KTM ProXP Upper Mustang Adventure Ride Experience

  • Jul 3, 2023
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We head to the forbidden kingdom of Lo Manthang in Nepal with the KTM 390 Adventure

For a traveller a bucket list is something you always cherish, it’s something that gets you going, it’s something that motivates you to relentlessly pursue the goal. Some bucket lists are meticulously planned and dreamed, while others just happen by a chance encounter. Like most escapades in life, my trip to Nepal in 2016 was full of surprises as I have a habit of not researching my destination. I always want the journey to amaze me, startle me or even question my decision. The 2016 trip was a cathartic experience, and when I left Nepal, I made a promise to myself that I will be back. The reason for that was one unfinished dream, the desire to summit Upper Mustang on a motorcycle. And 7 years down the line, I found myself aboard the KTM 390 Adventure and a bunch of intrepid riders to culminate something which was long pending in my bucket list. 

The Initial Itch 

While the ride was supposed to start officially from Kathmandu, the Indian riders commenced their journey from Gorakhpur, UP. Few riders knew each other as they had ridden in previous KTM ProXP rides, but a majority of the riders were alien to all. However, as is the case with bikers, it didn’t take much to break the ice and most of the riders got talking to one another from the get go. Once we reached Kathmandu, 11 riders from Nepal joined us and it was interesting to see the varied background of riders. Same was the case with India riders as we had a mix of IT professionals, commercial photographers, sales consultant and even someone who has worked as a contractor with the Indian Army! It took me some time to understand the riding pattern and style of my fellow riders, but then again most of them were experienced riders so the going was smooth. 

The Challenge

Since this was the KTM ProXP Adventure Ride, tarmac was avoided like the plague by the lead rider. So while we could have taken the easier and shorter route to our destination, we chose the long way around. Our first taste of off-road riding wasn’t too far as we broke away from the highway on our way to Pokhara, rode over a swinging suspension bridge to then ride through a trail. The trail included steep inclines and loose pebbles and boy was it challenging! If that wasn’t enough, the sweltering heat drained every ounce of energy. I somehow managed to make it to the top, but the majority couldn’t and it was kind of a reality check for many. The ride hadn’t even started and it seemed many had faltered in the first challenge itself..

Test Of Mettle

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It was decided that riders will be given two options to ride to Lete (Lower Mustang). The first option was to stick to the highway and the latter was to take the trails. While the mood during breakfast was tense, the riders who had fallen on the previous day showed tremendous courage and opted for the trails. Which meant we were gonna tackle the hardcore tracks, and boy was it a great call. 

The trails were challenging to say the least, many bikes got stuck, few riders fell, but none gave up and all soldiered on. Apart from the riders, credit goes to the KTM Expert riders who not only helped us learn new techniques of off-road riding but also were there to help the fallen riders, boosting our morale. As we kept climbing, the views of the valleys kept on getting prettier, and we were overjoyed that we took the trails. While we enjoyed riding off the beaten path, the taxing journey meant that we had to complete the second half of the ride to Lete in darkness. 

Riding on such rough roads in daylight proved to be a daunting task, but this was turning the knob of difficulty to the max. At this juncture, it dawned on me what will power and survival instincts in a human being can achieve. There was hardly any visibility, dust engulfed the path, while sharp bumps and boulders caught you by surprise every few minutes. To make matters worse it was cold and there were a few water crossings, the chill of which ensured none of us were sleepy. Every rider fought their demons and emerged victorious as we reached Lete pretty late in the night. We were exhausted, but we were more relieved, this would be one unforgettable ride. 

Going forward, it was all about gaining altitude and the terrain kept on getting rougher. What made the climb worthwhile were the vistas - this part of Nepal is remote and absolutely gorgeous. From swirling tracks that hug the mountains, pristine lakes made by glacial waters to the absolutely stunning Himalayas, it was a splendid spectacle. And we were closing in on our destination, Lo Manthang. 

The Euphoria

Finally the D-Day arrived, we were on our way to Upper Mustang and every rider was excited to say the least. A dream that I had cherished for over 7yrs was about to be realised, I was nervous, I was happy and I was enlivened. It wasn’t going to be an easy journey, but such was the zeal, that it didn’t matter. The whole ride was about steep climbing and we were welcomed by some really challenging hairpins. The terrain was really tough as we encountered loose sand, rocky roads, silt, water crossings and it was one bumpy ride. But we knew, we had to push through as we closed in on Upper Mustang. 

The challenges were unrelenting but so were the spirits of the riders and by early evening, we were in Lo Manthang. To say I was overjoyed will be an understatement, all the participants were jubilant and hugs were distributed like freebies during elections. On a personal note, it was an emotional moment, it took me 7yrs to stand on the land that was very high on my bucket list. Yes, it was challenging, it was draining and this ride pushed my skills to the limit, but good things in life don’t come easy, and finally I was in the forbidden kingdom! And in true poetic fashion, it snowed that night, making the moment even more indelible. 

Worth It? 

The next morning was spent exploring the isolated Tbietian settlement. It was called the Forbidden City because tourists weren’t allowed to visit until the early 1990s, when the king started welcoming visitors. Walking through the cobbled streets, one feels as if you have travelled back in time a few centuries. The houses are made of mud, Yak heads can be seen hanging on the walls and you have to walk through very narrow lanes lined with gompas. You can also see the old palace made out of wood and decorated with intricate craftsmanship. I interacted with a few locals and one even graciously invited me to his house and the dimly lit primitive rooms had a wonderful charm about them. 

It was at this moment, I was hit by a realisation that Lo Manthang should have remained hidden. With rapid modernisation, it has started losing its charm, street lights are being set up and few modern cafes have also sprung up. While connectivity with the outside world will help in improving infrastructure and facilities for the locals, the allure of the city will disappear, something that we have experienced close to home in Leh. The silver lining, on a personal note was that I could experience the Forbidden City before it mislays its mysticism. 

The Final Note 

When I signed up for the KTM ProXP Upper Mustang Adventure Tour, I knew it was going to be an exciting junket. But this ride surpassed all my expectations, the trails we took around this beautiful country were challenging and equally rewarding. I am not a good off-road rider and having ridden on this terrain for such a long period of time, my riding skills have improved by leaps and bounds, and that holds true for all the participants. Credit for which goes to the KTM expert riders for instilling this confidence. The other highlight for me were the riders themselves, each so different as an individual, but the common thread joining them all is the love for motorcycles and adventure! 

So, how did the KTM 390 ADV perform in this journey and the simple answer is flawlessly. The powerful motor meant that you had no issues climbing up the inclines, while the standing up position was natural so I could saddle through the terrain easily. Mind you, the ride to Upper Mustang was done on a stock bike and stock tyres, that’s testament to the adventure quotient of the motorcycle. The only thing that could have been better is the suspension, as a bit more travel would have made the ride more comfortable. 

Another special mention goes to the KTM crew who burnt the midnight oil every night to ensure that all our bikes are in ship-shape for the treacherous ride. I have always mentioned that the Ladakh-Spiti ride, as beautiful as it is, has lost its sense of adventure. So if you're a off-road junkie who wants to challenge yourself and have a ball of time, the KTM ProXP Upper Mustang tour is the perfect ride for you.

KTM 390 Adventure Video Review

KTM 390 Adventure
KTM 390 Adventure
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