Adventures in Nepal's Forbidden Kingdom

"Rough Trails & Bright Skies" Coming Fall 2016

Words by: Cherise Tuttle  Photos by: Cody Tuttle & Nick Greece

A young monk is caught off guard as explosions are set off during the last night of the TiJi Festival.  Photo: Cody Tuttle

This Spring we embarked on a 10-day trip to travel to a once forbidden kingdom on Royal Enfield motorbikes to fly mini paragliders where few have ever flown before. You may ask why would we did this? And we reply, why not? We are only limited by our imagination and motivation to see those visions come to pass. Cody had this dream and as he talked to friends with common passions, we found more who had this dream – maybe not exactly like this, but they said yes to the adventure! Originally a trip that Cody and I would make, we accrued 3 more friends just as hungry for crazy exploration. Jamie and Isabella Messenger have lived in Pokhara about 10 years pursuing paragliding and founding a non-profit, Karma Flights, and Nick Greece hailing from Salt Lake City, UT is the founder of the parent non-profit, Cloudbase Foundation, to Karma Flights. The three of them have been close friends for years, Nick being a part of Jamie and Bella’s wedding and having flown in many paragliding competitions together around the world.

Jamie Messenger descends into the river valley with views of 8000m Annapurna 1 in the background. Photo: Nick Greece

So together we rode off into the sunset full of optimism and enthusiasm. Our panniers were packed and goofy grins slapped on our faces. We were a sight for sore eyes ‘brapping’ our tough rides like a kid on his first dirt bike. By the fourth day though the stoke had disintegrated to frustration when just 16 km from our final destination, two out of three bikes broke down. We thought we had lucked out though when we saw a mechanics sign in the small village we stopped in, however, three hours later after every man in the village revved the engines and gave their two cents of the possible problem, we realized the mechanics sign was merely a sign and nothing would be fixed that day. We called Matt from Hearts and Tears who we rented our bikes from, gulping on a piece of humble pie as we asked for him to send one of his guys out to fix the bikes. He had strongly recommended that we bring one of his mechanics along, but we declined feeling optimistic and invincible.

Who doesn’t want to race through the desert on a motorcycle? When we rolled into town, these kids were in hog heaven! It was time to tear it up like Mad Max on the Fury Road. We would later realize that these lovely children utlilzing the bikes as jungle-gyms broke the shifting linkage and left us with only 1 st gear on the black Enfield. Photo: Cody Tuttle

Cherise Tuttle and Isabella Messenger taking a break from the bone crushing roads of Northern Nepal. Photo: Cody Tuttle

The next day we left with only one of the original bikes, a rented bike and the support jeep. The anticipation of making it to Lo Manthang to experience the Tiji Festival was pushing us forward. The TIji Festival is an annual Buddhist celebration. We had only heard of it and seen old photos from when the first Westerner’s had captured it on camera. The cultural experience looked rich in tradition, but as we neared the gates of the once forbidden Kingdom, we realized we weren’t the only foreigners who had made the pilgrimage to this historic event.

Monks from Lo Manthang prepare for the TiJi Festival. Photo: Nick Greece

The Tiji festival commonly pronounced “Teeji” is the abbreviated form of Tempa which translates to “prayer for world peace”. Tiji commemorates the victory of Buddha’s incarnation, Dhorji Sonam, over a demon called MA TAM RU TA, who caused storms and droughts to destroy people’s houses and livestock. The dance performed by the monks of Lo Manthang during the three day festival reenacts the evils perpetrated by MA TAM TU TA, the birth of Dhorji the demon’s son and attempt by Dhorji to return the demon to the Buddha realm. 

Large Mani Wheels surround the King’s palace in Lo Manthang. Each spin of the wheel is believed to release good Karma onto the community. Photo: Cody Tuttle

The streets were filled with tourists, cameras drawn and ready. As we hurried to the courtyard where the festival was taking place, we gaped at the amount of Westerner’s milling around – they far outweighed the locals. Storeowners were hustling the streets, showing off their valuable merchandise and goods. While we understand the value of tourism for the economy, it was slightly disappointing that we weren’t the only one’s who had this epic idea to visit at this specific time. But like all good things, the festival came to an end, and the tourists deserted the small walled city. We had the place to ourselves and as we settled into the small guesthouse, we looked to the hills longingly. It was time to fly.

Jamie Messenger leaving the Annapurna range behind him as we make the epic journey back home to Pokhara. Photo: Cody Tuttle

Cherise Tuttle taking a break from filming / taking a serious beating on the back of the motorcycle. Both Cherise and Isabella Messenger managed to stay on the back of these suspension-less bikes for several days at a time. Photo: Cody Tuttle

The arid mountainous desert surrounded us opening our minds to various flying spots. We had heard that the wind was good between 6:30-9:30am whereupon it would pick up to be gusty and variable. In the hills above Lo Manthang, we saw an eroding castle with prayer flags softly dancing in the wind. We first launched below the castle experiencing spicy high altitude, short flights. The crew then took their mini paragliders to the castle and caught some epic sky time. I’m not sure if the locals are just used to foreigners doing silly things, but as they looked up to see us flying down, they kept on with their daily lives. Only did the children run over to see what we were doing, curiosity getting the best of them. On one of the flights, Nick Greece was greeted by a few small rosy cheeked kids who offered him snacks once he landed. The locals throughout our trip were incredibly kind and welcoming. We couldn’t help but wonder at their tenacity to live in such a rugged, sometimes unforgiving part of the world.

Jamie Messenger kiting up his new ultralight Ozone mini wing. The LightSpeed was the perfect glider for this type of nomadic expedition. Photo: Nick Greece. 

Jamie Messenger and Cody Tuttle take their first flights in the Mustang outside the walled city of Lo Manthang. Photo: Nick Greece

These young kids met us after landing in Lo Manthang. Interested in our paragliders they also came offering us their lunch. Nick had a portable printer that he used to give each kid a portrait. Photo: Nick Greece

On the way up, Cody and Nick had noticed a potential flying spot outside the village of Samar. So on our way back down, Cody, Nick, Bella and Jamie went to scout the site and ended up taking the best flights of the trip down to a dry river bed. With the Annapurna range standing proud in the distance and red, sandy cliffs decorating their background, they couldn’t help but stay an extra day to fly.

I’d like to say that we came, we saw, and we conquered, but this place will never be conquered and we will spend decades finding more adventures in those sandy hills. We had the adventure of our lifetimes though, and plan on pursuing that adventure for years to come.

Cody and Jamie heading out to launch their mini wings early in the morning before the strong valley winds kick up making it impossible to fly. Photo: Nick Greece

The roads to Mustang were incredibly challenging on these 1950’s era Royal Enfield motorcycles. With no real suspension and no planned itinerary, we set our sights on the Tibetan border with high hopes that our bikes would make it all the way. We would face disappointment and redemption along the way. Photo: Cody Tuttle

Nick Greece and Jamie Messenger set to the skies taking in the view of the rugged Himalaya and leaving the earth behind. Photo: Cody Tuttle

The team makes it all the way to the Tibetan boarder with the last running Royal Enfield.  Cody, Cherise Tuttle, Isabella Messenger, Nick Greece, Jamie Messenger.