MTB Sikkim 2009 - 2nd Khangchendzonga Expedition - was set up with the same format as MTB Himachal, each day consisting of 2/3 competitive stages with freerides in between along the route.
About half the whole route was on tarmac, the rest on stony mountain tracks, and a couple of singletrack "hike n bike" sections.
The landscape was magnificent and the Buddhist culture, with ancient monasteries, stupas, prayer flags everywhere fluttering in the wind, made one feel one was in a different country (after all it's a state of India only since 1975).
The weather was sometimes a bit iffy, indeed soon after we set off from MGMarg Gangtok we ran into a hailstorm which sent some riders running for cover (to the muttered scorn of others, what a way to start, can't believe it ..), otherwise warm or hot in the sunshine but as soon as it clouded over quite chilly and with a few showers along the way getting quite shivery.
The Army team was there making light of their LA Sovereigns, the Air Force came with brand new Meridas, just out of their boxes, there was a strong team from Nepal, some Americans with 29ers, including Doug on a singlespeed 29er, three Canadians, all experienced racers, and the rest of us from different parts of India.
The race organisers took a day or two to get into gear, they had to sort out the logistics of leapfrogging start and finish lines from the beginning/end of one stage to the next, which sometimes resulted in longer waits than necessary between stages, but they made up for all that with their charm and infectious enthusiasm - i don't know if they realised how much their cheering and encouragement at checkpoints along the way helped us first-time racers to keep pushing to the end of each stage, thanks guys! you did a great job
Several times we were treated to great views of the Khangchendzonga massif, literally breathtaking to be in the presence of such majesty, though often you had to be up early in the morning to catch it, later it would disappear in haze or the cloud would come down. Many times along the way, either at lunchtime or at the evening halt, we were greeted by local reception committees with silk scarves, tea and snacks, and one evening at Yuksam treated to a dance performance by local students - in fact since Sikkim has such an intermingling of cultures it was actually a series of dance performances, Sikkimese, Bhutia, Lepcha, Nepali and perhaps more that i did not record.
for those of us first-time racers we really discovered the difference between our usual riding rhythm, which can be all day endurance long rough tough but still it's not the same as pushing pushing all the way to end to get time on the next rider - especially in the first few days when the time gaps were smaller, it's true that later on with larger time gaps the focus was more on staying upright and finishing the whole trip in one piece.
about the rest of the logistics, they definitely needed improvement, i mean mountainbikers are rough and tough and can manage with nature's a/c toilets but do prefer to be able to wash properly at the end of the day (and not only their bikes!) - several of the campsites had practically non-existent sanitary facilities - and the catering, well it did get a bit better after the first few days.
what we weren't bargaining for was the unexpected turn of events after the finish, when the Tourism Department officials suddenly announced that "due to elections" the prizes had had to be "re-defined" ... oh, oh what did that mean, exactly?
soon found out when the prize cheques were opened, they turned out to be for only half the amount, and a couple of 2nd/3rd prizes cancelled altogether
this gave rise to remonstrations from the riders, race organisers, and local citizens and after a heated meeting the next day in the Tourism Office the prizes were reinstated - thanks to the Travel and Tour Operators Association of Sikkim stepping up and filling the gap in the sponsorship monies (apparently the actual reason for the cut was that not enough sponsorship had been received). it was a shoddy episode, and made headlines in the local papers for two days since the local press and citizens were pretty much outraged by the way it was handled - not exactly in the best interest of the future of mountainbiking and tourism in Sikkim ..... but in the words of the third master receiving his trophy and prize after all " all's well that ends well"
PS if anything is to be learnt, it is not to let such events be organised by govt departments with their bureaucratic structure and all that goes with it - we are looking forward to a revamping of this event for the next edition since it deserves to flourish and go from strength to strength, e.g. maybe next time venture into higher altitude in North Sikkim
and here's the link to the photos i took while riding in Sikkim - I hope to be able to add more taken by the organisers when they send them
and for those who really want to "read all about it" i.e coverage of the fiasco at the end in the Sikkim newspapers, and Calcutta Telegraph, here it is
otherwise these are links to the gps data for each days route, and you can click on the google earth tab to see the route overlaid on google earth, that's quite fun
(waiting to receive data for the first four days from Doug (one of the americans) since mine seems to have overwritten them