I got the idea to ride Nepal after listening to a ride club I used to belong to chatting about it. They chose Northern Vietnam instead but I found a cheap fare to Kathmandu and set off.
*photos updated 2021 however originals were just iPhone 6
The flight from Tokyo was very early so I had to stay overnight nearby and decided to try a capsule hotel at the airport called 9 hours. The bed space is not as small as it looks, actually on a plane this would be business class and you have lockers to put your things in, showers and toiletries and PJ’s and slipper all provided.
But dormitory accommodation has the problem that you are exposed to everyone else’s noise, people coming and going. It took me long time to get to sleep even with ear plugs and in the morning everyone’s phones start sounding wake up alarms to ensure only the heaviest sleeper is not awoken – but it did what was needed.
My flight was very cheap because it had 24 hour stops in Chengdu but this offered a chance to see the city which offers a 72 hour visa on arrival. Terrific as getting a Chinese tourist visa is complicated and expensive. Tip – make sure you have a pen to fill out forms and have your ticket printed.
Chengdu was a surprise to me. 10 lane highways lined with flower beds and beautiful parks. Wide tree line boulevards. Spotless paved footpaths. Every 2nd car is a luxury German saloon. Felt like I was in some affluent newly built European city. Everyone was very friendly. I had mentally painted an incorrect image in my mind.
On the spotless modern subway nobody was pushing and nobody stared at me as happens in Japan despite being the sole foreigner everywhere I went. The train projects advertisements onto the passing tunnel walls outside the windows as you travel between stations which felt like a science fiction movie. I toured a historic district which turned out to be all a recreation but still interesting.
Lost in translation I mistakenly ordered enough for 3 people but it still came to only $10. Train just 50c a ride, all very affordable despite amazing infrastructure and wealth on display. Overseas credit cards don’t work so be sure to have some cash to exchange and have hotel address in Chinese kanji letters as taxi drivers could not read the English on Booking.com app.
Leaving Chengdu the scenery is dramatic barren brown ranges with remote villages dusted with snow but then in the distance sits a world above the clouds! At cruising altitude we detour around these incomprehensibly high mountains. Then I am presented with this magnificent view of the famous peaks which seem to scrap the very roof of the world.
From here you drop down into Kathmandu and still have 2000m+ mountains below you whilst looking back at the 8000m+ giants behind the plane. It was the most spectacular flight I have been on.
I did the visa application in advance online which took a number of attempts but finally worked and then all I needed was pay $25US on arrival, make sure you have brand new notes, few people were knocked back.
Kathmandu is a city of unsealed gravel roads. The dusty gravel streets are filled with touts conning tourists along with dozens of guys offering drugs who follow you around.
I skipped the fake North Face bags or ‘Swiss’ watches but found some genuine good wine and got a haircut and shave at a old style barber then settled back to watch the Indian Premier League cricket.
I had pre-booked a bike with a shop called BS Motorbike despite the dubious name. I chose them mainly as they advertised having a KTM Duke 250 at $32 day which I imagined might be a good machine for this ride.
I was not going to attempt the high mountains this trip, rather take a general look around then return to do the more difficult ride to Mustang.
Some poor communication made me nearly give up on them but in person BS Motorbike were good to deal with and they did not request to hold my passport as City Motorcycle required. A few other rental shops so you could arrive nothing booked and have no problems.
I got out of Thamel easy then hit some very bad traffic leaving Kathmandu that redefined the term grid lock. With no divider vehicles were using all four lanes in either direction thus now unable to move facing each other at total stand still.
I followed other bikes to ride along what would be the footpath but all of this was just gravel and one huge dust bowel. After about 45 minutes of this mess I was clear and had a nice ride down a mountain where I stopped for a large bottle of water to wash away some of the dirt.
The road from here north continued to be sealed and whilst nothing special was enjoyable in that I reflected where I was. Riding a bike in Nepal!
By chance I picked an excellent lunch venue. I had been seeing signs for it for an hour and the name made me stop. I like these Nepalese veg thali, I was almost done when the owner came and refilled all the bowls for free despite my protests. So full I could hardly move afterwards so I took a break here in the small huts perched on the side of hill enjoying the tranquility. Cost about $2 with drinks. Owners were super friendly!
The riding this afternoon was through a scenic gorge with me just taking it easy getting to know the local road rules which are a bit like Sri Lanka where vehicles will pull out into your lane flashing their lights and you need to move to the very edge of the road quickly. But under a certain distance from you they will not pull out and are no way as aggressive as Sri Lanka.
The Duke has the footpegs a bit too high and rearward for my legs and the seat is a little lower than I expected for a 250 but I am coping ok. Odd stray cow and lots of vehicles in my lane around blind curves, nothing surprising so far.
Entering a small mountain pass there is another total road jam. The cause was a truck in wrong lane on blind curve head on with another which left one lane closed but as in town impatient people pull out into the other lane and this happens in both directions backing back 5-10 km and growing as more cars arrive all blocking every other one in front in with no possible way for oncoming vehicles to pass.
But bikers of course can weave though the most narrow of gaps and believe me it was so tight that it got down to a few steps at time walking pace then stop while other riders alighting and asked cars to roll forward or back an inch or two to let us pass. Two wheels is the only way to travel.
Much later I arrived at my destination for today, Bandipur, a historic town in the mountains. Not a long distance but still it took me a good part of the day. I was right in thinking mileage here would need to be conservative.
Today is actually new years eve in Nepal which uses their own calendar. A street party was happening with food and drinks and a small ceremony. I had no idea when I planned this ride.
Exploring the town I really wanted my proper camera but I left it at home as often happens since I find it too heavy to lug overseas. I enjoyed talking to an old guy, sampled a range of street food and couple of drinks.
The whole village lost power not too long into the night, seems a common thing. It was quite cold so I returned to my room to light a candle, that being my hotels emergency lighting system and I called it a day after finishing my beer.
Happy New Year in April from Nepal. I shall continue my ride report here shortly.