Around 2:30 in the afternoon I crossed the Indian border into Nepal after leaving the city of Gorakhpur under a bright glowing full moon at 4am that morning and cycling up the NH29 to the border town of Bhairahawa. The land around the NH29 is a very flat plain where rice paddies and fields full of grains are grown, and as you near the border to Nepal the beginning of the biggest mountain range in the world slowly comes into view, which can be very daunting when arriving alone by bike with the intention of riding through them into the heart of the country. Seeing their outline through the hazy countryside air ran chills up my spine despite it being a 40 degree day. Seeing what lay ahead of me, knowing the work I had to do to rock it all the way to Kathmandu and realizing the uncertainty of the future made my heart beat with adrenalin and I couldn’t wait to explore this new country.
Crossing through the Indian side of the border can be confusing if you miss the tiny unmarked office on the side of the crowded, noisy, dusty, street, where you need to wait 10 minutes for a slow moving, potbellied, moustached Indian man to put an exit stamp in your passport before the armed guards will let you cross through. If you are crossing by car or bus you can expect to wait for hours in a traffic jam. I was happy to be able to roll quickly through on my bike weaving around big trucks and cars that have to share two lanes for all traffic going both ways. Crossing into the Nepalese side you have to find the immigration booth and buy your visa unless you already arranged one beforehand at a Nepalese embassy. The visa costs 40USD for one month and can be extended up to 3 months at immigration offices in Pokhara and Kathmandu. Unlike most immigration officers (especially the Brits) the man stamping my visa was friendly and smiling. He showed his concern as to whether I had eaten anything for lunch, if I wanted a tea or coffee, and if I had anywhere to stay that night. I declined on his hospitable lunch offer and told him I will just cycle until I get tired then hopefully find a good spot to sleep in the next big town. I decided to continue riding another 25-30km to the town of Butwal finishing the day off with 125km cycled. As I rolled down the highway I noticed people to be more cheerful then in India and there seemed to be a lot less garbage littering the ground and roads.
A tractor came riding up behind me with 3 guys about 17-22 years old riding in it wearing rock T’s and ripped jeans. As they rode past me I grabbed on to the back of the tractor with one hand and let them pull me along at 35km/hr. When they saw me they began to laugh and cheer me on as they took me riding for about 15km before they had to turn off in another direction. After that discovery, whenever I was lucky enough to have a tractor pass me going up those steep, narrow, mountain roads I held on dangerously for a well deserved break for a few km. Nobody ever seemed to mind or be worried about my safety. I liked this country.
Butwal lies at the very base of the Himalayas and at the north end of the city the road to Pokhara already begins ascending on a 10-15% elevation which doesn’t let up for at least 20km. The town has everything available that you need before you start cycling into the mountains and there are atm machines, internet cafes, and a bunch of cheep hotels to choose from. I rolled into town about 5pm exhausted, hot, and smelling like I just cycled 120km in 40 degree heat 3 days in a row, which is a very distinct and difficult smell to attain. I found a hotel charging 700 rupees a night (about 10 dollars) which was not cheap for Nepal and 5 dollars over my daily budget but it was a chilled out place with big clean rooms and a balcony over looking the city centre with a view of the mountains, and I was too tired to be bothered looking around town for the best prices, I was starting to feel ill and was content to just be able to eat, shower, and rest my exhausted body for the night before tackling the 200km north to Pokhara. Across the road from my hotel I sat on the side of the street people watching in this new country and eating 50cent plates of veg fried noodles from a street vendor I made friends with, then I went to my room and passed out for the night.
The next day began at 4am, I had to make a lot of noise in the hotel because the doors were locked and I had to wake someone up to let me out. It was still pitch dark when I began riding out of town, then the mountains began! The road was quite rough with lots of loose stones and potholes and steadily the elevation brought me into the misty clouds that began raining on me as the thunder boomed and echoed off the mountains and through the valleys. As the sun came up within half an hour of cycling I was completely soaked, after all it was now the rainy season, but despite the rain the temperature was still in the mid 30’s and dehydration still a big safety issue.
Between Butwal and Pokhara there are no big towns just small villages and remote landscapes. Lush tropical vegetation grows everywhere in the hills and valleys, huge groups of monkeys can be heard in the treetops and many ran in front of me as I was cycling bye. Every 500 meters or less you will pass a waterfall, some with deep swimming holes and some clean enough to drink. I filled my water bottle many times beside the road from fresh water flowing from the mountain side. The hills and valleys there are extremely clean compared to India and other neighbouring countries, not much trash can be found by roadsides or in rivers and the land is fresh and green, you almost expect to see elves and ferries jumping from treetops and running through the grassy hills. Although at lower elevations the temperature was in the mid 30’s the mountain tops are still bright white with snow and glaciers making a beautiful contrast against the lush green hills below.
I stopped in little villages where the folks were usually friendly and smiling and buy food and water. Prices in Nepal are a little more expensive then India but generally there are less people trying to rip you off as well so I guess it works out even. In the small villages I would typically pay around 200-300 rupee ($2.50 – 4) for simple but usually clean-ish lodging with a private bathroom. The roads in Nepal are small one lane roads twisting and turning along steep mountain cliffs but there is not much traffic except for on the road between Pokhara and Kathmandu so it is not extremely dangerous and when you stop for a break you might even have some peace and quiet to help you chill out, listen to the nature and waterfalls, and take in the beautiful mountain landscape around you. If you want to sleep outside somewhere there are many places possible for setting up a tent or hanging your hammock.
On my 4th day of cycling in Nepal, sick as a dog with a high fever and flue like symptoms (bad idea to be cycling at that point, don’t try it unless you have to) I arrived in Pokhara, a very touristy city but still very chilled out and a lot less busy, smoggy, and noisy then Kathmandu so it’s not a bad place to spend 4 or 5 days and use it as a base for doing some trekking into the nearby Annapurna mountains and conservation area. Pokhara is also next to Phewa lake where you can go for a swim, kayak or canoe, hike, or just chill out in one of the many cafes and bars along the shore.
Cycling the 350km road from Pokhara to Kathmandu is a tough stretch not for the weak at heart. It’s the busiest road in the country so it’s full of smoke pumping trucks and crazy car drivers so you need to be a little more cautious. Not only that, it’s also a pretty tough ride full of steep mountains to cycle over which along with the summer heat can drain your energy and fluids very quickly so be prepared and bring lots of high energy foods like peanut butter and cans of beans! The one thing that really caught my eye on that road and most roads in Nepal were the thousands of marijuana plants growing all over the place. I saw 10 foot tall dope plants growing on peoples front lawns and even bigger ones along the side of the road. Sometime I was cycling down the road with pot plants sticking out of my handlebars, smoking and eating mouthfuls of skunky Himalayan kush. I saw police raids on farms where cops where pulling up hundreds of marijuana plants and burning them or putting them in trucks but I didn’t see the point of it since there is no way they could possibly get rid of them all. It is hopeless for the cops to ever think they could win that battle, prohibition of marijuana is just ignorant for any government to impose, it doesn’t work and only serves to create more crimes and to put innocent people behind bars. Unlike tobacco, alcohol and pharmaceutical drugs which kill hundreds of thousands of people each year, marijuana is responsible for 0 deaths world wide in all of history.
The last 50km to Kathmandu is where the elevation gets completely insane, it’s a real pants-shitter. The road is at least at 20% elevation and is unrelenting until you get to the top of the mountain and start riding down into the Kathmandu valley. Even the trucks climbing it can only go about 5-10km/hr. Everyone I talked to told me not to try to cycle it and to just hitch a ride on a truck or get a bus (which only costs a couple dollars) but these were people that would probably also tell me that I couldn’t cycle from Holland to Nepal, so I chose pain over pleasure and I burned all my remaining energy (which was not much) and rocked through the clouds to the top and then down into the valley to smoggy Kathmandu where my eyes were burning red from all the air pollution. Kathmandu isn’t really a place you want to spend more then a few days, if that. It’s quite polluted, noisy and crowded, with lots of shopkeepers trying to haggle you for money, and tourists with expensive trekking boots and lonely planet guide books wondering around the maze of streets looking lost and dumbfounded.
I wanted to continue cycling into Tibet and China but around the same time I arrived in Nepal the Chinese government had closed the border for people crossing by land from Nepal to Tibet because of tensions there between the two countries. The only way to get through legally was to fly, I had no choice, and I was pissed off. With cycling interrupted, I decided to take a break for a while, save some more cash, and then try to somehow get back to where I left off and keep on rolling. Oh no the journey ain’t over yet! After some more of Asia there will still be North America to conquer, and maybe even South America….. After a little much needed rest and relaxation I will be rolling again soon, and hopefully Maarten as well.