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?
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.