Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Day 6 - Pokhara to Tatopani - Into the Himalaya...

Incredible ride today. Got lost immediately leaving Pokhara. Actually was almost out of town rallying to get on the road by 9am. Decided at the last minute it would probably be smart to turn around and eat breakfast where there were hundreds of tourist restaurants rather than be hungry on the road heading into the bush. Good choice. Real coffee was the clincher.

When I did set out, my hopes were high of even making Jomsom today. Google maps said 5 hours 30 minutes.

I looked at the map and committed it to memory and blasted out of town. Of course I blew past the turnoff for Baglung because all the signs are written in Nepali which is equally as unintelligible to me as Arabic.

I ended up in a small suburb in the hills and needed to backtrack to find the "highway."

Once I got on track the road immediately started climbing a pass. The air was cool an crisp and though I was still dealing with trucks and busses, it was a fraction of those I'd been dealing with between Kathmandu and Pokhara.

By the time I made the pass I needed to add a layer.  I figured I'd be taking it off again soon but wasn't sure if I'd be holding near this new elevation, so I unpacked and donned my jacket liner.

Of course the road switch backed down as quick as it went up and soon I was sweating.  The pavement was an approximation at best. It was sometimes wide enough for one car but was broken on both side so it was effectively a one lane road. Oncoming vehicles, whether they be cars, trucks or busses refused to give up any pavement for a motorcycle, so I found myself on the gravel most of the time anyway.

The riding was slow going but I was managing a steady pace.  I found a nice shady place to remove my jacket and repack it in my makeshift saddlebags.

I made it to the turnoff for Baglung eventually and quickly realized that getting past Tatopani today was not going to happen.

I was glad it was apparent early on so I could just kick back and take my time. The roads wouldn't allow for more than that anyway.

The scenery was incredible. I'd made it back down to the valley floor and everything was green and overgrown. Terraces skirted the bottoms of immensely steep verdant green walls.

The road was getting worse with every kilometer. Outside Beni by about 5 kms they turned to dirt and rock. These were not gravel roads as we know them... they were literally dirt and rocks. There was not a flat section anywhere. And barely one lane wide.

I fueled up in Beni. I'd burned 5 liters since Pokhara which included 25kms out and back to Begnas Lake.   I tipped the gas pump girl twenty rupees or 20cents US. She looked at me quizzically when I handed her the 20 rupee note.  I said, "for you."  She didn't know if she should take it. And then smiled as if I'd given her a winning lottery ticket. Well that answers that. I guess they don't tip gas attendants in Nepal.  5 liters of fuel cost 650 rupees. Fairly expensive... around $4.75 per gallon.

After Beni the roads really changed. There were a couple forks in the road, of course only marked with Nepali signs. Didn't seem to matter, I just summoned whoever was walking by with the polite palm down gesture if pulling fingers towards the palm of the hand, greeting Namaste and then repeating the name of Tatopani until someone pointed me the right direction.

At one fork, I was baffled, and no one was around. I just sat there dumbly, bike rumbling steadily. I heard a whistle and clapping. Looking up, I saw a lady on a rooftop pointing to the correct road. I waved and she gave me a big thumbs up.

The riding got tougher and more technical. There was everything from slick mud to water crossings to talcum powder sand hiding football sized rocks to bare bedrock and not a bit of smooth ground to be found. This was slower than first gear riding most of the time. Feathering the cable clutch constantly was fatiguing and standing up in the pegs was really awkward. Needless to say the Enfield wasn't really designed for technical GS riding.  20 kph was the max speed I hit after Beni all the way to Tatopani.

I was in a very tight steep canyon with a raging mint green river cascading below me a few hundred feet. Occasionally I got views of massive Himalayan peaks ahead.  It was a fine balance between taking in my surroundings and keeping the lumbering beast of a motorcycle on its wheels and more importantly, on its wheels.

Another hour of this slog and I made it to Tatopani, which means hot water, I think, and refers to the natural hot springs.

I was flagged down at a checkpoint an asked for my TIMS card and ACAP permit. I had no idea what the guy was talking about. After about five minutes of very basic English I became aware that I wasn't getting out of this. TIMS stands for Trekker Information Management System and is the trekking registry system for Nepal. Even though I wasn't trekking, I needed to have one. It cost me 1980nrs or $20USD.  This friendly Thakali gentleman also explained in 15 kms in Ghasa I was going to need my ACAP or Annapurna Conservation Area Permit. This I was supposed to buy in Kathmandu or Pokhara and also cost $20US. And since I didn't buy it in the city I would be fined an additional $20US. Bollucks.

I had a sneaking suspicion that I wasn't packing sufficient rupees for this backcountry expedition. Nor was I sufficiently researched. Typical Kleiter move. Go first, piece it all together later. Classic.

I rode the stone path into Tatopani village and found a room at the Dhaulagiri Lodge. It had a nice garden and restaurant and my room had an epic peak view that was in the midst of evening alpenglow.

I pondered the whole permit thing and questioned whether this was a sign to turn around. I decided to wait on the hot springs until after dark and sat down to some vegetable and mushroom chow mein. I was pretty hungry and figured that with all the Trekkers pouring in that the restaurant would be packed later an the hot springs likely packed now.

I met an American guy named Doug, who came to this area some 30 years ago an has been coming back since, building a technical school with his own private funds.  I asked and he told me his life story in short. He'd been climbing alone in the Annapurna Sanctuary and was caught in a rock slide. His foot was wedged under a boulder. He wasn't hurt badly but he was stuck there. He was trapped and struggled through the night prying with his trekking stick to get free. He survived the cold of the night and began pleading with the gods that if they would free him from his trap he would go straight to the monastery in Kathmandu and become a monk.

So that is what happened. After some time studying under a very powerful lama, he witnessed some pretty wacky miracles, he told me. The lama told him he needed to go on. Doug pleaded to stay wanting to continue his study and to perhaps one day become a Tibetan doctor or healer. The lama denied this, telling him that he was a gifted engineer and he needed to pursue this vocation to bring incredible knowledge to humanity. Doug asked him where to go and the lama said I think you need to go to Japan. Doug said it was nothing short of amazing since Japan had always been on his list but had been putting it off for later in life when he had more money.

So penniless (nearly), he had $300, which wouldn't go far in Japan, even back then. In the first few days he meditated on a sign and when nothing came he started doubting things and tried to make a plan to get back to the states. He was invited to a cocktail party for a big steel firm that a friend was working for. Thinking nothing of it he went. Feeling out of place at this highbrow event in jeans and trekking boots he was introduced by his friend to the president of the company.

Things lead to things and next thing he knew he'd invented several solar devices for the firm and made a substantial amount if money, which over the years lead him back to where he'd been trapped in the rockslide, to build the school and teach the locals about sustainable building and alternative energy production.

Doug affirmed that I'd be foolish to turn around now. That the roads get a little better and the views into Mustang province would rearrange my concept of alpine beauty.  He also told me to wait until early in the morning for the hot springs as they dump them of all the trekker funk at night and clean them at 6 am, before refilling them with fresh mineral hot spring magic water.

I took his advice, ordered some daal baht and continued to glean as much information from him as I could about the road ahead.

1 comment:

  1. Happy thanksgiving Justin, ride fast and take chances cause it's only -14 here in Fairbanks