With the comments from the hotel manager ” it is not possible to cycle to Sandhikharka, the road is bad” ringing in our heads, we slipped out of Pyuthan as it was getting light, heading up the hill to Khalanga. The road switched back and forth and was steep, but in good condition.
We passed people and villages starting their day. The 1200 feet climb which took us up above the clouds, and snow capped mountains of Annapurna could be seen in the distance, was fine and we felt strong.
We stopped at the top for an omelette and chai and chatted with several people. We could see the good road stopped here and people were telling us that the road is very bad and takes 5 hours by jeep to do the 30 miles, be careful they said.
We decided to give it a try and see how far we could travel in an hour. We crept slowly downhill along the deeply rutted dusty track. The hills were wooded and often had terracing where they mainly grew grass for livestock. We dropped right down to a river which we crossed. The lower valley had terracing that was vibrant, lush and green, near the to the fast moving river.
We passed many villages positioned along ridges and at cols. This was the preferred location for settlements affording magnificent views. We wondered if there were spiritual reasons for these positions. The houses had mud rendered walls, ornate carved wooden doors and arched windows. They had balconies with wooden balustrades under the low roof. Corn cobs hung under the eaves drying. People sat out in front of their houses watching the day go by, and seeds were laid out to dry in the sun.
After an hour we checked our progress, under 5 miles in an hour! It was going to take time, but should be possible, so we pushed on. The climbs were staggeringly hard work and we had to push the bike for long periods over rough loose track.
There was silence in these hills with no traffic noise, just people talking in villages and the chatter from a local school. People were surprised to see us and people gathered to take a look when we stopped in villages. A whole school came to the roadside to watch us pass by. Always we would stop and have a chat. It’s nice having these exchanges and find out a little about their lives too.
Lunch was chowmien cooked by a fine looking friendly man who had worked in Malaya, Singapore, India, and Saudi on oil rigs. He proudly showed us his health and safety certificate for this work. He was a kindly chap when saying goodbye said next time we are welcome to stay the night in the village.
We ate our lunch in the back room of his shop and food stall. There were some simple , crude benches and a table. A pot wash area was at one end, and tiny shuttered windows looked out over the valley where you could see terracing going off in the distance, and villages speckled the landscape. When we emerged, quite a crowd was gathering round the bike, when we left children ran alongside us for some time until even they tired of the spectacle.
Our progress was painfully slow as we hauled the 65kg bike over the mountains. One hill after another through this beautiful place, after 11 hours we arrived at Sandhikharka