An easy ride to finsih off my first stint in India, down out of the hills from Champawat and into Nepal. The road wound down steadily along the side of the hills, giving some more incredible views all the way, though a little different this time. The mountains didn’t seem to just lower themselves and flatten out, at some point they just stopped dead and the plains stretched to the horizon. Soon enough I was down there on the plain, back in the heat and thicker air. It didn’t take long to get to the border town, but I had to do some circling around to find the road to actual border. It’s a tiny road lined with markets and shoppers that I wasn’t even sure led anywhere, it took me around the back of the town, over a few bumpy paths and to two small unassuming buildings that were India immigration and customs. I nearly rode straight by them, locals can pass without checks and I nearly followed them. There were a ton of them too, walking, cycling, families piled on small motorbikes, even a few horse and carts.
Simple paperwork for the passport stamp and customs, with some chai and biscuits thrown in while I waited and told my story to all the bored officials. Almost a mile through no mans land to the next town which is technically Nepal, though you wouldn’t know any different. Riding over the bridge/dam that crosses the wide river, the road is anything but wide though. It is exactly 1 van wide, I know because a van decided to come the other way while me and another couple of bikes were crossing and we only fit with some scraping and banging and poking my pannier through the railing to hang over the river.
I nearly rode passed the immigration building in Nepal too. It was just one of the houses like any other on a long street, with a small sign and even had a little front garden. A portly man sat behind a desk in this cramped living room with some chairs set in front of another smaller desk. He reminded me of a teacher, especially when he handed me some paperwork and snorted when I asked for a pen. I paid for the visa in USD, got my stamp and set off down the road to the customs house, which is much easier to spot. I pushed my way through the crowd queuing outside and stepped in the office, this is normal practice now, no matter what everone else is waiting for, my process will be very different, having the Carnet and a bike not from a neighbouring country. It’s easier to just look like you belong, walk into the office and flash the Carnet. I waited a while for someone to become free, and passed the time looking through the Carnet log book. Most countries east of Turkey have had some huge old book to log foreigners and their vehicles, it’s always slapped comically on the table with a puff of dust, the pages are yellowed and it always smells for some reason. I always try and look through for anyone I know, blogs of people I’ve read that I know came this way, or friends that have passed through recently. I found a couple in this one, Oki and Nora (https://youtube.com/adventurism) and it always feels odd, knowing they were sat in the same situation as me, in this strange little office in Nepal, quickly scrawling their details into this big book. It’s huge and only half full, with years and years of details about foreigners who passed this way with their vehicles, and mine will probably be there for years to come too.
The woman in the office had clearly seen a Carnet before but somehow how zero idea how to fill one out. I did my best, copying from what I’d seen other officials do, thankful I’d been watching closely at other borders. She stamped and signed wherever I pointed and that was that. Me and Donkey officially in Nepal. Though I had no idea where to go, I allow a lot of time for borders to go wrong so I never plan anything afterwards, it was only early afternoon but I decided a nice rest was in order. I rode a few miles on to Bhimdatta and circled around looking for a hotel. Feeling like Golidilocks I found a posh place with a pool that would cost me 3 nights budget for their cheapest room. Another hotel that was almost free but was dire even by my very low standards. The 3rd place on the edge of the town was the nice balance. I settled in with the wifi and noisy fan and chilled out all afternoon.
I left for a walk around the town in the evening, Diwali celebrations were in full swing and the town was lit up, literally, like christmas. It’s not a very beautiful town but with fairy lights up, candles in all the doorways, the sun setting and people wandering calmly around (a very stark contrast to India) it suited me fine. I walked almost 3 times around the town in different ways and settled on a small restaurant for some food and a celebration beer for making it to Nepal. On the way back to the hotel the town was only getting livelier, fireworks were going off everywhere, nobody else seemed to find it worrying that kids were setting off fireworks and people were throwing catherine wheels into the road so I tried not to either. People shouted as I passed and called out to me, which I’m used to, as the lone foreigner in the more remote towns. But I realised after the first couple they weren’t shouting “Hey, Mister” or “What is your country! Come with me”. They were shouting “Happy Diwali” and “Namaste friend”, with no expectation of me buying something or giving them something. I started returning them feeling much happier and calmer walking around this town at night then I ever did in India.
Back to the hotel room, which was now quite full of life, the light in the bedroom was buzzing with flies and moths covering the wall black, I counted 8 large spiders in the bathroom, and one gecko, hunting them all down. I woke in the morning with someone banging frantically on the door, I opened it expecting a problem and he just wanted to know when I wanted breakfast. I wanted to sleep, not breakfast. He dragged me downstairs to speak to the owner and he explained that they were only waiting for me to leave and then all the staff would go back to their homes in the villages for the last 2 days of Diwali, no pressure then.
The road threw me a few surprises first thing, riding behind a bus getting ready to overtake it when a face appeared out the window and threw up all over the road and the side of the bus, not very encouraging for overtaking. Two minutes down the road from that was a swarm of monkeys covering the road, they started clearing at the last minute, with some of the babies running to the mothers who hugged them and glared at me as I passed, I felt like apologizing. The most surprising though, was a line of kids blocking the mountain road around a corner, holding a sign and some drums. They didn’t move as I rolled up, and I stopped next to another biker wondering what the hell was going on. I realized they were celebrating Diwali, though not sure why they decided to do it by stopping cars in the road. I was just wondering how to get out of it when a bus came up behind and they knew better than to get in the way of a bus. They parted and I shot through. The rest of the day there were countless others, some just a few kids easy to weave through, but others seemed determined to die. After passing a bunch of them I was getting annoyed and started a new tactic for getting through, slow a little so they see me, then accelerate toward them. The worst ones would hang on till the last second, then scatter, playing chicken. I had to brake hard for one suicidal line of kids but kept on at 2mph just pushing them out the way with the bike when they refused to move, I was not in the mood for a 50th singing session.
I stopped for lunch at a little quiet place, important when you get so much attention. They whole family were amazed by the foreigner and his giant bike who nearly had to crawl to fit through the door. They started asking questions but didn’t really speak English, one of the kids, only about eight started translating for them and me, him and his friend were the only ones that spoke English. A very odd lunch being watched by a family of twelve with a child translator.
The roads in the afternoon were badly surfaced, with small ruts running inline with the road, it makes the bike feel really unstable, slowly sliding me left and right. It felt like having a puncture, it got a lot worse and I actually checked the bike. Oh, a puncture. Bugger. I checked it over, pumped it up a bit but couldn’t find the hole anywhere, I pumped it up to 30psi, and jumped on, the town I was hoping to find a hotel in was only a couple of miles down the road anyway. I found it easy enough, pumped the tyre up some more and searched every millimeter of rubber and rim but couldn’t see, hear or feel anything. Just have to see how it holds over night. If it’s flat by the morning I might be in trouble, it’s the last day of Diwali and the hotel owner told me there wouldn’t be anywhere open to fix it. Thankfully the hotel was pretty nice and I’d be happy to have a day off there if needed, sitting on the balcony over the river.
A quick check in morning showed the tyre had only lost a little pressure overnight, it’s a puncture, but losing 4psi in 14 hours is nothing. The hotel was closed around me in the morning, I had to wake the owner to pay the bill and get out at all, it’s the last day of Diwali so pretty much everything would be closed. Fuel was the main problem, and after 80 miles there hadn’t been an open petrol station and I didn’t want to start the long stretch to the next village not knowing if I’d make it. I’d only seen 2 cars on the road in 4 hours, so there’d be nobody to save me if I did run out. Luckily there was a hotel that was half-open in town, a very drunk guy, 2 inches from my face explained where to go, while telling me I should come hang with them and celebrate. Which for all the young guys apparently means getting shitfaced and high at 2pm.
I went for a wander around the town in the afternoon. What, from the main road, had initially looked like a row of shacks and couple of buildings making the town turned out to just be a rough facade. The main town had some very old looking buildings and cobbled warren streets, everyone was outside in celebration of Diwali, dancing in groups in the street, kids playing all over the place, old guys sat in doorways chatting. Every single person stopped to look at me as I passed, some said “Namaste” and “Happy Dwiali” others were just struck dumb by the giant foreigner walking around. I essentially halted Diwali as I passed and I wasn’t even on Donkey, usually the source of the wonder.
The tyre lost no more pressure overnight and with the petrol station back open I got an early start onto what people had told me was a “slightly rough road”. Half the people I spoke to said there was a bridge over the river 100km ahead, others said no bridge, both my maps said no bridge, but somebody told me it was only built 7 months ago. You can only take local advice to a point though and I wasn’t going to ride two days back without seeing the river for myself. The road got a little rough at first, just unpaved packed dirt, some slippery bits and some gargantuan speed bumps I had to stand off the bike to get over without getting stuck on top.
Eventually I rounded the side of the mountain and got a good view down into the valley and the river, with a glorious concrete bridge spanning it. Then I saw the remainder of the road leading down to it, a steep sandy and rocky path switching back across the side of the mountain. Not so fun. I took it really slow, with the sheer drops on one side and such an uneven surface, then a little fist pump at the bottom riding toward the bridge.
I had an hour of peace on lovely tarmac along the floor of the valley before starting to the climb up again and the road turned to dust and broken concrete. The thick patches of dust could hide holes either by covering them or just casting shadows in the wrong direction so you don’t notice them until the last minute, ending in some stomach churning bangs on the bash plate or front wheel. It kept getting worse to the point I wasn’t sure I could even ride on it anymore. Some of the holes were so deep there was a risk of me actually getting stuck in one, beached on the exit. The whole road was covered width ways so there was no avoiding them and with a big drop on one side and Donkey bucking left and right there was nothing to do but go as slow and steady as possible, crawling for about an hour, continually smacking the bash plate and wincing. I was getting angrier the entire time, at the road, at the dust, at the setting sun putting a timer on me and at myself for choosing a stupid route.
By the time the road turned back into just broken tarmac I was in a rush, I hadn’t seen any kind of hotel in hours and still had at least 2 hours ride to the next big town if the road was good with only about an hour of sunlight left. I was riding angry too, back on the tarmac I could give some back, not a good idea at all braking late into corners and accelerating hard out of them on a tight twisty road with a sheer drop one side. It did help me concentrate a lot though in my knackered state, I’d been riding 7 hours with barely any breaks and just needed to get some miles done and find a hotel.
Finding a hotel in the dark proved tricky too when they’re not marked, but with some help from locals I found a dirty musty room for the night. By the time I had a beer with dinner the anger was gone and I was laughing at myself, I had nobody else to blame and if I’d done my research I would have known how bad the road was and probably wouldn’t have even taken it. I was fine and Donkey would get his much needed TLC in Pokhara.
The morning was full of fun, checking a couple of things on the bike I noticed the heated grips on, I thought I’d caught it with my arm and thought nothing of it. When I was packed and fully geared up to leave I found the battery totally dead, the grips must have been on much longer. One of the guys stood around the bike most of the night and morning must have turned them on playing with things, a bunch of guys working at the hotel and their friends. Despite me telling them multiple times to please not touch the bike, and don’t sit on it without me there. I nearly lost it at the hotel owner when he said “nobody touched it” I bloody well saw you touch it a few times!
I started wandering between garages and parts shops in town looking for anyone with jump leads, but people weren’t all that keen to help, some people outright didn’t want to help, others just didn’t really understand what I wanted, even with a picture. After about an hour it became clear that nobody understood what jump starting was, it baffled me. There were bikes everywhere, they knew about battery charging but didn’t understand that you could go battery to battery. It didn’t help that the power was out in the town again like it does every few hours. Any place that did have battery charging was plugged in to the wall and they couldn’t grasp the idea of going battery to battery. It was infuriating after a while all I needed was two lengths of copper, preferably wrapped in rubber and after 4 motorcycle garages I was stumped. Then I finally got the idea through to a Honda mechanic and he took me around the corner to a little shack filled with huge truck batteries. Perfect. I pushed the bike through the middle of the town to it, getting even more stares than usual, and the kid running the place immediately started trying to remove the battery ignoring my protests. I had to literally grab his hands away from the battery before he seemed to even notice me. I tried in best sign language to explain a jump start and he looked confused. We dragged a truck battery outside, grabbed some copper and I motioned for him to connect the terminals. The now quite large crowd around us were shocked when the bike started straight up, as if a jump start was some new magic I’d shown them. That still baffles me.
I got on the road, and thankfully it was a much more chilled day after that, just cruising along on nice fast flat roads for the first time in a long time. A quick stop for lunch and I made it to Butwal just as it was getting dark, stumbled on the hotel area and had a pick of a bunch of them.
Another easy ride to Pokhara the next day, back into the hills and made it into town in time for a late lunch. It was glorious, I found the tourist district and it was packed with nice looking restaurants. A complete change from the last 2 weeks, a little overwhelming to drop in to such a massive amount of westerners, restaurants and coffee shops. Nobody staring either, nobody cared there was a big dirty foreigner walking around, except for quite how filthy I was. I realised after talking to a few people that I’ve now passed some sort of marker, when people see the bike they don’t assume I rode here, they assume I flew it here, or rented it in town and don’t think twice about it. When I tell them I rode here, they’re gobsmacked, most of them aren’t travellers and haven’t ever thought of a trip like it.
I found an amazing little hostel, out of the way down an alley, I nearly died with how comfy the beds were. Donkey got to park in a neighbours garden nice and safe. The staff were so friendly and welcoming my paranoid mental alarms went off that something must be wrong, but nope. After a few days there I realised they were totally genuine and ran by family and friends that loved what they did.
I went off to the lakeside for a walk around but hadn’t even considered how touristy it was here, so I was surprised to find little bars lining the waterfront. Utter bliss. I had only planned to stay here one night before heading to Kathmandu but with a cosy hostel and a chilled out town with lakeside bars I could stick around a while.
19/10/17 – 24/10/17