Nepal

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After border crossing “shortcut” leads us down mud road and crossing mud rivers on “ferries”. Hotel town, have to step over family watching tv in lobby.

Well, chalk up number nine. Nine countries, wahoo! (if you count Kazazkstan and Iran—ok, a bit of a stretch, but we peed on the border and the stream may just have made it across).

Our shortcut from Gorkanbad leads us out of India early. Its amazing to see how quickly the personalities change, “Angle-ais! Angle-ais!”, children shout from the street. What’s more, women actually start conversations with us. No running away. No shielded faces. What a change. How refreshing!

At the bordertown, we wait in the customs office while outside in the street, Nepalis and Indians cross in both directions as if no border exists. What’s the deal? The customs official ignores our pleas at first, but finally turns to us and says in perfect English, “If you buy me a Pepsi, maybe then you can go,” then lets out a huge belly laugh. Normally we’d tell someone like that to screw themselves, but we immediately like this guy. It’s as if he’s recognized and accepted that he’s corrupt to the point that he can even laugh at himself about it.

Crossing, we gorge ourselves on buffalo pot stuffers and spicy sauce in a roadside restaurant before heading down the road on what appears to be a huge shortcut to Kathmandu, according to our trusty maps. Soon, though, our paved road is reduced to a crappy singletrack. Some shortcut! We dodge buffalo and Nepalis on three-speed bicycles who holler as we pass. Workers waist deep in the water soaked fields stop their toil and watch us bounce by. Though our path is completely flat, a mountain wall in silhouette forms a wall to our left. We reach a river with a destroyed bridge, but the enterprising locals have a ferry system, though little more than a raft. We descend a steep bank to load up our bikes with other passengers, including another local biker, and drift across the muddy river to the opposite bank. There, the road has not improved, and we continue along our shortcut.

Finally, we reach pavement, cruising towards the wall of mountains ahead, the sun begins to descend, easing the heat, but no respite from the crushing humidity. We lost a lot of time on our shortcut. It’ll be a close one to reach town before dark. We’re into rolling hills now, on the losing end of most of the ascents and descents. Dopey from the long day, I steer my bike into the steep ditch and crash my bike on one descent. Dangling in the ditch, still clipped into my pedals, Alex comes to my rescue as I swear off my dumb move.

By the time we reach town we’re on fumes. All water bottles empty, I’m bloody with raspberry scrapes from my fall, and feeling dopey as can be. Mega bonk. Dusk falls as we reach the town though humidity hangs thick in the air, muffling the collage of street sounds. It seems to us as another one of our unlikely “victories” along the way. Another five kilometers further would have been too far to ride.

On autopilot, we start our “in town” routine, asking as many people as will seem to understand, “where can I find a place to stay?” Each waves us further up the road. Some point right side, some point left side. We seem to follow blindly along, faithfully believing these instant guides. Sometimes the instinct overtakes. A man might say, “to the left, up 500 metres” We’ll pause briefly and both veer right, without discussion. It just feels right.

Building after building is a dimly lit open front restaurant. Groups of men sitting on wooden stools strain their necks as we pass and shout at us some encouraging words. The density of this activity increases as we approach what must be the centre of town. Oddly, many of the restaurants bear the sign, “hotel”, but have no beds. No less than three times we stop, barrel through the room, see nothing but stainless steel pots and tables. “where the heck are your beds?” Blank stares meet us, and we move on.

Finally, we find a place to stay. We are in the habit now of refusing on the first offer for accommodation. But since all the “hotels” we have found so far have been for naught, and a young guide from earlier in the town has caught up with us to tell us, “Sir, this is the only rest house in town.” It’s less than perfect, with no showers and no ceiling fan, but it’s all we’ve got tonight. The slight man looking impossibly hot in bluejeans and striped shirt tells us it will be one hundred rupees and we accept. In the “lobby”, the entire family is parked on the floor watching TV. We lift our bikes through the open lobby and over the family members towards our room. The family lies on the floor in the hallway watching a. A blue, green and red plastic facade in front of the screen gives the image of a colour picture, blaring sounds and images in their tongue.

The slender man offers us food as we walk through, but we don’t see him again after promising to bring us fried potatos. We climb the bikes up the very inclined and narrow stairs into our tiny room.

Yeech. I’m feeling not so fresh in our running water-less, ceiling fan-less room. My shirt and socks and pants and hair are stuck to my skin with a dirty, sticky glue. The chaffing in my groin feels like my crotch is bleeding from the abrasion. I lay sweating in my bed. Gravel between my toes grinds against raw, slippery skin. I peel off my shirt and examine the concentric salt deposits down the back of the stiff cotton. My shirt, lying on the bed, shows the salty outline of my ribs. Alex leaves in search for food while I collapse on the bed for a quick nap, dreaming of ice cream, cheese & crackers. I awake later with the starving realization that it was a dream and walk into the village streets in search of those very elusive nocturnal ice cream and cheese & crackers.

Meet Brett, the ultra flake from Colorado, taking yoga courses and out of tire patches. A goat eats my bananas from my hand.

From one of the deepest sleeps I can remember I am jolted awake at dawn by the sound of howling dogs. One starts. Many reply. I wrap the pillow around my head with an arm. I need more sleep. Only two days till Kathmandu. I can picture it already, and for the rest of the day, Bob Segar is stuck in my head, “goin’ to k-k-k-Kathmandu! That’s really, really where I’m going to…”

Observation of the day: Weird Al Yankovic appears on the Nepali rupee currency.

Malekhu is a one street town with a resthouse that may compete for our grottiest yet. But first, the bananas.

As we roll into town we’re feeling good. We climbed hard today but made good time. Near the town center we stop to get our bearings and I pull out a banana to munch on. Out of nowhere, a too tame goat appears and eats the entire bunch, peels and all, right from my hand. Sonofabitch.

We also meet Brett, the ultra flake cycle tourist from Colorado. Our first velotourist since the KKH, we pepper him with questions about his route, his gear, his plans. What a disappointment, this guy. You couldn’t order up a more bipolar personality than Alex. Brett is on a yoga self development tour, having stayed in one village for three weeks learning to meditate. Geez. He notices our abundance of tires and mentions that he had to spend a week idle when he ran out of tubes. I ask him how many he started with, and he softly replies, “about ten.” I was about to give him some, the realized that charity for Brett would be wasted.

With no running water in our room, or in the entire building, I head to the middle of the street, where a tap runs. Not caring about my offending anyone, I strip down and lather up right there. Amazingly, no one bats an eye.

Eating pineapple outside Katmandu.

A rough day for me. Totally bonked early on. Spend all day climbing and spinning in first gear. Collapse at the Pooja Guesthouse, rec by Jeff, the Scotsman.

It’s another day of climbing, descending, waterfalls, Cokes, children in the street, and smoky trucks spewing dust in our faces and we start the final climb into Kathmandu. I’ve got some very persistent chaffage going on, and stop at all waterfalls just to feel the cool water on my face and my massacred groin. Spinning in first gear, sweat drips from my forehead onto the lens of my sunglasses. My vision is blurred. It’s so humid I can’t change the gears on my gripshift without my hand slipping. I wrap a dirty sock around the handlebar to give myself a grip.

It’s clear we’re approaching a touristy part of the world. A rafting agency unloads tourists in front of a roadside restaurant. We stop for a coke. As we sit near some other tourists, a Scottish guy, about nineteen, looks us over. “Looks like you’ve been on the road for a while.”

“What do you mean?”

“You don’t exactly look, um, right of the plane.” He’s right. My shirt is filthy. I see my reflection in a glass. My hair has grown into a wild afro, and my facial hair is long, patchy, and whiskered. White salt crystals grind into my face as I wipe my face. We have been on the road for a while; since Delhi, ten days ago. We look like road warrior animals.

After a few more hours of spinning, I reach the top, where Alex has been waiting. I sit on a ledge in front of a small store. Children relentlessly try to sell me corn chips and Korean chocolate. I’m listless and totally bonked from the heat. Ahead I see the smoggy capital of Nepal sitting in the valley depression, surrounded on all sides by lush, steep, green mountains. I’m thinking about ice cream again, and all of a sudden I find my second wind. It’s a bouncy descent into town.

The Thamel district is the tourist district to which all tourists like us instinctively gravitate. As we weave through the labyrinthine outskirts of the city, locals point us onward, as if steering us away from their neighbourhoods. More tourists appear, short pants, white legs and big cameras. It’s an unfamiliar sight, and probably the greatest number of tourists we’ve seen in three months. Somehow, though, it is a welcome sight. We know if all these people are here then we can probably get what we need: information on bicycle passage into Tibet.

We indulge, and indulge again. Meeting with our Scottish friend from two days ago, he takes us to a bar down the street. I order a steak and take my time in eating it. A band emerges and starts to play the blues then rips into a Neil Diamond classic, to the delight of the western audience. “Song Sung, brue, sreeping on my pirrow,….” I catch myself staring at the women. Not because they are good looking, or young, or western. I scan the room. None of the women I would look twice at back home. Most are over traveled, dressed in rags, dreadlocked and listless. No, definitely not because they’re good looking, but because they’re women. We’ve been in Muslim countries nearly exclusively since Istanbul. It’s a good feeling to see breasts again, even if they’re covered up and we have no chance of picking up the way we look.

Rain falls heavy at night, keeping the yelping dogs off the street. I have my best sleep in weeks.

Tibet prospects don’t look good. As we visit travel agencies, they firmly maintain that the Chinese border will be closed until further notice to all foreigners. September 1st will be the thirtieth anniversary of the “liberation” of Tibet by the Chinese. Celebrations are planned. Officials and dignitaries will be on hand in Lhasa. Beijing wants a smooth, orderly party, free of any uprising. Foreigners are potential dissidents and cannot just be shot if they misbehave. Best to just lock them out. Relations with the west right now are strained. Taiwan is asserting it’s independence and Harry Wu, a well-known human rights activist, has just been arrested in Urumqi. Entrance into Tibet by self propelled means is absolutely out of the question. We must join a tour that will fly to Lhasa and bus us back to Kathmandu, the whole while our bikes confiscated and us under direct supervision. Though we’re on a rest day, it’s stressful to think that we could be in for a big detour.

It’s a fattening up town. We find a German bakery that serves great muesli and steamed milk coffee in the mornings, and cruise the strip stuffing ourselves with pizza, pasta and lots of junk food. The restaurant downstairs has its grand opening one night. The timid waiters obsess over our happiness. When my Caesar comes to me tasting like water, I hop behind the bar and show them how to make a real one. Mom and Dad cry over the phone in joy as we call collect from the phone office.

The story at the consulate is the same. An expensive tour is the only guaranteed entrance into Tibet at this time. Visas are only issued after the tour has been purchased. You must buy a visa to enter the country. We have our visas already, procured before we left North America. It seems to us that the consulates and the tour companies have a conveniently comfortable deal going. There are a lot of people that would do anything, pay any price, to see Tibet. We’re just willing to do anything, at our price.

After some bike repair and a vain search for mail at the Canadain consulate, we ready ourselves to go for it, alone, to Tibet. Tomorrow we will cycle out of Kathmandu, bound for Kodari, the border town of Nepal and Tibet.

Bike just enough to test new drive train and get out of town. Immediately leaving town cuisine regresses. Dine at Snowview hotel with two Gemman sisters.

We don’t leave Kathmandu till three in the afternoon after more bike repairs and fruitless attempts at getting better information on Tibet tours. Reaching Bhaktapur, the bakeries are stocked with Indian cakes we saw in the train stations a week ago. How disappointing. Life in the big city was sweet.

After a leisurly, short, pedal, we stay the night at an idyllic inn, the “Snowview”, overlooking our descent we’ll undertake tomorrow, dining with two late twenties-ish German sisters traveling alone together. It’s just the four of us at the guesthouse, and I’m finding it a dream just spending time with women again, enticing us with tales of their Thai massage expertise. Just as they’re getting us worked up, the leave for bed.

Road worsens after 50 km of unexpected downhill. Rest of the day regaining it on marginal to poor dirt and mud.

Our day is spent gliding down a fifty kilometre downhill and slogging away, trying to regain the elevation on an increasingly marginal road. Kathmandu was about 600 metres above sea level. Our first day in Tibet, if we make it, will see us cross a pass over 5000metres. We have some climbing to do. Waterfalls crash down from hundreds of metres overhead, softening the road into mud. It slows us to walking some frustrating sections, and often the grass alongside the road is easier to ride than the road itself. We keep climbing. Just as the road reduces itself to a wide, muddy trail sliced by deep tire ruts, unrideable, as rivers swallow twenty metre sections, a town appears: Kodari.

It’s not what I had anticipated. The slide shows back in Kathmandu strategically staged Kodari as a frontier take off point, quaint and geared for tourists. I see in front of me a collection of strung together trailers, different sizes, colours and shapes, crammed together at different angles like boxcars in a train wreck. At the end of the wreck, the caboose, is the bridge. Beyond the bridge, high up ahead on the mountainside, 300 metres above us, sits Zhang Mu, Tibet.

We ride as far as we can. A lowered gate stops us before the bridge. Staring wondrously at the town facing us, it seems farther away than the visible distance. This could be the terminus of our forward progress. We have no plan. Tomorrow will attempt to enter Tibet, on bicycle, against the official rules, based only on our confidence and cockiness that has gotten us this far, over 8000 kilometers from Istanbul.