If you like a challenge, mountain biking and big, big mountains, Nepal is the right place for you. We decided it was the right place for us, as we bikepacked a loop from Kathmandu, around the famed Annapurna Circuit trekking route, and back to Kathmandu via the Chitwan National Park jungle.
Where in the world is the Pamir Highway, and why would you want to go there on a bike?
If you are a pub quiz nerd with an interest in former Soviet republics, you already know. But for the rest of us, the Pamirs are a central Asian mountain range squished between the Hindu Kush, Tian Shan and Himalaya mountains.
Wet, hungry, and far from home. Soggy clothes, soaked shoes and grumbling tummies. After riding all morning through the tail of a typhoon, we didn't want to slosh into a Japanese restaurant in that state. I tried drying out by standing under the vent outside the kitchen. I wrung out my shirt and socks. I got no drier, but now I smelled of noodles.
What do you do in the middle of the mountains when two large, thuggish Chinese men get out of a car and stride purposefully towards you? You smile and say thank you for the stale bread and peaches they are offering you! Never before on a cycle tour have I benefited from so much food and encouragement.
Hero Cycles is the world's largest manufacturer of bikes, spitting out a whopping six million a year. You're unlikely to find one at your local bike shop but as any seasoned traveller can attest, they are the 'people's car' of India.On previous trips I had mused about touring local-style around the sub-continent. Eventually I ran out of excuses and abandoned my quiver of bicycles in New Zealand in favour of a sturdy Hero.
I woke early. Having spent the past week bedridden with a raging fever, I was eager to leave Chitral's dusty streets. As I cycled through the bazaar on my way out of town, I passed the day's slaughter being brought to market. Cuts of meat lay in rusty wheelbarrows.
When my partner Pam mumbled "cycle touring" between gulps of rough red, I waited for the previously hinted at trip through Arthur's Pass to resurface. But no, Myanmar was now on the radar.
Picture yourself on an empty mountain road. Limestone peaks stretch all the way to the horizon. The sun is shining. There are villages every fifty kilometres, where you can refuel on tasty noodle soup for less than a dollar. As you cycle through villages, kids run out and cheer you like a Tour de France rider with a hearty "Sabaidee!"
The first thing you notice about Tibet is its assault on all previous conceptions of scale. The plateau is endless, the mountains massive, and it's capped by a piercing, limitless sky that by 9am has bleached every colour out of the landscape.
Me, my bike and an empty mountain road. I was seduced by the idea of cycling across the Indian Himalaya back in 1992 when I took a two-day bus trip from Leh to Manali. Eight years later my dream came true. As the locals say, "shanti, shanti" - slowly, slowly.