Wednesday, 16 December 2009

The Quiet Highway


We crossed the boarder with little fuss and started our first day in Nepal…

Heading for the border town of Mahendranagar, we quickly found a hotel on the edge of town. As we arrived there was a group of 12 Czech bikers on Royal Enfields readying themselves to head East. After a brief chat we waved them off, no doubt we would meet them again.
The next day we headed off east in the direction of Royal Bardia National Park for a few days relaxation and a spot of nature watching.
One thing i couldn’t get over was how quiet the roads were compared to India, in fact most of the traffic on the main highway running the length of the Terai (flat plains) seemed to consist of bicycles with a few trucks and buses thrown in for good measure.

Nepal is a country of 2 halves. Stretching the length of the country in the North are the mighty Himalyas and in the South the flat furtile lowlands of the Terai, with the population split 50 - 50 between the two areas.
With a population of 23 million, 85% of which living in rural areas, the environmental footprint of the country is much smaller than it’s Indian cousin across the border.

The road to Bardia

Royal Bardia National Park..

Heading off the main road we headed up a 12k dirt road to a lovely forest lodge in an idyllic setting on the fringes of the main park entrance. As we turned into the lodge we notice the bikes of the Czech guys parked up along the perimeter fence.

Bardie N.P

After looking at the possible tours we decided on a rafting trip, this would allow us to cover a larger area than the elephant rides and it had the added bonus that we could take a couple of beers and spend the day drifting down a river enjoying the sunshine.
What we didn’t realise until afterwards was that the park is very sparsely populated with wildlife. It had been a really nice relaxing day but we had seen very little wildlife bar a few monkeys. I guess that’s the nature of national parks. We decided we’d have another go at a later date in Assam in NE India.
We then headed off the Terai on a loop through the mountains. This would bring us around to the main road heading up to Pokhara, a tourist town which is the jump off point to the famous Annapurna Circuit, an 18 day trek one of the most popular in Nepal.

The road to Tansen

It was nice to get into the mountains, to a cooler climate and some twisting roads. After a crazy little dirt section we made it to Tamghas and a nights stopover before heading off to the hill station town of Tansen. The road to Tansen was one of the best so far.

The roads in India tend to hug the valley floor while the roads in Nepal follow the tops of ridges connecting the villages and affording superb views of snow capped peaks and rolling hills on all sides. It had been a lovely days drive.

Tansen is a nice medieval town perched high above the Kali Gandaki river. Tansen, once the capital of the Magar kingdom and one of the most powerful in Nepal, became a Newari trading post on the trade route between India and Tibet. After a day wandering around the town we headed off to Pokhara for a few days break and to celebrate Herbie’s birthday.



Towards Pokhara

The main tourist area of Pokhara is built along the shores of the lovely Phewa Tal lake, this would be our base for the next 4 days.


On the way back from a walk along the lake we popped into Khems Café, a little bamboo shack built next to the lake. 7 hours later we left a little worse for ware but we’d made some new friends. The owners had decided that they wanted to throw a barbeque for Herbie’s birthday so it was to became the regular drinking den for our time in the town.

Herbie's Brithday Celebrations

It was time to move on so we popped in to Khems to say goodbye to the guys and then headed off East towards the Capital, Kathmandu.

We’d been told about a nice temple at Manakamana, a short cable car ride from the main highway.

The temple is dedicated to one of the few female Hindu gods, we’d heard it was the site of many animal sacrifice. The writing was on the wall when we reached the top of the cable car and found lots of vendors selling live goats and people leading them up the steps towards the temple itself.

Manakamana Temple

Next to the temple is a special walled off area where the killing takes place. Nothing more than an alter, a wooden post and a drain in the floor with a guy who’s sole job was to despatch the hapless animals. We looked on at the gruesome sight of chickens and goats getting their heads sawn off with a very sharp Gurhka knife. In fact the blood lust gets so great during an annual festival that 500 thousand animals meet their maker during a 2 week period.

The killing Ground

Joining the main highway again we came across many trucks and cars blocking the road. Wondering what it was all about we pushed on through Army barricades and came across a Maoist demonstration blocking the main road. Rather than being stopped we were waved through with smiles and shouts of hello and carried on our way with no bother to KTM.

Road to KTM

The Maoist party, policies based on the teachings of Chairman Mao, were disillusioned during the late 90’s due government corruption and the lack of help in dragging Nepal out of an economic slump. The party and their supporters started a violent campaign against the government which lead to bombings, abductions, executions on both sides. In 2003 and 2005 the Maoists declared truces with the government which ultimately broke down leaving the country in the same uncertain position it had been in before. Finally with overwhelming support from the young and the rural areas the Maoists came to power in 2008 but it was to be a brief occupation. The now Maoist Prime Minister sacked the head of the army, before he had chance to instate his own man he was caught on camera giving a speech at a Maoist rally state that he was intending to make the country a police state. Losing all credibility he resigned after only 9 months in charge leaving the future of the government in some uncertainty….

What you do in Kathmandu?….

We found a nice little hotel down a quite street just off the main tourist area Thamel, the Kao San Road of Kathmandu. It was perfect, two double rooms with a balcony pretty much all to ourselves, a great place to chill out.


Before we’d arrived in KTM I’d sent an email to my old London footy mate Lee, who was now teaching art in KTM, to let him now that we were turning up in a couple of days time. It was good to see a familiar face from back home and Lee did a great job of introducing us to the ex-pat community and taking us out to birthday parties and poker nights. A great guy who made sure we had a really good time while in KTM.

Durban Square

We thought we’d better do some touristy things while in KTM so we took a bus out to the town of Bhaktapur. Being traffic free the old town is an absolute pleasure to walk round. A series of cobbled streets connecting large squares with a multitude of temples, shrines, water tanks and impressive monuments. It’s the perfect place to spend a day just wandering and seeing what’s around the next corner.


It was time to head back towards Indian so we took off at lunch time with slightly fuzzy heads after a some goodbye drinks with Lee. The plan was to make Indian over the next 2 days but one thing I’ve learen’t about bike travel is the most detailed plans are never guarenteed. Planning to pick fuel upon on the way we soon realised that all the petrol stations were completely dry.
Nepal has a real problem with petrol shortages, especially in the East. They buy all their fuel from Indian and when Nepal makes a late payment India cut the supple, resulting in tight government control and a weekly quota for each station.
We were starting to think we were going to be stuck until a new supply came through. Luck would have it Herbie found a garage who took pity on some desperate tourists and sold us 20 litres out of a Jerry Can round the back of station, enough to get us back to the Terai. What a real stroke of luck.

An American guy living in KTM had told us about a 40K off-road section about 70 k’s out of KTM, this was to become the mother of all dirt trails.

Herbie had forged slightly ahead of me as I popped down a bank and stopped in my tracks as i wondered where the road gone. With river crossings you can usually see an entry and exit point, here the road just stopped at the river. After asking a few locals several times and have them pointing in the direction of the river I realised that the river was the road! Trying to avoid the deepest bits we wove either side of the bank constantly getting bogged down in mud with both of us having to push the bikes through one by one. After much struggle we decided the river was the way to go and after a couple of hundred yards we were out the other side. The road then turned into very steep slopes of deep fine powdery sand and rocks with a few more river crossings and bogs thrown in for good measure. It certainly pushed both of us beyond anything we’d ridden before.

Off-Road Mayhem

We’d made to within 10k’s of the tarmac but it was getting too dark and dangerous to continued so we stopped at a hamlet of 3 houses and asked if we could stay the night. Thankly the family took us in and save us from a night sleeping rough. They were a real lovely family who provided us with good food and a warm bed.

Village Life

In the morning we give them a gift of a little bit of money and waved goodbye and headed off towards the far eastern border.

Hurray for Tarmac!

It was time head back into India and some adventure in the wild North East region…..

No comments: