KATHMANDU, April 17: When he joined cycling about six years ago, Ajay Pandit Chhetri had hardly imagined that he would one day traverse the unassailable trails of the Himalayas.
The gritty rider not only made his way through the perilous tracks around the Annapurna range, crossing the highest pass Thorong-La to reach Muktinath, but has remained unbeaten in any national level race for over a year.
Having participated in more than three dozen national and international tournaments, Chhetri narrates his experience of ascending to the height of 5416m at Thorong-La pass during the Yak Attack Series as “extra extreme adventure”.
The ten-day race held annually begins from Budhanilkantha of Kathmandu and takes the off road to the foothills of the Himalayas through Nuwakot, Dhading, Gorkha, Besisahar and Taal. The route then ascends through the rustic trails of the countryside of Chame and Manang to the Thorung-La pass and then descends the swirling path to Muktinath, covering a total distance of around 400km.
“Travelling through 2 feet deep snow at the world´s highest pass with a sprained back was really tough,” Chhetri said.
“I had never thought I would ever travel to such a place and achieve success,” he added.
His success, however, didn´t come overnight. The 22-year-old biker has been participating in the Yak Attack Series since its first edition held five years ago. He was able to win the last two editions all because of his consistency in the sport. He recalls finishing ninth in the first edition in 2006, but since then, has made steady progress in his performance in each new attempt.
The biker from Arubari, Kathmandu believes that one´s efforts do not go in vain. “We will definitely reap the fruits of success if we work hard,” said Chhetri in an optimistic note, after having to wait for some years to become the country´s top rider.
Not only Chhetri but his friends Padam Sabenhang, Rajiv Rai and Mangal Krishna Lama, all of whom excelled in the high-altitude mountain bike race, have been regulars in the tournament.
“I did not have any idea where I was heading to in my first appearance in the Yak Attack Series. Tracks seemed to merge with the slopes and a considerable distance was not ride-able at all. But I managed to fare well in the later editions,” said Chhetri.
Despite the risks of altitude sickness during races in high mountains, Chhetri has been living out his dream. The soft-spoken peddler said he got into this field after he left his studies while he was in his 10th grade.
“I didn´t have any interest in studies,” said the professional biker, who also works as a cycling guide for tourists. And his decision has paid off well.
Professional cycling alone couldn´t have been enough to sustain his livelihood after abandoning his studies, but, in contrary, his association with the tourism sector has helped him remain in contention among the top riders of the country.
“We can´t even afford to maintain the accessories of our bikes on our own because the spare parts of professional bikes are very expensive. It is only through the helping hands of some benevolent foreigners that Nepali cycling is surviving,” he said.
Defending his decision to drop out from school, Chhetri says, “There are lots of people who have degrees but no jobs. I am happy with the way I´m living.”