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