01. Nepal

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.

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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.

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