You realise what a sheltered and privileged life you’ve lived when you take a walk through a town and can feel every single eye upon you. We arrived in Phidim, a long way from the well trodden path, and Drew took an afternoon nap whilst I strolled alone through the small, remote township. Whilst I walked, there was not a single pair of eyes that didn’t stop to look at me. Young children ran and hid, whilst some not so young children called “What’s your name?” after I’d walked passed them, followed by childish giggles. Young men stared coldly and young women tried to hide their intrigue. It was only the older men and women who didn’t seem to show much interest at all. You can’t help but feel uncomfortable at the way people react in a place like this; not unsafe, but certainly not at ease.
And it’s this feeling that makes me appreciate how lucky we are. Lucky that we live in a country where the hourly rate of pay is more than people here earn in a week, and lucky that I live in a country amongst people whose skin is the same colour as mine so as not to turn heads. You can only begin to appreciate what immigrants, refugees and people from ethnic minorities living Australia must feel everyday after taking a walk in a place like this.
We came to Nepal perhaps a little earlier than anticipated – after less than one week in India both Drew and I felt the need to move on from the crowds, horns, traffic and pollution that India presented us. As motorcyclists we love the mountain roads, and we’d headed to Darjeeling not just for the roads enroute, but to try and escape the heat and humanity of India’s lowlands. It was bitter sweet however; the roads were fantastic, but our time in the hills was shrouded in cloud so we couldn’t appreciate the vistas that Darjeeling is renowned for.
And there were the people. Everywhere people. The straw that broke the camel’s back was an older Indian man getting on Drew’s bike (without first seeking our permission) for a selfie whilst we were stopped at the roadside. This in itself wouldn’t have been an issue – but that fact the he didn’t appreciate how heavy the bike was, losing his balance and falling over, taking 250kgs of motorcycle with him certainly was. After I spat some very choice words at the man, Drew and decided it best to get as quickly to Nepal as we could to try and find some respite.
Nepal is statistically one of the poorest countries in the world – it rates in the lowest quarter of the Human Development Index. Thankfully we’ve not seen anything yet in Nepal that epitomises these statistics. Even here in Phidim young children speak to me in English, which I find truly impressive. There seems to be a better equality between men and women than in India, and people seem far more liberal in general. There is noticeably less rubbish on the roadsides, and the roads themselves are in much better condition. When we stop the bikes we still draw a crowd, but people don’t touch and prod them, or worse, sit on them for selfies. Of course it’s not possible for me to judge these things properly after riding through villages for two days off the beaten track, but if I had to make a call today I’d pick Nepal over India any day of the week.
Being the mountain loving motorcyclists that we are, after crossing the border we headed straight back for the hills. And my how spectacular they are – we’ve ridden up and down valleys and ridges countless time, dropping as low as 200 metres ASL before zigzagging back as high as 2,500 metres – you get an overwhelming sense of vertigo when you look over the edge of the road as you’re riding. One wrong corner here and you’d literally launch yourself to your end. It is simply breathtaking. I just hope that Nepal and it’s people continue to take my breath away for all of the right reasons