Two Aussie blokes riding their BMW R1150GSs from Australia to Europe

Category: Nepal

Nepal – the lowest low to the highest high


I’m sitting in a Italian Cafe in New Delhi. I am enjoying a long black the way it should be and an orange juice to match. Today marks 2 months on the road and I thought I would treat myself to a ‘Melbourne’ Breakfast, mind you in Melbourne I don’t need to argue with a Rickshaw driver over an agreed $2 for the near death experience through Delhi traffic. I must confess that I’m a useless traveller and if I didn’t have James here to keep me on the straight and narrow I would have already spent the trip’s budget on beggar handouts and expensive western meals. I did however enjoy my meal and after 2 months of eating locally on the road I feel I have deserved it – let’s hope this meal won’t contain ‘Delhi Belly’

India has been intense and we were both pleased to cross into Nepal to be greeted with better roads, more reserved people and a cooler climate. When James and I ride in Australia we consult google maps and try to find the best roads for motorcycles, twisting and remote. Nepal was a highlight for us and on the first night we employed the same tactics. The main highway across Nepal runs along the southern border to India and we were determined not to use it, the other road above it looked more ‘interesting’ and given it wore the same colour and thickness as the highway what could go wrong?

Jimmy and I on our dirt day before finding the swing bridge

Jimmy and I on our dirt day before finding the swing bridge

We woke to yet another beautiful day had a healthy serving of Dal Bhat and headed off towards the road we had decided upon in the North. By morning tea we arrived in a village with wide-eyed, open mouthed Nepalese unable to process our presence. The road in was narrow, sections unsealed but we assumed it was a bad section and given the maps elusion it would improve. Jimmy tracked down a local who could speak English and managed to obtain information for the road ahead. I recall the advice was “very steep, go slow” and “swing bridge but ok”. I was in a good mood and felt ready to tackle anything so we pushed on, the road quickly deteriorated and fell away to a track that I would have been happy to spend a weekend on my dirt bike back home, the problem was I wasn’t on my WR450, I was on250kg of BMW! The day proved to be very challenging – we both dropped our bikes and with local help and our bikes striped of luggage managed to cross the swing bridge just wide enough to accommodate our width.
We finally arrived at the next town on the map, parched and hungry at 3pm! We had spent 7 hours on the bikes and covered 70 km’s.

The bridge was just wide enough to accommodate the bikes.

The bridge was just wide enough to accommodate the bikes.

These locals helped carry our gear across the bridge after we got the bikes across.

These locals helped carry our gear across the bridge after we got the bikes across.

We decided to head back down to the main highway the following morning to head towards Kathmandu, James’ wife Monica was flying in in 3 days and we needed to be there! A local had tipped us off that Highway 6 into Kathmandu was the road to take, newly made with many mountain range passes and only cars and motorbikes were allowed, no Tata Trucks! Highway 6 is the best road we have ridden so far abroad, perfect tarmac that twists its way up and down mountains for over 160km’s. If you visit Nepal be sure to take it.

We didn't want to come off on this road, it was along way down

We didn’t want to come off on this road, it was along way down

The perfect road- Highway 6

The perfect road- Highway 6

James and Monica had a romantic hike for 2 booked months out and I was keen to leave the lovers to it and take my own little adventure. I made some enquiries about ‘The Highest motor-able pass in Nepal’ and found that Muktinath, 3800 meters ASL was possible. In typical Drew fashion I obtained the Mustang national park permit on the day of departure and hit the road. Muktinath was only 170km’s away, easy! Obviously highway 6 had given me a false sense of security. After a long wait at the fuel station for fuel (fuel in Nepal is still hard to find after the loss of fuel supply from india last year) I was away – I covered 65km’s within the first 45 minutes then the road simply disappeared! It was like a magical act Nepalese style, you pass through Beni and then nothing apart from a track containing loose rocks the size of soccer balls. The scenery however was incredible upon every turn I caught a sights of snow capped mountains. I met Pieter from the Netherlands on his solo adventure – livetheride.me. Pieter was on his way down and we had a brief chat about the road to Muktinath, his first response was that ‘it gets a little better’ but when we parted he gave me a cheeky smile and said ‘actually it gets worse’. I continued on and did the math and realised I couldn’t make it all the way – Jomson would be my goal for the night. I arrived at 5pm, checked into a hotel had a cold shower and proceeded to dress myself in almost my whole wardrobe to stay warm.

The landscape on the way up was like nothing I had seen before

The landscape on the way up was like nothing I had seen before

Deepak having a rest over Kagbeni.

Deepak having a rest over Kagbeni.

I ventured out for a meal and realised that I had checked into a pretty average hotel and found a much better one for a meal and some great company. I met a few foreigners on week long hikes, I felt a little lazy informing them that I had ridden my motorcycle all the way! As usual our journey prompts conversation and I was soon sharing stories with others, Deepak from Kathmandu joined us and I quickly realised he was a keen motorcyclist and had been up to Muktinath a few times and had even organised ‘The Mukti Ride 2016‘. Deepak invited me to join him the following morning for breakfast and then ride to Muktinath – he had a room already booked at the Bob Marley Hotel!

Hotel Bob Marley. It was cold and I never experienced the 'Real running hot shower'

Hotel Bob Marley. It was cold and I never experienced the ‘Real running hot shower’

A small village before Jomsom

A small village before Jomsom

I don’t know how to describe the journey up to Muktinath, what was an uphill dusty battle all the way to Jomsom became a quiet ancient dry river bed plain, we took a path less travelled across the pebbly bed and the scenery was breathtaking, so was the altitude! We were to ascend another 1000 meters to Muktinath and we needed to hydrate, stop more often and try not to increase our heart rate, not that easy on a motorcycle in the Himalayas! Luckily Deepak’s Royal Enfield broke it’s throttle cable, fortunately he was carrying a spare one and we stopped for almost an hour at 3000 meters to replace it, I was very pleased to offer tools and assistance needed to complete the job. We made it to the Bob Marley Hotel just as it started to snow and after checking in Deepak suggested we ride up to the Temple another 300 meters in the snow! We spent a good 45 minutes up at the temple in the snow which I was not dressed appropriately for, I don’t know if it was the temperature or the altitude but it all was a little too much and I wasn’t feeling great, we returned to Bob Marley and Deepak ordered me hot water and a garlic soup that worked wonders. Now as the name suggests the Bob Marley Hotel lives up to its Rasta name and it was fully booked, we met many people from all over the globe who had completed ‘The Pass’ a 12 day intense hike and immediately got along and ordered countless rounds of beers and ended up playing Black Jack until 11pm. The following day I wasn’t feeling great I think I had finally caught James’ cold and obtained altitude sickness in the same sitting, I’m sure the previous nights antics didn’t help either!

Somewhere above Muktinath.

Somewhere above Muktinath.

Following Deepak through a village at 4000 meters

Following Deepak through a village at 4000 meters

Deepak was heading to Upper Mustang National Park, as a foreigner I needed to obtain a permit at a cost of $500 U.S.D and couldn’t justify it although it did sound amazing – Upper Mustang had remained untouched even by the Nepalese until 1992. The weather made the decision for us, snow had fallen all night making Deepak’s journey too risky solo and I was not feeling up to it, instead we rode up another 500 meters from Muktinath cracking the 4000 metres A.S.L. I made the call after my 3rd drop to give up, my bike was just too heavy and the strength needed to right it too much at the altitude we were at. We descended to Kagbeni for the night and parted ways the following morning as I just simply needed to descend to lower ground and take a day to recover. I returned to Jomson and beyond back onto the dusty, rock ridden pot hole mess of a the road that eventually finds tarmac at Beni. The journey down was painfully slow, energy levels low and I pushed my bike too hard and ended up with my first official puncture in my rear tyre 12 km’s out of Beni. Repair kit on board but no pump! I was not in the mood to remove the rear wheel, flag a lift into Beni for air and back out again instead I rode at 15km’s for an hour to finally find air in Beni. I also needed fuel and eventually obtained 4 litres at 2.5 times the market rate! I was pleased to be reunited with tarmac and stopped for a dip at some Hot springs that lifted my spirits to get me back to Pokhara.

Tired but happy.

Tired but happy.

Sitting in Delhi waiting for our Iranian Visa’s I have fond memories of Nepal, some days broke me but most were amazing. The people are very kind and much more relaxed than Indian’s. My adventure to Muktinath has wet my appetite for more to come in Pakistan.

A sheila joins the party – guest post by Monica

When I’m sitting on the back of James’ bike I think of all sorts of things. I think about that corner in front of us and how it would feel if we were to slide off and scrape across the concrete. I see that car pulling out of a garage and imagine how it would have been if we had put the brakes on too late and flew over its boot. I observe the trucks rushing past and picture how it would be to fall under its chunky wheels.

This is what crosses my mind on a casual motorbike trip in Australia. Where roads are beautifully smooth, trucks stick to the street markings, traffic splits away to let ambulances pass and hospitals adhering to the best hygienic and medical standards.

What the hell was I thinking to join the Blokes on Spokes on their trip through Nepal and India? Who knows. But here I am and ‘namaste’ to you all.

Reunion with the Blokes in Kathmandu

Reunion with the Blokes in Kathmandu

I'm also a rock star!

I’m also a rock star!

I arrived in Kathmandu, Nepal; the home of the Himalayas, well, at least one of its homes. Given its enormous stretch over 2400kms the Himalayas are spread across Nepal, India , Tibet (or politically correct/incorrect China), Pakistan and Bhutan. The Himalayas are also home to 9 of the highest peaks in the world. One of them is my new obsession after reading Into Thin Air and travelling to the birth country of sir Edmund Hillary; Mt Everest. Before you get too excited let me tell you though that I haven’t seen its majestic peak, but I bought a T-shirt which says “Mt Everest” instead. It was almost as good as seeing it with your own eyes. Almost. Anyway, that doesn’t matter because I got to see my husband instead and that was as good as Christmas, my birthday and seeing Mt Everest together.

The Annapurna range - don't trust the t-shirt

The Annapurna range – don’t trust the t-shirt

Both James and Drew seemed to be well, very hairy but in good spirits. You’d think after 2 months on the road they would have got sick of the road or each other but let me tell you, these blokes are living their life long dream and nothing can tear them apart. And for 2 weeks I feel very excited and privileged to be part of the adventure and look behind the scenes of Blokes on Spokes, so bring it on!

After a couple of rest days in Kathmandu it was finally time to jump on the bike. I quickly ripped off the tags of my new Dainese gear (clearly I’m the outsider here with not a single piece made by BMW) and off we went to Pokhara, 200kms away. Sounds like a short trip? Not in Nepal where streets are bumpy, roads are windy, Tata trucks are using the wrong lanes and of course there is the occasional goat popping against the pannier. But we made it, 6 hours later and most importantly in one piece.

A happy pillion

A happy pillion

Now you must be thinking I quickly soiled my new gear given my introduction to this post, but guess what, I wasn’t even scared! Don’t ask me what happened, I’m still trying to figure it out myself, but I was sitting on the back of that bike as relaxed as a sack of potatoes. James said that there is so much going on here but there seems to be logic in the madness. And somehow it is true. There is only one rule it seems; just make sure to toot your horn (preferably all the time) and you’ll be fine

So, without the anticipated panic attack we spent some relaxed days in the Himalayas. Drew went off on his own and tortured his beloved BMW whilst ascending to 4000 meters ASL (looking forward to that blog post guys!) while James and I left the beamer behind and went trekking to Poon Hill mountain, 3200 meters ASL (just 5650 meters below Everest).

On top of Poon Hill, very cold and very early

On top of Poon Hill, very cold and very early

Trekking to Poon Hill

Trekking to Poon Hill

Mega flower whilst mega trekking

Mega flower whilst mega trekking

But what goes up must come down, and we had to descend to Delhi: 1000kms in 4 days and I was still a happy pillion. Watching the landscape rushing past, smiling at the goats and Brahmans munching happily at the road side and waving at excited school children. And after a day on the bike we enjoy a cold Everest beer, some Dal bhat, momos and the most delicious chicken tikka. Life is good.

Watch out for the panniers goats!

Watch out for the panniers goats!

Dal Bhat, a Nepalese staple. Literally dal and rice

Dal Bhat, a Nepalese staple. Literally dal and rice

 

I made Momos!

I made Momos!

But then came India!

As soon as we crossed the Nepali immigration office the road literally ended. We continued onto the gravel with 1000 other people, cows, scooters, bikes and what not. Did I say Nepali roads were bumpy? I take it all back after being confronted with holes that sent me flying into the air. Did I say anything about the Tata trucks in Nepal? What Tatas? Oh they are all here in India in abundance, all painted like the Mexican day of the dead festival.

The ominous Tata truck. Best to know your place on the road

The ominous Tata truck. Best to know your place on the road

How ironic given that we almost got sandwiched between them. Is there logic in the madness? Yes, but the madness prevails. And just wait until you get into Delhi and you drive at 10km/h on average, in 32C, in your new waterproof and not so breathable Dainese gear. The food is good but!

Let’s go back to my first question; why am I here despite the obvious concerns I have when traveling on the motorbike? Well, mainly to see my husband again who I missed dearly, but I was also very curious and wanted to be part of this adventure. Maybe there was a bit of FOMO too. I wanted to challenge myself and face my fear, instead of running away from it. And I have been rewarded; I could cuddle James for hours, I met wonderful people, saw breathtaking vistas and baby goats, indulged on delicious food and learnt that life is much more fun outside of your comfort zone.

Come here dinner

Come here dinner

Escaping from India: Nepal – 9,491kms

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.

The streets of Phidim

The streets of Phidim

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.

10km/h is the limit in Phidim

10km/h is the limit in Phidim

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.

Riding through the clouds in the Himalayas. Drew is not more than 50 metres in front

Riding through the clouds in the Himalayas. Drew is not more than 50 metres in front

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.

Breathtaking valleys in the Himilayan foothills

Breathtaking valleys in the Himalayan foothills

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.

This photo doesn't even begin to capture what these roads are like

This photo doesn’t even begin to capture what these roads are like

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

Hacking through the Himalayas

Hacking through the Himalayas

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