We left the relaxed city of Pokhara and headed to Gorkha to where we would pick a route through to Kathmandu. We made good progress on the tarmac and it was not too busy. The final climb upto Gorkha was tiring at the end of a long day. We had a nice chai stop, some way up the hill, accompanied by some nice satsumas, served by a kindly lady. We sat on a bench at the back of her stall.
As we go on our way, you hear people saying ” ah double cycle” as they go about their chores, or “oh my god” followed by lots of laughing.
We pass by brightly dressed women and a guy bending and wiring reinforcing for concrete construction.
People want to chat and we have great conversations about issues in Nepal. We pass more places that have been affected by the earthquake as we get closer to the location of the epicentre.
People living in wrecked houses, with corrugated iron used to provide shelter spanning across the remains of stone walls and rubble.
An early start from Gorkha heading to Arughat Bazaar, we were soon climbing on rough roads up through the terraced mountains. Benefiting from our noodles and coffee, cooked on our stove in the hotel room, that had now become the routine at the start of our day. It was hard going, the worst deep ruts filled with powder that covered smooth slippery rocks that sent us all over the place.
We were pushing the tandem for miles and miles, barely making two miles an hour. These kind of conditions were becoming tiresome and we were becoming irritated by them.
It was a dilemma, nice easy tarmac and make progress, but not have the great people experiences, or go for the bad roads that bring you close to people and life going on. It was always a hard decision and we hoped the next section of road wouldn’t be as bad, but it just seemed to reach a new level of badness. The dust was terrible and we were becoming concerned about doing serious damage to the bike. We pushed on relentlessly to Arughat, giving every bit of energy we had.
Feeling fatigued and weary, we were becoming easily distracted at things going on by the road side, which slowed our progress further.
A new house being built, with an earthquake damaged stone building next to it drew us in. The lovely couple, who were farmers invited us to take a look as they were blessing the door frames which had recently been installed. Various coloured offerings were sprinkled about the place and joss sticks were lit. Something was pressed into the door head that carried a small old coin. A coconut was smashed and the milk poured over the frames and walls, the flesh was shared out among the builders and us. We were all blessed by the building owners and had tika dots applied and were given offerings of small denomination rupee notes and red ribbons that were covered with special scented red powder. We fixed ours to the handle bars of our bike to help with our journey. It was lovely that we were included in their important ceremony and I felt honoured to lay a few bricks in their new home. We drank tea with them and chatted about their children and ours.
We said our goodbyes and returned to the nightmare road, huge clouds of dust filled the air every time a vehicle passed. We pushed and pushed onto Arughat. When the dust was clearing as a lorry shook its way along the track, a lone young western girl appeared, we looked at each other in amazement, “what are you doing here we asked” This was our meeting with Isi who was working at a local school and living with a Nepalese family. We listened to her story and were hugely impressed by this twenty year old Scottish girl who was doing such an amazing job. We had much respect for her bravery at a young age to tackle so many challenges of living in this isolated environment, and what a life changing experience she must be having. We could appreciate how hard it must be living without privacy and personal space and the full on aspect of being immersed into a local family and culture.
We accompanied her back to her school where the children erupted into excitement seeing this unusual bike for two. Tandem rides round the playground only increased the excitement into hysteria.
As evening fell we arrived at Arughat once again exhausted and filthy but feeling uplifted by the day’s experience.
We made enquiries at the state of the road onto Dhading. We could not cope with any more deep powder roads. The next stage was going to be as bad, and with some considerable climbs too, we knew we couldn’t do it. It was going to have to be a bus for the next 35km which still took three and half hours. With some help from a couple of lads we lifted the bike onto the roof dodging the dangerously close overhead power lines above us, which became slightly more of a challenge as the bus started to move round the town touting for passengers as I was still tying down the bike. The bus rocked and twisted its way along the horrendous track as we climbed over mountains and crossed rivers. Fine local music played on the bus as we were shaken from one side to another. Our bike up on the roof which we were hoping was not getting damaged as the bus crashed about the Himalayas.
We snaked our way down the valley from Dhading to where it meets the mighty Trisuli river. The road was good tarmac which was a pleasant relief from the terrible roads we had been on. There was very little traffic. Well kept terracing dotted with neat round haystacks filled the valley.
We followed the Trisuli river heading upstream, remembering that 30 years ago we had whitewater rafted this section. A great trip that we did with a couple of Norwegian lads. At the time it felt intrepid and isolated, but now the landscape is scarred with quarrying and road building. The river is brown and dirty and considerably less flow than before, as water is extracted for construction and other commercial uses.
From the river below we could here the chink of people breaking rocks into tiny stones for mixing with sand to make concrete. Sat on heaps of stone they had broken, using long handled hammers they tapped away all day. Others sieved river sand through mesh screens.
A welcome break was a stop at a building site where a first floor was being cast by an all female workforce. Brightly dressed in reds and dark pinks, flowing head scarves and baggy cotton trousers, they mixed concrete by hand and carried it up the ladder to the first floor.
We left the Trisuli and started our climb to the edge of the Kathmandu valley. The road was quiet and not bad condition, but as we climbed passing through thick forests the road deteriorated into a broken mess, not as bad as we had experienced and he gradient was manageable.
We pushed on up the 5000 feet mountain road and luckily found a lodge when we were exhausted and daylight nearly gone.
The next morning setting off very early, helped by leaving the dingy, not so pleasant, rat in the loo, lodge, we pushed on for the last 30 miles and 1000 feet climb to Kathmandu, fuelled by our noodles we had cooked in our room. Snow capped massive peaks of mountains in the distance made for impressive views.
Just in the Kathmandu valley we stopped for a bread omelette and tea, where we met a nice young guy who we discussed the extent of development and corruption in Nepal, and how he and the young don’t like the government. There is a lot of building going on here, houses, roads, schools, business, universities and hospitals, as the population increases, but I was interested to know what was happening with sanitation and waste disposal. It would appear this has not been considered. Even Kathmandu has no proposal for sewage treatment. Our friend told us that responsible people when building a house install a sewage storage tank which is emptied with a tanker lorry, but then it is taken to a place where not too many people live and dumped untreated! It seems that having a better house, a new road, a motor bike and a smart phone is all that matters and the country is blind to the black sewage filled rivers dead from all life.
We dropped down into the urban sprawl of Kathmandu, bracing ourselves for the onslaught of madness, but were surprised by the level of order compared with Delhi. Ok it was busy, but you didn’t feel you were running on good luck to stay alive.
We headed straight for the Snowman, a pie shop in Freak street. A legendary road that was a Mecca for the hippies, on Asia overland trips, in the 60s and early 70s, drawn by the legal hash and grass. The road got its name because the locals called the hippies ‘freaks’. The Snowman is the only remaining pie shop in Freak Street, still owned by the same guy, now helped by his son, is an iconic place where you still get a feel for those halcyon days. Dimly lit, smoke stained walls, with painted murals of faded psychedelia where perhaps the artists were helped with mind altering substances. Cat Stevens wrote ‘Kathmandu’ in one of these pie shops. You felt the past here, but it was nice to see the place now filled with young Nepalis playing cards, smoking cigarettes and eating cakes and pies. It’s like a new generation have embraced the place.
We wandered around the narrow streets of Kathmandu past the old temples with their intricate carving. Incense burned from various shrines and you felt the mystery and spiritual importance of this iconic place. We pushed onto Bhaktapur, a well preserved city in the valley 12 miles away. The brick streets, with overhanging wood carved houses, that lead to small squares with highly detailed, multilayered temples, attracting many pilgrims. Temple bells rang and the air was filled with incense smoke.
We had reached our destination for the first part of our journey through the Himalayas.