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Go West Young/Grumpy Old man

 

Out of Kathmandu.

A really intensive ride today of some 5 hours and 150 km. At least an hour was spent getting out from the city. Getting into the rhythm of the traffic takes a moment. Although there is alot of traffic around, it is relatively slow paced. If you keep it that way, nasty surprises can be avoided. Today anyway. In any case, Kathmandu even under fuel shortage is something else. The goal today, my first on the bike,  is Bandipur, a rather remote village on a hill top. The bike was delivered in the Morning and after gearing up the bike – not forgetting the precious spare fuel canister – I was set to go. The very helpful guys who brought the bike helped me navigate the first miles and showed me to the right direction. With hindsight, a very good idea. Once leaving Kathmandu behind, the traffic started to flow. Even though the traffic is left handed, not everyone seems to know. Climbing the hills, trucks and other unnamed vehicles started to struggle with the ascent and passing them happens based on one’s nerves. Average speed must have been easily under 60km even on the main road. Perhaps 50km/h. On the way, I also met Ram, who had made my ride possible. He was out with three guys on KTMs and has their bikes parked in his garage . That is when the guys themselves are not here. Now there’s an idea! Severi beware -or get a larger garage! Funny how the three KTM’s stood out from the locals (they may have been GS’s but who cares, they all look alike!). I was warned about the traffic that is normally really difficult for the the last eight miles before Bandipur, where the road can barely fit one car. This was expected to be a challenge. The road proved to be another hoot, turn after turn on a paved cow path. And no one else in sight! The Indian blockade at the border has really taken its toll here. I stayed at the fancy Banbdipur Palace Hotel for 15 USD per night. The young, extremely polite guy, who seemed to do all roles from receptionist to serving dinner told me that now should be the high season but they have no visitors due to fuel shortage. Really bad for the guy who told me he was almost local. He lives only two hours away, ON FOOT, he says! Puts many of us in shame! Bed time now. I am sure to sleep well with the petrol fumes… with so many crawlers climbing the walls, and MY BED, that’s only good. As long as my little precious fuel next to bed is safe.

Pokhara – Extreme Sports Capital

Pokhara is a rather large and apparently a very central location for trekkers, drafters, sky divers, bungee jumpers, Yeti hunters, hippies, you name it. Lakeside is where the fun is and that is also where I am. Hotel Monal and another 15 USD per night. Good value. To top all expectations, I was even able to do some candle lit shopping! Electricity is cut off unexpectedly but businesses are ready for it. To make life a little easier and not needing to gear up the bike every morning (also being short of fuel) I will spend two nights here and make a slightly shorter trip tomorrow to Dhampus. Loking forward to seeing some real mountains – Machhapuchhre for one!

Dhampus and Fuel Shortage

Running out of fuel, I set off to Dhampus checking every petrol station on the way. All closed and no one in sight. Petrol light flashing on the bike. Lack of petrol could not spoil the fantastic views in the distance, the Himalayas! The road leading to the village of Dhampus is a 10 km narrow stretch of dirt, mud and stones of different shape and size. The road itself was an experience and exciting as such, disappointingly the clouds came in before my arrival and I missed the best views. Clouds blocked the views up but I got to see the views down. On the way back I stopped at a military compound to check if I could get fuel from there. The military Police guarding the gate were really good fun to talk with. We ended up chatting for some 45 minutes, I showed them army pictures of my two sons  and we discussed the situation at the border. The end result was that they might be getting fuel some time tomorrow. No idea when. Already there were vehicles parking at the gate to get the pole position in the queue. Read more about the situation and politics behind it here. The roads are becoming empty and are taken over by cows, goats and dogs.   As I needed to continue my trip in the Morning, another day’s wait was not what I needed. So all ideas out and trying all contacts. With a bit of luck I got both petrol and excitement and I am set to go in the Morning.

The word is that only one truck with diesel has passed through the border. Fuel price may still be rising. I also have with me my trusted canister with 5 liters of petrol, fumes providing me colourful dreams at night. No way I would leave it outside!  

Kathmandu – First impressions

 

Helsinki – Delhi – Kathmandu.

Landing in Delhi, a mad rush to Air India transfer desk to make the connection to Kathmandu. I am only carrying hand luggage, a bag and a helmet.

Multiple entry Visa for India, on-line visa application filled and printed for Nepal. Passport copies and photos at hand… I come well prepared.

Except for a printed copy of my boarding pass from the earlier Finnair flight to Delhi! Another half an hour checking if I really came on the Finnair flight. Nothing helps even though I have the mobile boarding pass, it does not seem to prove anything! We need a print!

But now I am in Kathmandu. Nepal visa on arrival is really quick and easy once you have done the application on-line. Only a little wrench was thrown at my travel, which security in Delhi kindly removed from me. A 10 mm wrench was not allowed in hand luggage, because it is a TOOL!

Kathmandu is truly a chaotic place and the earthquake has presumably made the city even more chaotic. The roads are being rebuild as are the buildings, if possible. People are very friendly and really helpful. Just goes to show that people survive.

Water is provided for an hour or less every second day and electricity is cut off daily for up  to 18 hours a day (called load shedding). But people are prepared with alternative water and electricity sources.

Queues for fuel are still long due to Indian embargo and the cost of riding a taxi has rocketed. Yet the streets are full of cars and motorbikes. The traffic is simply mad.

Everything goes to plan if you update your plans often enough.

Fuel
Queue for fuel

The situation in Nepal has really not improved, although the election of a new PM on Sunday might bring some stability to the country. Indian does not seem too happy with the new constitution and a number of smaller independent provinces in Nepal (China-India politics).

The earthquake stricken country is hit again with unofficial economic sanctions and border blockades. There are some signs that India could eventually be calling off the dogs now that PM Koirala is stepping down (Finns will understand the pun).

Two of the main concerns for the Nepal section of my trip have been getting the bike across from India to Nepal and simply having fuel.

Facing adversity, people are resourceful. While there are bigger issues to deal with just now, my Freespirit Adventure contact in Nepal has made fantastic effort and when the Indian bike could not cross the border, I now have a bike with Nepalese plates waiting for me in Kathmandu with a reasonable amount of fuel. Hats off to Ram!

It may be that the itinerary within Nepal needs to be amended and some of the more western regions will have to wait for my next visit. Although my Iron Butt might take the distance, practicalities may prevail. In any case it is all new to me, so why not make the most of it anyway.

Mindful of the political situation, I am also happy riding with Nepalese plates v. Indian plates in Nepal.

http://www.internationalaffairs.org.au/australian_outlook/indias-demands-grind-nepal-to-a-standstill/

http://kathmandupost.ekantipur.com/news/2015-10-12/private-vehicles-in-kathmandu-valley-to-get-petrol-on-tuesday.html

Getting ready for a solo ride in NepInBhu

Two weeks to go and preparations are heating up for the ride across Nepal, through Northern India (lovely cup of tea in Darjeeling) and The Land of the Thunder Dragon, Bhutan. cropped-Näyttökuva-2015-09-14-kello-11.04.40.png My ride will cover most of the length of Nepal, crossing India and a tour in Bhutan before returning to India for final destination. Google map gives the headline route a distance of 2000+km in 45 hours making the average speed of some 45km per hour. Reality will be different, on all accounts! After the earthquake some places may require a bit of negotiating although roads and bridges should generally be open. The trip is set up with the help of Peter Francon at FreeSpirit Adventure.  Näyttökuva 2015-09-30 kello 9.32.24Peter has geared me up for the route, recommended places to visit and stay, introduced local contacts and gave some handy general advice based on local knowledge. Crucially he has also armed me with a bike “made like gun” (!) a Royal Enfield of Indian making together with some necessary basic gear for the Royal-Enfield-Logobike i.e. pannier bags etc. Royal Enfield is a popular bike in the region and although it is the oldest motorcycle brand manufactured continuously since 1901, it is famous for breaking down (with a bang?!?). It is also relatively simple and hopefully can be fixed on the spot without too much delay. I guess duct tape and some wire should be packed!  While preparations otherwise happen in good spirits, a slight shadow is cast by recent, slightly worrying news to be mindful of. These include political restlessness following the new constitution causing local skirmishes in Nepal and the issues between Nepal-India relationship leading to a blockage of transportation from India causing rationing of fuel and cutting off Indian TV in Nepal. If only nations could man up and make up! On Sept 30th the word is that fuel allowance for a motorbike could be as little as 2 liters per day (providing there is fuel!). That would not take me far, although as I would be queuing for the fuel most of the day anyway, I would not have time to go far! That is if I can manage the Nepalese queuing style, which I did not even anticipate learning earlier. As my bike will be in Indian plates, perhaps I should wear a Finnish ice hockey jersey and have a Finnish flag mounted on the bike! I am now following the situation and hoping that skirmishes between the Nepalese ethnic groups will not get any worse or blockade with India not result in further fuel shortages, throwing a spanner in the works. For now, it is all systems go!  

Tea for One – Darjeeling please

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Entering West Bengal, India.

Leaving the home region of many of the brave British Gurgha Brigade soldiers in Dharan, Nepal, the plan is to enter West Bengal, India on October 27th. Heading towards the night stop in Bagdogra, India, the distance from Dharan is around 125km. There is however, the border crossing to India, which may take some time. I will be entering India in the District of Darjeeling and this is also the time to prepare myself for a lovely cup of world famous Darjeeling tea. This time the visit to india will be only two days before entering Bhutan. I will return to india from Buthan to Assam during the final leg of the motorcycle tour, riding back to Bagdogra.

 

Land of The Thunder Dragon

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Grossly happy in Bhutan.

Bhutan is a remote and tiny buddhist kingdom with just 750.000 inhabitants. Not only geographically, Bhutan is also isolated by the desire to preserve their unique buddhist culture, mainly against the western influences. Even the ban on tv and internet was lifted as late as 1999.

Bhutan has a very cautions approach to tourism and in 2014 only 133.480 tourists visited the country. To enter, some pre-planning is required and you must come on an approved travel programme (or be a guest of the government). This means that you need to contact one of many tour guides, who will sort out your itinerary for you.

I have with me my recommended local guide, Karma Wangdi of Bhutan Traditional Holiday, who is experienced with motorbike travellers like myself and has organised all the bookings and arrangements for me and will also be with me along the route.

Most have heard about the Bhutanese measurement of Gross National Happiness (GNH). GNH is again predominantly designed to preserve the buddhist values. The GNH concept has inspired a modern political happiness movement and in July 2011, the United Nations Resolution was adopted unanimously by the General Assembly.

The four pillars of GNH philosophy are (Wikipedia):

  • Sustainable development
  • Preservation and promotion of cultural values
  • Conservation of the natural environment, and
  • Establishment of good governance.

My plan is to get happy and enter the Land of the Thunder Dragon, Bhutan from India on the 29th of October 2015.

 

… that elusive day we keep putting good things off to…