Up the Himalayas!

4 02 2011

Cying Video – better late than never….


We have made it to Kathmandu!! – a conscience rocking experience

22 12 2010

It has taken 14 days, over 1,000km and (repeatedly) up and over passes as high as Ben Nevis. Crossing into Nepal has been our greatest challenge so far and we are pretty darned chuffed with ourselves to have made it this far.

Kathmandu has proved a little oasis of woolly yak-ary and fake North Face-ary.  And with temperatures dropping rapidly crossed with NO HEATING AT ALL we have rashly invested the grand total of £30 on a yak jumper for Liz and a fake North Face jacket for me – wooo Happy Christmas us! As we head up onto the high Tibetan plateau and Himalayan passes we will be grateful for these toast makers. Sadly (though in this weather not that sadly) we can’t afford the $1000+ costs of hiring a guide to cycle with us (as per Chinese rules) up to Lhasa and so we will throw our bikes atop a jeep and drive there and then onto a 2-day train (though this is far from certain due to yet more Chinese vaguery) into mainland China. We still have a 150km cycle up to the Tibetan boarder to complete but thought we would write a Nepal sign off blog now as power, let alone internet connectivity, is less than assured for the next few weeks.

Nepal has been a delight and a moral strain. As with India the vast stretch between the very poor (dubbed undeveloped) and the very rich (hailed developed) is highly pronounced.  From the slow perspective of our little saddles, where there is tourism there is aggression – the closer we got to Pokhara or Kathmandu the more the groups of children parading back and forth to school became a source of anxiety – long gone the open inquisitive choruses of ‘goodbyegoodbye’ that greeted us along the Terai, now only demands of ‘tourist, tourist, STOP! Give us your money!’ rock our middle-class consciences as we speed up to out-pedal their clattering chase.  This could be a throwback to the days of the Maoist uprising when tourists were regularly stopped and expected to pay a contribution to the cause – but it also echoes our experiences in India.

The busier the roads the thicker the pollution; the more ‘developed’ the range of goods on offer the higher the rubbish piles that flank the road. And the grubbier the children. In the neat villages along the Terai the children were always clean, the closer we came to ‘developed’ towns the grubbier they got.  In Phokara and Kathmandu there are even postcards with close up images of wretched little urchins ill clad in stained torn rags.  An image that seems unrecognisable to us outside of these main tourist hubs and hangs close to the suspect morality of portraying potbellied starving children in Africa.

When we started this whole shebang we were freewheeling under the hazy notion that cycling was an equalizing mode of transport – the world over the bicycle is the poor wo/man’s transport, right? On a bike we will be on an equal footing with the locals, right? But as we progress we fear we are merely a constant reminder of difference – and maybe nowhere more so than in Nepal. While maybe we are not the flashiest of lycra clad, GPS welding cycle-tourers we are by no means subtle. There are times when our decent spec bikes are an embarrassment (however much they are held together by cable ties) – their very presence

grubby leg ... ooooh

anomalous in an essentially medieval country. Our greasy, stinking cotton trousers maybe less than appealing, our budget maybe as tight as they come, but we fear that in such an economically raw environment we are only ever beacons of wealth and opulence. And this is difficult for us, because however cold it is, however much there is no heating, we know we can always go out and buy the knock off North Face and the (seen NOWHERE ELSE IN NEPAL) Yak-ary. We have loved Nepal but are left mildly uneasy that the bits we loved – the rural idylls, the clear open roads, the open curiosity and friendless are being polluted … by us.

Cycling the Terai video

21 12 2010

Here is a little snippet of the glory days … before we hit the hills.


A night in Hockville – accommodation in Nepal

20 12 2010

Not getting the runs or the voms is a major daily target for us. We are running quite a tight and physically demanding schedule that wouldn’t take kindly to internal battering. Thus far the bodily hatches have breached only once each; once in Turkey for Catherine and once in Azerbaijan for Liz. Since then we have introduced a new little friend to our travelling family – hand sanitizer. This pocket sized GI (guttural integritizor), along with the usual checks re restaurant/stall busyness, food freshness etc has provided us with a robust front colonic line. So, hesitantly and amidst a flurry of wood knocking and toe crossing, we are glad to report that Iran, India, and Nepal have passed through us with gut-ular security.

Long distance touring will always impact on internal tick-tockary; some report loss of appetite – which is a problem when calorie intake is critical; some report constipation – though we suspect this is partly due to a reluctance to relax in crude and often repellent lavatory provision. Though we have found one of the great blessings of this particular region it be its culinary monochrome-ary – Iran with its clean and simple bread, meat, and salad dishes; India with its curry (a wide variety but mostly curry nevertheless) and breads, and Nepal with its staples of dhal, noodles, momos and fried ‘stuff’. Our guttural lives in the UK would regularly spin between dishes from all over the world through a perversion of them all: for the past 4 months variety has been a rare visitor.

It is against this backdrop that Liz woke one night in state of mild panic. We were staying (yet again) in a small Nepalese guest house; a basic spare room running off the back of a little food joint on the highway. These simple rooms offer a thin mat on top of a wooden base with a light blanket covering. The dirt tinged sheets are rarely washed between visitors and more often than not the room is already occupied by a scratch of baby (and not so baby) cockroaches or mice. Maybe the floor is swept clean, maybe the ash tray is emptied, or maybe not. But this was a good one; this one was small, simple, and quite clean. The windows shut and the door locked. There was a little family balcony that looked out over a beautiful mountain vista. There was a little family.

The roost was well and truly run by Rita. Cocooned in multiple layers of shawls and blankets this tough little skittle bustled about us, and bustled us about for the duration; she cooked for us and watched us eat, she swept us into our little room and watched us settle, she sat with us as we relaxed on the balcony. We slipped each other congratulatory looks at our good fortune in finding this place. Until about 2am.

With no electricity or heating and exhaustion weighing heavily we usually go to bed by 8pm. And so we did. Until 2am when Liz woke in a panic to the violent sound of screeching and retching apparently emanating from within her bed; is Catherine sick? She panicked, Oh my god what did we eat? … no it’s not Catherine… it’s coming from outside… Rita! What is wrong with her??!!! It took Liz some minuets to realise that it wasn’t Rita being sick it was Rita hocking. Spitting and hocking are a national institution here (and in India). The art of the great retch that pulls all manner of detritus from the core of the earth up into the hockers mouth to be launched at high velocity and in unimaginable volumes outwards. And Rita was the hock champion and tonight was a prime training session. It was the good 25 minutes of constant unfettered retching followed by the final chunky eruption that made this a truly nauseating, yet potentially award winning ritual. And it went on… for most of the rest of the night. Don’t get me wrong, we are quite immune to a general and constant level of flobbery that serves as a soundtrack to our travels but this was something else – this was in a first class, top notch, hock-tastic, queasy class of its own.

In the jungle, the mighty jungle…

14 12 2010

‘He stopped for a wee, he had been on his motorbike coming from Chispani. The tiger just jumped on him. That was about… 2 years ago. But don’t worry, it doesn’t happen much. … Just try not to stop. At all. ’ grinned Prashant reassuringly. Bardia National Park is home to over 100 royal Bengal tigers, 75 wild elephants, and 22 one horned rhinos, all padded round with a multitude of other food chain delicacies. And we have to cycle, alone, through around 100 km’s of it. Did I mention… alone… cycling… tigers? *gulp*

Pleeeease keep up’ jibbered Catherine as yet another unidentifiable crashing sound punctured the air and the thick undergrowth shivered its density at us. ‘But if it is a tiger we have to stop and stare at it.  If we go faster it will just chase us!’ smirked Liz ‘CRAP! What the hell is that?? Slow down slow down… look! A Thing!’  As we both slowed to a nervous revolution and drew into close formation we could make out something hairy and erratic skitting around the undergrowth some 50 meters ahead. Suddenly it bolted onto the road, a stocky 200 pounds of hairy grunting wild boar stared at us before jetting off into the undergrowth on the other side of the road.  Just as we sighed a nervous relief a trotter-skidding daisy chain of 4 smaller boars bombed after the mighty pounder.

As we continued our (slightly faster than usual) ride we passed crocodile littered river banks, we rode through families of monkeys milling about the road, we heard the ‘a tiger is here’ monkey call not too far away and we managed to get Catherine to the other side without any major hyperventilation episodes!

We threw in a rest day in the park (if you can call a 10hr hike round a national park a “rest”).

Taking a walk in a national park involves tiptoeing behind a guide, Indra in our case, and being as quiet as possible. For our safety (from tigers, rhinos and elephants) Indra carried a big stick and sniffed the air a lot – reassuring??!!. We spent much of the first few hours following rhino prints and wee marks, until suddenly Indra stopped abruptly and spun round ‘quick!’ he whispered in an urgent tone ‘move back, climb that tree, QUICK!’ We lugged ourselves into the branches of a big tree just in time to see the rough hide of a HUGE rhino sashay round the corner followed in close succession by a smaller version.  We stayed in the tree for some time, not least because we both LOVE climbing trees but mostly because the rhino knew we were there and wouldn’t actually let us down.  We watched the rhinos as they grazed and went (eventually) to drink in the cool river. Throughout the rest of the day we spotted bald headed eagles, yet more crocs, monkeys and birds. And right at the end of the day, as we were wearily trudging home a huge herd of wild elephants came crashing out of the forest and plunged into the river to drink and splosh about! Sadly (or extremely luckily) there was no tiger spotting or being pounced upon for us this time.

So we leave Bardia behind us and continue along the Terai; our route running us beside the ever-present Himalayan spine that sits to our left. We are happy to enjoy the flat (ish) road before we have to face the inevitable left turn and endure the lung busting creep that winds the road through 1000+ meter passes. Peeks that for now sit content to merely watch us, biding their time. As they threaten to break us we can only hope our legs are staunch enough, our wills resolute enough and Liz’s dodgy pannier rack repairs hold firm enough for us to make it. Cross all your bits for us would you?

you say good bye and I say hello…

12 12 2010

‘Goodbyegoodbyeeeeeeeeee’ children spin over fields to bellow us a blur of good-bye greeting. This indicates a creative detour from the usual ‘hellohello’ that the rest of the world uses. Not so in Nepal; when cycling through a shoal of pippins on the road they whirl into life, hands manically flapping, split-peach-grins tear across their faces as they run long ribbons of ‘goodbyeeeggggooooooddddbbyyyyeeee’ in our wake as they clamber to race us. The winner managing to liberate a trophy sock that had hitherto been held captive (drying) on Liz’s back pannier!

We have been cycling for about a week in Nepal and, although the roads are bumpy and certainly taking their toll on both us and our bikes, the scenery is sublime, the traffic light and the cycling peaceful. Small groupings of neat wattle and daub farmsteads line the road. Tidy thin paths threading them together; large mushrooms of hay stand on stalk legs sheltering families of cows and buffalo; chickens, goats, cats and dogs do their usual lazy-pecking-wallowing- scratching do as the biting morning mist relaxes into a mellow midday heat. A land and a lifestyle (as yet) uncluttered by the hall marks of ‘development’; the ubiquitous stench of plastic–bag mountains, overpopulation, over-mopedisation, and the thick lung grinding emissions that have hitherto run as a constant on our road thus far.

‘I wouldn’t call it peace..maybe we are in a “peace-process”’ Dev mused over coffee yesterday morning. ‘Things are not settled yet, the Maoists still are not happy with the political reforms… it is very soon since the King has gone… it can still go either way… it is a process. A fragile process.’ Conflict, oppression, freedom and governance have been themes that have both dictated our route and underlined the lives of almost everyone we have met. Yet nestled at the heart of all these accords and missives and agreements are (and have universally been) ordinary open people. ‘Cycling will be easy for you here. For us, by bus it’s stop stop stop at every check point… all the time’ chuckled Dev wearily.
At least 4 times a day we wheel past an army check point – serious blue khaki clad young men and women peer over piles of sandbags; AK47’s held meaningfully, ready. Most will crack a beamer and throw down a ‘ggoodbyegoodbye’ when they see us though. For us to consider the wealth of tensions that must simmer here; the havoc that 10 years of civil war and dissent must have reeked on the normalcy, asks the impossible because we only see the relaxed hospitality that cushions our daily experience. Our more pressing and realistic terror comes in the form of jungle beasts! …..