On The Road Again - Willie Nelson - Click to get in the mood!
Oh so good to be twisting the wrist again! Throttle Therapy saving my life again.
Woke up to misty skies, a cold room and sluggish disposition. Breakfast was slow. Last minute run to the ATM to make 4 maximum withdrawals of 10,000 Nepalese Rupees each for the deposit on the Royal Enfield. I was already running an hour late. I decided that I don't want to hurry on this trip and to really concentrate on enjoying the moment. If the moment is being behind schedule... let it be. Here a some morning views of Thamel - Kathmandu:
My taxi driver from yesterday was conveniently parked outside the hotel. I told him if he wanted to make 500 rupees, he should wait for me to be ready. He gladly obliged. I got my duffel loaded into the car, checked out and set off through very mellow Saturday morning streets.
I arrived at BikeMandu.com's workshop around 10:30am. The skies had burned off nicely and the sun was shining brightly. Already 68°F in the sun. Amar Gurung had my 2014 Royal Enfield 500EFI all fueled and ready to go. We went through the paperwork, which was super organized, straightforward and thorough. He documented all the previous damage on the bike, showed me some basic maintenance points, gave me a quick walk-through on operation, and gave me a tube, clutch cable and spark plug and showed me several recommended routes on the map.
Time to load up!
I nabbed this photo from my taxi on the ride over to the workshop. It would prove to be a very important reminder.
Loaded and ready to rip.
The bike actually had less than 4000kms on the clock.
The excitement had built to a peak. I knew that the only thing separating me from the crazy traffic of Kathmandu's Ring Road was a short stretch of road out of the workshop. I hopped on the bike, dropped it off the center stand, and fired it up. The bike purred like a kitten... well o.k. maybe a mountain lion. The Royal Enfields I'd heard rumbling in Kathmandu must have had modded exhaust pipes.
Amar reminded me the directions out of town and on to the highway to Pokhara. I waved good bye. And a bit like the departure scene from Motorcycle Diaries, I lurched to a start wobbling and nearly crashing. Ok, I didn't even come close to crashing but the first few feet sure felt out of control while I mastered the tiny narrow handlebars and the loose feel of this battle tank.
I rode through the big double gates onto the little cul-de-sac and off I went. At the first blind corner, I instinctively merged right and hugged the corner for safety. Until a car appeared blasting its horn at me! Good thing we were doing 2.5mph. Stay LEFT!
I made it to the Ring Road. Now we're playing for keeps.
I joined the flow of traffic and buzzed along getting to know this peculiar machine. It felt a little bit like my '83 BMW R80G/S.
The sun was shining and I was riding a motorcycle! My life's worries started to peel away like layers of Neruda's onion. I had a giant smile on my face. Giddy like a school boy, zipping along in the moderate malay that was Saturday traffic. Soon I found my left junction at the pedestrian overpass and I was off climbing out of the Kathmandu Valley.
The surroundings looked very similar to Peru. Terraces on the steep hillsides, impossibly clinging to near vertical faces, and marginal pavement barely wide enough for two busses to pass each other winding up and up.
I made the pass, stopped to ask a policeman if I was on the road to Pokhara and prepared to suck more diesel fumes. No need to feel bad about smoking the occasional cigarette I guess. I've just breathed enough diesel death to offset the carcinogens of a lifetime of tobacco. My eyes burned; not just from the diesel, but from the smoke of burning... well burning everything, trash, vegetation from the fields, probably a body or two somewhere. All of this pollution was sticking to my contacts and my eyes burned fiercely, as I breathed as little and slowly as possible through my nose only. It became my meditation.
The roads were actually terrible. The pavement was the least flat pavement I've ever ridden. I remembered Frank's words, "Nepal is for walking..." But the Enfield was doing great. What it lacked in quality suspension it made up for by being brand new... the clutch was spot on, the front disc brake was single finger action and it actually had a bit of acceleration.
My hope was to make bucolic Bandipur, about 3/4's of the way to Pokhara. And according to Amar, I likely wouldn't make it before dark, which would mean staying in a typical roadside guesthouse somewhere along the river, rather than climbing up into the picturesque turning tourist town of Bandipur.
I pushed along steadily, hoping time would be on my side. The traffic spaced out a little bit and my badly burning eyes began to adjust. I rode on for well over an hour trying to master the chaos on the road. Cows, dogs, people, busses, cars, motorbikes, dump trucks, tractors, all moving at different rates of speed.
The road got smoother as it dropped nearer to the valley floor and I zoomed along the great river. For the first time I could see a km ahead of me clearly. I shifted the Enfield into 5th for the first time and buzzed along nipping at 100kph.
I let off the throttle as I eased into a bend. HOLY SHIT!!!! "Holy shit, holy shit, holy shit..." I muttered out loud in my helmet as I tried to get onto a non-existent should to avoid the two busses side by side passing in a blind corner. Fucking hell! You've got to be kidding me! Crisis averted but Holy Jesus! Come on people use your fucking heads! Franks words came to me again, "Never ride over 80kph in Nepal." Ok, ok. Slow and steady wins this race.
I saw a half-dozen white-water rafts about to enter some raging rapids. This would be a good excuse to pull over and check my shorts.
It was also my first opportunity to snap some photos...
I gathered my senses and motored on. Passing a cable car heading across the river and up over the mountain, I took note and soon came to my first junction. I pulled over and looked at the map. I quickly found my location because the cable car to a nearby village was marked clearly on the map. I was only 28 kms or so from the turnoff to Bandipur. Excellent. I still had nearly two hours of daylight.
Once I got to the turnoff, I stopped and paid a 10 rupee road toll. Things changed immediately. The road was a single lane of pavement switchbacking up steeply. It was awesome. Kids were running around smiling and life seemed to assume its proper place after getting off the highway.
It was 4:15pm when I first caught sight of the village of Bandipur. I'd been on the road for exactly 3.5 hours.
This guy was calling his cow in from the fields... Like he was calling a dog. And sure enough, the cow was coming to him obediently.
Sold. I didn't care to pick around until dark and just then Baniya's wife came out, speaking English too. "I make good family food, ready in one hour." I was starving! Done and done.
I started to unload the bike. They stopped me and pointed to the alpenglow on the mountains.
The room was spartan but the company was great. A half dozen foreign travelers and Baniya, his Nirma (Niru she insisted being called.), their boys and myself. Tasty food.
Baniya is 41, Niru 35... their boys 17 & 14. Baniya couldn't understand how I could be 40, unmarried with no kids. The food was excellent typical nepali food. Rice, dal (?) I'm still learning, with pumpkin squash and all kinds of tasty garlic and onion and peas, which were all grown in their garden.
Everyone shared beers after dinner and shared stories in mediocre English, getting worse as the night wore on, until 11pm. Baniya also could understand why 'Alaska' wouldn't drink beer. And he didn't understand the word 'hiatus' and I was too happy with my masala tea to bother explaining.
Dogs barked and barked while I warmed up my sleeping bag, working on this blog. I remembered the earplugs that were giveaways from the Minnesota Blues Society awards ceremony... amen. Best sleep yet. I am now happy to be carrying each of these items immensely: ear plugs, air mattress, sleeping bag and liner! Bandipur: Huge success and I haven't even left Milan Guesthouse yet.