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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 difficult..it 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.

 

 

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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

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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”.

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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.

 

 

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