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.