Kathmandu, Daman, Birganj, Raxaul, Total Kms 12000
In the 1970s Kathmandu was a hippie community with only a handful of Westerners making the epic journey overland by bus or Land Rover each year. They would have arrived in a very small capital with almost no facilities for visitors. Today it’s a different city. Hundreds of shops, hotels and restaurants have been built to cater to the thousands of tourist who visit each year. Most arrive in the trekking season usually mid October and after a couple of days spent in the city they then head off to Everest base camp. A huge industry has grown up around Mount Everest’s Base camp and 75 charter flights each carrying 20 people leaves Kathmandu each day at the height of the season. A city full of tourists means a city full of touts and it’s almost impossible to walk along the main street without having someone offering to sell you a good trekking experience, a white water rafting experience, a good hash experience or a cheap flight to Base Camp. Hundreds of salesmen walk the streets selling everything from incense sticks to wooden musical instruments. It doesn’t matter how many times you might say no and ignore them they still insist on asking you if you want to buy whatever it is they are selling. It’s a fine art, they ask you which Country are you from and are then able to tell you how much cheaper they are than the biggest selling shop in your home country. So in my case I heard ‘’cheaper than Tesco’s’’ every time I passed. The only guys who seemed to be doing very well were those selling pollution face mask
Kathmandu is one of the most polluted cities in the World and after Tehran is the worst I’ve visited. Hundreds of motorbikes and cars cram into the small narrow streets of the city each day and by mid morning it’s impossible to breathe the polluted air. It’s a very religious city and a small Temple or Shrine can be found on almost every street corner. Usually decorated with flowers and incense many have bells hanging on the walls which the devoted are able to ring as they pass. Some of the Temples are dedicated to Hindu gods of which there are hundreds and others are dedicated to Buddhism. Both Hindu and Buddhist monks walk the streets daily offering blessings in return for food or a small gift of money.
Leaving the city and heading into the Kathmandu valley is a completely different experience and it’s like stepping back in time to an area untouched by the modern world and Tourism. My route out of Nepal to the border with India is a ride of about 1000Kms and would take me through the heart of this valley. I was told that there was a choice of two routes to the border. The first was the main road used by cars and trucks and would be busy and dangerous. This is the route I had taken when I arrived in Nepal and the road had been so busy with the usual mass of fast moving traffic that I had decided it would be much safer to take a bus for the last 100Kms into Kathmandu. The second route would be much less busy but the road was in very poor condition. This turned out to be an understatement. The main road is so busy because there is no second road, just a track fit for motorbikes and the odd 4×4. For the first part of this route I was on a well paved road and the views were stunning, everything you imagine Nepal should offer. The Himalayas where a couple of hundred Kms behind me but with clear skies as I climbed out of the valley I had perfect views and could just make out Everest in the distance. As I slowly climbed to about 2000mts the road began to disappear to be replaced by a pot holed track.
It was impossible to ride the bike because of the loose stones and dust. The only way to move forward was to push the bike for most of that day I was covered in the dust that was kicked up by every motorbike or 4×4 that passed. I didn’t know it then but it was going to take me almost three days of pushing the bike uphill to over 3000mts before I would reach the town of Daman and the top of the valley. It would then be a 60Kms downhill ride to the border. At times I couldn’t believe I was on the right track and would often ask the people who had stopped to ask me what I was up to if I was going in the right direction. It’s always interesting asking for directions and that’s not just in Nepal but everywhere I’ve been. People Travelling in the same cars will give different directions. When asking directions to Daman this is what I was told,
This is not the road to Daman. His passenger said it was.
This is the road to Daman it is 30, 60, 10Kms from here. (Choose your Kms)
Turn round and go back to Kathmandu, there you will pick up the road you need.
There is no town called Daman in Nepal.
Why do you want to go to Daman?
This is the short cut to Daman you will be there in half an hour.
This last answer made me laugh because I had been on the road for two days and knew that Daman had to be at least 50Kms form where I was. I was on the right road but because it was in such a bad state with only the odd vehicle passing me I needed a little reassurance so would ask anyone who stopped to talk to me. Surprisingly I did manage to find a small place to stay for the night. As it got to about 4pm I started to look for somewhere to pitch the tent, I wasn’t looking forward to camping. I was filthy from the days push and only had a litre of water. Then I saw a small sign pointing towards a narrow lane off the main track, on the sign was painted the word gast house. To call it a guest house was optimistic as it hadn’t seen a guest in years and I wasn’t sure which part of the shack you could call a house but it was a place to sleep. I would be safe and warm. There was enough cold water in a bucket at the back of the house so that I could have a wash. The owner spoke no English; I had a few basic words in Nepali picked up from a guide book. Do you have a room for the night and how much is it. There was no food on offer but I had fruit and biscuits and I calculated that he wanted $2.00 for the room and nothing for the bike. He was a strange old boy living up there on his own well off the tourist route with a guest house that probably saw no guests. I’m not afraid to say that I was a little scared as I tucked myself into my sleeping bag for the night, no one knew where I was, even I couldn’t pin point the place out on a map. I was staying in this house in the middle of nowhere and I fell asleep wondering if my body would ever be found.
That wonderful old man had come into the room in the night but not with murder on his mind, only to put a blanket over me, I had gone to sleep completely exhausted thinking about murder with just a sheet over my sleeping bag and when I woke in the morning I was covered in this thick warm blanket. We had a breakfast of tea and biscuits and I then headed off on my push for the day. About 20Kms along the road from the guest house was a small village called Palun. Like all the other villages I had passed through it was a farming community. Terraces had been levelled by hand into the hills and wheat, rice, carrots and many other vegetables were being grown. It was a poor community with this dusty main track passing through the middle of the village. There was the usual commotion as I entered the village with people staring at me from the safety of their homes and mothers quickly gathering up their children as I passed like something out of an old Western movie as the bad guy rides into town. The small local school was at the very end of the village and a crowd of smiling children surrounded me as I stopped to say hello. They were a happy group of chattering kids fascinated by the stranger on the bike. It was one of only two teachers in the school who me asked me if I would like to help for the day, he would give me a bed for the night if I could speak to the kids through him about my experience on the bike and my life in Britain. I had a gang of happy children climbing on me and the bike how could I say no.
That day in the school taught me an important lesson. I’m always on the right road, all the uphill pushing and dirt, the frustration of the Kms ahead of me, not knowing where I would be staying the night; it was all worth it for the day that I spent with those children in the middle of Nepal. The school had about 100 children and four teachers. The youngest child was six and the oldest twelve. I spoke to them about the bike ride and life in Britain. During the lunch break I took loads of photos, each child wanted to be photographed individually so that they could see themselves in the digital screen on the camera. It’s a day I will never forget and makes every day that I’m on the bike worthwhile.
The next day saw me climb to the highest point of the valley and the last 10Kms to Daman. This part of the track had become a paved road but it was still a very steep climb and at times easier to get off the bike and push rather than riding. I stayed overnight in Daman. It’s a town high up on the ridge of the valley known for its spectacular views of the morning sunrise over the Himalayas. I was the only solo traveler in the hotel along with a group of ten Germans who recognised the components on the bike. The tyres and gear system are German and they were not surprised that I had managed to ride from London to Nepal. The morning sunrise was beautiful and it’s at times like that I wished I had brought a better and much more powerful camera and not worried about its weight. However the photographs are printed on my heart for me to recall wherever I am and there they will remain forever. Then the final downhill 50Kms sprint to the border. It wasn’t really a sprint, the road was too steep with too many tight turns and I spent most of the ride downhill pulling on the brake leavers to slow me down but I was very happy to be going downhill all be it very slowly as it was the first downhill stretch in three days.
I’ve loved Nepal it’s been my favourite country to ride through. The people have good hearts and a gentleness in them that is missing in many parts of the world. It was while I was riding through the beautiful Kathmandu valley and meeting those wonderful school children that I realised how lucky I am being able to undertake this incredible journey. I’m traveling slowly enough to really appreciate all that is around me. I’ve become a part of the environment and life is literally in my face every single day as it can never be when traveling on a bus or train. It might not be for everyone but for me there is no better way to see the world than from the saddle of a bicycle.
I was invited to celebrate Diwali the festival of lights with a family I had met in Kathmandu. Its one of the most important dates in the Hindu calendar. Each night during the festival small candles are placed on the street outside your home or place of work to guide the god of prosperity to the door. Its also the time when sisters place the red mark on the forehead of their brothers, its called a Tika and is thought to bring luck and prosperity throughout the coming year. One of my friends sisters volunteered to place the Tika on my forehead and then she was to weave flowers into my hair but decided just to precariously balance them on top of my head instead.