Around the world by bike
(722km - 24days)
24 Match - Gorakhpur - Bhairawa - 104km
After a good breakfast of Poori and curry veg I set off on my last leg in India. High time as well, seeing that I’ve been there more than 6 months. The border crossing at Sunauli was ever so chaotic, but as everything in India, it’s working chaos, and appeared to be working just fine. On the Napali side I got a 1-month visa for $40 (a 3-month visa was $100, and I did not have enough money on me). 4km Further north was the small village of Bhairawa, where I found a room in the Mt Everest Hotel. What a surprise!! The room was clean!! There was even a shower (instead of just a bucket) and the water was warm!
I took a walk to the ATM to get some Nepalese money and a new sim card for my phone. What a rigmarole that was! Fingerprinted and all! At last, I got the sim, but once in my room I discovered that, although it seems to be working, I could not send any SMS messages.
25 March - Bhairawa – Lumbini - 22km
After breakfast I tried again to get my phone fixed, but to no avail (language is also a bit of a problem). As Lumbini (the birthplace of Buddha) was just a short ride away, I decided to make the deviation and see what it entails. What a pleasant surprise Lumbini was! One would think that the birthplace of Buddha, and a major pilgrimage place, would be a hectic town. Instead, it was one of the most peaceful pilgrimage sites I have visited. The area has been declared a world heritage site and is more of a peace park than anything else.
26 March - Lumbini – Butwal - 44km
The road was still flat, hot and dusty and so was the town of Butwal. Butwal sits at a major junction so I decided to stay and make up my mind which way to go. I could go north, but once I laid eyes on what is known as the “hills”, I decided to go east past the Chitwan National Park. I was only delaying the inevitable, as eventually I would have to cross the hills to get to Katmandu.
I also needed a room where I could charge my many electrical devices, as the power in Nepal seems to be even more erratic that in India. They have 16 hours of no electricity a day! The times vary from day to day, and town to town, but the previous two nights the power came on from 24h00 to 06h00!! Who needs that!
27 March - Butwal – Narayangarh - 121km
It’s 2 years on the road today. I wonder how many people have actually cycled from Cape Town to Nepal; it will be interesting to know.
I was ready to leave at my normal time (around 8h30) but there was a strike going on as well as a curfew. Tires were burning in the road and there were loads of police around. Eventually I left at around 10h30. I had the road all to myself, what a pleasure! Due to the strike, no vehicles were allowed on the road, so it was only pedestrians and bicycles. About 30km from Butwal I had my first taste of the “hills”, the road just kept going up and up for the next 15km, but where there’s an up there’s normally a down on the other side. I reached Narayangarh and was happy to find a room right on the road, The Royal Rest House. It was not so Royal but it had a generator and an outside window.
I ordered food from the restaurant and received two full meals! What were they thinking? (Usually that happens when there are 2 of us, and only one orders food).
28 March - Narayangarh – Sauraha - 35km
A short ride again to Royal Chitwan National park. Even although this is the main highway in Nepal, road signs are non-existent, to such an extent that I went past the turnoff twice! In Sauraha, the village just outside the park, I found loads of accommodation. Most of it was really nice, with cottages set in a nice garden area. Due to the political unrest, tourist numbers have not yet returned in full to this part of Nepal, so one could pick and choose the best place. Big discounts were also on offer at most places and so I found a really nice cottage opposite the park entrance for Rp 300.
The rest of the town is rather touristy and priced far higher than I had expected, Nepal is actually more expensive than India and my money is not lasting. Many things, I’ve noticed, are imported form India.
Elephants are a common sight so close to the park and one can see “pahits” (a person who works with the same elephant all this life) walking their elephants between the park and the river. Every day the elephants are bathed in the river.
29 March - Sauraha
What a great day I had! First, I took an elephant safari into the park. What a way to see the park! The deer and other animals seemed unperturbed by the elephants strolling around. There was just time for a bite to eat and as the permit for the park is valid for the whole day I took a canoe ride down the river for about an hour and then walked back, which took about 3 hours. It was great to be in nature and although there was not a lot of wildlife to be spotted, it was great just to walk in the jungle. I did however see plenty of bird life, some deer and the famous march mugger and some rhinos. In South Africa, a walk in a nature reserve definitely entails a guide with a gun, but here the guides were only armed with a stick! I just hoped that we would not run into any tigers or other dangerous animals.
That evening, back at my room, I was lucky to observe a local tribal dance, which was held for a group of guests staying at the same resort.
30 March - Sauraha – Royal beach camp - 84km
What a day! At last, it felt that I was in real Nepal. I cycled along with high mountains in the foreground, along a river gorge with teahouses clinging to the cliff side and prayer flags blowing in the wind. At Mugling, I turned right towards Katmandu, and once again followed the river. The road was everything but flat, but I did not really gain any height as it was mostly up and down. I followed the road, until I spotted a river rafting camp with a beautiful setting and beach huts. Right there and then I decided to stay with them for the night and what a good choice it was. We sat around, had a beer and some food and just chilled out.
31 March - Royal beach camp – Kathmandu - 90km
I was informed that I had a 1500m climb ahead of me, so after a good breakfast of the most delicious pancakes I set off. They were not wrong. The day mostly climbed up the mountainside (still next to the river) but most of the altitude gain was in a short stretch of about 10 – 15km. A zigzag path led up the mountain and one could see the trucks snaking way up the mountainside. Not something, I wanted to see. I switched to my smallest gear and put my head down. Eventually I reached the top and then had a long downhill ride into Kathmandu. Unfortunately, it started bucketing down so by the time I got to central Katmandu I was freezing and soaked to the bone. I took the first hotel I could find and settled in. There was no way I was going to look for the tourist suburb of Thamel in peak hour traffic and in the pouring rain. That could wait for the next morning.
The next morning I discovered that I was actually in Thamel, so I just moved to a cheaper room. Thamel is very touristy, with loads of accommodation, souvenir shops, and trekking/adventure businesses lining the narrow alleys. I also met up with Ernest who’d arrived in Katmandu ahead of me after taking a shortcut over the mountains from the Indian border (he never received his spares in Patna, after waiting there for 2 days – he did, however, find a replacement for his broken axle here in Kathmandu). That night we went out on the town to some of the places I used to frequent when I was here in Kathmandu during my trekking expedition to Anapurna.
1 – 6 April - Katmandu
Thee years ago, on a visit to Nepal, I spent time trekking the well-known Annapurna Trail, one of the most scenic routes through the Himalaya. The scenery and the humility of the mountain people stayed with me and I was pleased to be back among the Nepali people.
I stayed in the tourist area of Thamel with its trekking shops, restaurants and Tiger balm sellers. It’s a cosmopolitan area, with loads of tourists, trekkers, climbers and bicycle rickshaws all crammed into its narrow alleys. I had my bike serviced, laundry done and sent some postcards home.
As the third was my birthday, I splashed out on a pizza and a glass of wine. I even had my nose pierced (a gift from Ernest) and although I definitely do not have the nose for it (no that is not a bad nose job), it’s something I have wanted to do for a long time.
THE PROBLEM WITH TIBET
The Tibetan boarder was still closed for individual tourists, the only way to pass through Tibet and on to China was by organized tour to Lhasa and then by train to China. These tours were too expensive for us and it still would have meant that we would not cycle through Tibet, so a new plan had to be made.
As we had plenty time, Ernest spent 3 full days, cleaning, oiling and adjusting his bike, and also found a replacement rear axle for the one which had been broken for thousands of k’s. During that time I wandered the alleys, drank coffee and read. As Thamel caters for tourists, there was a large variety of food available, ranging from pizzas, felafel, Indian-, Mexican- and Tibetan food. Both cheese (Yak) and meat (Yak) was readily available, but after 6 months in India I found most of the food bland. On entering a restaurant, I still found myself ordering the tasty South Indian dishes instead of the local Napali food, which consists mainly of Dahl Bhat (rice and lentils). It was, however, quite a novelty to order a cheese sandwich from one of the many sandwich shops in the alleys.
The day before we were to leave on a cycle trip around Nepal, I also discovered that the rear axel on my bike was broken, and a whole day was spent having a new one fitted. I was surprised at the good quality bicycle parts available in Katmandu (and that at half the price one will pay for it in South Africa)
7 April - Katmandu – Mugling - 115km
A day that should have been very easy left me totally exhausted. It was only a short 400-meter climb out of Katmandu Valley and then a 1500-meter exhilarating downhill to the bottom of the Mahesh Khola Valley. The remainder of the road was a constant up and down along the river with beautiful views. (I must have been coming down with a cold or something). The day was hot and dusty, quite different from Katmandu, which was much cooler. We reached Mugling and found a room, I was so tired that I fell asleep shortly after we arrived.
Mugling is a small but busy town about half-way between Kathmandu and Pokhara, at the intersection with the main road from the South (India). It is therefore a popular stopping place for trucks and busses and there is the constant honking and revving of trucks and busses spewing black exhaust fumes into the air.
8-9 April - Mugling – Bandipur - 37km
Ernest’s birthday arrived with the hooting and revving of busses and trucks in the main road. We followed the road west to Pokhara but turned off for Bandipur after about 30km. We followed the very steep 8km road up to Bandipur located high on the hilltop. I not only was coming down with another chest infection (I’m sure due to the pollution) but also discovered that my rear brake did not release completely. No wonder I was so tired the day before. Halfway up the hill, I released the back brake and then things were going a bit easier.
We stayed an extra day giving my chest a chance to recover and to explore the around the village of Bandipur. In Katmandu (as in India), the air is so polluted that I had been experiencing chest problems for an extended time. I had also noted that many locals were wearing masks when out in the traffic.
10-11 April - Bandipur – Pokhara - 70km
It was an exhilerating downhill back to the main road (I made sure that my rear brake was secured) and then a steady climb to Pokhara. Ernest had a front tyre puncture on the way downhill, and once again had to do repairs while being watched by a group of very intrigued children. It was a clear day and we had good views of the snowy Annapurna Hiimalaya’s in the distance.
It was election time in Nepal, and there was another strike in the area, meaning that no vehicles were allowed on the road. Great for cycling, no traffic and no diesel fumes!! Just great views!!
Pokhara is as touristy as Katmandu with hundreds of trekking shops, restaurants and guesthouses. It is however, a pretty place set right on Lake Phewa with good views of the Annapurna range and Mt Machhapuchhare. Here one can find just about anything from cheese (Yak cheese) to toiletries, clothing and climbing gear. This is very different from rural Nepal, but also a luxury if one has been on the road or in the mountains for an extended time.
On 13th April, I took the bus back to Katmandu instead of cycling the same route for the 3rd time in 2 weeks. Ernest, not one for taking a bus, decided to cycle back. I found the bus no less tiring, but at least only took 1 day instead of the 3 days cycling days.
13-16 April Katmandu
On arrival back in Katmandu, I discovered that it was Nepali New year’s Eve! The streets were jam packed with people and one could hardly move, bars and restaurants were packed full and music could be heard through the night. What a festive atmosphere. The most interesting part is that the Nepali Calendar is 57 years ahead of the Gregorian calendar, thus it was the year 2066.