30 December, 2007

Nepal

I clipped just the one car on the way out of Kathmandu. I remained upright and I think I must have caused more damage to the car, scraping a pot-rack along its rear wing. But the driver didn't seem in any hurry to stop, no-one had been hurt so I didn't stop either.

I rode through perfect scenery on bumpy, narrow but well-sealed roads to Pokhara, another in a series of Jim's recommendations. I was looking at the surrounding hills on a quiet stretch, and looked up into the clouds - but those weren't clouds - those were Himalayas! Towering massively above the clouds surrounding the green mountains to the north, were snow-capped peaks impossibly high up in the sky. Absolutely amazing.

I couldn't find the Hearts and Tears Motorcycle Club but found a little workshop, Raju's Bullet Surgery, where a European was waving gently at me. Tony introduced himself and the others around including Raju, all were Nepali. It seemed there was a bit of a party going on here which I was fully expected to join. All very informal, food appeared, some odd Indo-Scots concoction was produced and imbibed and soon my bike was being shoved into the garage and I was walking off to spend the night in Tony's spare room! And so it was Christmas Day. Nobody noticed much, apart from some banners inviting people to spend their money on Christmas dinners at various restaurants. Everything else was open and I found a fine hotel with cable movie channels, hot showers and even a view over the loch and up to the Himalayas. What a fantastic place!

And then everyone seemed to go on strike. The petrol stations went on strike to protest the fuel shortages, thus making sure there was no petrol at all. The taxi drivers went on strike because they'd no petrol, and nobody seemed quite sure why the students went on strike, especially since it was the holidays, but maybe they just wanted to show solidarity with whoever else was on strike. Then the Maoists, a political group now, and no longer guerrillas, were setting fire to tyres and trying to close off some roads. Again, nobody was sure quite why, it's just what the Maoists do whenever they're annoyed about something. So there are far worse places to get stuck, and it is something of a relief to find that it isn't anything I've done or not done.

I'll sit here until after the New Year, I think. I am reliably informed that Zeebrugge is only 6 weeks away by 2-stroke 135cc Yamaha - admittedly ridden by a madman, but still possible. I've now found many of the ex-patriot motorcyclists here who seem happily unable to drag themselves away. They bomb around contentedly, mainly on Bullets having pretty much a ball. Not worrying about anyone or bothering anyone, some have found jobs, others are spending whatever savings they brought from home, others still I'm not quite sure about yet. But they're all good fun and welcoming to me.

Don is an Australian who bought his Bullet a year ago and will try to get it back to Australia once he has owned it for the year his Government demand before they'll let it in. Tony has adopted some Nepali children and is spending his pension getting them educated. John has found work with an adventure holiday company (or may be setting his own up, I'm not so sure), Rick has set up his own motorbike training and hire business - mainly with Bullets, Peter is a retired Dutch Airforce fighter pilot with a wee gaggle of interesting Bullet projects. They and several carefree Nepalis are a close knit bunch who look out for one another and empathise with the challenges of Bullet ownership over some teas at Raju's Bullet Surgery which becomes a bit of a speakeasy after closing time. These Bullets are motorbikes with ancient technology, lots of character and high maintenance schedules.

I'd always wanted to try para-gliding and the opportunity presented itself here. Not overly expensive, you get strapped to an expert pilot and run off the side of a mountain. I fully expected to be scared witless but was pleasantly surprised to find there wasn't anything much to be scared of. There isn't any drop, as the wind takes you up as you run out. The canopy is fully open before you run anywhere, so there's no fear of it not opening, and you sit immediately in a wee seat with your feet dangling. There's silence, peace, raptor birds and other para-gliders flying around nearby. The closest thing to proper flying I suppose you can get. There's even a place in Edinburgh that teaches it. Where do I sign?

A family from the South of England had sent their dad, Alex, up for a birthday treat. His wife Claire and daughters Ellie and Sophie declined the opportunity. A Swiss girl, Carolyn who had a strong Mancunian accent was also trying it out. Our pilots did a few aerobatics before we landed and that was mad, circling fast enough to be above the canopy, I was sure I could feel the G-forces! When we all got to the bottom we were full of excitement. We chatted as we walked along the path back to Pokhara and it turned out that Alex and Claire had once owned an R65. Alex got a little second treat when we got back to the hotel and I gave him the keys to mine. He didn't go far, but I hope it was just as he remembered it.

One evening, Don and I were sitting in the Busy Bee Cafe around the open fire. Nepalis haven't quite got the concept of chimneys and shutting doors, so that they tend more to sit around open fires with the clear sky above them. This is chilly, but fine by me in the main, as long as you can get near the fire. This night was quiet, Don was having a pizza, I'd already eaten. As we chatted I felt a tickle on my lower right calf. I bent down to brush away whatever it was and felt a large lump. But the lump didn't brush away and instead progressed itself further up my leg, tickling as it went. I stood up quickly, knocking over my chair and startling one or two onlookers. Shaking my leg like a demented Elvis, I tried to get whatever it was to fall out of my trousers. Still it progressed further upwards! In some fear of being bitten, I undid my trousers in the hope of letting whatever it was out the top. Don got up and began helpfully inspecting around. Others must have thought I was daft! I certainly felt very daft! Don found nothing and must have begun questioning my sanity when I felt whatever it was on my back now and inside my sweatshirt! I whipped this over my head and you can imagine my relief and surprise when a fair sized rat bounced over towards the counter. The waiters at the bar, suddenly realising what was going on began stamping and the poor beast was quickly despatched off to Nirvana. I returned myself to a more dignified state of dress and the giggling began.

New Year was busy. All the Europeans seemed to have come down from the treks in the hills to celebrate. I hadn't felt too well but I dutifully put on my kilt and went out to find Don and John. We visited one or two places and back in the Busy Bee, a lady sitting next to me introduced herself as Jo. It turned out she worked in TV and when I asked whether she knew Jim, the Tiger rider I'd met in Darwin, I was amazed to find that she knew him well and had even worked with him. Small planet. Jim had recommended my visiting Pokhara in the first place.

Pokhara is a great place to chill and read. There were mad things going on both in Pakistan and in Kenya, my two routes home. I was resting, waiting and deciding what best to do. I read loads and thought it best, guven such wonderful surroundings, to wait and see. If I'm only six weeks from home, then I have some time to spare. I worked out that the Kenya route would take eleven weeks if all went well so I discounted that. But I still needed a Pakistani visa as well as an Iranian one.

Margot and Mirjam, two Dutch girls (Dutchesses?) intended on travelling to India together to buy themselves two Royal Enfield Bullets. Mad. Margot has the most excellent infectious laugh and was all ready to go to India. Mirjam had cycled here to Nepal (cyclingdutchgirl.waarbenjij.nu - instructions in Dutch but written in English) via Tibet from Holland over a nine month period, but she didn't have an Indian visa and needed to return to Kathmandu to get one. Mirjam has about as much luck with public transport as I have so we all hatched a plan which would take us via the Chitwan Nature Reserve, a place Don knew well. He and Margot could explore there while Mirjam and I went up to the big city to get our visas. Don doesn't get out of Pokhara often enough for his own tastes and felt he could do with the break. We'd have a couple of extra days to spare also when we got back. The run up to KTM was uneventful,the bike performing faultlessly two-up and the Himalayan scenery as you can only imagine. Only one small mini-bus connected with the bike at low speed causing a minor panic but no damage. Although the process of getting the visas was time-consuming (both) and frustrating (Indian) we managed. One thing particularly annoying was that the Pakistanis understandably wanted a "letter of introduction" from the British Embassy. This was quickly enough produced, but cost more than the price of the Pakistani visa itself! A three line note stating my name and simply asking that I be given every assistance. A few days later we were on our way back to Chitwan.

Unfortunately the rough roads persuaded the protective rubber boot to part from the swing-arm and expose the universal joint to the elements as well as spilling its oil everywhere. Four oily hands, and four hours later, Mirjam and I were back on the road and heading in the right direction. A ride through one bit of road in the dark was a particular adventure. Trucks with no lights overtaking others on blind bends made for interesting avoidance techniques. When we got back to Chitwan we just had time to go canoeing on the river, then have a quick trek through the jungle before taking a short elephant safari. Animals react entirely differently to humans when they are on the back of an elephant. They must think it's just a severely deformed elephant because they don't seem scared enough to run away. Some took no notice at all.

Don and I said goodbye to the girls at the Indian border and headed back up to Pokhara via the Tensin Road. This has to be one of the most squiggly and picturesque roads in the world. It took us four hours to complete only 100miles! Average speed was down to about 25mph (40kph). I had left some of my stuff back in Pokhara and wanted to sort out the bike a bit, since it had taken a bit of a hammering on the pot-holed roads. The horn, indicators and break lights weren't working, the fork seals were leaking all over the brake caliper, there was even more welding to be done on the pannier racks and the tappets were making too much noise. Raju very kindly helped me sort it all out in just a day. The horn problem, which had been annoying me since Indonesia, turned out on closer inspection to be one corroded spade connector to the fuse-box. This was easily re-soldered and now the horn is useful again! Just what I'll need for India!

Mirjam and Margot were heading for Delhi to buy their Bullets. I could easily have stayed in Pokhara for much longer but I needed some kind of reason to leave and head West. I told myself I could 'help' these two in their purchases, or maybe even convince them not to be so daft! Two chickens were sacrificed to the barbeque at Raju's on the evening before I left these kind and friendly people. Don had been particularly kind and helpful and Raju had refused lots of payment he rightly deserved.

As I was mending my bike that final day, Tony, the kindly gent who had accommodated me on Christmas Eve turned up only too briefly. I had somehow missed him throughout the rest of my stay and had wanted to thank him. He didn't know I was leaving the next day and he disappeared again without my having the chance. If you're reading this Tony, THANKS A LOT, and I'll hope to see you in Scotland!

The Tansen Road was even better on the way down and with a fully functioning motorcycle. The road along the bottom of Nepal to the Western border with India was good, although it did run out altogether for short stretches, always without any warning. But I made good enough time and got to the border in the early afternoon of the third day.

4 Comments:

At 31/01/2008, 17:21, Blogger jan cees said...

Hi Mick,
Just read your blog. Heard the story from the trip to Pokhara from Mirjam too.
Good thing you were riding with them when her bike broke down. I'll read your blog every now and then, enjoy your trip!

Jan Cees.

 
At 04/03/2008, 12:35, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Mick,
long time no post, are you okay?

good luck Tony

 
At 23/03/2008, 11:01, Anonymous morag gemmell said...

Tony is not the only person who's wondering if you are ok. No posts in 3 months and I havent heard a peep since March 5th, concern is growing into worry please get in touch.

Mo xxx

 
At 26/03/2008, 17:31, Blogger Mick said...

Ay sorry, İndian, Pakistani and İranian iCaffs were not always reliable. Now in Turkey where the keyboards have funny bıts I struggle to work properly. İ will post soon, promise!
Thanks Jan-Cees, but İ think İ was luckier to have Mirjam around when İ broke down than she was to have me! Good to hear she's heading back up to KTM to meet you.

 

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