Monthly Archives: May 2012

…… into the fire!

Just a photo opportunity for somebody. In the middle of another massive traffic jam!

Before leaving Nepal I changed all my Nepalese rupees for Indian rupees. The Nepalese rupee is a restricted currency and is completely worthless outside the country except at border crossings, like Sonauli on the Indian side of the border, where there is a thriving black market for anyone who has forgotten to change their money.

Crossing out of Nepal turned out to be a somewhat comical affair.

Immigration in Nepal was no problem – 15min. Would have been even less if it weren’t for the stupid American tourist playing dress-ups as a Buddhist monk arguing about his expired visa. The main stumbling block was the carnet for the bike. Nobody in the Customs office seemed quite sure what to do with it. It got passed around several times – each time being checked that the 24 identical, unused pages were still identical and unused. Then somebody decided that I needed to get a copy of my passport and visa from a shop 100m across the road. After waiting in a squabbling queue for 20min I returned to the Customs office with the vital (?) photocopy in my hand only to find that I needed to get one more signature.  And guess what? He was on lunch. However, a very helpful and diligent (and, I suspect, about to be demoted) official took me 100m away over to the house where the grand poobah of Customs officials was having more than ‘lunch’. But who am I to criticise? After getting partially redressed he autographed my carnet and I was free to leave Nepal.

Surely things could only improve in India!

By comparison, border formalities in India were straightforward. Customs – no problems with the carnet. Just had to find the right book – 30min. Immigration – 15 minutes.  Back out onto the streets, straight into the clutches of the “helpers” who were particularly keen to relieve me of any US or Australian dollars. After no doubt making a sizable donation to their Christmas party I just wanted to get on the bike and get moving again.

By now, it had been just over three hours since I had first arrived at the border. The suffocating heat, biting dust, choking diesel fumes, blaring horns and seething crowds were just getting too much and I had to get away.

But where to? Continue reading

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Categories: 02. India | 1 Comment

Out of the frying pan……..

After leaving Gorkha, the plan was to take a leisurely 3-day wander across the relatively unpopulated Terai region of western Nepal and cross into India at the little-used border crossing at Mahendranagar/Banbosa. Thus leaving me a solid 3-4 day trip skirting across the top of the most heavily industrialised and populated part of northern India to Amritsar – the Holy City of the Sikhs.

What could possibly go wrong with such a simple plan?

Democracy – that’s what went wrong. Or the demand for more of it, to be more precise.

Unbeknownst to most of the Western world, and this traveller in particular, Nepal is at a crucial turning point in the history of the current nation-state. Since the Royal Palace Massacre in 2001, and the ditching of the monarchy completely shortly afterwards, Nepal appears to be struggling to make a go of being a republic and is in danger of splintering into the many tribal regions. A surefire recipe for total ecomomic collapse, as only the Kathmandu valley region and the Pokhara region would have any hope of surviving as independent states. And these two regions rely almost entirely on Western tourism/trekking/mountain-climbing.

Enough of the history lesson. Due to the above state of affairs, some people in western Nepal didn’t like what some people in the Kathmandu were doing with the new Constitution so the people in western Nepal spat the dummy and organised protests against it. The police decided to close the road to travellers, including foreign tourists, about 50 km west of Butwal. The consequences of this road closure on my travel plans were disastrous. Not only was crossing the border at Mahendranagar now completely out of the question, but my second option at Nepalgang was also out of reach. I would have to backtrack 50km to Butwal and cross into India at Sonauli – the busiest border crossing of all. As well as that this road would take me further south into the industrial wasteland that stretches across much of this part of India.

So what was supposed to be a leisurely 5-6 day amble across the countryside to Amritsar turned into a 7-day marathon.

But that’s another story.

Categories: 01. Nepal | Leave a comment

Escaping Kathmandu!

Ah, the serenity!

The trip to Gorkha went relatively smoothly.  The locals were right – it did take 4 hours to cover the 140km.  Stifling heat, dust and diesel fumes makes any travel demanding. I stayed at the Gurkha Inn which was not quite as 3-Star as the KGH Travel Desk would have me believe.  The garden balcony did provide some serenity after the chaos of the first week in Kathmandu though.  Unlike Thamel District in Kathmandu which is swarming with Western tourist, there are virtually no Western tourists here. Visited Gorkha Palace on top of the hill behind the city. It is 400-500 years and, like a lot of the palaces and temples, completely unrestored. Sadly, this means that many of the clay bricks are slowly crumbling back to their original state and the intricate wooden carvings are also in a precarious state with many dried out and splintering badly.

A truly impressive set-up – Akosh’s Transalp/Africa Twin

Met up again with a fellow motorcyclist from Hungary called Akosh. I had met him a few days earlier at the KGH when I told him I was going to Gorkha but lost contact with him due to phone problems.  Akosh was riding a Transalp/Africa Twin 750.  An impressive sight when fully loaded. It must be a handful in the dirt or sand.  It made my R100GS look like a WR450.

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Let the games begin!

All wrapped up

Ready to be unwrapped up at Nepalese Customs.

After 3 hours of fun and games with Nepalese Customs officials, dodgy agents and the exchange of 4000 rupees (only about $50), I finally extracted the bike from the grips of Tribhuwan Airport. Thai Cargo were great though.

Riding back from the the airport to the Kathmandu Guest House (KGH) in Thamel District was surprisingly easy apart from a couple of roadblocks, two political street demonstrations and a nutcase waving a huge political flag in the street as I rode past.

My time in Kathmandu comes to an end tomorrow (Tuesday) as I escape the chaos and head for the countryside.  Before I can do that though, there is a small question of petrol. With all the strikes surrounding  the new constitution, all of the petrol stations are closed.  Some people are selling it privately by the gallon.  The only places with bowsers are the police headquarters and the army.  They are only open between 5 and 6pm though.

Bike outside KGH

Pick the odd one out!

The arrival of the big yellow monster in the carpark of the KGH has certainly had a dramatic effect on my social life/standing.  For the first 2-3 days, the so-called “adventure” tourists showed very little interest in my travel plans.  However, after the bike turned up, all of a sudden people wanted to talk to me about my trip, offer me beds in foreign countries or take me out for dinner.  I preferred it when they didn’t give me a second glance.

The local Nepalese people, however,  are great – helpful, humble and very generous  (even when most have very little to give).  In fact, they are everything that most of the Western tourists are not.  As in most Asian countries the rich are very, very rich and the poor are very, very poor.  If it weren’t for the powerlines and and dilapidated advertising,  some parts of Kathmandu could be straight out of the 14th century.

Tomorrow I head for Gorkha – the original imperial capital of Nepal (before it moved to Kathmandu) and home of the famous Gurkhas and the deadly khukuri knife/dagger. Gorkha is only 140km from Kathmandu but the locals say it will take at least 3-4 hours. The local bus takes seven hours!! Oh, for the Marlborough stretch!!

Wish me luck!

PS. I will upload some photos when I can find a way of doing it without crashing the dodgy internet connection.

PPS. Finally found a computer that doesn’t crash. Hopefully will be able to add a few more.

Categories: 01. Nepal | Leave a comment

Still not there yet!

Despite supreme optimism on my part, the bike still managed to miss the plane on Wednesday.  It “should” be on the plane today (Friday) and here in Kathmandu on Saturday.  Then the fun begins trying to extract it from the airport.  After the super-modern, space-age Suvarnabhumi airport in Bangkok, Tribhuvan airport here in Kathmandu is like stepping back into the 70’s.

The Kathmandu Guest House is a veritable sanctuary compared to the chaos that is the streets of Kathmandu.  This was made worse by the fact that all the public buses were on strike yesterday in response to the new constitution that is being released in about 10 days time.  Lots of roads closed and general mayhem.  This presented a golden opportunity for the taxi drivers to double or even quadruple fares from the airport to the city.

Internet access is fairly cheap but very intermittent and unreliable. Have tried uploading some photos but takes far too long, even with low resolution.

I will spend the next few days playing tourist until I can get back on two wheels and the odometer on the right will start ticking over (many thanks to Laurence).

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Almost… but not quite!

The hole in the plane waiting for my bike.

Well, at least one of us made to the airport on time. Still no final word from QANTAS about the bike. Boarding in about 40 min. Maybe I might see the bike being loaded from the viewing deck.

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Are we there yet?

Have just heard back from QANTAS Courier. The bike will be flying to Bangkok on the same flight as I am. Hopefully it will be on the same flight to Kathmandu as well. Tomorrow is the big day. Twelve hour stopover in Bangkok, then on to Kathmandu. All very exciting/nerve-wracking at the moment!

 

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Bike on a plane – almost!

Spent a very entertaining afternoon at Brisbane Airport freight precinct trying to get all the necessary bits of paper to put the bike on a plane bound for Kathmandu. If you ever want to do this yourself, you MUST talk to a gentleman called Mal Miller at QANTAS Courier – they handle personal freight. Do not contact QANTAS Freight – they are a separate branch of QANTAS and only handle commercial freight.  Mal is extremely knowledgeable and efficient, and a nice guy as well. He has shipped many private motorcycles overseas for overland travellers. You will also need to get a “Dangerous Goods Declaration”. The DG Declaration will cost $143 from a company called Dangerous Goods Management (DGM). The guy in charge is called Steve Turner. Like Mal, Steve has also helped freight many motorcycles overseas and he is extremely helpful.  These two guys can get you sorted out in about one hour. Do not, under any circumstances, talk to anybody else. Otherwise, you will spend a couple of hours running around in circles, as I did, trying to follow useless instructions from people who don’t know what is required.

The contact details for Mal and Steve are on the Links page.

So, hopefully the bike will be on a plane to Kathmandu on Monday (May 14) and I will follow on Wednesday (May 16).

Let the adventure begin!

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Had the needle(s) ….and no damage done!*

Had the last visit to the quack yesterday. I am now vaccinated against rabies, typhoid and cholera along with a booster for tetanus – to go along with the Hep A and Hep B shots from previous trips. Just have to finish packing the bike and it’ll be time on Monday to hit the road for Brisbane and the Qantas International Freight Terminal.

*Apologies to Neil Young

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