Monday, October 27, 2008


We have some information that we were not at liberty to post prior to today. Brian and Harlene were involved in a single vehicle accident on October 7th, our second day on the road, between Corbett Park and Nainital. Brian was transferred to the hospital in Delhi where he is receiving care. We remained with them for three days and at Harlene's urging, continued on. We are in regular contact with her and will see them next week.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Back to India

Oh what a beautiful morning, oh what a beautiful day! We left Kathmandu early in the morning to avoid the heavy traffic and headed south to the border. It was another glorious day as they all have been with temperatures in the upper 70s and blue skies.

We chose the long way down so we could have one last ride through the mountains. It was the right choice! The road was narrow and winding and there was very little traffic so we were able to relax a little and enjoy the spectacular vistas. It seemed that everywhere you looked, something was growing. The mountain slopes have been neatly terraced to make use of every bit of land and they were all full of lush crops ready to pick. Cabbage, radishes, rice, mustard seed, corn, peppers all grew in abundance and their variety of colour gave the valleys and mountainsides a checker-board look. In the small villages we rode through, people were busy packing vegetables into sacks, husking corn or drying cobs by hanging them in bunches from their eaves. Flowers blossomed everywhere and Ruth Ann, our resident horticulturist, was in her element.

This is one of the highest roads in the Himalayas, summiting at over 8000 feet and often we could see deep down into the valleys where the road snaked its way up and down. It was right out of a motorcycle magazine! At one point, I was leading and pulled over quickly and was able to get a shot of each rider and they rounded the curve into view. If they turn out, Ill post them to the blog.

All good things must come to an end and all too soon we reached the Indian border where we faced a huge traffic jam, broken roads and Indian immigration. The office was a table set up in an alcove just off the street and the officious official took great pains examining our passports and writing in a huge ledger while making small talk leading up to a request for some currency from our countries. Ruth Ann dug up some US coins and even some Canadian coins she had acquired during her visit to Tweed. While I carefully explained what each one (quarter, dime and penny) was and pointed out the portrait of the Queen, he inquired as to whether we had some paper money. Apparently, he was more of an extortionist then a numismatist!

After crossing the border, we had a long, dusty ride on a terrible road which really slowed us down so we didn't arrive in Chopra till dark. Unfortunately, when we got there, all the hotels were full due to some celebration. The next city was 75 kms away. We spoke to our bike rental agent in Delhi and he talked to the hotel, resulting in them putting mats and pillows down on their filthy confere nce room floor where we spent the night for the grand sum of 1500 rupees ($37Cdn).for all of us.

So we're back in Incredible India, as the ads say. And it is: incredibly busy, incredibly dirty, and incredibly entrepreneurial. Everyone is trying to make a rupee and so we are dogged constantly, specially in tourist areas such as we're in at the moment enjoying all the luxuries of a five star hotel to make up for the previous night.

Varanasi is another very holy city, this time for the Hindus where they come to bathe in the Ganges River or die and be cremated on it's banks. We took a row boat to watch the sun rise on the Ganges and saw tea lights floating down the river in the early dawn light. Hundreds of pilgrims lined the shore doing their ablutions among the dead bodies of people and animals. Several big birds were perched on the floating carcass of a dead cow and Ross named it An Avian Dinner Cruise = - (

Respite in Varanasi


We were all up and about shortly after 0600; with no breakfast available until 0900, we decided to depart Chopra, but not until
we made a hotel reservation in Varanasi. An earlier start would also ease the traffic situation. We’d gone about two km when one of the aggressive pedal rickshaws whacked RuthAnn’s saddle bag and sent her sprawling onto the street. She bounced right up with the damage to the bike being a bent right foot peg and a loose mirror. When Mukesh bent the peg back it broke off; soon a new one was mounted and off we went. We pushed hard to get out of the bad pot-holed roads and the state of Bihar which doesn’t seem to have a good stretch of road in it. Once we got to a road that had two lanes, sometimes even sporting a center line stripe, we made pretty good time. We arrived in Varanasi about1600 after covering 225 m. The Hotel Clark Varanasi is five star rated and we feel it is worth every penny we are spending.


After sleeping in and taking a late breakfast, we are off to Sarnath to visit one the most important Buddhist sacred sites. It is here that Buddha preached his first major sermon to five followers in 528 BC and thus began one of the world’s great religions. The archaeological park contains many ruins from that time along with many more modern temples and monasteries.


We are in the hotel lobby at 0500 for a ride to the Ganges River to take a boat ride and to watch the sun come up over this polluted but holy river. One of our first sites is a human body floating near the shore, followed by bloated carcasses of a pig and a cow. We think we see the body of a child, but not sure if it real or not as we do see similar figures on shore that appear to be non-human. Many Hindus are bathing and washing clothes in the sewer-laden waters; we see the burning ghats and the newer electric crematorium. After ninety minutes of rowing up and down the river, we leave to the tape recorded warnings about pickpockets, touts, and other dangers that abound. Not only were we pestered by souvenir sellers on land, but also from boats on the river. The most original was two guys with a battery powered tv selling dvds of the river scenes. We decided that our memory was enough--dvd reminders are not necessary.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Over the Mountain and Through the Woods


We got an earlier than usual start to try to avoid the traffic--it worked to a degree and we were soon heading west for about 30 km before taking a left and heading south on the Tribhuvan Highway. This was a one-lane paved road that twisted and turned through the mountains south of Kathmandu. We had some great views of the Himalayas with the road topping out at 2480 meters (8210’). Deep valleys with terraced hillsides presenting many shades of green made for wonderful scenery. The lack of traffic and pollution also added to the enjoyment of the ride and this day is was one of the best of the trip to date. It took us about eight hours to cover the 140 km to Hetauda and the Hotel Seema.

I finally got a handle on what kind of gas mileage we are getting with the bikes: a little over 74mpg!! Remember, though, that we are usually doing less than 60km/h and often times putting along at 30-40 km/h.

We all turned in early as the mountain riding had really worn us out. Little did we know what the 22nd had in mind for us……………….



A leisurely breakfast at KC’s restaurant was followed by quickly arranging a tour of the city and flights to see Everest.

The tour was money well spent as we had a guide and a driver and it felt good to let someone else fight with the traffic. On our 8 hours away from the hotel we saw Swayambhunath (aka The Monkey Temple because of the monkeys that abound there) a large Buddhist temple set on a steep hill overlooking the city, Bodhnath (Boudha) one of the world’s largest stupas (a bell-shaped Buddhist religious structure), Pashupatinath Nepal’s most important Hindu temple and the location of the burning ghats (cremations) on the Bagmati River, and Bhaktapur a step back in time to see a traditionally important small city.

The trip back to the hotel was slow with traffic being gridlocked most of the way. We saw several young women traffic police trying to make order out of the chaos--we did not envy them inhaling all those fumes and dust.


Away at 0600 for the airport and our flight to see Everest. Buddha Air was our host with a petite female first-officer who did all the flying. I gave her an A as she knew how to fly smoothly and not ruffle any feathers in the passenger compartment. After take-off we did a couple of climbing circles to gain altitude out of the Kathmandu Valley. The Himalayas were nice and clear and the flight attendant went up and down the aisle to each seat and told us what peaks we were looking at. We all took turns going forward to get a look out of the cockpit windows. I chatted a bit with the captain and discovered that he had done his flight training in Texas. The aircraft was a Beechcraft 1900D with nearly 20000 hours on the airframe; at one time these were a workhorse on the American commuter scene. We got a great view of Everest towering about 3000 feet above our aircraft.

In the afternoon, some of us took a leisurely stroll down to the Durbar Square chock-a-block full of temples and other historical structures. We also saw Freak Street (Jochne) where the “enlightened” foreigners hung out before Kathmandu grew to be the metropolis it is today.

Flora and Roads

For those who are wondering what we look at along the road--when there is time--flowers and greenery are everywhere. Cana lilies grow in the compounds of the poorest, red and yellow are most common, occasionally salmon, and, less often, a yellow with a delicate salmon stripe. Pothos grows in pots all over and is used to decorate the table in "finer" restaurants. Marigolds are everywhere--in huge clumps in-ground and in patio pots; these are the flower of choice to decorate shrines and, strung into chains, to deck out wedding cars. Bougainvilla--the bright pink--grows in gardens and in some parks. Dahlias, hibiscus, geraniums--usually the orange/red color, zinnias and dianthus complete most garden scapes. What surprised me were the mums we saw growing in Tansen, Pokhara, and Kathmandu--perhaps because it is cooler there. There are many flowering bushes unmknown to me--but they are very beautiful. Banana trees and palm trees add their "greenness" to the picture. All of this competes with the dust and piles of garbage throughout the landscape.

Now for the roads--you probably have a good idea from Jean's and Steve's description
earlier on the blog--but I feel compelled to add my two bits. Potholes and dust slow
us way down, especially when we try to pass a vehicle going 15 klicks per hour and realize that we are headed for a pothole the size of the Grand Canyon or that a bus
with Mr. Tata's name is competing for the same pothole. We give way and regain our spot behind the diesel-fume-spewing-very-slow-moving vehicle, and are happy to be there, until the jockeying begins again. Most of the trucks and buses are colorfully decorated with signs painted on the front bumper proclaiming Slow Drive--Long Life
(Ross is convinced that that is not necessarily true here). Others claim to be Road King or Speed Control--40 kms per hour--which is way too fast. Bicycle rickshaws are small competition, but one plowed into my saddle bag yesterday and I went down. Fortunately I didn't see him coming (he came from the back) and so I was very relaxed and didn't hurt myself--and Mechanic Mukesh made short work of the repairs--a new headlight and rebending the foot peg. To get a real idea of the traffic, imagine any two-lane road that has bicycles, bicycle rickshaws, scooters, motorcycles, some cars--mainly taxis--vans--mainly used as small buses--big buses, big trucks, a few oxen, cows, goats, and dogs as well as people trying to walk in the street or across the street and you have a great picture of driving here. by ra

Thursday, October 23, 2008

A High Point

Kathmandu! The name conjures up images of mountains, climbers, and Sherpa guides so I wasn't prepared for this bustling metropolis of over a million people. As we fought our way into the city through the usual frenetic traffic, we passed huge, golden Buddhas, temples and high-rise modern buildings. Our hotel is in a tourist district full of schlock shops, outfitters and tour operators offering trekking, rafting, bus and city tours. Like Pokhora, there are tons of tourists, mainly young Europeans, all looking lean and fit so we blend right in with the crowd :-)

There was lots to do here so we booked a city tour for $20 each which lasted six hours and took in the Buddhist Monkey Temple, a Hindu shrine, and the walled city of Bhakapur dating from the twelfth century.

The Buddhist temples are huge domes that contain some relic of Buddha such as bone, hair or fingernail. They are sealed but on each compass point, there is an alcove containing a statue of Buddha where people go to pray. Incense fills the air and as does the sound of people ringing a bell to announce their arrival to the deity. Prayer wheels of all sizes line the perimeter and people walk along the row gently making them turn which sends the mantra carved on the wheel up to wherever. Above it all, multicoloured prayer flags fly in the breeze overhead like some used car lot also carrying their message on the wind.

Bhakapur was a huge walled city containing a royal palace and numerous temples including the highest one in Nepal. People still occupy the buildings and the narrow streets are filled with the daily life of shopping, gossiping and children playing. We are always amused at how the kids here make games and play with nothing more then stones or each other. Swings are popular but there isn't a Play Station in sight.

The most interesting but disturbing stop was at the Hindu shrine. Apparently, this one has the same importance to Hindus as Mecca has to Muslims. We were unable to enter certain areas but did catch a glimpse of a giant, brass bull that is revered as Shiva's ride. Then it was down to the ghats, steps leading down to a river, where we witnessed a cremation taking place. The body was wrapped in a shroud and placed on a stack of wood which was then set on fire using small kindling and gee. The males of the family sit behind a grate and watch while a worker completes this unsettling task. In the short time we were there, there were four cremations taking place. When they're complete, the ashes are swept into the river where children were merrily swimming and fishing! To break the somber mood, Bill said "Imagine when that guy goes home at night and his wife says 'Do you want to barbecue'?"

I had imagined that we would be able to see Mount Everest at 29,028 ft, from Kathmandu but it was not to be so we took a plane ride to within 5 nautical miles of the face and it was truly spectacular! Everest, known in Nepal as Sagarmatha, Goddess of the Sky and in Tibet as Jomolungma, Mother of the World, was named for an English surveyor in 1865. It wasn't until May 29, 1953 that Sir Edmund Hilliary, a Kiwi, and his Sherpa guide, Tenzing, were the recorded people to reach the summit. For a fascinating account of a doomed climb, get Into Thin Air by Jon Kakauer.

Road to Darjeeling is washed out and bridge to Sikkim is gone so tomorrow we head south, back to India.

Monday, October 20, 2008



Dawn in Tansen, RA and I got up with the sun to see the mountains this morning and they again obliged. Fog in the valley, a full moon setting and snow white peaks illuminated by the rising sun added another memory to this adventure. The do-it-all host at the hotel offered us masala tea which was a nice lead in to the typical breakfast of omelette and buttered toast with jam. He also brought RA some banana fritters which were shared amongst our fellow riders.

It was a great day for riding and the 135 km to Pokhara melted away. Deep, lush valleys with terraced rice fields, tumbling, milky, glacier-fed rivers made for great scenery. The road was dusty at times from all the dirt left over from landslides and soil washed on to the road from th monsoons. Rest stops often entail cleaning the dust from our eye-glasses and face shields along with the ever present glass bottle of Coca-Cola to wash the dust and diesel fumes from our throats. Coke is everywhere. At most rest stops there is a small mud/brick store selling soda and snacks. There is usually a small Coke labeled fridge (about the size of large picnic cooler) with soda and other things keeping cool inside. At one stop several bright yellow chicken feet shared space with the soda bottles.


Pokhara. A settlement by a lake, Fewa Tal, back-dropped by the Annapurna Range of the Himalayas. A tourist mecca full of trekking shops, internet cafes, and western style restaurants.
We had a nice breakfast on the rooftop restaurant of the Snowland Hotel before being informed that we had to vacate our rooms and move to another hotel down the street due to the early arrival of a group of trekkers who had to return to town because of illness.
We spent about two hours at the recently opened Gurkha Museum tracing the history of these great fighting men. Two of the docents were retired Gurkhas--very humble and charming men.

The mountain peaks are visible from almost any point in town,, but you can only see the tops. A trip to Sarangkot was needed to see more of the mountains so we arranged a car to take us to a viewpoint early the next day.


The wake-up knock came at 0430 and we were away in the dark at 0500 for Sarangkot which is about 2000 feet higher in elevation than Pokhara. We arrived at the viewing area before sunrise and were joined by 40-50 others. When the sun finally showed itself on the horizon it brought a stir from the crowd and soon the snow on the peaks began to glow white. A very impressive sight!

We still had to a little riding and 118 km later we were in Gorkha, a small mountain town. At our first rest stop some of us climbed up steep steps to a small temple. Jean and I went into the small temple separately and received a blessing from the holy man there. We each received our red forehead dot (a paste-like stuff with a few grains of rice in it) and a piece of fruit; Jean got a banana and I got an apple.

We had a bit of trouble finding a hotel and ended up in a “clean” but spartan hotel that cost us a total of 500 Nepali rupees ($6.33)! We hiked up the hill to eat dinner at our original hotel of choice. This place is cheap; RA and I each had a huge plate of chop-suey, a beer and a soda for another 500 rupees.


The Prithvi Highway along the river Trish Nuli leads us to Kathmandu. The first part of the 150 kilometer journey takes us through high green mountains and along a deep gorge with many suspension bridges and small cable cars that the Nepalis use to cross the river. We thought the road would get better as we neared the biggest city in Nepal, but we were wrong. The road actually deteriorated and we were often chugging along in first gear at 20 km/h eating the diesel fumes of the slow moving trucks and buses. Our first hotel choice, the Kathmandu Guest House was fully booked, so we ended up a few short blocks away at the Excelsior Hotel; a mid-range hotel that costs $45/night. We are in the Thamel area of the city described as a tourist ghetto in the guide book. Lots of hotels, internet cafes, restaurants, and shops catering to every need of the foreign tourist. That’s ok with us as we feel like being a bit pampered. We have just returned from an excellent Italian dinner and are busy washing clothes and watching the BBC channel on the tv. We will probably be here for three nights--we are thinking of taking a flight over Mount Everest and some of the other Himalayan peaks. Tomorrow we will keep out feet firmly on the ground visiting some of the sights in this bustling and crowded city.


Our bikes are Royal Enfield Bullet Machismo 500s; the phones we bought in Delhi are LG Bullet 285s.

Fuel in Nepal (probably mid-80s octane) costs about US$5.04 (100 NR/liter)

The fuel pumps here do not show the total cost of fuel dispensed, only the volume.

At our last gas stop, a Nepali lad about 10 years old asked me where I was from. When I told him America, he said he was from the USA too. He has lived in Baltimore, MD, for about 18 months and is back in Nepal for three months. His father is working in the US as a civil engineer.

One of the obstacles we have to avoid each day are piles of stuff along the road that spill out on to the road surface. Sand, gravel, stones, hay, etc. Other vehicles have usually flattened the edge of the pile so if you get a little close it is not too traumatic.

One day Ross and I ended up with different key fobs than we had the day before, so at a rest stop we exchanged keys. Despite different numbers on the keys, both worked in either bike.

Signal lights are not used a lot here, but some busses and trucks will turn on the right signal light to tell you that is ok to pass. One still must verify the clear path before overtaking and that the vehicle you are passing is not turning right! The trucks in Mexico do the same thing with the left signal light and the same precautions apply.

Beer choices for the past few days are: Everest, San Miguel, Tuborg, and Carlsberg. The beer comes in 650ml bottles so a healthy dose of drink.

Virtually 100% of the bikes here have substantial crash bars. There is usually a small extension on the outside top bar that allows the rider to hang things from the crash bars. Things seen hanging from the crash bars: plastic bags stuffed with who knows what, a briefcase, a motorcycle helmet, a large fish, a kid’s school backpack.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Breathtaking Beauty

What a difference a few days make! We headed north from Lumbini into the Himalayas and found some beautiful motorcycle roads. The tarmac is very good and wide enough in most places to allow for two way traffic. We still meet the occasional car passing a truck, passing a motorcyclist passing a pedestrian and have to head to the ditch but traffic is much lighter.

The mountains are beautiful. Softly rounded and lush green with many tropical plants such as banana trees and cactus. Glacial runoff forms rivers that snake through the valleys where rice grows in abundance. We ride higher and higher until we reach the village of Tansen and our hotel which is perched on a 3000 foot peak overlooking a valley and surrounded by other mountains. It is here that we get our first glimpse of the Annapurna Range and the spectacular snow-capped mountains. Just before supper, the hotel manager called us outside to watch the clouds dissipate and reveal the first peak. They call it the ¨fishtail¨ and it gleamed in the setting sun against a bright blue sky. Awesome! Gradually, others appeared until we could see the ¨Crown of the Himalayas¨. It was worth all the potholes!

The next day, we rode to Pokhora, an American knock-off full of trekkers and tourists so we enjoyed some good old North American cuisine like lasagna and bacon and eggs. A fascinating place was the Gurka Museum. I didn't realize that the Gurkas came from Nepal. They were, and still are, an elite fighting force for the British Army and have served in almost every conflict for the past almost 200 years including the Falklands and the Gulf war.

The high point here was a trip up the mountain at 5:00 AM to watch the sun rise over the mountains. Covered in snow and sharply peaked, they were gradually exposed by the morning light. It was breathtaking! Choruses of ooos and aahhs rose from the crowd gathered at the summit. No, not the tourists, the vendors assessing how much they could fleece us for! Now were on our way to Kathmandu and the granddaddy of them all-Mount Everest!

Some general stuff:

Hotels: We don't pre-book. Just arrive in a town and see whats available. Average cost is about $35 a night for a basic room with private bath and TV. Tonight, we re in a less than wonderful place but it is only $7 for the night so we cant complain too much. Our driver and mechanic get free accommodation most nights in the Drivers Dormitory.

Food: Lots of Indian and Chinese food. No salads or fruit! On the road, we have a bag of chips and pop for lunch then have our breakfast and dinner at the hotel.

Language: Not much English anywhere so rely on our driver to translate although his English isn't great either. Kids love to practice saying Hello then giggle like crazy. The standard greeting is to place ones hands together in front of your face, prayer fashion, then bow and say Namaste. Tikhah is OK and Jalo is Go. Thats pretty much all we need.

Security: Lots of police presence. We feel quite safe. Political climate appears stable.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Into Nepal


This is another sum up of a few days travel; Jean has covered some of this so it may be a little repetitive, but it is another viewpoint. When RuthAnn and I did our trans-Africa motorcycle trip in 1971, we both kept journals. If you read the journals back to back, you would think that we were on completely different trips and not sitting as rider and pillion on the same bike. So goes it……………

On Friday the 10th we left Haldwani with one goal in mind: to cross the border into Nepal. We rode out of Haldwani on a very nice shaded narrow road with little traffic; this is how we envisioned our travel here on the Indian subcontinent. We were making good time when, near the border, we stopped in a gaggle of buses and trucks and other vehicles; the bridge was out. A few kilometers of back tracking got us to a one lane paved road which soon turned into a one lane gravel/stone road. After approximately 15 km and two intact bridges we crossed the top of a dam and arrived in Banbasa, the Indian border post. After many papers were signed, stamped and delivered we bounced our way across the baseball sized stones that served as a road and lurched up on to the tarmac of Nepal.

After more paperwork and money changing, we were off down the Mahendra Highway to Mahendranagar and the Opera Hotel. Cold Carlsburg beers washed down the food on the menu that sported a counterfeit Pizza Hut logo and even had a “McDonals” section with veg and non-veg burgars. We covered a total of 132 km that day.

Saturday took us farther down the Mahendra highway, the best piece of tarmac to date on this adventure. Traffic was light and we saw many people harvesting rice from the small paddies along the road. Some were even brave enough to leave their rice on a cloth lying and drying in the road. Not sure if traffic traveling in that lane would miss the rice every time. Cows have given way to a type of water buffalo and lots of goats and sheep were being herded down the road. One big difference here in Nepal are the many military road blocks that we have to stop at and show paperwork. The Toyota is not a chase vehicle for us, but a lead vehicle. Sanjay and Mukesh have the paperwork for the bikes so it is Important for them to stop first at the checkpoints. We easily cover 225 km and sleep in Nepalganj at the Hotel Batika which has an excellent restaurant. The rooms are small and have what is becoming a standard bathroom: sink on one wall, toilet on another, and a showerhead sticking out of the third wall. No stall, no tub, no curtains, just a drain in the corner to take away the shower water. There are always flip-flops on a mat by the door to use when entering the bathroom when the floor is still wet.

I will mention here the switches that are in the rooms. All fans, lights, and outlets have separate switches. There are always some switches that appear to do nothing. At the Corbett Park I counted nearly thirty switches in our room and bathroom with only half of them controlling anything.

Before we reached Nepalganj we crossed the Karneli River with a very impressive suspension bridge. Two very tall cement towers located near one end of the bridge held the cables; very modern compared to the 40s/50s style cement bridges we had been crossing.

Lumbini was our next stop and we put in the second biggest day so far: 287 clicks. Most of the driving was on the plains and fairly flat, but we did have to cross a range of Himalayan foothills that was dotted with landslides from the recently ended monsoon rains. If the dirt and rock do not cover the road you just drive around the pile of debris; if the slide completely blocks the road, you flatten a section and just lurch over it. There is usually some water involved, so soon the trucks and buses make some great muddy ruts that are just the right width to allow a motorcycle to pass through. Our boots and riding suit pant legs got their first dose of mud today. We left the highway about 50 km from Lumbini and soon were on single lane roads that turned to dirt/stone which generated lots of dust. After about 6 km of eating dust, we were back on pavement and at our destination.

Lumbini is the birthplace of Buddha and a World Heritage site. We spent most of Tuesday, the 13th, at the site visiting his birthplace and some of the many temples and shrines that have been built there by Buddhist groups from all over the world. We met a young lady from Green Bay (her parents, Zirbells, taught in Green Bay) a Nepali family from Chicago, and Vietnamese people from California and Oregon. As they say, it is a small world. Buddha was born on a full moon, the 15th is the next full moon, so we were blessed with this connection to one of the great religious figures on earth.

Today, the 14th, was an easy day: 87 km to the mountain town of Tansen at about 4500 feet above sea level. About half of the trip was in the mountains with more landslides to negotiate. We climbed high above a very deep gorge on the Siddhartha Highway and arrived at the Srinagar Hotel in time for a lovely lunch on the patio overlooking the city and the valley.

From the gate to the hotel we can see the Annapurna Range of the Himalayas and they obliged by peaking out of the clouds near sunset.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Birthplace of Buddah

Lumbini is the birth place of Buddah, who was born here on a full moon in 623 B.C. And we were like the Magi traveling over field and fountain, moor and mountain, following yonder van. The fields were wonderful! Lush expanses of various grains, women in bright saris bent over working and children herding goats and buffalo. The mountains were hell! Narrow, twisting roads with mud and rock slides every few kilometers that we were forced to ride over, through or around while dodging oncoming traffic. To make matters worse, we suck in the diesel fumes and are covered in dust from our van and the trucks and buses. On our final stretch, we rode about 15 km on a very rough, broken road which took almost an hour to ride. Then, Eureka! A paved road! We get on the throttle and dash the last few miles.

Bill often makes jokes about going to see another pile of rocks and that’s just what this turns out to be. This is a World Heritage site and is primarily an archaeological dig in progress. The main attractions are a stone marking the place where he was born, a tree his mother held and a pool in which the baby Buddha was bathed. For us the real attraction is people watching. There are monks in their saffron robes, people from all over the world, beggars and believers. We strolled around the grounds and visited several of the many temples built by various countries. These are beautiful, peaceful places with many images of Buddha. Tucked away beside the Nuns Temple, we found the Pilgrims Rest Cottage Restaurant where we enjoyed some cold drinks and listened to the ancient owner give a history of the Temple. On our way out of the grounds, a little girl about four years old, latched onto Ross and kept singing him a song over and over. He melted and made his first contribution of baksheesh. She then moved on to Steve and it was really cute to see this tiny waif walking along side this big, tall guy and the two of them singing together. Naturally, she got another donation.

Thanks for all your comments on the blog. We love reading them!

To answer Wayne's question: We are not using our GPSs for several reasons: First, we just follow our van which is a lot easier then trying to navigate on our own. Secondly, riding requires such strong concentration that you really can’t take your eyes off the road for a second so the GPS would be too distracting. Third, we’re in Nepal and we don’t have those maps.


Leaving Nainital, we headed down the mountains to Haldwani where we spent two luxurious days at a Comfort Inn. There, we enjoyed a very modern room with flat screen TV and endless toilet paper-a commodity much taken for granted prior to this trip!

From there, we continued on our way to Nepal. Traffic thinned out somewhat and the road surface improved slightly. We actually started to relax a bit for the first time and enjoy the countryside. Homes are mainly thatched roof huts clustered in small communities with lots of goats, sheep, oxen and kids. There are constant reminders of the recent monsoons. Wide swaths of land have been reduced to sandy river beds full of rocks and debris. Parts of the road are washed away and large rocks on the edge are the only warning signs. At one point, the bridge we needed to cross was washed away and we had to turn back and detour around to another crossing. This turned out to be another little adventure as we took a very narrow road through several tiny villages which were interesting to see close up. We rode alongside a river, crossing it twice on small bridges, then the road got progressively worse until at one point, I stopped a the bottom of a sand dune unsure how to proceed. It was at that point I was passed by two saris and a turban on a 125cc so I screwed up my courage and blasted after them.

The road soon ended and we found ourselves at the border to Nepal! First we had to sign out at the Indian Immigration where we met a girl from Siberia and later, a guy from Elliot Lake, Ontario rode up on an old Enfield. Talk about diversity! Then we went about a kilometer and passed through Nepal Immigration after paying about $50 each.

We’ve now been here two days and are really enjoying the riding. The pavement is very good or as our driver, Sanjay says “No more jumping road”. The Himalayas are on our left as we ride through a long, lush valley. There is a huge military/police presence and we are forced to stop about every 10 kilometers to show our papers. The people are very curious about us and at one rest stop, we attracted quite a crowd of men and boys including one old fellow with only two long teeth, slightly off centre, dressed in a sarong who, for some reason, decided to remove it and display his loin cloth. They called him Nepal Superman but it wasn’t readily apparent how he got that nickname. Anyway, everyone had a good laugh and we got some great people pictures.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

A Ride in the Park

There are purported to be 164 tigers in the Corbet Tiger Sanctuary. We saw two. They were in the souvenir shop. But we did have an interesting jeep ride through the park and saw lots of black faced monkeys and white spotted deer, not exactly novel when living in rural Ontario.

We did enjoy our three days in the park where we swam in a beautiful pool, walked along the rivers edge and enjoyed lots of Indian food. The real high point, literally, was an elephant ride. Because we are here right after monsoon season, the park is still quite wet so we couldn't go on an elephant safari but we could do an Elephant Joy Ride down the main road so we opted for that. Each elephant carried four of us on a table-like platform and they lumbered along making for a pleasant swaying motion. Their handlers sat behind their ears with a vicious looking pick and steered them with their feet. Before leaving, we saw all the trappings for a government officials wedding-4 bands, tons of flowers, thousands of lights, 2 elephants at the gate, and men in various uniforms some white with red turbans. Talk about excess! It brought home, once again, the huge disparity between the classes.

Then it was off to Nainital, a city in the Himalayas, where the British used to go to cool off during the hot summer months. Now that we re away from the cities, the traffic has thinned out and we actually enjoyed the 152 km ride. We find that the best practice is to ride about 20 – 30 kph; slow almost to a stop at the edge of the road when we meet oncoming trucks; and stay close to the chase van in towns where he can clear a path. Fortunately we could relax a bit and take in the scenery which was absolutely breathtaking! We climbed up 6,000 feet along twisty, narrow roads through dense forests but, surprisingly, several types of cactus. Bougainvillea grows wild and there were other beautiful flowers. Naturally, cows are everywhere and rounding corners must be done slowly because one never knows what hazard awaits around the bend-cow, people, pile of ruble, or road out. We re becoming quite proficient motocross riders!

Nainital is a city built on the mountain so the buildings cascade down to a beautiful lake where small rowboats with a seat for two make like gondolas. Unfortunately, we had to take a less then satisfactory hotel so we got to use our sleeping bag liners for the first (and hopefully, last) time. Dinner was Chinese food and breakfast was toast and tea. We are really trying hard not to get sick so are staying away from salads and cold food which limits the menu.

The bikes are running as well as can be expected with this primitive technology, as Ross calls it, They do handle really well in all the dirt, mud and water we encounter and are reasonably comfortable, considering we re riding them for 10 hours a day even if we don't do that many miles. Our mechanic is right there if there are any problems and even turns the bikes around and faces them in the direction of travel when we stop for a break. I m hoping he ll fit in my suitcase!

The India Buttbusters 2008

Thursday, October 9, 2008


The latest post is always at the top. Jean and I both posted today; Jean a few minutes after me. Our posts were written earlier in the week when we did not have internet access, so you got coverage of several days in one post.

We are currently in Haldwani, India and will get to Nepal tomorrow. We spent more time in the Himalayan foothills than we had planned with one night in Nainital by a lake at an elevation of 6400 feet.

As to beer, we've had Kingfisher, Sandpiper, and here in Haldwani, Royal Challenge is king. We all added minutes to our phones today even though they will not work in Nepal. RA and I have Nepalese visas good for 15 days; the others will be getting theirs at the border. We must pay 50 rupees up front for every day we will spend in Nepal; if we miss our exit time, it will double to 100 rupees on upon our departure.

Yikes! Bikes!

OH, MY, GOD!!!! The last 24 hours have been the absolute wildest time I have ever spent on a motorcycle in my 500,000 km experience!

It started yesterday morning when our bikes were delivered to our hotel. Crowds gathered around to see these 7 brand new, shiny Royal Enfield motorcycles(made in India) lined up amidst the dust and dirt of Delhi. Arun, the owner, had each of us ride down the street and back to test the bikes and ourselves and we all returned unscathed and satisfied with our mounts. Ruth Ann and I were especially pleased to find that we could flat-foot them once we wrenched the bikes off their side stands. Our mechanic, Mukesh, made last minute adjustments to mirrors and kick starters and then we were off.

We have a support van, driven by Sanjay and our mechanic,, Mukesh who will service and wash the bikes every evening and ride one if someone wants to travel in the van for whatever reason. The cost of such luxury? Mukesh $110 each for the whole two months. Sanjay and the van $286 each for the same period.

So we re off! We all line up and follow Mukesh first to the gas station where we fill the tanks for about $15 (gas is about $1.25 litre). Now we have to get out of town. Traffic is totally unbelievable! First- it is extremely heavy. Second- there are no lanes. Horns are honking everywhere. But there is a system to this chaos which we had noticed when walking, and now we move up from pedestrians (who are the lowest on the rung) to motorcyclists who are above bicycles, rickshaw cabs, tut tuts and scooters but are below cars and, the kings of the road. trucks. Cows, oxen, monkeys and dogs fit in where they can.

Trying to stay together, we dodge between all the aforementioned sundry vehicles with only centimeters to spare. People are so close to each other, one family had their children shake hands with Ruth Ann during a brief stop. Speaking of Ruth Ann, its really funny to see the look on peoples faces when they realize theres a woman riding. Women here all wear saris and ride side saddle so we re a big surprise. Men do an about face then tell the other two men on the bike and they all turn and look. The women, on the other hand, give us shy smiles as we make eye contact from across the globe.

Steve got up close and personal with a tut tut and stopped briefly to retrieve his leg. Other than than, we managed to get out of town where the traffic only thinned marginally but the speeds increased to about 60kph (40mph). Now that might not sound like much, but picture going down a two lane road where you re having to pass pedestrians, bicycles, tut tuts and numerous oxen-drawn carts while coming toward you are cars passing buses or trucks. Yikes! The worst scenario is when the trucks are passing the buses. Then the on-coming traffic, that would be us, have to hit the ditch and ride along there until its clear to get back up on the road. Now I m not a dirt rider, so hitting soft, deep sand the first time was pretty scary but I remembered to power out so probably hit about 150 kph as I blasted back onto the road only to have to brake hard to avoid hitting someone. This happened numerous times.

The other totally freaky thing was road diversions. We would be on a four lane divided highway (I use all these terms loosely. More like two country roads separated by a mound of sand) when we would be shunted onto the other road. Then we would be driving against traffic on the curb! People would flash their lights signaling us to get over as far as we could. Naturally, we tried to oblige providing there was a shoulder we could ride on.

I could go on ad nausea but suffice it to say that after riding 280 kms in 10 hours, the last three in the dark, we arrived quite shaken but intact. We are now staying at the Corbett Tiger Reserve for a few days – taking in copious amounts of alcohol to fuel the next leg of our journey. As for the tigers? They ll be a piece of cake compared to those trucks!

We're On Our Way

Monday 10-6-08

I am writing this Monday evening before we begin our push into Nepal tomorrow morning. This will be a quick summary of the events since Thursday night.

On Friday the third, we had a busy day getting the final bike rental details worked out, hitting an ATM at Citibank downtown as we needed to put down half of the rental agreement in cash, and buying mobile phones that will work all over India and can also be used to call home. After a nice dinner at our favorite restaurant, we all adjourned to our rooms in Delhi. We are being accompanied by a chase vehicle with a driver/mechanic and a second mechanic riding shotgun to keep things running smoothly.

On Saturday morning the bikes were delivered to the hotel and after a two block test ride on the bikes, the India Butt Busters were in launch mode.

Mechanic Mukesh led on a bike with Sanjay herding us from the back with a Toyota SUV. They did a good job keeping us together and many of our previous night’s worries went out the window as we fit into the giant, three dimensional jigsaw puzzle that is Delhi traffic. It was noon when we started out and the temps were in the 90s, so we were all soon drenched in sweat as we zigged and zagged our way out of town. At one point a tut tut (moto rickshaw) and I literally got tangled up. My right leg was trapped between the two vehicles with my crash bars wedged into his frame. Sanjay was soon there to pull the back of the bike away from the tut tut, but the bike was still stuck. After lots of pushing and pulling I was free with virtually no damage to the bike other than few scratches on the crash bar, a tiny dent in the tank, and a floppy mirror that eventually fell off. I caught the mirror and jammed it into my partially open jacket as I bounced across a stone and dirt “diversion” while dodging an on coming farm tractor.

Organized chaos is how I characterize the traffic here. If you follow the “rules” you will be ok. The Number One Rule: your size determines the pecking order; honor anything bigger than you. Number Two: announce yourself with your horn. We probably all honked our horns more on Saturday than we have in the last ten years!!

I think we all took the road shoulder more than once in the 180 miles we rode on our first day. Unfortunately, the shoulders are not that user friendly. Sometimes it is dirt and rock, other times powdery soil or sand, punctuated with whoop-de-doos. Sometimes the road is no longer paved and the tarmac begins off to your left, so you bounce over and start again. One diversion got us onto one side of a four lane, but we missed the crossover to get back on our side of the road and we were now riding the wrong way on a four lane divided highway!! But this is not an unusual thing here--you often meet other motorized vehicles bucking traffic; it is a subset of traffic that exists and you must take that into account with the mix of traffic that is moving in the same direction you are. We had a few close ones: Jean felt a pedestrian’s hand glance off her hand on the left grip and Bill brushed an oncoming truck with his shoulder and felt the lug nuts of the front wheel on the side of his leg.

Due to a communication glitch with our drivers and their boss, we ran out of daylight about 55 kilometers from our destination. We now had to factor night driving in to the equation. A lot of the vehicles you could see in daylight now became invisible, and cows, carts, bicycles, pedestrians and who knows what else do not have lights. The oncoming traffic blinds you and you hold your course and follow the taillight of the bike in front of you. Forty kilometers per hour (25 mph) is the absolute maximum and we were probably average about 30 kph. We eventually got the chase vehicle to lead as he could see the obstructions in the road with two headlights much better than we could with the bikes. After dark, the cows which were upright earlier now sleep on road to add to the mix, The most interesting road kill we saw was a monkey.

We finally arrived at our destination near the Corbett Tiger Refuge and settled into a very nice resort. The day was hot and dusty, and we all looked like we had just come in from working in a coal mine; the pollution and road grime was evident on all of our faces.

We all hope not to repeat the mistake of night riding again; we knew it was a no-no, but circumstances sometimes trump common sense. This time we were successful and we hope that the first day out will be the worst of the trip, but time will tell. The learning curve was steep and we are looking forward to entering Nepal tomorrow afternoon.

While here at the Corbett River View Retreat along the Kosi River north of Ramnagar, we have taken a “jeep” tour into the park to look for tigers (did not see any but saw lots of deer and monkeys) and an elephant “joy ride” for an hour along the road south of our hotel.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

More Delhi Sights

The rest of the group arrived last night and we stayed up until 2:30 talking.
After our hotel breakfast, we read the blog. We enjoy ¨reading¨ from you, so please keep the comments coming.
In the early afternoon, we set off in two taxis to see the largest mosque in Delhi. On the way there, we passed a local family on a cycle: dad was driving, a small child was asleep on the tank, and mom was holding a baby. All were colorfully dressed, but only the dad had a helmet on--mom and kids were free of any safety gear. Jean snapped a photo out the car window and we told them how beautiful they were. They smiled and the mom said thank you. The mosque was crowded and closed to us, but the visitors were definitely in a holiday mood. Food vendors sold every kind of food imaginable.
From the mosque we visited Humayun´s Tomb--a precursor of the Taj Mahal. Then it was off to an archeological park--tons of ruins--but now a World Heritage site, so in the process of being restored/preserved.
One more day here in Delhi, then we hope to hit the road. ra

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Tour of Old Delhi

.We began another hot, humid day with breakfast at the hotel's open- air roof top restaurant before meeting our guide for a tour of Old Delhi. Our driver/guide was a Sikh, so our first stop was a Sikh temple (gurdwara) where we checked our shoes (like a coat check) and washed our hands before having an audience with a man who gave us a twenty minute lecture about Sikhism. He then took us into the temple and to the "soup kitchen" where people were mass producing chapatis and cooking in a huge wok type cooking vessel. Ross and Jean and I looked really cute in our bright orange head scarves (RuthAnn had the forethought to bring a scarf of her own).

On to the Red Fort; an imposing red sandstone structure built in the mid-1600's by the Mughal Shah Jahan. Here is where the flag of independent India was raised for the first time in 1947.

The group will be made whole about midnight tonight when the other four members of our group fly in from Kolkata (Calcutta). Tomorrow is a holiday (anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi's birth) so we will be cooling our heels prior to finalizing bike delivery, driver and mechanic for the chase vehicle and buying cell phones on Friday. We are planning to negotiate our way out of town on Saturday morning. We have been watching with interest the traffic here and are getting pretty good at being pedestrians! The mix of traffic operates within inches of each other and the corners and sides of most vehicles have scars to prove it.

Please keep the comments coming--we enjoy hearing from you. sr

P.S. Steve P. and other political activists: We have all voted--Canadians and Americans.
Not to worry, Steve--be sure to do your part;o) ra