Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Day 16 Nagarkot and beyond... Plans don't seem to work in Nepal.

Nagarkot - (Kodari) - Nagarkot

Woke up with the sunrise hoping for an alpenglow view of the Himalaya.  I hear that from the observation tower in Nagarkot, on a clear day, it is possible to see the full Himalayan Range from the west to the east.

Unfortunately, the valley was fully clouded in morning mist, only the fiery orange circle of the sun shone through.  I walked around the Stupa Resort property for a while in the crisp cool morning air.

Then returned to the warmth of my bed to do some writing before packing up for another day of exploration on the Royal Enfield.  I was down to only two days left with the bike, so my options were limited but I wanted to get the most out of it.

I loaded up and rode to the observation tower.  On the ride up, now with the sun higher, I was afforded some incredible views of the mountains.  The mist had burned off.  It wasn’t the crisp Colorado bluebird skies I’d been dreaming of seeing, but at least I was seeing the peaks.

I stopped by Gurung’s kiosk at the observation tower to thank him for the advice on Stupa Resort.  He wasn’t there but his wife was.  I chatted with her for a few moments and wolfed down a couple Tibetan doughnuts and some freshly fried vegetable pakora.

Not Blue Ribbon... BLUE RIBAND!
Then it was time to take the narrow snaking, single lane road down the backside of Nagarkot mountain heading back to Bhaktapur and out to the Arniko Highway.  My first concern was fuel.  Once I got to the highway, I turned towards Dhulikhel to avoid the congestion in Bhaktapur.  I was concerned that I’d made a big mistake though, when the first gas pump I came to was out of petrol and only had diesel.

I motored on riding conservatively as the low fuel light was shining brightly at me.  I saw some guys sitting on their bikes in front of a little motorcycle repair shop and pulled over to ask them where I might find petrol.  They told me in broken English that there was a pump about 3-4 kms further ahead.  I hoped I could make it.  I wasn’t necessarily feeling like pushing the bike today.

I made my way up over a hill and then pulled in the clutch and coasted down the road keeping in stride with the thinning traffic until I found the next petrol pump.  There were three young Nepali men there.  The one manning the pump spoke English and was very happy to have the opportunity to use his skills.  The other two just giggled and shied away from me when I spoke to them.

The gas attendant confirmed that I was already in Dhulikhel.  At this point I wasn’t sure where I was heading.  I had two options in mind.  

One was to take a dirt road into the unknown towards Jiri, which was a route highlighted in green again on my map.  This was my initial plan.  However, when I told the manager guy at Stupa Resort, he was quizzical as to why I would want to go to Jiri.  He stated that there was nothing there.  There were no temples or gompas or points of interest he said.  I tried explaining that it was simply for the joy of the ride.  He looked at me like I was nuts.  “Why would you spend all that money in fuel to ride 200km’s of pretty bad road, just to ride a pretty bad road?”  That was a good question.  Simple answer… “just to do it."  

I fought typical truck and bus traffic from Dhulikhel to Dolalghat, where I crossed the Indrawati River and then began a beautiful ride along the Sunkoshi Nadi.   Occasional whitewater camps were situated along the banks amongst banana palms.  I was low in the canyon and it was warm and mildly humid.  It was really pretty, zooming along down along the river and I was really enjoying the lack of road traffic, surprised to finally be out of the flow of trucks but a bit confused why there was so little traffic.  This is the most direct route from Kathmandu into Tibet and China beyond.

I passed through Kadichour and my option to turn off and cross the river bound for Jiri.  But as it was already 1:30 pm, I knew there was no chance of actually reaching the end of the road. The thought of bouncing my way down a rough dirt road on the Enfield wasn’t sounding that inviting at the moment either.

The other option I’d considered was to ride just beyond Kodari to the International Friendship Bridge, which is the border separating Nepal and Tibet.  "It might be nice to snap a few photos of the “goat” at the Tibetan border…”  I thought, following the Arniko Highway along the Bhote Kosi river, whose headwaters were high in the Tibetan Himalaya at the base of Shisha Pangma (8013 meters).  Also just near the border was a place called The Last Resort, aptly named as it is a short 12km from the border crossing.  The Last Resort is famous for the acclaimed longest bungee jump in the world.

I opted to stay on the Arniko Highway and push on towards Kodari, only some 40 kms away, and the Friendship Bridge.  The idea of hurtling myself off a perfectly sound bridge into a 163 meter deep canyon attached by only a rubber band was not only exhilaratingly enticing but deathly terrifying to me at the same time.  It brought back memories of high school, when during speech class we did an exercise where we had to speak in front of class about a fictional experience.  I chose to speak about a bungee jump that I’d read about in New Zealand in a ski magazine.  In that oration in front of my sophomore English Arts class, I lived the experience as though I’d known it first hand.  I felt the rush of the wind, the freedom of free fall and the zip of the return upward journey, just as the mind raced to find a solution to the imminent end it was facing.  The weightlessness of the moment between up and down as gravity regained its force momentarily robbed of it by the elastic kinetic-potential energy shift caused by the oversized bungee cord.  I’ve never experienced this first hand but somehow the mixture of preparation and panic caused by having to speak in front of my 30 classmates burned that fictional experience into my mind as if it were an actual reality that I’d lived. 

The idea of experiencing the largest and longest, biggest and baddest bungee jump in the world, took hold in my mind as I zipped up the Arniko towards Kodari.  I questioned myself, “would I really have the cojones to do it?”  “Could I stand on likely the highest bridge I’d even seen, and hurl myself into the unknown?”  

I was picking up the pace and feeling good that I’d decided on a destination.   Imagining snapping some photos of the Enfield on the bridge at sunset sounded pretty good and was within reach, it seemed.

Not a another 20 minutes later the outlook was quite different.  I’d just ridden past a dam that looked out of function.  It looked odd but I couldn’t quite figure out why.  It didn’t take long…  I came around the corner to see the remains of the biggest landslide I’ve ever seen.  The result of the nature letting loose under stress affected both sides of the river valley, it blocked the river causing a natural reservoir that had sunk numerous homes.  Mini-mountains of gravel dwarfed the machinery trying to undo the result of the unglued landscape.  It sure explained why the dam looked so funny jammed full of rocks and boulders.

I pulled off to the side of the road where the pavement became covered with sand.  I was next to half a house.  One half wiped away by the landslide and the other half standing there vacant.  There was lots of action going on.  A bus ahead on the low road, was unloading and turning around.  Big huge lorries or box trucks, some 4x4, some not, were making their way slowly, up the dirt effort of road through the debris.

Where the road across came to the far edge of the slide, maybe a km or two, there was a jam of trucks trying to make a hairpin climb of switchbacks.  Dust filled the air around them every time they attempted forward.  I assumed these makeshift switchbacks climbed to the height of the unaffected highway beyond the landslide.

I decided I’d give it a go, after I saw a local on a Honda Hero with skinny tires, head up with a big bag of something tied to his engine guards. 

 About halfway across, I’d already ridden up hills of foot and a half deep sand that was so chewed up, it had a consistency of talcum powder.   But buried in this fluffy powder sand, were all the sharp edged boulders that lined both sides of this mess of a temporary road.  I had to cross a 60 foot wide puddle of this powder that had become wet… so soupy concrete basically.  Fortunately, I saw where the feller on the Honda Hero had skirted right along the drop off.  Here the soup had become more like clay.  It was just possible to pass by if you didn’t pitch it into the boulder field below.

I made my way up a second powdered mine field past a big truck that was stuck.  It’s driver and helper repairing the front axle.  After I got to the next water crossing, I pulled off, opened my jacket to let out some of the sweat from the technical riding in the baby powder.  Trying not to end up with a flat, broken wheel, or rock through the crankcase was the real challenge.  Riding in the powder wasn’t that hard, doing it without losing momentum or smashing something important due to riding too fast, was the hard part.  

I walked around the next corner to scout it out.  I was barely half-way across now.  It didn’t get better.  As a matter of fact, when I rounded the bend I could now see another half dozen trucks waiting to make the attempt at the switchbacks.

I could see the local on the Honda Hero putting up the edge of the first switch back ahead.  I could also see the three more switchbacks above him where more trucks were stuck.  I thought about the unknown 35+ km’s after it did reach the old paved highway again.  And I thought about how the guide book had made mention of this being one of the most landslide prone highways in the country, my ideas of making Kodari and the mega-bungee jump started fading.  

I waited for a good twenty minutes there in the middle of that immense wake of destruction and deliberated.  I took photos and admired the patterns of beauty that had taken shape after the earth gave way.  It was pretty impressive.  Impressive enough, that I also thought about another 45 minutes of dodging sharp invisible boulders.  Boulders that could turn my bumpy little jaunt through the powdered dirt into a catastrophe of roadside repair.  

I turned around.  

I picked my way very carefully back down the nastiness I’d just ridden up.  The only thing worse than having to fix the bike on the way up…  is having to fix it because you tucked tail too fast.

I pondered the bungee jump.  Maybe I’m just chicken.  Maybe I let the excuse of not wanting to damage this rental bike be the cover up for really being too scared to jump off a bridge attached by an elastic band.   Either way the result was heading back towards Kathmandu.  I decided to push back to Nagarkot, once again rolling up the big hill in the dark, just like the night before.

It was cold again.  But the difference was…  I knew where I was going, staying, eating and sleeping.  At least for tonight.

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