800 visitors.
“I remember in the early years, it was difficult to convince people to participate. But things have changed and more people are now embracing outdoor sports,” says Dipesh Ghaley of HOF.
One milestone that increased the drawing power of the Festival was trail runner Mira Rai’s win in 2014, which propelled her to international popularity, and she was eventually named National Geographic Adventurer of the Year and conferred the Asia Society’s Asia Game Changer Award (see profile, below).
Read also: Mira Rai racing to help other runners, Duksangh Sherpa
Nepal is an ideal destination for outdoor adventure sports. The terrain and the people’s lifestyle is perfect to groom sporting talent.
“Mira’s success and effort has helped popularise trail running, which had been lagging behind rock climbing and mountain biking,” says Ghaley.“But there are other challenges that hold back all three industries to grow and develop.”
It costs around Rs2.5 million to organise a HOF event, and raising money is the main hurdle. Ghaley says: “Till now, the government has not helped out, nor have we expected anything from them.”
HOF categories this weekend are downhill, cross country, eliminator and night uphill in riding, bouldering, dyno and natural in rock climbing, with 5km, 10+K, 20+ K, and night run.
There are other activities like slackline, mini ziplines, horizontal bungee and adventure movie screening. The event is a celebration of Himalayan lifestyles, and attendees can either camp on the hill, or stay at Hattiban Resort.
The Ones to Watch
Like a lot of rural girls in Nepal, Sunmaya Budha has been running up and down mountains all her life. Now, at 21, thanks to support from Mira Rai Initiatives, she is also running in international competitions.
“My dream is to be a celebrated athlete so when I come back after winning international marathons I want the media to come to congratulate me at the airport,” says the 21-year-old, her eyes gleaming.
Budha is now following the footsteps of Mira Rai and participating in ultra-marathons and races in Hong Kong, China and France and set good records. She became the Asian Skyrunning Champion in Hong Kong in 2017 and came 10th in the Golden Trail Series, Marathon Du Mont-Blanc in France last year.
She is now training hard for this year’s Golden Trail Series in Spain. Besides winning races, Sunmaya has won hearts of many international athletes and even been in a cover of Esprit Trail magazine in France.
Sunmaya Budha comes from a family of farmers in remote Jumla with six sisters and a brother. Her parents were once skeptical even when Nepal’s marathoner Hari Bahadur Rokaya started coaching her. But they are now her biggest fans.
Mira Rai is the prime mover behind the Himalayan Outdoor Festival that launched her career. She helps organise the Kathmandu Trail Race, encouraging beginners. Every year, she holds a trail race in her home district of Bhojpur to give a platform for local runners to run in the Gurkha Trailblazer Race in Hong Kong which held its fourth edition last week.
Her ambition is to organise a Nepal Trail Race Series in Bhojpur, Jumla, Rukum, Sindhupalchok, from which top 10 runners will be selected to run in one of the most rigorous Himalayan runs, the Annapurna Marathon in the autumn.
In 2018 Rai set up the Mira Rai Initiative to support five gifted young female athletes, Sunmaya Budha from Jumla (above), Rasila Tamang from Dhading, Chhechi Sherpa Rai from Solukhumbu, Chhoki Sherpa from Okhaldhunga, and Humi Buda Magar from Pyuthan.
Rai is taking a break as she recovers from ligament surgery she had in December in France.
Swastika Chaudhary has come a long way since growing up with her parents, who were garment factory workers.
As a scout at 16, she participated in a wall climbing competition in Kathmandu. She did not win, but the sport fascinated her. “I cannot think of anything else to do in life but sports climbing,” says the 19-year-old who has given up law school.
Chaudhary has so far taken part in 20 climbing competitions, three at the international level. She supports her climbing expenses from cash prizes, works as a climbing instructor at Ladies Mountain League, and is also sponsored by Rajesh Lama at LaMa Walks.
Shy and of a small built, Chaudhary is grateful to her parents and neighbours in Nawalparasi for believing in her and supporting her passion.
Pancha Maya Tamang
Pancha Maya Tamang, 19, was always interested in sports. Being the youngest sibling, Tamang was free to follow her passion. At 13, her brother introduced Tamang to rock climbing, and since then there has been no looking down.
She has participated in over 30 rock climbing competitions, eight international. She tops in local and national levels, and is training hard to perform better in global arenas. She came eighth out of 25 at a tournament in China, and won a bronze in the Female Junior Lead in Asian Youth Sport Climbing Championship in Singapore in 2017.
When she is not in college she can be found on the Astrek Climbing Wall in Thamel. She says: “I want to get the best international training in sport climbing, compete in more competitions around the world and promote the sport in Nepal.”