Misti Hurst, Kirsten Peck, and Gordon Andrew

Motorcycle Adventuring With Purpose In Nepal

Touring the Himalayas

Arriving in Nepal is like being thrust into the middle of a kaleidoscope, with music blaring. It's an assault on the senses, vibrant, thumping, pungent. An overstimulation of color, noise, and scent, all at once, and I loved it immediately.

Kathmandu, the capital, has a way of reaching up and grabbing your attention instantly. My first moments were jam-packed with pulsating color, people begging and selling and smiling, livestock, vehicles, ramshackle buildings, knock-off North Face trekking gear, spices, dirt, tea, smog. The city pulls you in and hugs you with its beauty, but then almost spits in your face with the brokenness of it all.

In May 2018, through my husband John Parker, I met Scott Falez, creator of a new company called Adventuring with Purpose. His vision is to run motorcycle rallies in Nepal with the intent of raising money for the charity Himalayan Life. All profits go directly toward programs that help transform the lives of destitute children living on the streets, and move them toward a place of "not life, to life." It is exactly as the name implies, motorcycle adventuring with purpose.

electrical wires in Kathmandu
Who wants to be an electrician in Kathmandu?Misti Hurst, Kirsten Peck, and Gordon Andrew

Scott and I instantly connected, and when he invited me to join a group of 11 other Canadians for the "soft opening," or trial run, of his inaugural rally in Nepal, I said yes without pause. Five months later, there I was, full of excitement and anticipation. I couldn't wait to straddle a 400cc Royal Enfield Himalayan and experience riding through the insanity.

But first, a day to settle, get to know my fellow riders, and kick jet lag to the curb by touring Kathmandu. Daniel Burgi, founder and director of Himalayan Life, acted as a guide for the day. Along with Daniel was Suresh Shreemal, the 24-year-old Nepalese rider tasked with organizing bikes, planning, leading routes, and handling some of the logistics of AWP's first official ride. They were an energetic pair leading us weary travelers through winding streets and introducing us to their country.

colorful Kathmandu
Left: Vibrant colors of Kathmandu.
Right: Kaleidoscope of color.
Misti Hurst, Kirsten Peck, and Gordon Andrew

For an authentic tour of the city, we hired rickshaws to carry all 14 of us to the base of Swayambhunath, or “Monkey Temple.” Seven rickety bicycles with teetering carriages stuffed with foreign motorcycle riders as passengers, and suddenly our city tour became a fierce and bumpy race!

We tumbled out, still laughing from our “race” at the foot of a daunting staircase leading up to the temple. Our group marched onward, passing mischievous monkeys stealing chips and snacks from other tourists until we reached the beautiful summit. There we stood, enjoying the soft sounds of prayer flags and bells blowing in the wind, and the scenic view of the city below. Later that evening we were led around the grounds of Pashupatinath, a Hindu temple on the Bagmati River. Each day, on the banks of one side of the river, open-air cremation takes place.

Monkey Temple
Swayambhunath, or “Monkey Temple.”Misti Hurst, Kirsten Peck, and Gordon Andrew

“This is the creepiest place I’ve ever been,” Daniel said with a crooked grin as we choked on the smell of burning bodies and our ears rang with the haunting sounds of prayers, songs, and the stomping of dancing feet.

Pokhara

The next day we flew from Kathmandu to Pokhara, where we were to pick up our motorcycles and begin riding. From the window of the plane I got to see for the first time the stunning Himalayas, towering peaks, rising out of the fog like icy blue diamonds cutting through cotton-candy clouds.

As we neared the city, I spied brownish winding roads cutting through the deep green hillsides below. It looked almost like a child had grabbed a crayon and with clenched fist scribbled some lines that someone then made into a road. These were the same streets that Scott had seen when visiting Pokhara for the first time, the ones that captured his imagination and started the vision of AWP. He wondered what it would be like to ride a motorcycle on them, and there he was months later alongside his friends and family living the dream.

chaotic traffic in Nepal
Alla malla. Chaos that somehow works.Misti Hurst, Kirsten Peck, and Gordon Andrew

Nestled in the valley were splats of purple, red, and blue, like a bunch of Lego blocks had been tossed, forming little houses and two-story buildings everywhere. Colors bursting like someone spilled a giant bag of Skittles.

Soon we were standing in front of Raju’s Bullet Surgery, a small hole-in-the-wall mechanic shop with a scattered row of Royal Enfield Himalayans and 250 Crossfires out front. For the duration of our trip, a jeep, would act as luggage transport and would also carry Raju, our mechanic, and Dr. Rahil as our emergency first responder just in case. Soon we took off on a two- to three-hour practice ride. We were 12 Canadians in a long, awkward line, following Suresh through the hectic streets, trying to remember to stay on the left side of the road.

crowded Nepal traffic and view from plane
Left: If there is a space, a motorcycle or scooter will fill it.
Right: View from the plane heading to Pokhara. These are the roads that captured Scott's imagination and began the vision of Adventuring with Purpose.
Misti Hurst, Kirsten Peck, and Gordon Andrew

Riding in Nepal is chaos, in candy color. There are no apparent rules when driving or riding. There are no signs, and no traffic lights. People and vehicles and bicycles and cows are everywhere all moving and merging and turning and passing and accelerating and stopping. It’s like riding through a video game or water flowing together from multiple streams. It’s anarchy that actually works!

In the crisp darkness of early dawn the following morning 12 motorcycles roared to life and took off for a quick ride up some nice twisty roads to catch the sunrise from Sarankot. While winding and curling up the decently paved road we were teased with glimpses of the white-tipped Himalayas coming to life with the rising sun.

Motorcycle in front of Rajus Bullet Surgery Motorcycle Shop
Day 1 in front of Raju’s Bullet Surgery Motorcycle Shop. Taking the Royal Enfields out for a practice ride.Misti Hurst, Kirsten Peck, and Gordon Andrew

We made it to the lookout, and huffed our way up the steep stairs in all our riding gear just in time to watch the fiery orange ball appear over the hillside and cast a pinkish glow on Fish Tail, a large, diamond-shaped snowy peak. It was absolutely stunning to see the sheer size and beauty of the Annapurna Mountain Range, rising high and mighty into the sky.

We had the most incredible breakfast under the shadow of those mountains, with coffee, Nepali milk tea (spicy, sweet deliciousness), toast, eggs, and the best curry vegetables and potatoes I’ve ever had.

The ride back down was more off-road than pavement, the group doing exceptionally well to maneuver the less-than-nimble Enfields around the winding, rocky dirt trails. It was a short ride day as the schedule had us visiting some of the Himalayan Life facilities that afternoon, the purpose part of the adventure.

Sunrise in Sarankot
Left: Admiring the pretty scenery during the first few hours of practice riding.
Right: Sunrise from Sarankot, just outside of Pokhara. Fish Tail rising high from the Annapurna Mountain Range.
Misti Hurst, Kirsten Peck, and Gordon Andrew

Himalayan Life: Street Kitchen, Recycling Plant, Holistic Shelter

The goal of Adventuring with Purpose is not only to raise and donate money to Himalayan Life but also to allow participants to meet and interact with those who their financial contributions benefit most.

Our first stop was the street kitchen; a drop-in activity center that is the first point of contact for boys who live on the streets, most of them deeply addicted to sniffing glue.

The staff, many of them former street kids themselves, take their time to build trust with these otherwise neglected and shunned children with the ultimate hope that they can convince them to move to the Holistic Shelter. At the shelter, kids and youth find a safe place to live and sleep and, if willing, go to school or learn skilled trades. There they also find people who will nurture and love them.

Himalayan Life recycling plant
Himalayan Life recycling plant, one step of the recycling process.Misti Hurst, Kirsten Peck, and Gordon Andrew

Chanman Shreemal runs the program. He has the best laugh and the brightest, happiest eyes I’ve ever seen. We watched him lead songs and games with the kids, and while I couldn’t understand what he was saying, I could feel his passion and see what an impact he was having on those small human beings. It was an emotional moment, seeing those kids, some of them the same ages as my two children, with empty black eyes and no family to love them. The tears fell fast from my eyes as we toured the streets they call home and later the dirty bridge they sleep under most nights.

Life Is Enjoy

Seeing my sadness, Chanman gave me a fierce hug and said, “Life is enjoy. Life is challenging, yes, life is difficult sometimes, but life is enjoy.” He told me to focus on the positive. Then we visited the shelter.

At the shelter, the feeling was entirely different. We were welcomed with happy, smiling children, standing in a neat line, wearing similarly styled tidy sweaters and clean pants. The biggest difference was that their eyes were bright and shining. At the shelter, they had clean clothes and food, a cozy place to sleep, time for play, and people and toys to play with. They also had access to schools and education. They had a future.

quiet stretch of road and former street kids
Left: A rare quiet stretch of road in decent shape!
Right: Daniel Burgi (founder of Himalayan Life) with Misti and Suresh Shreemal (Nepali guide) with former street kids at the holistic shelter.
Misti Hurst, Kirsten Peck, and Gordon Andrew

While most of the money required to pay for the shelter comes from direct donations to Himalayan Life, staff there have figured out how to make it more sustainable by creating the only recycling plant in all of Nepal to help fund their projects. At the Himalayan Life Plastic PVC Company they collect and recycle some 75 tons of plastic bottles per month. Jobs are given not to those with highest qualifications but to those with the greatest need. They give hope to those who feel lost, and they make money to help continue the cycle. What an incredible display of compassion and ingenuity, recycling not only bottles, but life.

Before we left, Chanman asked me what I thought of Nepal so far, and I said it was crazy and chaotic! He laughed and said, "Alla malla! That means chaos. Everything is alla malla in Nepal!" and our next few days of riding to Bandipur, Daman, Butwal, Chitwan, and back to Pokhara would certainly prove that.

Young boys at Himalayan Life Holistic Shelter
The youngest boys at the Himalayan Life Holistic Shelter. They range in age from eight to 13.Misti Hurst, Kirsten Peck, and Gordon Andrew

The Roads

We were under the impression that we were to be riding on "pavement," but we quickly found out that roads in Nepal aren't anything like roads in North America. Alla malla.

Imagine the tightest road you’ve ever ridden then make it tighter. Add a cliff on one side and some incredible snowcapped Himalayas in the distance. Then put potholes in random places and gravel in the middle of the corners. Make a technical series of switchbacks, and make sure that half the road is missing in the middle of them. Put some piles of sand and a few rivers in the mix, some burning garbage on the side, and then add people everywhere, kids playing on the side of the road or soccer in the middle of the road, and sprinkle it with cows, chickens, turkeys, stray dogs, monkeys, goats, and ducks.

Then, fill the road with nonstop traffic including giant, colourful busses and painted semitrucks that take up the entire road. Add motorcycles, scooters (with entire families on the back), tractors, carts, and tuk-tuks and ensure they all pass whenever possible, or seemingly not possible, and that you have someone coming at you head on around most turns. Make sure a hay bale or bag of rice falls off a truck in front of you at least once and that everything is as colorful and vibrant as possible, but muted by black exhaust fumes and smog. Watch in awe as you see goats walking on the top of a bus while it's moving, then fill your ears with shouting, music, horns blasting, children laughing and your nose with the smell of fresh jasmine, sewer, exhaust, incense, chai, baking, curry and have it all coming at you nonstop for nine hours of riding.

That is essentially how the next few days of riding felt. Exciting, adventurous, fun, and visually overwhelming. Alla malla.

Motorcyclists waiting on herd of Yaks
Left: And, so, we wait…
Right: Yaks are herded down the road while riders search for a place to purchase gas.
Misti Hurst, Kirsten Peck, and Gordon Andrew

Our pavement riding took us from the lakeside village of Pokhara, through the mountainous region of Bandipur and Daman and then into the tropical rainforest of Chitwan and Butwal. Temperatures ranged from 0 degrees Celsius in Daman, where we watched the sunrise over Mount Everest in the far distance, to nearly 38 degrees in the humid valley of Chitwan where we rode elephants and endured a two-hour jungle walk.

After eight days of riding, our “pavement” portion of the trip wound to a successful close as we returned the Enfields and traded them for 250cc Crossfires, Chinese-made dirt bikes, for the three-day off-road portion of the ride.

Off-Road Adventures To Muktinath

In the early morning hours, we left Pokhara once again, this time on new bikes, with a new destination, Marpha, 8,000 feet up. With only one “road” up to the lower Mustang region of Nepal, we were in for a long and wild day.

Motorcyclists at Hotel Bob Marley
Spectacular lunch spot, more than 12,000-foot elevation in Muktinath.Misti Hurst, Kirsten Peck, and Gordon Andrew

Our first stop, a long, narrow suspension bridge where we enjoyed the challenge and exhilaration of riding across it, which for me was one of the scariest things I’ve ever done in my life. Add to that a full day of passing buses and cars and scooters all blundering over a crazy mountain pass. Narrow and rutted and dusty, with a perilous cliff on one edge, the road left us shaking our head in amazement.

At one point, we were delayed behind a flatbed truck that had gotten stuck in deep sand and rotated slightly sideways so the back end was close to dangling off the edge. This meant traffic was blocked in both directions.

No one seemed to get angry in Nepal though. A honk of the horn means simply “I’m here and I want to get by.” If someone gets stuck, then people help to get them unstuck. There is a sense of urgency in that drivers and riders go fast and pass wherever possible, but it’s not driven out of anger or rage, just a common attitude that everyone will get where they are going sooner and without delay if they just pass and honk and flash their lights and keep moving. It’s a system based on trust.

Lower Mustang Valley
Misti appreciates the lunar-like landscape of the Lower Mustang Valley.Misti Hurst, Kirsten Peck, and Gordon Andrew

To clear the vehicle, everyone worked together to put rocks into the back of the truck and behind the wheels to help with traction, and the minute it was able to move a few feet to one side, all the motorcycles and scooters, revved to life and squeezed carefully by.

Another hour or two of riding took place, now in the dark with temperatures dipping and deep river crossings we could scarcely see. By the time we arrived, dirty, wet, tired, and cold, at our rustic hotel in Marpha, we’d been on the road for nearly 12 hours.

The tiny town of Marpha is like someplace straight from a movie. Narrow cobbled streets, with small shacks cut into the rocky mountainside, barren, beautiful, dotted with colorful scarves and blankets for sale, villagers and round-faced children dressed in knock-off puffy jackets with handmade knit hats, crouching in the dirt watching the futuristic band of riders blast by.

Desert scenery in Nepal
Left: Riding on Earth or Mars?
Right: Gordon Andrew points to where we last saw wild horses running in the barren Mustang Valley.
Misti Hurst, Kirsten Peck, and Gordon Andrew

My favorite part of the entire trip came the next day while riding to the village of Muktinath. The land in the lower Mustang region is so vastly different from the valleys below. Tree-less, barren, red-peaked mountains, rocky trails, as if you are riding across the surface of Mars. We enjoyed the best mint lemonade and some yak schnitzel at Hotel Bob Marley, Rasta Rock Restaurant and then purchased some souvenir scarves from a beautiful woman, hand-making them on an ancient loom.

On the ride back we passed yaks being herded down mountain trails and then surprised two majestic wild horses as we roared around a corner, kicking up clouds of red dust. They reared up in fright and for a moment I thought they would charge, but then they turned away and galloped down the trail in front of us. I scrambled to turn on the helmet-mounted GoPro to capture the stunning sight, two horses running free in front of five motorcycles as we wound our way back down to Marpha. The evening peaked when three of us found ourselves sharing locally made plum brandy with Nepalese motorcycle tour guides enjoying their employee appreciation evening in a tiny room with the dance club version of Metallica's "Enter Sandman" blasting into the night.

street kids playing board games
Street kids at the drop-n activity center play a game while Misti looks on.Misti Hurst, Kirsten Peck, and Gordon Andrew

The return ride on the same crazy road we went up was equally and differently exciting. Fraught with a few breakdowns and mechanical issues we literally limped our bikes back to Raju’s shop. For the final hour I rode in the dark, with a snapped clutch cable, stamping through the gears and trying not to stop, challenging in any conditions, but in Nepal? On a bike my feet dangled 6 inches to reach the ground? By the time we safely reached Pokhara, we happily slid off our bikes and ordered rounds and rounds of Nepali Beer to celebrate.

I don't think I've ever been on a more emotionally or visually intense trip than this one, ever. Alla malla. Motorcycles, adventures, children, charity, kindness, friendship, love…it just doesn't get any better than that.

For more information, please visit himalayanlife.com and adventuringwithpurpose.com.