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I have never been a great fan of visiting world famous sites, the 100 things you must see before you die type places. I usually find that I arrive take one look and think “Oh is that it, it’s much smaller than I expected” I buy a postcard and rapidly vanish into the nearest bar with a nice view of the, smaller than expected, 1 in 100 thing I had to do before I died, site. I guess I build the romanticism up in my mind and when I meet the real thing it is just not up to scratch.

The Taj Mahaul is interesting though. We all know the classic image of it, with or without a morose looking late Princess of Wales. Well the architects are extremely clever. They have built a wall around it so that you cannot see it until you reach the main gates which are located behind more walls and then wham it is in your face, the classic image that we have seen so many times. One big reveal in one big hit, now that is architectural showmanship for you.

Click on image to see more photos from this collection.



Once over this ta-da moment I found myself looking for a suitable seat to look morose on and have my photo taken, but maybe that would have been in bad taste and heh I was all out of morose faces. So I quickly looked around the inside, which has to be the most disappointing inside of any historical building, but the Taj is not about the inside, it is an outside building, an over sized cake decoration swarming with thousands of punters, who just want to eat it. And that is what is nice about the Taj, people fall in love with it, it is all the romance that architecture should be, a befitting gesture to love – the reason it was built in the first place. You can almost hear the collective ahhhh from the hordes of camera clicking Japanese and new money Russians.

To get a really good view, cross the river and see the Taj at sunset. There is a beach, but be careful because this is an open toilet so sandals are not the most suitable attire. Fortunately this aspect does not really come out in the photos. Also the cows that you may see in one of my photos, well they are evil…….I had to make my quick escape, jumping over mounds of poo, as they took offence to being photographed.


Some key facts:

The four minarets that surround the Taj lean outwards, so that if there is an earthquake they will not fall inwards on the tomb. Again some very clever architectural design.

The marble is translucent, which is only common to Indian marble. This means that the building changes colour depending on the time of day and weather conditions. Full moon is supposed to be amazing.

The architect, the genius that he is, had his right hand cut off so that he could not design anything else like it. Or so the story goes. Ho, hum, how many other people around at that time have such an ego and the cash to spend 20 years building a mausoleum for their missus.

The masons that repair and service the Taj every Friday (Don’t go on a Friday, it is closed, it is being repaired) and also make the intricate, but tacky gifts that are available everywhere around the city are from the same caste and families that originally built the Taj. All Muslims, they have passed the skill down from father to son over the generations. A bloke in a tacky gift shop told me this, so don’t quote me, but I like this thought so I am going to accept it as the truth.


I fell for the Taj, its architecture and what it represents….I am now off to clean my sandals.


Carried on from The Motorcycle Diaries (Part 2)




Pokhra to Lumbini


The road out of Pokhra has to be one of the great motorbike roads of all time. Quiet, with stunning mountain views, lots of corners and no close runnings with Leyland buses. However, petrol was another thing. I figured that I would be able to fill up on route, but this proved seemed that petrol was only delivered to major cities and I did not have any major cities on route….I even had somebody try to sell me some at double the going rate…….I told him what he could do with his petrol……did he think I was a tourist or something!!


Fortunately though I found a garage purveying this rare commodity, but also discovered that my lights did not work….Kind of handy when the afternoon was rapidly vanishing behind the mountains. This forced me to stay in another town that no one in their right mind would want to stay in, even my hotel manager told me not to go out at night, because it was too dangerous. Though I feel I subjected myself to more mental dangers through watching rubbish American cable shows, attacked by a continuous stream of mosquitoes and the bus station next door. As a note to self…never stay in a hotel next to a bus station, tuneful horns get really boring at 5 am, another good reason why earplugs are an essential travel item.


Click on image to see more of Nepal.





Lumbini –  the birthplace of buddha. Crossing the dusty, dry, flat plains I amused myself by coming up with the revelation that my bike went buddhabuddhabuddha. I received hours, well seconds, of enjoyment from this notion as agricultural Nepal drifted past. I really felt that I was in some time capsule – oxen ploughing the fields; wheat being beaten by hand; hundreds of bicycles heavily loaded with cauliflower and other produce on their way to market; Wham’s Club Tropicana playing from a battered radio strapped to a rusting, heavily greased, but still operational, tractor, driven by an equally rusting, heavily greased, still operational, farmer who tapped his fingers with gusto to Wham’s chorus line.


Lumbini is like an industrial estate consisting of postmodern temple shaped warehouses. Many countries have contributed their concept of what a Buddhist temple should be like, but the layout and the industrial construction really makes it edging towards a tad naf.  So Buddha was born here, under a tree, and a stone marks the exact spot, apparently, but it doesn’t seem that there has been any planning as to what they wish to achieve here. I half expected a  B and Q or PC World, to be located in the middle of it all. I really can’t see the point of it and I am sure if Buddha was around he would concur.



Lumbini to Chichwan National Park


This part of the country is hot and flat and for once straight roads, ridiculously straight roads, I longed for my corners, but at least I was able to wind the Bullet up to 80km per hour, which seemed ridiculously fast compared to the mountain roads. That night I slept in a mud hut and watched the sun set over the river. I was intrigued by some persistent drumming, and, on questioning, was taken to a man that was drumming to ward of ghosts and witches from his sick wife. He was very poor so I gave him some money to take his wife to hospital. It is amazing that in the 21st century there are people that still follow such practices….though I have to say I did not see a single ghost or witch that night, so maybe it does have some effect.


In the morning I rode through the jungle tracks to reach Sauhara. All good fun till I manged to get myself lost. The locals though were very helpful and soon got me on the right tracks, literally. In the back of my mind though I couldn’t help but think “there are tigers in this jungle”, only a couple of hundred, but it would be just my luck to find one that was up for snacking on a scrawny white man….. Fortunately for me and probably the tiger I was not eaten, in fact a tour of the jungle later that day revealed there was very little wildlife in the area….the most dangerous thing I saw were small crocodiles that legged it at the first sign of humans and wild chickens, which look exactly like normal chickens, but have managed to escape to freedom, and avoid the tigers, which doesn’t seem such a tedious task.


Sauahra to Katmandu. Wow, wow, wow is all my command of the English language can drag up for this stretch of road. Fantastic for the biker, hell for the passenger on a bus, as the road twists and turns up to 2,480 metres. 6 hours of this is  a great way to focus the mind on the present….take your mind elsewhere and you have a 500 metre drop waiting for you with open arms. I loved every second of it.


Entering Katmandu though, brings you right back down to reality. Trucks and Buses billow out   thick acrid fumes. The pollution in this city is phenomenal, so much so that you need to chain smoke Marlboro Reds to filter the air down. The bike now felt it had done the distance, the clutch was starting to slip, the brake light had stopped working, there were no headlights and the brakes were getting a little spongy. Negotiating Katmandu traffic became a real chore and I longed for my mountain roads.


I had put the bike through its paces and it had responded well to my demanding needs, I had fallen in love with its simplistic nature and the roads it thrived on. In my mind this is the best way to experience any country. You feel so much more a part of the land you are traveling through and equally the people embrace you as an individual. I think this trip has changed my thoughts on means of travel…..Rajistan and Kashmere by bike…..hmmm, anyone up for it next spring.






The End

Carried on from The Motorcycle Diaries (Part 1)


Katmandu to Mugling.


This is probably down in the record books as one of the most dangerous roads in the world. The twisting highway ambles through the valley, often a sheer cliff face on one side and the corresponding sheer cliff face dropping off on the other. All would be fine and you could nicely burble along taking in the scenery, except for the fact that this is the major route to India, in fact one of only two routes to India and as such is full of buses and trucks wanting to get to or from India as quickly as is possible. They are often so overloaded and travel at such speed that they lean going around corners and cross into the oncoming lane. Overtaking is always done on blind corners, they have to overtake on blind corners because this is all you get…no nice long straights, dual carriageway or passing lanes to cruise by here. On this stretch of road I saw one overturned truck and two buses that had recently been involved in head on collisions. I did not stop to inquire what had happened to their respective human cargoes. Sounding the horn on every corner became routine, but I still gingerly edged around them, expecting a bus to be heading straight for me, and often I did get to see TATA or Leyland (Yes they still exist and are here alive and kicking) badges from an angle I would rather best avoid.


Now Mugling is the sort of town that exists at a crossroads of two major junctions, and as such was like many towns around the world that exist at the crossroads of two major junctions. What we would commonly call in England a shit hole. Two streets focusing on the the trade and commerce of the transient traveler. Nobody in their right mind would want to stop here. So I stopped here. On trying several hotels, I found that nobody had any rooms available and yet they looked completely empty, it was not till later that I found out most of them were fronts for prostitution. They were saving their beds for the endless supply of  truckers that frequented the town.


Eventually I managed to find a mosquito ridden room for 150 ruppees from a drunk hotel manager with one arm. In the evening, as I ate my dal baht, he would laugh, say something in slurred Nepali/English, point with his arm that could still point at one of the girls serving food and laugh. To my ears one of them was called Kylie, but she could not have been called Kylie. I picked up her saying 10,000 and wondered if this is how the front for prostitution operates. You sit there, get introduced to somebody who may or may not be called Kylie, cough up ten grand and away you go with a serving wench, job done. I immersed myself in my dal baht and the perceived naivety of a traveling Englishman.


At one point the street went really quite, there was no traffic. I asked somebody what was going on. I got the simple reply “Fatal car crash”. It seems to be a daily occurrence here, allowing the shop keepers to re group and prepare for the next onslaught of travelers. Apparently it is a good thing when the crash is fatal, because it makes things simple, with a nice pay out to the family of the deceased. If it is a maiming then things get complicated. Whole families have been known to riot and close the road for days if an amicable agreement is not swiftly met.


That night I fell sick. A fever hit me like none I had had before. I was freezing cold one minute and then boiling hot the next. Now why do fevers and sickness hit when you are in a place that you do not want be? What is more Diwali celebrations were going on outside the hotel till 2 am and that is when my bowels gave way and I spent every hour or so on the toilet, a toilet that was not of a standard that that I wanted to be near.


I diagnosed myself with dehydration, and kicked myself for making the schoolboy error of not wearing my jacket while on the bike. The wind and heat had sucked so much moisture out of me, that I was close to mummification…..Water and electrolytes were the way out of this one.

Click on photo tosee more images of Nepal.




Mugling to Pokhara via Gorka.


I had to spend a day recovering in Gorkha from the fever and replace the spark plug on the bike as it was having problems starting. Every thing was on tap, a clean hotel, pristine toilet, warm shower, a loveIy view and a garage next door with spark plugs. Everything I needed to get myself and bike back into shape for the road ahead.


Being on a bike you feel so much more involved with your surroundings than a car…that thin bit of glass and steel is just enough to mentally separate you from the outside world, to cocoon you in a safety net. On a bike you do not have the luxury of this womb like existence. You are out in the world, you are there and it is happening around you. You feel the changes in temperature and textures of the road, you smell crops and villages long before you see them and your vision is focused, a continuous montage of images each worthy of a photo, stored someplace deep in the unconscious.


Pokhra is a wonderful place, a ramshackle collection of the usual tourist crap all neatly set beside a beautiful lake. I spent three days chilling, paragliding and pottering around the countryside. If you are going to come to Nepal and are of the outdoor activities type then spend your time here and not Katmandu. Nothing noteworthy in the way of old stuff, but boy is it a beautiful place.




See The Motorcycle Diaries (Part 3 the End)


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)

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