Cycling Plus #14:
Nepal - the road West
It was the beginning of the Hindu festival, 'Tihar', and Kathmandu's dog
population wandered the streets, garlands of bright orange flowers wrapped
around their xylophone bodies. Time too to leave this tourist Mecca, and
say farewell to the community of cyclists gathered here from all over the
I'm joined again by Frenchman, David, a fellow Tibet cyclist, and Ferry, a
young German Chinese, keen to investigate the wonders of bike travel. He's
inherited Dutchman Bob's ageing Peugeot, cycled over from Lhasa. Bob and
crazy Irishman Brian have swapped their steeds for a wasp yellow 'Enfield'
Chopper, set to blaze a trail of mayhem home to Europe. Back at
characterful Sonam's 'Dawn till Dusk' bike shop, Possum's been resprayed
blue and a newchain and rear cassette have been fitted.
Leaving Kathmandu, our destination is Nepal's most westerly exit into India
at Mahendranagar. We head for Pokhara and turn off the busy main road to
begin our final pass - the reward for our 50 km climb is a spectacular
vista of the Himalayas, that includes eight of the world's fourteen 8,000
metre peaks. After gazing out at this awesome panorama, a 60km descent
feeds us into the lowlands at Hetauda where the temperature rises and the
jungle hems us in. The road through Western Nepal is smooth and almost
deserted, skirting the country's most beautiful wildlife reserves. The
Nepalese are friendly and laid back, gathering around us when we stop to
refuel on the national dish, dahl baht. Monkeys dangle in the
trees, elephants wash in the rivers; further downstream, a crocodile floats
just below the surfacelike a dead branch. Coated in a golden light,
beautiful Nepali women with golden noserings and colourful saris work the
land, clutching tiny babies to their hips. Children dawdle home from school
and old men sit by the roadside, their twig thin legs crossed, watching the
world go by with bemused interest. As dusk turns to darkness, the aromas of
crispy samosas and spicy dahls drift from darkened eateries, where locals
play 'carom' and chefs doze around the glowing embers of clay ovens.
One late afternoon, we stop in a small village still in the throws of
festival celebration. Over dinner, as drunken men sway from one table to
the next. A young Indian English teacher approaches us, makes small talk
for a while and then broaches the main subject. Kedar was in love...He had
been sent a letter of proposal by a Nepalese girl. She was young and
beautiful, and her parents ran a successful shop. 'I love her, she loves
me. Is it not the law of nature to get married?' But therein lay the
problem: neither of his brothers were yet betrothed, and as the youngest of
the family, how could he be the first? 'What to do?' he concluded with a
look of angst and worry. She had been away for a week - 'I am highly
longing to see her,' he lamented. Clearly something had to be done, and we
suggested seeking permission from the elder brothers, reasurring him they
would be understanding...Unlikely...and not a question I hope I'll have to
ask my elder brother!
India loomed ever closer and the 'Enfield' was, nowhere to be seen. The
peace and tranquillity of the last 700kms had been broken only by the
speeding bus, swerving round sacred cows nonchalantly crossing the road.
Things were set to change - it was time to hit the highway to Delhi.