I got the idea to ride Nepal one night when chatting to the Black Dog adventure group who were thinking to go there. They decided instead on Northern Vietnam but I noticed a cheap round trip fare to Kathmandu of $400 so jumped at it.
The flight from Tokyo was touch too early so I elected to stay overnight nearby and decided to try a capsule hotel at the airport called 9 hours. The bed space is not as small as it looks, actually on a plane this would be business class and you have lockers to put your things in, showers and toiletries and PJ’s and slipper all provided. But dormitory accommodation has the problem that you are exposed to everyone else’s noise, people coming and going, the snorers. It took me long time to get to sleep even with ear plugs and in the morning everyone’s phones start sounding wake up alarms to ensure only the heaviest can sleep on further but it put me there early rather than last minute which proved smart given by the time I arrived ‘airside’ and had light breakfast the flight was already boarding.
Nepal Motorcycle Ride was first published to Motorcycle Paradise April 2018
I wasn’t seeking to climb high mountains again as I did in India, rather just view them from afar and sample some local food and life. A tour of western Nepal was advised to me by one of the rental shops as the best riding so I decided to adapt their organised tour route to suit my own preference. The other option was to ride to the area referred to as Mustang, closer to the ranges but the road there appears to be a 4X4 trail of loose stones and wash outs which did not sound appealing by myself.
The flight was cheap maybe because it had 24 hour stops in Chengdu but this offered a chance to see the city with its free 24 to 72 hour visa on arrival. This is great idea since getting a Chinese tourist visa for an Australian passport holder is complicated, expensive and time consuming. Tip, make sure you have a pen to fill out forms when flying, always amazes me how many people are wandering around lost trying to borrow a pen. If you hand yours over it will be passed around and never seen again. And have your ticket printed. It remains something that some official will insist on seeing in paper at some point on every trip I make.
Chengdu was actually my first look at mainland China. 10 lane highways lined with flower beds and beautiful parks. Wide tree line boulevards. Spotless paved footpaths. Every 2nd car is a luxury German model. 100’s of push bike sharing facilities. Felt like I was in some affluent newly built European city. Everyone was very friendly despite I speak no Mandarin. If you have travelled recently you would have encountered the Chinese tour groups with women of a certain older age that display a lot of rude behavior. I had mentally painted a incorrect image in my mind of what to expect and was very wrong.
On the spotless modern subway nobody was pushing and nobody stared at me as happens in Japan despite being the sole foreigner everywhere I went. The train projects advertisements onto the tunnel walls outside the windows as you travel between stations. Made Tokyo seem out of date, but then Bangkok has managed to do that for few years now. I toured a historic district but it is a recreation not authentic. Not sure what gave it it away.Had some fantastic food. Lost in translation I mistakenly ordered enough for 2-3 people but it still came to only $10.Train just 50c a ride, all very affordable despite amazing infrastructure and wealth on display. I should look into seeing more of China sooner rather than later.I noted no access to social media while there which didn’t bother me. But then I also noted my blog was blocked along with any other blog on my reading list and felt it was a shame no riders there can look at this content. My tip bring cash as my overseas credit cards did not work and have hotel address in Chinese kanji letters as taxi drivers naturally do not read any English.
Leaving Chengdu the scenery is dramatic barren brown ranges with remote villages dusted with snow that unfortunately I did not capture before clouds covered the view but then in the distance sits a world above the clouds!At cruising altitude we detour around these incomprehensibly high mountains. Then I am presented with this magnificent view of the famous peaks which seem to scrap the very roof of the world. I got whip lash from looking between my window and the one behind me, the views were stunning and much closer than this the wide lens pushing things away in the photo. From here you drop down into Kathmandu and still have 2000m+ mountains below you whilst looking back at the 8000m+ giants behind the plane. It was the most spectacular flight I have been on.I did the visa application in advance online which took a number of attempts but finally worked and then all I needed was pay $25US on arrival, make sure you have new crisp notes.
Alas Kathmandu is a dust bowl. A city of unsealed gravel roads. The dust constantly fills the sky as a huge cloud and is pervasive getting into everywhere. Thamel is where everyone stays but it is a tourist trap of the highest order. Every shop is selling overpriced fake Chinese knockoffs or expensive bad food. The dusty gravel streets are filled with touts conning tourists every which way possible along with dozens of guys offering drugs who follow you around endlessly. I’ve seen it before in other places tourists gush about and never understood what the attraction was there either.
I skipped the fake North Face bags and the ‘genuine’ Swiss watches and got a haircut and shave at a old style barber with mixed results so settled on some non fake wine from Chile my favourite wine producing country and kicked back watching the 2018 IPL* which is very popular in Nepal. (*Cricket, Indian Premier League)
Wearing my Kathmandu socks in Kathmandu, the high point of my visit to Thamal – but busy cities are never my thing.
I had pre-booked a bike with a shop called BS Motorbike despite the dubious name. I chose them mainly as they advertised having a KTM Duke 250 at $32 day which I imagined might be a good machine for this ride. Some poor communication made me nearly give up on them and switch to City Motorcycles which were much more professional in their communications but eventually it all worked out. In person BS Motorbike were good to deal with and they did not need to hold my passport as did City Motorcycle just another ID for security. The bike was near new and serviced ready to go.
Day 1. I got out of Thamel easy then hit some very bad traffic leaving Kathmandu. A couple of total grid lock intersections. Two lanes each way but with no divider vehicles pull out to use the two oncoming lanes so this results with 4 lanes of head to head traffic plus two lanes intersecting where the cars had also taken both lanes giving total of ten lanes all staring at each other beeping their horns and not able to move. I followed some other bikes to ride along what would be the footpath/overpath that was fortunately too narrow for cars to try use. Like the road it was just dusty gravel but the 250 Duke handled the dirt well enough and after about 45 minutes of this sort of mess I was clear and had a nice ride down a mountain on good tar and stopped for a large bottle of water to wash away some of the grit. The road from here north continued to be sealed and whilst nothing special was enjoyable in that I reflected where I was. Riding a new bike in Nepal instead of at work like I should be, how could I not be happy! By chance I picked an excellent lunch venue. The road side cafe looked nothing much from the outside but the name made me stop since anything with a view has my interest. I had a Nepalese lunch set. A veg thali which I started before thinking to take a photo not being the Instagram master. I was almost done when the owner came and refilled all the bowls for free despite my protests. So full I could hardly move afterwards and took a long break in the small nipa huts perched on the side of hill enjoying the tranquility. Cost about $2 with drinks. Owners were super friendly and we chatted for ages. As always great to be out of the city. The riding this afternoon was more or less the same, some nice curves here and there but I was just taking it easy getting to know the Duke and local road rules which are a bit like Sri Lanka where vehicles will pull out into your lane flashing their lights and you need to move to the very edge of the road. But under a certain distance from you they will wait even for a bike and are no way as aggressive as Sri Lanka.
The Duke has the footpegs a bit too high and rearward for my long legs and the seat is a little lower than I expected for a 250 but I am coping ok. Odd stray cow and lots of vehicles in my lane around blind curves, nothing surprising so far.Entering another small range there was a total road jam. The cause was a truck in wrong lane on blind curve head on with another which left one lane closed but as in town impatient people pull out into the other lane and this happens in both directions backing back 5-10 km and growing as more cars arrive all blocking every other one in front in with no possible way for oncoming vehicles to pass. It would take hours to get sorted thanks to their craziness but bikers of course can weave though the most narrow of gaps and believe me it was so tight that it got down to a few steps at time walking pace then stop while other riders alighting and asked cars to roll forward or back an inch or two to let us pass. Two wheels is the only way to travel.
Much later I arrived at my destination for today, Bandipur, a historic town in the mountains. Not a long distance but still it took me a good part of the day. I was right in thinking mileage here would need to be conservative.
Today was new years eve in Nepal which uses their own calendar that predates. A street party was happening with food and drinks and a small ceremony. How lucky, I had no idea when I planned this ride. I explored the town and really wanted my proper camera but I left it at home as often happens since I find it too heavy to lug overseas. I enjoyed talking to an old guy who lives there sampled a range of street food and couple of drinks generally enjoying the festivities. The whole village lost power not too long into the night, seems a common thing. It was quite cold out so I returned to my room to light a candle, that being my hotels emergency lighting system and I called it a day after finishing my beer. Happy New Year in April from Nepal. I shall continue my ride report here in part two shortly.