Nepal. I’ve always wanted to visit Nepal. China to Nepal is like going from one extreme to the other. Within 100m of leaving China you’re into a mob of people.. hands going everywhere.. little blokes diving into my panniers .. someone has taken my passport and just disappeared.. and I’ve not got off my bike yet. It’s roasting hot and the smell of humanity is all around. I think I’m responsible for at least 50% of it ..
At most checkpoints the luggage searches are just cursory but this lot are doing a proper job going through everything. Good job I secreted my drone before I got here .. that would have gone for sure .. The passport reappears and the officials wander off leaving my bike looking like I’ve ridden over a speed bump at 50mph with my pannier lids open. No passport stamps though, so off we go to hunt down the man with the stamp. Easier said than done. I think this border was closed for quite a while after the big 2015 earthquake. I can imagine there was a proper shitfest round here at that time. Nepal is on it’s knees anyway even before Mother Nature gave it a big slap. You can get visas on arrival here but we got ours in London so it’s a simple stamp and go. Customs though.. not so straight forward. The building is easy enough to identify but you walk in and you’re invisible. Nobody wants to know. It’s like a doctors waiting room with loads of sweaty truck driver sitting in shadows with hands full of paperwork needing attention. There is a long line of old Indian trucks lined up in the mud outside.. sighing and ticking with the effort of driving the Friendship highway. We’ve been warned about this road. We meet a motorcyclist coming in the other direction.. he left at stupid o’clock this morning and it’s taken him 10 hours to do 150km, and he’s on a nice light bike. He says it’s unbelievably bad. Good to know ..
As we stand there in the customs office, a fixer suddenly appears and says he’ll sort it out. He wants our carnets then he’ll run round to the appropriate sheds and get the stamps. I must be honest, I didn’t know you needed a carnet for Nepal.. good job I’ve got one.. It would be perfectly possible to enter without one though .. just drive straight past the customs shed … nobody would give a toss either on entry or exit. ..
The first few miles .. if it’s like this all the way it’s going to take 10 days not 10 hours. It’s an absolute quagmire .. deep sloppy mud just like a pig sty.. like riding through a sticky brown smoothy. Then as soon as the ground gets harder all the mud turns to ruts. They’re so deep you can’t ride through with your feet on the pegs and the BMW is trying to walk on tiptoe.. but still dragging its tits along the tops.. it’s bloody hard work.. and slow. I’m not stopping on the shit bits for pictures.. I’m far too busy gassing my gusset and trying to stop the turtle sticking it’s head out. This is about as good as it gets ..
My riding buddy was telling me about Nepal. Quoting Factfulness by Hans Rosling. Part of the book apparantly grades countries from 1 to 4 by their general infrastructure and facilities amongst other things. So hospitals and health provision, time for ambulances to arrive, all sorts of things we take for granted living in a 4 rated country. There aren’t that many at grade 1.. but Nepal is. Not much of anything it seems, and certainly not the place to have an accident. This can be waiting round any corner ..
The road crosses a river and turns to hard packed gravel and we all enjoy getting out of 2nd gear for a change ..
We’re going down a hill.. I ride to the front .. go round a slight bend.. and there are a couple of bikes coming towards us, both 2 up. I’m towards the middle of the road, they’re towards the middle of the road .. everyone rides the easiest line.. we’ve been meeting trafic and passing on either side.. whatever works .. but there is an official side of the road.. and in Nepal it’s the left. So we do the dance .. the same one you do on a busy pavement .. you both go one way.. then you both go the other way .. then you crash head on into each other. Shit. I stay upright but I took a big hit on the right front side. The crashed bike is down and the riders are on the floor. The riders on the other bike are already in my face .. “why were you riding on the wrong side of the road”.. the riders aren’t badly hurt but they have some cuts on their hands and legs. Hands up .. this was probably 70% my fault .. I was in the middle of the road rather than the left .. but they didn’t go to their left either. There are 4 angry men and it’s getting heated fast. My riding buddy is an Indian by birth and can speak to them in their native tongue thank god.. but it’s not cooling down so he just says to get going up the road and off we go. We ride a few miles with my plastics flapping and light hanging off. Then pull over to try and fix the bike up. The riders have followed us the arguments start all over again. Fair enough.. two have hurt themselves and there is some damage to their bike. I patch up the bike while my buddy enters negotiations with the riders. Showing a willingness to accept some blame and pay some money seems to lower the temperature a little but they’re talking big sums of money, and they’re threatening to get the police from the next village involved. Not what I wanted to hear.. I take the broken bits off the bike and patch it up to ride. Nothing major, just snapped plastics, bent brackets and dented panniers.
Negotiations aren’t going well and the noise is getting worse.. eyes are opening wider .. tension is in the air.. they want a sum that my buddy is absolutely not going to accept. They say”we’ll’ go to the police then” .. and my mate says “OK.. let’s go”. OOOOOkkkk…
So off we go. the village is 30km away and the road is .. I’m struggling to describe this section of road .. it’s just awful. A thin cutting into the side of a mountain with nothing to stop you going airborne.. all deep wet mud and steep rocky ups and downs. I remember one section.. a very very steep and very very rutted decent round some stupid tight bends.. if I’d had time to think about it I doubt I’d have got the nerve to ride it but by that time you’re in the middle of it and you just cannot stop. My buddy is a TRF member and he reckons this would be a difficult ride even on a smaller bike. After a torturous climb we come to a village and a police station/blue tin hut manned by a young bloke with a gun. He’s not there to mediate or apportion blame.. just to make sure neither side gets physical. He just wants it sorted. The riders are lying about the amounts they asked for and now have bought their demands down to more reasonable levels.. I can understand their position, of course I can. In the end we reach an agreement and I hand over some USD.. we shake hands and we’re on our way. That could have been a lot LOT worse.. at least nobody was badly hurt and the bikes were still going..
I thought the road must get better at some point but no .. it just keeps on giving.. you see a picture like this and you think ‘oh.. that looks OK’ but you don’t see the bloody great sharp stone that started it ..
By this stage this is absolutely the worst road I’ve ever ridden, no doubt about it. A lot of this is in my mind .. millions of riders do this all the time with a smile on their faces.. my problem is the inconsistency. You get used to one shity surface and it almost detects you starting to relax .. so it it offers you another item from it’s never ending road surface menu.. deep water with sandy muddy slipy slidy shit everywhere.. or sharp rocky and steep sections.. all loose with 50% of the power just spinning the wheel and showing the rider behind with rocks and stones ..
We get to a village. At least there is a bit of tarmac there.. just to keep the dust down. Another group of humanity with the misfortune to appear from the womb halfway up a mountain in the middle of bum fuck nowhere in one of the poorest nations on earth. My buddy is speaking to a local about the best way to Katmandu from here.. I’m thinking maybe an airlift..
Word is there is a new road.. hooray.. we’re saved. It starts about another 30km from here but apparently it’s a good road right to Katmandu. I can’t help wondering why the rider we spoke to earlier didn’t mention it.. until we get there..
When he said new ‘road’, what he meant to say was new ‘roadworks’… it’s miles and mile of epic shitfest connected by short stretched of tarmac. It’s like a dashed line .. but with tarmac as the short bits. By now we’re well into auto pilot mode in the shit. A lot of the time it’s like trying to ride the bike sideways over a line of running machines .. one wheel heading in one direction and the other moving in another direction completely independently. I’m sure there are some substances on this road that are new to science. The muddly red sand combo is my real favourite. The cars are trucks are crawling through and are about 1 foot in front of you.. and one foot behind you.. I flipped into masochist mode some time ago and I’ve really started to enjoy it now. Covered in shit from head to toe, boots full of water, glove stains on my hands .. tired and hungry, and we’re still a long way from our beds.
These are the days that make the trip for me. The Brrrrrummmmmmmmm… beer.. food… bed … breakfast … bruuuummmmmmmmmmm… beer .. food .. bed … breakfast .. repeat until done … that’s just not my thing .. I want shit and cold and discomfort .. I want to be tired.. to be scared .. to be kicked in all my senses .. I want worry .. I want adversity .. I want difficulty.. i want near misses and adrenaline on my tongue.. I want something for my brain to do .. I want plans to change and I want to work through it all and come out smiling .. I want Oh Fuck… and I want OHHHHH FUUUUCKKKK.. I want good and bad.. big highs and big lows.. and shit days like this .. I really do want shit days like this.. Good job too because this day isn’t getting better any time soon ..
We eventually get to the main (probably only) arterial main road to Katmandu. Maybe 40km to run. Should be no problem despite the crawling traffic and billowing black clouds. The road surface is ok and we’re all used to forcing our way through any which way we can. Bloody dangerous though… but then the road starts to climb. The traffic bunches up and eventually becomes a 5mph solid metal worm of screaming engines and fag paper gaps.. it gets dark .. it gets worse .. and it starts to rain. The road surface turns to absolute pony.. I’ve never seen anything like it. As un PC and unsavoury as this sounds, the road looks like it has been tarmaced over the scene of a massacre. Imagine bodies randomly laying about and a tarmac lorry just coming and pouring over the top. Its pitch black, you’re doing between 0 and 5mph in the middle of a lorry sandwich and you’re being pushed all over the road by huge lumps and dips. Your autopilot is operating at 200% and your lungs feel like a new fence that someone has just gone and painted with old diesel. After what seems like a lifetime we get to a small turnoff and follow a backroad towards Katmandu. The sat nav is directing us through turnings that look more like paths to a front door than a road. Very very narrow gaps between buildings only to find you’re at the top of some sort of roller coaster with the road dropping away from you at a mental angle. And you’re sharing this with trucks.. I remember following an articulated petrol lorry through one section and thinking the road was the equivalent of the Suez canal with clearances measured in microns. Absolutely no chance of getting past … none at all. The only town planning involved here revolves around maintaining the smallest gaps that vehicles can get through.
We eventually get into Katmandu and come to a dual carriageway.. so that means about 10 lanes of traffic .. so what was a line of lights behind me turns into a view of the stars on a dark night .. with millions of lights winking and merging. We loose one rider and stop to try and see him. My bike is .. shock horror .. overheating again. Not surprising given all the crawling and the high 30’s temperature.
What looks like traffic chaos obviously as some sort of order but it’s alien to us. Buses come by and someone jumps off .. shouting destinations to attract customers as the bus crawls along beside him like a pet dog .. then he jumps on .. thumps the body and they’re off in a thick cloud and a roar of rattling .. I could sit and watch this stuff for hours. Identifying our mate is impossible in this mess. We try and call and text but nothing’s working. He has a destination anyway so he should be fine. And off we go into the melee. Riding in these places in the dark is just asking for trouble.. it’s like riding through a battlefield.. during the battle .. you can’t see bugger all what with the trucks and the dust from the road.. My blinking is on full-fast just trying to keep up with the assault and I’m breathing like a free diver, holding it for long periods to try and avoid having too many years taken off my life expectancy. Nepal seems to be like India, only 20 years ago. I’ll remember that ride through the city for a long long time. We get to the hotel and the other rider is there safe and sound. We all just breath a collective sigh of relief, smile, laugh and use all of our extensive collective vocabulary of swearwords to describe what has been both a complete fuckfest, but also one of my favourite ever riding days.
We’re not staying long in Nepal and today we say goodbye to our 3rd rider. He’s staying for a while then going home to see his girlfriend before returning and continuing his trip.
After yesterday, the roads couldn’t be any worse but they try their best anyway as we head out south towards India. Riding out of Katmandu is a revelation though. I always though Katmandu would be a lovely place full of amazing buildings but in reality it’s just one big fart away from being flattened. The outskirts especially are just filthy shanty towns that look to provide shelter but not much else. The roads get worse and worse and smaller and smaller and tighter and tighter. We thought that there should be a good route but we just blindly follow the sat navs. Maybe I left mine in ‘piss take’ mode by mistake as we eventually find ourselves way up in the mountians on a single track. At least there isn’t anyone trying to kill us up here..
After a few hours we join a very thin strip of tarmac and chase it hard up and down the mountains. Maybe this is the road we missed as there are loads of old 4x4s using it too, most of them are oncoming .. and they are driving like lunatics .. one of my horns has given up due to overuse and at every corner I send out a warning like a strangled sheep. They obviously just run straight over sheep round here because it seems to make absolutely bugger all difference to the speed they come round the corners. The downhills are the worst. Very very steep and narrow and often loose, the 4x4s aren’t willing to sacrifice even the smallest amount of speed and momentum and they just come hurtling round leaving you with next to nothingness .. literally .. as the mountain drops away from the roads edge. You get used to anything eventually though and it just becomes normal. Christ only knows what it’s like at night round here.
We get to a small village and decide to stop for some chai, one of my favourites. A couple of small sheds very popular with the local fly community. The owner of the chai shop has a son with Downs syndrome and he’s out in the back with his sister. He seems happy enough and comes for a chat but you can just imagine there is absolutely zero support for anyone with any problems out here. Just another reminder of my luck at the birth lottery.
Get to Rajdandi .. one of the kids has run through the house and turned the thermostat up to max again. My pores are pouring and my eyeballs feel like they’re melting. Find the hotel and just sit under the ceiling fan to try and cool the supercomputer in my head that feels close to shutdown. Shit its hot and it looks.. and smells .. like the roads are running with sweat. I go out hunting for cold liquid .. and ice creams. Ice creams can be an easy way to turn your arse into a chocolate fountain out here but at the moment I just don’t care.
I need another shave.. I’m looking for a shop. What I see is a very narrow gap between 2 buildings that has been converted into a barbers. Its so tight that you have to walk in sideways, sit in a chair and get shoved up against the counter so they have room to stand behind you. The concentration of smells is intense and the noise from outside bounces round like small echos in a cave.
Chai.. means milk .. there must be milk round here somewhere but these places do not have food shops. We’re so used to ‘want… buy.. eat’ but in these countries the ‘want’ is always far removed from the ‘buy’ They have food markets .. not food shops. Lots of places are knocking up Chai though so there must be milk about somewhere. My mate joins the hunt and is directed from one place to another to another until we track down a freezer in a small hole in the wall selling bottled drinks. The freezer is full of bladders of milk .. it’s a vision of heaven.. I want to just dive in and have a swim .. but instead I just buy as many as I can carry and have a wild night in necking nectar.
India and Nepal have an open border, but only for Indians and Nepalese. Get to the border and a rusty gate is the only indication that jurisdiction is changing. I’ve done this before in Africa, just ridden past a few huts then a while later realised I’m in another country and have had to turn round. We stop by the gate and I sit with the bikes while my mate looks for customs.
My mate reappears with good news and bad news. The good news is that he has identified the man we need to stamp the carnets. The bad news is that the bloke has apparently not got the right hat, so he’s gone off home to get it.. he’ll be back in 30 minutes..
The man appears and I have to say, the hat was definitely worth the wait .. look at that crease in his shirt too .. I think he’s changed .. this has to be done properly after all..
So.. passports.. where the hell are those done? We go past the barrier and into the throng. Animals.. trucks.. carts.. bicycles .. all seemingly going back and forth between Nepal and India without restriction. It’s a constant slow flood of humanity .. flowing in two directions at once .. all very strange.
We find a house that is apparently immigration. Walk in and there are 3 people in uniform just sitting chewing the fat. Looks like we’re an inconvenience.. they hadn’t expected to actually do any work when they woke up this mornings. They’re not allowed to do immigration though, that’s the job of a man in the village and he’s not here. The computers are all turned off and resting snugly under some dust sheets on a desk… better call the man then I guess…
The man turns up 15 minutes later, takes off the sheets, turns on the computer.. unlocks the cupboard with the stamps in .. gets out the old paper ledgers and gets to work. Unfortunately for us it seems that in Nepal we’ve had the good fortune to exit on ‘bring an idiot to work day’. The man is obviously using this rare opportunity to teach someone the highly complex process of stamping a passport. His mate isn’t a quick learner .. and i have to leave the building otherwise I’m going to grab the bloody stamp and beat him to death with it .. exited August 2019 in red across his forehead ..
They give us a shout and we can leave at last. Join the flood and just let ourselves get pulled along by the current towards India. We’re on the conveyor but we’ve no idea where to get off. Nobody is stopping anywhere but we know we’ve got to do this properly otherwise we won’t get the bikes out of the port.