B.P. Koirala Highway from Kathmandu Maitighar to Bardibas
B.P. Koirala Highway aka Banepa Bardibas Highway aka Friendship B.P Highway leading east from Kathmandu, a 160 km fantastic stretch along mountains, hills and curves. As Nepal goes, the road is in exceptionally good condition and with an unbeatable scenery certainly one of the world’s greatest motorcycle rides.
Kathmandu (and Nepal altogether) is a fascinating place. Not least due to the many Holy Men, some of which seem to just fool people from their money and smoke dope all day mainly at Pashupatinah. On the other hand, very deep cultural and religious traditions (many really beautiful) are living with the people today. At Pashupatinah you can witness the ceremonies, first clensing and then cremating bodies. The stream is continuous and the ashes are washed in the river. No headstone for anyone. People live in the minds of those whom they have touched in their lifetime. Some kids scavenge the cracks in the Stones by the river to find a gold tooth or two. This is seen as acceptable and even encouraged. They make a living and gold teeth do no longer belong to anyone, the owner has passed on. Otherwise there would also be quite s treasure in the river. Death is just a passing from one life to another and as such, not a sad thing. A Nepalese person has three birthdays and some may even be secret. When you are born, a star map is drawn and predictions made from it by a priest and that is a very sacred document kept safely and only upon marriage the two maps are compared. This can be a very long document as a paper roll. As a Nepalese, you need your priest often to do varying kinds of exorcism and maneuvers to remove bad omens from your life. Against a fee of course. There are after all some 33 million different gods and their reincarnations. Superstitious beliefs still prevail in everyday life. If you have a tooth acke, you first nail a coin in a lump at the end of the “dentist street” and if that does not help, go to the actual dentist. Kathmandu is, like many bigger cities, leading the way in modernisation. If some 75% of marriages are arranged in Nepal, the number in Kathmandu is 50%. Divorce is a tabu and often causes exclusion from the very important extended family. And you should not marry below your caste. And upon opening a bank account, you must be able to draw a map to your house! The address is not accurate enough.
Mahendra Highway, Heading out Towards West Bengal
Riding through Kathmandu was relatively straight forward. The continued Indian embargo has reduced the traffic in the capital to a minimun. Due to some practical issues with not being able to get my bike across the border, I was now traveling with Ram and his cousin as my guides. Good to have company for a change. The road we took was a Japan made, absolutely fantastic Mahendra Highway across the valleys and mountains. Road surface was much better that I have seen anywhere in Nepal. A really enjoyable ride. The weather was getting hot again and we even saw a few drops of rain on the way.
On a practical note, as bikes are such a common means of transportation, there a some small innovations around. Like little hooks on crash bars for your shopping. Safely from the engine but low for stability.
Road Rage and Calm After Storm.
On the lowlands, very near the Indian border ethnic groups built barricades across the road, bully and scare travelers. Our first road block was full of angry, drunken young yobs armed with sticks and stones. Luckily we managed to approach them carefully enough and with a foreigner they were slightly more hesitant with their approach. Some yelling and otherwise threatening behaviour though. The outcome of brief deliberation was that I can pass through but Ram and his cousin could not. Some more negotiating explaining that I could not continue without my guide and and eventually I got a “we must think” reply. Thinking was quickly done and the awkward traveller was gotten rig off. We could pass. There were seven road blocks altogether and after we passed the first, most threatening barricade, the rest were easier. Still scary, let me confess! On a dry river bed, we encountered a very sad (to me anyway) view of a burial of a mother and a child. The mother was cremated and the child was buried in the soil. A group of mourners were gathering to the site. Eventually the river will wash away the remains and according to hindu religion, the deceased will become one with fire, earth, sky, water and air. The evening really made the trip. We stayed at Ram’s uncle’s place in Surunga. This was a truly traditional Nepalese family and their house in the country. What a wonderful stay in a house on stilts with farm animals around. Goats, chickens, cows, pigs,.. And the best dumplings I have ever had, freshly made. A nice evening with some drinks and general chatter.
The following morning I thought I was looking at the tea to boil. This was no tea after all. It was Rakshi, a local kind of moonshine being made.
Set off early. Made a note for myself that you need to be on your way by around 8 am. Otherwise you will be baking gearing up the bike. I was on the saddle promptly at 8 am. Baking. This is tropical climate after all and very humid in Chitwan. Tribhuvan Rajpath is named after King Tribhuvan and is a truly dramatic road. Since there is an alternative route to Kathmandu, this road has virtually no heavy goods traffic. Today hardly any traffic at all! A fantastic ride and my favourite so far. This is an old road and has many surprises for the traveller. Stay alert. The way to Daman is all uphill. Daman is at 2350 meters altitude and my hotel for tonight is a bit higher. It is getting cold. Benefits of packing light are fading away… It is clear that this road is a biker favourite and I saw several westeners on motorcycles (all RE) on the way up. We are easily identifiable by our clothing, helmets and an occasional helmet camera. Not forgetting some really colourful plastic bullet clothing on an Enfielt (!?!). My hotel for tonight, Everest Panorama Resort, halfway to Kathmandu, is shared by a group of cyclists from Denmark heading towards Kathmandu and another group of cyclists from the UK, heading towards Chitwan. Those (poor bastards) came the whole way up on a pedal bike!! How mad can one be? Just wondering, no offence ment. The evening is getting rather chilly and it really feels cold after the tropical humid heat yesterday. After dinner it was actually cold. There was a surprising solution to the coldness I did not expect. An electric blanket, fantastic! I will be sleeping like baby in a warm bed and cold air.
.. Oh, another black out. Yes,another note to oneself: Remember to carry your torch after dark. It is really dark with no electricity for miles around. No light pollution in the sky.
Rural Tribhuvan Rajpath
Another early morning with wonderful views to the Himalayas. Just a few kilometres down the road from Daman and the road leads to the old Tribhuvan Rajpath, which is a rural dirt road. Sand, rocks, mud, practically no paved sections. The road is hard work and a dirt bike would be better for this terrain. Tribhuvan Rajpath’s this section is again very different, not only because it it rocky, but as it runs through really rural areas and there is hardly any traffic on the road. Perhaps a few locals and people returning to their villages for the festivities. The several days long festivities are to celebrate the victory of good over evil and is called Dashami. Some fantastic dresses, Tikkas – the colourful decorations on foreheads, grass straws behind eyes and generally beautiful people . Almost every village has a few animals being slaughtered by the roadside and festively dressed villagers carrying slaughtered or live animals for the feast.
The road leads past Kulekhani reservoir and dam, a hydro energy project offering a rare lake view with fish farms. The lake has no rivers running into it and when the water runs out, so does the electricity! My now trusted Royal Enfield manages the ordeal well and takes me to Kathmandu running on fumes. I arrive to Tings Tea Lounge just the right moment. The Danish couple owning the hotel have arranged a festive lunch for the guests and the staff and my arrival was perfectly timed. A quick dust-off, shower and change and I am with the others having a great Nepalese feast. What a great welcome!
(Sign on the road side) Sidhartha Highway runs from Pokhara, past Tansen to Butwal. The road is spectacular with continuous turn after another, climbing high and passing through several towns. Now I must say that I am lucky to have fuel when most cars and bikes are off the road. This road would have been herendous in heavy traffic. Even now when trucks slow down trying to climb the hills, other vehicles, mainly busses of different kind, cut both lanes in the very tight corners leaving barely enough room for a motorbike. And no room at all if the oncoming traffic is bigger than a bike. Since the traffic was low, I saw only two accidents.
I stay overnight just outside Tansen and I am gutted that my GoPro run out of juice just before the town. Tamsen is fantastic with unbelievably steep and narrow roads leading through the town. At one point I thought my bike might not make such steep uphill and the roads are actually grooved sideways so improve grip. Shoes or tyres. Many roads are just too narrow even for a car to pass through. Tomorrow on the way out is my second chance. Today, as it is Sunday, people were dressed up in colorful clothes and looking stylish.
Nepali Flat. A Little Bit Up, A Little Bit Down.
(My new t-shirt!) From Tansen I set off to Sauraha in Chitwan National Park. Now this is something different again, a tropica jungle with crocodiles, tigers, rhinos, etc. The East-West Highway from Butwal is actually a fairly decent road. Nothing like the ones I have ridden here earlier. It is wider and smoother and has very long straight sections. It is a toll road and 5 rupis were promptly collected – that is 5 cents US. In Bharatbur I stopped at a Royal Enfield dealeship as my start engine stopped turning. The guys at the dealership looked at the bike from a safe distance and since it starts well with the kick start and runs well, the recommendations was ” just keep kicking”. As much as I have seen so far, Nepal is by all western measures, basic at best. The people are poor and first time I see houses made of sticks and clay. After the monsune season they need to replace straws hay and mud each year.
Now that the blockade at the Indian border has continued for so long that not only petrol and diesel, but also gas and foodsupplies start running out.My first hotel was closed with one man keeping guard. No gas, no food. He was very helpful and took me to two other hotels, same deal. Eventually I found a hotel open and with food, I was their second quest. It is heartbraking to see the hotels, small shop owners and guides struggle through the what was suppose to be their pay-day. High season. I will leave some money behind and now it’s elphant rides and canoeing in a canoe carved from a single trunk of a tree.
The guide had good stories… “Here a man was eaten by a tiger two weeks ago. Also their buffaloes get eaten by tigers as the let then too close to the jungle. Here a man was killed by a wild elephant.”As a crocodile was only a few feet from the boat I was lucky I was sitting in this single trunk little boat. “Do the crocs attack these boats?” “Yes, sometimes. But now we go for a walk!!!” Lived to tell the tale.
… that elusive day we keep putting good things off to…