We flew out from Edinburgh via Doha to Kathmandu giving ourselves a couple of days acclimatisation before we picked up the bikes, the flights were the usual tedious ball breaking event that air travel has become, compounded by the fact that I managed a catnap for an hour on the Kathmandu leg and woke up to find a Transsexual exhibitionist sitting next to me who hadn’t been there when I went to sleep! Clad only in a micro skirt, fishnet stockings and a black brassiere (she had obviously had an op or had taken tablets to enhance her bust!) I didn’t expect that really but hey ho, takes all sorts and I did see the funny side (after we had landed)
Fighting out of the chaos that is Kathmandu airport was as expected and the tour company had sent a car to take us to our hotel which was good. The heat smell and pollution immediately hit me, that and the suicidal driving, add in the roads in the capital which are sometimes tarmac and often then just disappear into a huge hole for a while creating a constant dust storm and I was thinking “my God, we have to ride in this?” However by the time we got to our hotel in the Patan district it felt manageable. Our hotel was nice and we had two nights to look around and get used to the chaos. One of our fellow guests Nigel (an Englishman by birth but now Canadian) showed us around and educated us into local customs which was excellent. Nigel happened to be working for the government advising them in crisis management, I suspect he could be there a while!
Our fellow tour guests starting arriving on the Saturday, a group of four French guys (Gilles, Vincent, Roland and Matins all friends or relatives and they were to be joined by two Geordie pals the following day. Sunday the rest of the team arrived and we were joined by the Geordies Pete and Neil and the group of three French guys comprising of Serge, Jean- Marc and Fred. We were introduced to our team leader from Delhi, Ravi and the most valuable guy on the trip our mechanic Sono. The bikes started arriving on the Sunday at our hotel and after a group meal on the Sunday night we set off at 6.30am on the Monday with some trepidation into the Kathmandu traffic, to begin with Fi was riding number 2 with me behind but of course it wasn’t long before the order changed depending on who felt like being the alpha male at the time. It took two and a half hours to clear the worst of Kathmandu, a two lane and sometimes one lane road is the main road South and the main link to India, the poor sods sitting in the buses as they lurched and rolled over the terrible road surface, their spew down the outsides of the bus a visible indication of how crap it was.
We stopped at a roadside shack for tea, surprise one for me as I got the feeling this was a random stop and not pre planned, however we ate our pre packed breakfasts from the hotel when the backup van arrived (it carried the mechanic, spares and our luggage, very Ewan and Charley!) and set off for all of 100 yards before there was much discussion with the guide and mechanic, we then set off up a smaller road snaking up into the mountains that I knew wasn’t on the itinerary , the road was quieter and was good in places and I quickly realised it was a case of suicidal overtaking or get left behind which made me a tad nervous. We had a couple of stops for water and to wait for the backup guys before we ended up on what appeared to be the main road again. It was getting on, 2.30 and we hadn’t had lunch, the guide stopped at a couple of roadside shacks but obviously was having no luck getting anyone to feed us, eventually at 3pm we got a place to make lunch. I was a bit pissed off, I can do chaos and disorganisation without paying someone else to do it. The “cafe” wasn’t the best hygiene wise (a recurring theme throughout the trip) but the other chaps seemed to like the “authentic” food. By now its 4pm, we had already done more miles than was on the itinerary and still had 40 miles to go which in the UK would be easy but not so much in Nepal.
|First stop out of Khathmandu, not Tebay services for sure|
The following day was a free day which I thought was strange so early in the trip, the plan was to go elephant riding and looking at Rhino’s, not being a fan of animal cruelty we declined and spent the day feeling very unwell and afraid to venture more than a short sprint to the toilet. As the day wore on we gave ourselves a shake and ventured out for a walk which was fine and I fitted the GPS mount to my bike as I decided I’d rather know when we were lost!
Wednesday we set off, an early stop for tea then into Tillotama and a right turn on another interesting road, the road was great in bits but had parts missing which made life interesting, just after turning off towards Tansen my bike started cutting out while doing some of the suicidal overtakes making them even more suicidal then it just stopped. I suggested it could be the battery lead and lo and behold the terminal was falling apart with the wires loose in the connector, it was hurriedly fixed and we set off again for about 50 yards and it stopped again, transpired it was the fuel pump so a quick fuel pump change ensued while most of the group rode up the road to find some shade.
|Fuel pump change|
I suppose we have conditioned ourselves to doing our own thing up to now on our travels so someone else telling us where we were going, what we were doing was actually making it more stressful for us. The rest of the guys eventually appeared and we had dinner together, my mind was in a better place after the short break to reflect.
The Thursday’s ride was to Pokhara, to be fair it was excellent, twisting mountain roads and for the most part in reasonable condition, the usual stops and at lunch a nice rooftop restaurant to eat our umpteenth serving of Dall! There were some issues around petrol but we got filled up eventually before arriving in Pokhara, Ravi had warned us the traffic would get worse but to be honest after Kathmandu it was a walk in the park. Pokhara is a big town and well geared towards foreign tourists, I imagine most Europeans and North Americans fly into Kathmandu then onwards to Pokhara and I would recommend this as a starting point if you fancy riding the Nepal Himalayas, it cuts out the slog out of and from Kathmandu and there are bike rental shops here. We met for dinner and I took the opportunity to have pizza in an effort to normalise my bowel functions, Fiona and Neil had the same, it didn’t work, I suspect the cheese helped prolong my issues and Neil also had a couple of sprints to the toilet the following day.
The following day was the beginning of the “rough” roads, we rode in nice scenery to a town called Beni, the road after here stopped being a road and became a track, in fact probably 20km before we were treated to some practice sections where the road had been damaged for several kilometres at a time. Lunch in Beni and I was forced to use the toilet, not a great experience squatting in 40 degree heat in a dark smelly closet with a hole in the floor, this is just getting better I thought. Off we set on tracks that would have been a challenge on the trails bike but somehow we all managed through, the Royal Enfield bouncing and sliding through some parts I didn’t really expect to make it, one of my thoughts was it wasn’t mine, so why should I care although in reality anyone with an ounce of mechanical sympathy would care and i kept thinking “take it easy, don’t abuse the bike” all around us some of the party were really out to prove they were the Simon Pavey of the Himalayan Enfield course, it was painful to watch as they bounced the bikes harshly along this unforgiving terrain but thankfully we made it to Tatopani for that nights stop. Tatopani has hot springs and that was a pleasant deviation from our pain.
Saturdays ride was to Marpha, only 35Km but was billed as 5 hours and 5 hours it was, very glad to roll into the village after 5 hours of bouncing along the trails, some nice scenery that day although there was limited times you could take your eye off the road to enjoy it. Fiona had read there may be some issues with travelling on Sunday which was election day (the first election in 15 years ) Ravi reckoned we’d be OK but he’d check with the police. Funnily enough Fiona was right, in an effort to curb protests travel had been banned on Election Day so we’d be stuck here twiddling our thumbs an extra day. The Hotel was very basic with some of the guys saying it was like a prison cell, I think they meant the beds which were 1” thick foam on a wooden base and we also had to use our own sleeping bags here as no bedding was supplied but to be fair we had been warned beforehand.
|Fi still smiling|
|Yoga on a rock|
The following morning we set off at 6.30am and immediately realised the terrain was demanding, small wooden footbridges across rivers, riding on what appeared to be a riverbed then for fun a suspension bridge, not like the Forth road bridge but just wide enough for a bike and suspended high above the river. I was relieved when we arrived at Muktinath, one of the holiest places in the Hindu religion. There were several “monks” lying around at the entrance who had made a pilgrimage to this place, personally they looked like dossers to me, no different from the beggars you now see all too often in our High streets, lying around smoking dope it appeared and some so Holy they couldn’t get up they’d smoked so much Holy Marijuana and all effectively begging. I didn’t bother going into the temple as I was a bit bemused by the whole thing, Fiona did but got thrown out for videoing inside so that was at least funny.
|The road just after Beni towards Tatopani|
|A bit of this|
|Fi giving the thumbs up|
The ride to Tatopani seemed to take forever, bouncing over every rock, crossing every river, hanging on hoping the bike would keep going and nobody would hurt themselves. At our lunch stop it transpired Serge, one of the French guys had come off and was complaining about his ankle, luckily we were back with the backup truck so he rode to Tatopani in the truck whilst our trusted mechanic Sono rode the bike (now with only one footrest!) .Before Tatopani I kept hearing a strange noise coming from the bike which transpired later to be a broken frame and the noise was the two ends clanging together as it flexed. Of course we also had the obligatory landslide and had some hairy moments fighting with the traffic as we all tried to squeeze past the digger that was trying to clear it. We were very tired, dusty and relieved when we got to Tatopani, Fi and I ordered a beer and sat outside staring at the road we’d just ridden down, I think it was the second beer before we started to speak as the alcohol eased the mental pain. After when we joined the group for lunch, there was a pile of ¼ bottle Brandy bottles on the table, all finished, one of the French guys (who kept telling us it was great fun) told Fiona “we are drinking to forget, today it was terrible”
The whole evening and night there was monsoon rain which I thought will make things interesting tomorrow. The 20km to Beni instead of three river crossings we seemed to be forever knee deep in water but for the first time since we arrived we were feeling better so we attacked the obstacles, the water and the mud with much more confidence and we started to enjoy it. When we arrived in Beni, three bikes needed welded before we could carry on, and our boots needed emptied, mines are 100% waterproof but when the water is over the top they are waterproof both ways! At least now we knew there would be some respite from the constant shit roads, there would be some tarmac in between the holes! We arrived back in Pokhara and decided we would do our own thing that night which was excellent. Serge haven been getting bounced around in the truck for two days went to the Hospital, his ankle was broken and he was on the next flight out to France via Kathmandu to get it fixed!
|View from Muktinath|
|View from the pilots seat|
On the penultimate day we had a fair distance to do so I was surprised to make a considerable detour and hang around some other town which was “nice” before retracing our steps to the main road only to find a landslide had blocked it. We retreated back to a small town and had lunch before rejoining the massive queue to watch the diggers push huge rocks off the road into the river below, eventually after about 3 hours we got through, problem was all the trucks and minibus drivers were trying to make up time so for a few miles the driving was even more crazy than normal. We turned off the main road to head for our stop for the night which was about 40km away, problem was this area was busy with many small towns and the roads had been badly affected by the earthquakes so there was much construction works going on oh and add in that the results of the election had been announced so every town we had to fight our way through crowds of people who were either celebrating of protesting, I’m not sure which. To cap it all the final 5K was up a dirt road, red clay dust , with vertical ascents and tight hairpins, you probably get the picture by now, when we arrived I was pretty fed up and I could see by the look on Fiona’s face that this had been a bridge too far for her as well, however we did have a nice place to stay and after a shower and beer the world seemed ok again.
|Fi looking for a job|
|Never noticed this at the time!|
|Glad its over|
Would I do a guided tour again......No, for some people I can understand the comfort thing but I’m afraid I like to make my own mistakes and decisions, having said that we are both glad we have done it (or there wouldn’t be a story) Nepal is one of the poorest countries in the world and although millions of foreign aid gets poured into the country I’m afraid that due to corruption and the caste system I don’t see the conditions for the people improving soon. It does make you realise how lucky we are in the Western world, we have choices, and there are other bikes rather than Royal Enfields........