Ups and downs in Nepal

Nepal is one of those places that many people have at heart; Kathmandu and its crazy nights, the trails in the clouds, the smiles, the historic monuments… Sorry in advance but, as always, this is a cycling blog and, as bike tourers, we get to a lot of places which are a bit off the charts simply because there’s either nothing there to see or because these places are “hidden” to foreigners for different reasons.

If you think that a travel journal should be just about the breathtaking pictures and amazing one-day trips then you are excused 😉

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Quiet roads are always more enjoyable

Reading the above introduction, we have realised that we may have given the wrong impression; we had a blast in Nepal and it’s a place that we’ll forever carry inside our hearts, but it’s also a land of huge contrasts.

Even before the beginning of the trip, for us it was an absolute imperative to go there because one of the associations we fundraise for has many collaborateurs in Nepal and we really wanted to take part in a bicycle endowment. Just a few months before finally arriving, while being stuck in China and weighing up the options, it was still non-negotiable not to come here and we had even given up our 1st rule, “Only travel by bicycle”, since we were actually considering taking a flight from Almaty to Kathmandu in order to make it.

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Only a few kilometres left before arriving to our long awaited objective … 
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The bicycles being offloaded at the school where the kids attend

But luckily, we eventually got into Pakistan and after a desperately “funny” 10 days episode with the Indian Embassy, we finally set off from Islamabad with a very tight deadline and very few days to cycle the 1500kms which separated us from the orphanage. We managed to overcome many obstacles and pushed through the 100+ kms we had to pedal every day in order to get there on time.

If that rings a bell, or if it doesn’t and you’re wondering what that’s all about, this LINK is to an amazing playlist on our YouTube channel dedicated to document those crazy days!

When we finally crossed the border at Bhimdatta, we felt like the end was near and we started seeing the world in colours again. Fun fact about many Indian-Nepalese border controls, they are almost non-existent! Only foreigners have to check-in and out. While this has many socio-economic advantages, it also has a huge disadvantage; easiness to traffic humans (and a lot more!).

We absolutely loved our first days in Nepal! The western provinces are quiet and incredibly abundant in flora and fauna since huge chunks of this territory is protected by natural parks and reserves. While on the Highway 1 you actually get to cycle through some of them and get the chance to see elephants and other exotic beasts. We even tried our chance and attempted some wild camping but it ended up being a total disaster due to the high humidity (it was July), the amount of wildlife (i.e.mosquitoes) and the fact that our tent ended up being a big, muddy sauna! But we know other cyclists who camped in Nepal in other times of the year at no cost to their health and morale!

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We already mentioned many times before that we love mountains. We spent a month in the Indo-Gangetic Plains and now we were at the foothills of the Himalaya where the scenery is truly marvelous! To top it off, it was monsoon season and everything was what can only be described as “magical green”. It was hot when the sun shone but we adored the morning mists and the fields exploding with water which overflew onto the road every time it rained. On a daily basis we had to either find shelter from an imminent downpour which came out of nowhere at a sudden glitch in the wind direction or not; in less time than you can count we’d be dry again and longing for a bit more refreshment. If you think we’re being sarcastic, please don’t, we utterly enjoyed the rains although we felt incredibly bad for the local population who had to deal with this difficult situation for many months a year… every year!

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About the rice fields in western Nepal; of the rice-rich areas that we have seen on the trip so far, those are still the ones that we prefer. Other countries have more of a reputation on the matter but we were truly left gobsmacked on a regular basis and adored seeing them bathed in the morning haze. Maybe it’s because they were the first we saw, maybe it’s because we had just come out of a difficult moment and they helped to soothe our minds but anyway… astonishing!

We will never forget a particularly steep slope which was being cultivated by two women with ponchos on their backs as it was raining. Seen from above there was a certain hypnotisingly sway about it…

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Another aspect of Nepal which we adored is the fact that most of it is scarcely populated and not industrial meaning that cycling is good fun! You’ll come across some busses and the odd small truck or two but, generally speaking, it’s pretty safe along the Highway 1 (and many others). Being the rainy season though, once in Bharatpur we had to take the Highways 4 and 5 to get into Kathmandu and we’re still having nightmares about it! Wanna take a peek? There’s a very short video about it LINK

In our entries there is normally a section dedicated to people and this is no exception. Nepalese have a worldwide reputation for having a huge heart and a wonderful smile and we met many amazing souls during our stay there that it’s impossible to name all of them here. On the other hand though, we will also remember Nepal as the country in which we felt the most at unease with money. As always, in the countryside it’s easy to trust people but whenever we’d get close to a village or town which had some kind of tourist influence, we had to be on-guarde and ask for the prices of everything! Going through our diary before writing this entry, we remembered all the times we were ripped off or had to negotiate hard to get a fair price and, for humans, it’s never a nice feeling to have.

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Like the time we were charged more than double for a lunch in a roadside shack and we informed a passing police officer about it (who was also shocked but couldn’t really help) and ended up leaving the place with an indigestion, or the time that a hotel worker tried so hard to sell us a ground-floor room without mosquito nets by saying that “they won’t come in here”.

The de facto apogee of this is, of course, Kathmandu. Capitals are always more crowded, more hectic and more expensive than the rest of a given country but Kathmandu has been a tourist destination for decades now and in its old city centre it’s impossible to find a square foot of land which is not a bar, a souvenirs shop, a tour operator or a currency exchange. We rented a cosy apartment in a local neighbourhood and hated having to go into the centre. A bad experience we had was picking up our laundry only to realise that they hadn’t used any detergent to clean it but still expected payment. It was also impossible for Marco to stroll peacefully as his dreadlocks attracted all the “suppliers” two blocks around.

It’s also a place where it’s possible to have some fun and we hadn’t had any since 1 month before when we left our beloved Nasir in Islamabad. We indulged in restaurants trying out a Turkish, an Indian and a great Belgian fries place recommended by Joanna and Nick, a couple of cyclists we had previously bumped into in Istanbul almost a year before (yes, it’s a small world)! They have a great blog about their travels in Flemish LINK

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I suppose that we were just a bit disappointed by the whole city having ridden on the most dangerous road we have ever set wheels on to get there and also having to face expensive entry fees to enter the monuments.

While on the subject, we’re not actually complaining about the price; ten years before, Kathmandu was hit by a devastating earthquake and most of the historic sites were razed to the ground. Since then, most of them have been restored to their former glory and people have gotten their jobs back (hopefully) but we really believe that 10-15€ per person per site is a bit steep…

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In conclusion, Nepal is absolutely a Must-See-Place on this little earth of ours but, as bike tourers, we were both amazed by its natural beauty and friendly people and disgusted at how badly a government can mess up a country so rich in tourism and natural beauty; recurring natural disasters and a government so corrupted that it can’t finish the construction of the simplest of bridges have left Nepal on its knees with a general lack of infrastructure, welfare or social security. Cycling there is not always easy but we still fully recommend this country to discover more of our home and humanity.

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2 responses to “Ups and downs in Nepal”

  1. Nice one to inform and fill in the gaps with genuine personal experience. That route ho2 certainly didn’t look much fun. Those big bollard sections seem literally to be marking serious slopes. It looks crazily busy.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, in our videos we don’t get to give 100% accurate description etc of places so we do this here 😉 The section a few days before KTM was by far the worse road we’ve ever cycled; all the other roads going in the capital were closed or inaccessible due to mud and land slides so all the traffic was there and, the real problem, is that there is no road safety in places like Nepal 😦

      Like

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