In riding a motorbike you enter a close relationship between yourself and a collection of nuts, bolts, pistons and gears. You morph into the mechanics and between you, you exist as one. You get to understand its capabilities, its quirks and eccentricities through all of your senses, you are part of its resonance and discover which parts rattle and vibrate, and as such which parts start to fall off at which point.


The Royal Enfield is a masterpiece of simplistic engineering and it is genius of the Indians to still make this relic of a bygone era. Engine, gearbox, clutch, chain and wheels, the minimal sprinkling of electrics and that is it, a kickstart and a single 350cc cylinder – it is not fast, but it will drag you pretty much anywhere you want to go, it’s like a tractor on two wheels. But best of all it has a very particular sound, you know when one is coming….as I saw on a biker’s T shirt once “Loud pipes save lives”.



Likewise, entering any new traffic system you enter a community with its own rules and levels of acceptability, that from the outsiders point of view looks like chaos, a place that you do not wish to enter. A mechanised hell – paradise lost.


At first it appears that there are few rules to engagement, but as you slowly immerse yourself into a relationship with the other vehicles you get to understand how it all pieces together – where you should be, what you need to do and what you need to look out for. This latter point includes:- no  polite indication, stopping in the middle of the road without brake lights, driving on the wrong side of the road, holy cows, pariah dogs, herds of goats, potholes whose depth has been the imagination of Jules Verne, rickshaws and overly assertive pedestrians and, oh yes, the horn.


I have always wondered why the horn is used so much in these countries, whereas in England it is only used as a warning, or to notify Auntie Mavis that you are going past her house (Like she cares), or is followed by a suitably abusive hand movement and you silently wording “wanker” at your fellow compatriot of the road. Well our countries are laden with so many rules and regulations which we all happily comply to most of the time. Whereas in Nepal, they exists, but are not so rigidly applied. The result is the horn. It is not used aggressively, but just as a simple reminder that you are there and you are coming through and you may be bending a few of the non rigidly applied rules in the process. It quickly becomes second nature to toot the horn when passing any vehicle, cow herder, or old lady carrying half a tree. The horn is a gentle reminder to let people know that you are overtaking on a blind corner or a simple beep is a great way to inform people you are going down the wrong way of a one way street. The horn is your friend, love the horn.


The fun part of hiring a bike in Katmandu is that you must build this relationship with bike and traffic in the space of approximately 30 seconds for both will not allow you second chances – they will swallow you up as if you were a stupid tourist hiring a powerful motorbike in a foreign city.



See The Motorcycle Diaries (Part 2)