Tuesday, December 16, 2008

100 Kilometres From Where?

How did I end up here?

It's a good question, and it can be tracked back to an email I sent more than a month ago. "Who's up for a rafting and/or taking out bikes to Pokhara and riding around its foothills weekend?"

This was met with a positive response in general, but none were more excited than Mike, an Engineering student from the States (you may remember him from the rockclimbing adventure with Flo). "Dude, we definitely need to do something of the sort. I've ony got a few weekends left. I think we also need to add to the list 'set a Hash' and that idea I had, 'hiring motorbikes and riding to [some town in India] that I have heard is really amazing'".

As time progressed, the plan became smaller and smaller. "OK, we've only got 3 weekends left, maybe we can raft, set a hash and do the motorbike thing". Another weeekend passes, "we really need to organise that rafting trip..." You know how it is with these things.

With one weekend left and no adventure planned, things were getting serious. I even consulted Gunga on the topic. "You know my brother-in-law is a trekking guide, he can organise for you!" Lo and behold, ten minutes later, Gunga's brother-in-law walked into the shop. We had a chat, and all things seemed go for the rafting trip.

Friday night rolled around and there were still no bookings, nor 100% committed participants. Friday night also happened to be the night of Katherine and my Birthday Bash. Dinner at the Thakali Kitchen (our fav restaurant) and a night actually out in Thamel allowing ourselves to cut loose just a little bit. I got some amazing presents, a lovely photo album from the guys at work, an wicked scarf (more on that later) from K&S, and a fantastic beanie from SS&D.
[I also got a dustbuster from A&G which I had been going on about for months]

More than a little tipsy from the new discovery I made on the Thakali Kitchen menu (Red Rakshi with deep fried rice floating in it) I approached Mike with an idea. "Mike, I think the rafting plan is sunk, we haven't got anything organised, and I probably won't be home before 2 tonight, which makes an erly start on Sat kind of difficult. Plus, I really woudn't mind doing the Hash tomorrow."

"Thank God you said that, I would love to Hash for my last weekend! But what else are we gonna do instead?"

"We're going to Tibet."


"We're gonna meld your India plan with a new one. We're renting motorbikes and riding to Tibet (well, the border anyway)." A short consultation with Raju confirmed the ditance, and also that he was available on Saturday morning to teach me to ride a motorbike. And Mike was locked in. The other 14 people at our party (which was amazing BTW) were shocked with the random spontaneity of the plan, and to be honest, so was I.

Never-the-less, come 11 o'clcok Saturday morning and Raju was waiting for me at the car park of the hospital for my motorbike lesson. With a lesson plan shorter than a dwarf's pinkie finger, the lesson wass over inside 20 minutes, with me stalling once, making it through some bricks (which were acting as witch's hats) and only looking like falling over once, Raju gave me the rubber stamp and my "licensing" was over.

Following an awesome Hash (which I rate 10+), Mike and I headed back to Thamel to investigate renting motorbikes. Hesitantly giving up my passport to the guy behind the counter of the corner store from which we were borrowing motorbikes, handing him about 10 dollars (being all it cost for an entire day with a motorbike) we were set. We took a short ride out to Diana's house (just out of town), by way of a warm up. This proved to be enough time to show that (big surprise) Kathmandu traffic is INSANE, and also enough time for Mike to have a fender bender. He was lucky enough to get out of it by giving a small token for repairs.

Early Sunday morning (in darkness so black it would give a black hole a run for its money, along with nut shrinkingly freezing weather) I rode out to the Ring Road to meet Mike. This ride of less than 10 minutes was enough to give me images of frostbite and make me question the sanity of this drunken commitment to ride 4-5 hours on a motorbike in a foreign country, in an attempt to see over the border into Tibet (only group trips can get visa approval, and even that is difficult). I did however manage to manufacture a very warm little ecosystem inside my new scarf, by joining the powers of a motorbike helmet and my new beanie, so my face retained a good deal of heat that was then lost through my fingers.

After 1.5 hours in the saddle and only three or four wrong turns, we stopped to grab "breakfast" from a local men's club. Men's clubs can generally be found anywhere in the country. They usually involve at least a bench, a stove, a vat of tea and/or beer and a bunch of guys sitting around usually in silence. Occaisionally one will say something philosophical to which the others will laugh and/or retort. At least one will be wearing a phenomenonally fashionable hat, another will be smoking in a bizarre fashion (in which you create a vaccuum with your hand in order not to let your mouth touch the cigarette) and another will be reading the paper.

We had beautiful scenery to watch when we weren't avoiding landslides, rackfalls or generally unsafe terrain. It was exhilirating to ride on such an quiet road - particularly after the first day of my ride to Pokhara (the main route from India to Nepal). The reason it is quiet is because it is reportedly cheaper to ship goods from China to India and then drive them to Kathmandu that it is to drive them from China itself.

The border itself was a massive let down. The town at the top of the hill on the Nepali side was kind of like any other town. Some falling apart buildings, bucketloads of trucks waiting to get across the bridge and a bunch of shops catering to the truckies and/or potential shoppers waiting to nip across to get a bargain on electrical goods and a ratty Nepali flag obstinantly standing still in the breeze. The Tibetan side was the inverse. Some very fancy buildings, grand golden Chinese characters and a giant fancy Chinese flag flapping away.

Trying his luck, Mike and I started to walk along to bridge completely amazing that none of the 50 armed Nepali police had yet asked us what we were doing. The 2 chinese soldiers standing on a line painted halfway along the bridge (can you believe that?) however, had a very different way of running things. They looked us up and down, smiled at each other, and then one said simply "no". Mike made some feeble gestures, gave them his passport, which they went through every page of, looked back at him, laughed and said "no".

From there we backtracked to a small town called Tatopaani (literally "hot water") and took a dip in the hot springs. A beer on a rooftop overlooking the river and looking at the wall of mountain on the other side that was effectively Tibet was a nice way to end our visit, and we made the return trip in just over 4 hours. I fashioned a new item of clothing for the return trip, as it was warmer but more dusty. This also worked wonders.

It was a fantastic getaway, and a great way to spend Mike's last weekend in Nepal.


  1. Oooh.....motorbikes and hotsprings with a view ?

    Totally jealous!

  2. dude, you have to stop posting this sort of stuff... I am jealous beyond belief...

    i'm also impressed, 200 odd kms with only a 20min lesson, nice work!

  3. al, you are in China!!!! urely they have this sort of stuff too???

    You should come and visit! That would be an epic adventure...

  4. i'm in beijing, after 200kms i'd still be in beijing!

    hmmm, beijing to kathmandu on motorbike... now that is an interesting thought!

  5. at least parts of it I am sure you would be on a good highway...our "highway" consisted of about 1 km od sand.

  6. In my head I'm imagining your trip as a cross between Ewan McGregor's Long Way Round and that film about Che Guevara, The Motorcycle Diaries...

  7. well, we did need to get a bike fixed...that drew quite a crowd - 2 bideshis on motorcycles ooooo!

    but unfortunately i haven't seen the whole length of either of those so i shall have to trust you!