Growing up in a farming family

I grew up in a farming family in a small village in Kakani, which is North of Kathmandu proper. Growing up in a typical Nepali family with all the financial and social hardships that many families face, I was presented at a very early age the responsibility of looking after my parents, supporting my siblings, and eventually surviving my own family when the time came. Being close to Kathmandu presented some opportunities, which many young people my age never get. Schooling in my village was not great or exciting. I didn’t do too well and having failed 9th grade– afraid of reprimand from my parents– I decided to run away to Kathmandu to work and earn money so that I could at least support my family financially.

Starting a career in the mountain biking industry

I was about 15 years old then. Initially, I worked as a laborer and even as a co-driver for a night taxi with a friend. Eventually my brother referred me to a job in a cycle shop which one of his friends owned. Having seen some people riding through my village on mountain bikes, I was curious about possibly making a living riding bikes. So I was grateful for the opportunity, even though I had to work for free in the initial months. But it was hard work as I had to commute daily from the village to Thamel where the shop was. I would wake up at around 4:30 am and start heading to the shop on a cheap bicycle, which in hindsight prepared me physically and mentally for the career I was to have. I had earned the trust of the shop owner pretty quickly and was handed the bike workshop’s keys. I would open the workshop, do my chores, even do a ride or two, and wait for the owner to arrive at around 9 am.

After 3 months of working for free at the shop, I got my first salary of Rs. 1000 per month which was minimal but something I was proud of. I ended up working for 3 more years with my salary slowly increasing to Rs 2500 per month.

While working the job, I didn’t earn much but I could develop my cycling skills by both riding and working as a mechanic and improving my English by interacting with clients. Winters tested my resolve a lot as waking up early and riding from Kakani to Thamel proved increasingly difficult. Sometimes I would stay in a guest house where a relative used to work. In return, I would have to open the main door and greet customers who came to check in at night. After about a year, I decided to rent a small room in Maharajgunj to focus on my job and my newfound passion for cycling.

Pursuing a career in mountain biking

Few but some opportunities started presenting themselves to help me kickstart my cycling career. At the end of 2007, I learned of a mountain biking race in Sikkim which I decided to participate in without knowing much of what that entailed. Hopeful of support from the shop’s owner, I was devastated when the owner told me to leave his company if I decided to go to Sikkim to race. There was not even a shred of support in the form of the shop lending me a bike for training or any financial support to cover logistical costs for participating in the race.

However, I was quite determined to continue to develop my mountain biking skills, and wanted to test myself by racing professionally. I started ‘training’ for the Sikkim race without the knowledge of the shop owner. I would wake up early in the morning, ride to Thamel from my rented room before everyone else woke up, train while using the shop’s bikes, and then clean up after myself so that no one would notice.

Training was one part of the process. Another important one was being able to afford to buy a new cycle decent enough to race. Despite financial difficulties in the family which I was acutely aware of, I decided to ask my father and my brother for loans, not knowing where else to seek support. The money I was earning was barely enough to pay my rent in Kathmandu and survive. The fact that my father supported Rs. 15,000 and my brother Rs, 10,000 still gives me goosebumps as I perhaps never expected such support from my family, especially given that they were not in a position to do so.

The race in Sikkim was a huge learning experience for me. I was able to see the kind of training and dedication that goes into professional racing. I realized that I still had a lot to learn and a lot of ground to cover if I wanted to be successful. However, the race also gave me the confidence to pursue my passion for mountain biking more seriously. I returned to Kathmandu and started working even harder, both at my job and on my training. I also started looking for other opportunities to race and improve my skills.

Over the next few years, I was able to compete in various local and international races and gradually build a name for myself in the mountain biking community. I also worked hard to improve my financial situation, eventually leaving my job at the cycle shop to focus on racing full-time. It has not been an easy journey, but it has been incredibly rewarding and I am grateful for the opportunities and experiences that I have had along the way.

My dream: GHT on Wheels

Explore Mangal’s journey through the GHT High Route on this interactive map.

In 2022, I embarked on a solo-riding project on the Great Himalaya Trails (GHT), a long-held dream of mine. The idea for this project had been in the back of my mind for a while, and I took the opportunity presented by the lack of tours and the closure of all tourism in Nepal to really think through this great challenge.

With the support and encouragement of friends and acquaintances, I developed a rough itinerary and set out to accomplish my goal of promoting the GHT as a premier mountain biking destination in the world, while also highlighting the societal and climate change-induced challenges faced by local communities along the trail.

In 88 days, I completed the solo-riding project, and was able to showcase the beauty and potential of the GHT as a mountain biking destination, while also raising awareness about the challenges and opportunities facing local communities. It was an incredibly rewarding experience, and I am grateful to have had the opportunity to give back to the trails and the people who have given me so much in my life.