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.