The road to Kathmandu

(James) On paper, the ride to Kathmandu didn’t look too taxing so there wasn’t exactly a huge sense of urgency in Team Motoventurers as we dawdled down to have a leisurely breakfast in Sauraha. Our plan, such as it was, was to back track some of the route we’d ridden on our way to Chitwan in order to get ourselves over the mountain ridge that runs west to east across the country and into the Kathmandu valley – the idea being we would then be able to ride the Pokhara-Kathmandu road in from the west. However, as we rode along the dirt road out of the village, I kept glancing down at my map at what was possibly a more direct route, and one that would bring us into Kathmandu from the south via some steep mountain valleys. The question was, although it looked shorter, how much slower might it be? When we reached the main road we asked a couple of locals on bikes and they indicated that we should turn right and head for the more direct route so off we went . The first 80km heading east towards the town of Hetauda  was easy as the roads were fairly empty, but our proximity to India bizarrely meant that the driving was a little more dangerous than we’d being enjoying in recent days (perhaps Indian driving is a condition spread via some sort of miasma?!…) Nevertheless, our progress was good and by just after midday we had reached Hetauda  and began to climb into the mountain valleys to the north which would, along the way, take us over two mountain passes.

Our only worry for the day concerned fuel. There were unlikely to be any petrol stations in the mountains but we were loathed to fill up before entering the valley as we were purposefully trying to run our tanks as close to empty as we dared for our arrival in Kathmandu. Although we’d have loved to have ridden the entire way around the world (oceans aside), and we’ve given it a good go thus far, we faced a problem getting from the sub-continent to Southeast Asia. The problem being Burma. Whilst it is possible (although difficult) to get bikes into Burma, it’s nigh on impossible to actually cross the country. Of course, we also weren’t entirely comfortable with the idea of visiting a such a vehemently totalitarian country, and although we’ve had to travel through some other countries with questionable or downright sinister regimes, Burma persecutes all of its people to such a degree that it arguably can only be compared with North Korea (we’re not going there either!) Even the imprisoned opposition ask you not to visit the country as it legitimises the ruling junta – who are we to argue with that? Either way, Burma was a no-no, so we would be shipping the bikes by plane from Kathmandu to Bangkok and we couldn’t have any fuel in the tanks when it came to crating the bikes for the flight. In the end, I estimated that we could comfortably make it to Kathmandu on what we were already carrying in our tanks and Em, while slightly more cautious, was willing to trust me – after all had I ever let us down before??!!…..

As we climbed into the hills, the roads quickly became more twisty and soon we were negotiating a seemingly endless series of very tight hairpin turns, something we hadn’t come across since Switzerland, which kept us permanently in first or second gear. We had the roads completely to ourselves and for hours we kept climbing, soon passing through the clouds and past dozens of quaint villages. It never ceases to amaze us just how clean and ordered the villages in Nepal are but up here on 2500+ metre mountain passes with steep 1000 metre drops, the order was brought to a new level. Despite the near vertical terrain, every inch of land was used for planting, with metre wide ledges neatly walled off and an identical ledge sitting a metre below. This system of stepped plots continued as far up and down the mountain as we could see, and the fact that the main crop being grown was flowers simply added to what was already a beautifully functional system. So much were we enjoying the ride in these hills that, had we not been on a deadline for shipping the bikes, we’d have stopped for the night along the way, but the twisting roads meant our progress wasn’t exactly as rapid as we’d planned. Late afternoon saw us beginning to descend towards the Kathmandu valley and, with dusk approaching, we found ourselves on the final 25km stretch of road into the capital. Fabian, who’d ridden directly from Pokhara to Kathmandu a few days earlier, had emailed to warn us about this section saying it was very, very busy and very, very badly potholed, so bad that he’d come off his bike. He wasn’t lying and we were soon battling with fast moving trucks and desperately trying to negotiate a constant minefield of countless very large, very deep potholes. It was whilst on this road that I felt the tell tale signs of a an engine struggling to get enough fuel…..

Sure enough, within a kilometre I had to pull over to the side of the road and confess to Emily that I ‘may’ have slightly misjudged the fuel situation – a result no doubt of a day spent riding almost exclusively in first and second gear. A bemused Emily (Em: ha, ha, that’s one word for it!!) then let me ride her bike 5km back down the crappy road we’d just negotiated to put some extra fuel in her bike together with a jerry can to re-fill mine. Off I went, being careful, once again, to get just enough to allow both of us to reach Kathmandu – I came back with enough to go another 50km (we were now only 20km away from the capital). Having refuelled the bikes, we set off again and within a kilometre we had reached the outskirts of the city where we came upon a huge traffic jam. We tried to edge our way through the melee but it was no good, the traffic was simply too heavy and pretty much gridlocked. For a noisy and polluted two and a half hours we slowly edged our way deeper in the city and finally, in the darkness, escaped from the congestion into a side road that would lead us to the Thamel area of the city. It was there, just 60 metres shy of Thamel, that my day took a turn for the worse – my bike ran out of fuel! Again! To say I was a touch sheepish as I turned to Em to explain that I wasn’t pulling over just to check the map would be something of an understatement. She’d, quite frankly, enjoyed giving me enough grief the first time round so I was not looking forward to what she’d think or say now I’d done it twice – the fact that the shocking traffic had meant that we’d used 50km of fuel to go 20km wasn’t really going to wash – ahem!….. (Em: let’s just say, I was not amused…)

Having taken a fair amount of abuse of the ‘I told you so’ variety, I tried to buy some fuel off some cab drivers but that was a no-go (they were all LPG powered) so I had to get a taxi to a local petrol station; not ideal as it was still rush hour and Kathmandu was suffering a fuel shortage. (Em: this was  not before, in desperation, I took a walk down the nearest alley to see if there were any hotels within bike-pushing distance – there were some but they were all full!!) Half an hour later I was back with another 5 litres and we were able to finally make our way through Thamel’s tight tourist-packed streets. It has to be said it was something of a culture shock to suddenly be surrounded by tourist shops, bars, Irish themed pubs and pizza restaurants. We stopped in the busy pedestrianised street and took turns to check out hostels, but continued to encounter that rare (for us) phenomena of the fully booked guesthouse. A few minutes and another guesthouse later, I was sitting on the bike when who should walk up to say hello but Fabian! We’d known he was still in Kathmandu but for him to actually walk by as we had just arrived – what a coincidence! We caught up whilst waiting for Emily to come back and when she did, reporting another rejection, Fabian said his place definitely had rooms available. Relieved, we followed him as he jogged down narrow alleyways until we arrived at the his ‘home’ and, having checked in and managed to negotiate safe parking for the bikes (an effort in itself), went for a well earned beer in the westernised world of Kathmandu’s Thamel district.

7 Responses to “The road to Kathmandu”

  1. Katie says:

    HAPPY CHRISTMAS!!!

    What an adventure! Hope you had a wonderful Christmas xxx

  2. Thomas & Anne says:

    Merry Christmas!!!
    Great to hear from you again. Hope everything goes well!!!

    Greetings from Munich (we have lots of snow here)

    Thomas & Anne

  3. Suzanne says:

    Wow!! Your adventures never cease to amaze me!!!

    Merry Crimbo you two! Thinking of you.

    Miss you.
    Suzanne xxxxx

  4. Jackson says:

    james, your fuel policy leaves a lot to be desired……but i like that in a biker
    some more detail around the expletives emily was using would have been interesting!

  5. Lorna Souch says:

    A belated Happy Christmas to you both. we look forward to catching up on the boat trip when we go up to Woking in a couple of weeks – I got Joe and pete football tickets to see Spurs play Charlton in the FA Cup 3rd round – both very excited.
    lots of love to you both, enjoy your New Year celebrations- no doubt they’ll be different from anything you’ve experienced before! We’re up on Dartmoor again with the usual crowd – all good fun.
    Hannah says ‘hello,…..’ but Joe is STILL in bed.
    big hugs, Lornaxxxx

  6. Jess says:

    Yes more blog, YES!

  7. Martha says:

    Wasn’t it dangerous shipping your bikes with some fuel??

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