• Wednesday , 28 June 2017
The roof of the world: Nepal

The roof of the world: Nepal

Cash money is the universal lubricant for roadblocks thrown in the way of world travelers. In our case we magically left the early winter rain in Turkey and moved our whole road show to Kathmandu, Nepal. As the sun sets over the Himalayan mountains on our first night in Nepal we were excited and fidgety knowing we would soon be riding.

Our motorcycles flew direct and had been in town a couple of days before we arrived. Our cheap flight out of Istanbul included a 14 hour layover in the United Arab Emirates. On our first morning in Kathmandu we headed out to the airport to collect our rolling stock. To smooth the process we coughed up some money to pay for assistance from a local customs broker. The morning turned to afternoon before the bikes were released from purgatory. Customs took a long time but was made easy by having our paid fixer jumping through the hoops for us. It was chaotic assembling the motorcycles on the crowded customs dock but by 4pm we were cleared to go.

The Kathmandu customs dock is a busy place and not an ideal platform to assemble motorcycles, but we couldn’t be happier. Our bikes arrived safely from Turkey and the Himalayan mountains are singing their siren songs to us.

Twenty-four hours in Nepal and we had already made friends. We were invited over for a home-cooked meal with the family of our customs agent. Its funny how the overall impression of a country comes in the first 48 hours. We were off to a very good start.

The Kathesimbhu Stupa is a popular Tibetan pilgrimage site in old town Kathmandu.

After the wide open spaces of rural Turkey we were in for a whole new style of riding in Kathmandu. Survival tip number 1 – follow another motorcycle and do what they do. When that motorcycle is not going where you want to go find another one that is. All-in-all the riding here was not to difficult, only slow.

A lovely carved door at sunset in Durbar Square, Kathmandu.

Kathmandu’s Durbar Square is the site of the Hanuman Dhoka Palace, which was the royal Nepalese residence until the 19th century.

Sacred cows, pilgrims, tourists, and pigeons galore in Durbar Square, Kathmandu.

Kathmandu has no shortage of shines both big and small.

Our time in Kathmandu stretched much longer than planned, welcome to the bureaucratic meat grinder of Asian travel with a motorcycle. Collecting visas for all the smallish countries we will be going through sucked up almost three weeks. Worse by far was Myanmar. The first trip across town to the embassy and they needed more paperwork. Next day with all papers and they said come back in two days. Long story short, it was not until our fifth trip did they actually give us what we came for. Thailand was easier but still took six days (pesky weekend).

We killed time waiting for visas by exploring Kathmandu, day-tripping on the motorcycle, tuning-up both bikes, and hanging out with our new Nepalese biker friends at a shop called Smoking Joes. We spent most afternoons at the shop eating snacks and bonding over the love of motorcycles and grunge music.

We spent two weeks in Kathmandu sorting out the visas for Myanmar. The fellow motorcycle junkies at Smoking Joe’s became our good friends and we visited almost daily. The quiet alley where the shop is located was a perfect spot to give both bikes a tune-up.

Our Nepalese family at Smoking Joe’s. We will be forever in debt for the kindness and hospitality you bestowed on us.

My four-legged supervisor was always underfoot while I finished adjusting the valves on Shannon’s bike.

Swayambhu is an ancient religious site atop a hill in the Kathmandu Valley, west of Kathmandu city. It is commonly referred to as the monkey temple for unknown reasons.

The monkeys of Swayambhunath are holy. The Manjushri, the bodhisattva of wisdom and learning that raised the hill which the Swayambhu Stupa stands on, was supposed to leave his hair short but he made it grow long and head lice grew. It is said that the head lice transformed into these monkeys. (Thanks Wikipedia).

The locals out for an afternoon stroll. Swayambhu, Kathmandu.

While waiting for our Myanmar visas to be issued we took a two-up day trip to the village of Nagarkot to get a closer look at the mighty Himalayas. Nagarkot commands one of the broadest views of the Himalayas in the Kathmandu valley (including Mt. Everest in the line-up!).

Once the visa woes were managed we finally got out of the city. First stop? Chitwan National Park. We didn’t see any tigers but between the wild rhinos, crocodiles, and even a bear we were more than satisfied with our day long walking safari through the park. It wasn’t until days later that we discovered that some of the wildlife had come out of the park with us. We each had a mild panic attack when we discovered we were each carrying multiple blood-sucking ticks on our persons. In my case belly button, scrotum, and scalp all had passengers, yuck!

Morning mist over the Rapti River. Chitwan National Park, Nepal.

We took a day long walking safari in Chitwan National Park that began with a canoe trip down the Rapti River at dawn. On the boat ride we saw elephants, crocodiles, rhinos, and spotted deer.

This local mahout was eager to get his domesticated elephant across the river and away from a wild elephant that was in pursuit. The wild elephant in question has killed 6 people over the years and we were all cautious to give him a very wide berth.

The only safe way to get this close to a wild Asian rhino is atop an elephant. We had an hour-long elephant ride one morning and were fortunate to see a lot of wildlife from our lofty perch. Chitwan National Park, Nepal.

The wildlife came home with us after our walking safari in Chitwan. We each ended up with 3 ticks along with the associated paranoia of what nasty diseases will strike in the near future. Shannon developed a large rash around one bite that may or may not be evidence of a tick born disease so we started her on a month-long treatment of appropriate antibiotics as a safety measure.

Nepal’s roads are bad and the further we ventured into the Himalayas the worse they got. In the lower Mustang valley on the Annapurna circuit we actually stopped midway between towns and decided to turn around. The fully loaded bikes were struggling up the steep and rocky tracks and we were both exhausted by 10am. It hurt our pride a little not completing our days plan but it was the smart thing to do. My chain and sprockets were at the end of life and the chain kept popping and jumping teeth. I have never had to adjust a chain three times in one day.

The road to Lower Mustang Valley is breathtaking but was so bad we ended the days exhausted and sore. Slow down, take a break, and soak it all in, days like this in life are too few to squander. Tatopani, Nepal.

We were the only guests at a family’s small guest house. Three bucks a night and a home-cooked meal that was very tasty. The bikes got to sleep in the front yard with the rabbits and chickens. Tatopani, Nepal.

A morning ride through the Himalayas in Nepal.

On the way to Lower Mustang Valley we had to cross through water, many times.

Our exit from Nepal took us east along the Himalayan range and every day was as beautiful as the last. Nepal is a friendly and spiritual place where our sense of purpose and wonder were recharged. Any road fatigue we were feeling in Turkey is gone and we move to the frontier with India with renewed vigor and optimism.

I made a close friend with Julian in Kathmandu and I miss him already. He was a suit and tie banker at one time but gave it up to follow his love of motorcycles.

After riding around Nepal I desperately needed a new chain for the Donkey. We made a final, unscheduled stop in Kathmandu on our way to India to find a decent chain. The gang at Smoking Joe’s threw us a going away party on a moments notice. Times like this we will remember the rest of our lives.

The city of Bhaktapur has the best preserved palace courtyards and old city center in Nepal, and is listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO for its rich culture, temples, and wood, metal and stone artworks. There was extensive damage from the earthquake last year but it remains an amazing place. Bhaktapur, Nepal.

Bhaktapur, Nepal.

The Nepal earthquake of 2015 struck near the city of Kathmandu on April 25, 2015. About 9,000 people were killed, many thousands more were injured, and more than 600,000 structures in Kathmandu and other nearby towns were either damaged or destroyed. The city of Bhaktapur was hit hard and the damage can be seen on every street. Bhaktapur, Nepal.

Some vertigo inducing twisties as we work our way to India. The “Japanese” highway, Nepal.

A Nepalese overland enthusiast named Genius befriended us on Facebook. He invited us to his hometown on our way to the Indian border for dinner and a visit. His Facebook profile said he was 25, in reality he is 15 years old. A little awkward at first but we ended up spending an interesting evening with him and his father. We stayed in a nearby hotel and left early the following morning for India and new adventures.

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