Nepal was one of those happystance occurences. We had just about 10 days and no place to go - all we knew we were mountain sick after our India trip the year before, and having the Himalayas keeping you company on long serpentine roads was just the tonic the doctor ordered.
With a little research, and a few coins in the pocket we on a flight to Nepal. We landed in the cacophony thats Kathmandu, found ourself some digs and spent a lazy afternoon wandering about.
The thing about Kathmandu is the organized chaos - it hits you like a sledgehammer. The narrow streets, the humanity, jeek in jowl, especially in old Kathmandu. The traffic rules in Nepal seem somewhat similar to India - that is, make your own. The locals have a creative response to traffic rules, and just about anything goes. You'll find buses wheezing along streets so narrow cars have a problem. The motorcycles are like mosquitoes - or nimble fighter jets - zooming in and out and around traffic and people alike.
We found a shop renting bikes and after some negotiation we managed to snare a hardy and fuel-sipping Bajaj Pulsar 180cc. We rode around the villages outside of Kathmandu, after spending an hour waiting for fuel (something to do with fuel-rations or a fuel strike), and managed to puncture the rear tire twice. No worries, the puncture-wallah was only a stone's throw away on both occassion. But after the second puncture the tube was beyond repair. After they took it out it resembled a quilt - patches on top of patches - a tube goes a long way in Nepal.
After an early start, a bit too early because it felt freezing cold to our tropical bodies, we managed to chart a course out of Kathmandu's convulted alleys. We found ourself on the Prithvi Highway going west. A few kilometres out of Kathmandu the scenery improved and the pollution lifted. After fighting the trucks and buses I was enjoying the empty roads.
We made it to Bandipur, a small town atop a hill, in good time. Bandipur is situated midway between Kathmandu and Pohkara, and its scenic location as well as its reputation as a preserved village made it a good stop.
By preserved I mean the village is a time capsule of old Nepal (well, that's what the local tourism lingo mind you). They are no roads or mechanized vehicles in the village. Only footpaths, and modernity to some extent has been kept at arm's length. All this was done to preserve a little corner of Nepal, perhaps for the tourist, Im not sure, but there werent that many tourists. Most people rarely stop - they're doing Kathmandu - Pokhara jaunt in a day.
Our hotel, on top of the hill ridge commanded panoramic views across the valley to the Himalayas. As the sun set, the Himalayas glowed an amazing red then into a subtle and dusky pink.
The next morning we awoke to find the valley submerged in dense clouds. From our eagle's perch it seems the verdant green fields have been swallowed whole, indeed only the distant hills could be seen sticking out like a row of uneven teeth.
Undaunted, because those clouds look very cold, we trundled down from the village on the Pulsar, and joined the Prithvi Highway, destination Pohkara. By ten in the morning the mist lifted, the sun was strong in the sky.
As we stumbled closer to Pohkara, the Himalayas sprang closer - and it in the clear air the Annapurna range seem to crowd over you, so close you could almost touch them. We pulled in around lunch after all those gobsmacked views, and reckoned a placid canoe ride on the lake would be a good intorduction to the town.
We managed some rides around Pohkara, and we also hurled ourselves off the hill in Sarangkot in a crazy paragliding session. I wished we had a bit more time in Pohkara - it's got a good vibe and there are plenty of things to do.
The next part of our journey meant moving south on the Siddharta Highway to Tansen. The highway is in good repair, and snakes its way through valleys and more mountains. After a easy 200km or so we made it to Tansen, a wind-swept village atop a mountain with commanding views across the Himalayas, at least that's what the phamplet said. Unfortunately it was somewhat clouded over, and all we saw were glimpses of what would have been amazing snow clad mountains.
Since it was still early we decided to go for a walk in the woods. In times like these I wonder why I do it though - I have a bike. I should be riding! After an invigorating (read tiring) walk along the wooded ridge we clambered back on the Pulsar and spent the next two hours getting lost in some of the narrowest and steepest back lanes ever made.
From Tansen it's quite a distance to Sauraha, a mixed bag town right at the fringe of the Royal Chitwan National Park (they might have dropped the Royal in Royal Chitwan though), but the road is flat and uninspiring. You also see quite a bit of Indian-registered vehicles. The Siddharta goes all the way to India, but we made a right and rode along wheat fields all the way to Chitwan.
You could spend several days wandering around in the jungles around Chitwan, but we opted for the obligatory elephant trek. I think the best elephant trek I had was in Khao Sok National Park - it was a real eye-opening experience watching that huge 3 ton beast clamber up slopes and brush aside trees, saunter through squelching mud, but the elephant in Chitwan came a close second. We even came across some endangered Chitwan rhinoceroses (I think they placed there so all the tourist have something to talk about), and the elephant did several river crossing which was pretty cool.
We had a long ride back to Kathmandu from Chitwan. We had the option of taking the regular and good routes that cut right across the country, or take the less popular route. Im glad we choose the less popular route: flat roads east to Hetauda, and then 120km to Naubise on the Tribhuvan Highway.
We started early, at first light - even though the Tribhuvan is only 120km its a convulted road that twists and turns through numerous valleys and moutain ridges, passing through incalculable villages, and I was told the road condition wasnt all that great.
We made it to Hetauda in good time - I was almost frozen stiff, but with a couple of chais and some samosas from the tea shop in the old bus station in Hetauda I felt fortified enough to tackle the Tribhuvan.
It was slow in the beginning - my fingers were numbed with the cold, but as the day progressed the ride got better. I started enjoying myself as the Pulsar put-putted across potholes and clambered up sides of sheer mountains roads so narrow a misstep would send you tumbling down hundreds of metres. And the best bit was having the roads to myself - hardly any trucks barging into your way, and barely a few cars travessing between the villages.
Did I mention the views? Well, everywhere you look - you get the idea ...
Back in Kathmandu at last, we did the tourist trail - couple of monasteries. temples and browsed knocked-off North face gear, walked the narrow alleys and cajoled stoic shopkeepers.
There is a strange quality about the country and its people. The political situation just seem to add to the mix. From Kathmandu with its masses to the mountains, it's easy to see why people get trapped here and never seem to want to leave.