I first came to Nepal back in 1989 and have been fortunate enough to have returned several times over the years with various school groups on month long expeditions. This time was different as there were no pupils in tow and my wife AliG and I were hoping to stay for just under 3 months working at a couple of local schools.
The heat, noise, dust, smells and the streaming traffic just help reinforce that you’ve finally arrived when you step out of the airport. My wife arrived a week before me as I had a couple of assessments to run. As well as the school work I had organised a trek and a motorbike trip for two groups of friends.
The motorbike trip would take us to Chitwan, Pokhara, Muktinath, Jomson, Tatopani and Bandipur before returning to Kathmandu on Royal Enfield classics (plus a similar Honda and an Enfield Meteor). I couldn’t wait to get started. I’m lucky enough to have known Major Ram Gurung for many years as he has helped me in the past in planning my various school expeditions, and now he’s helped plan my own trip.
It was great to see him at the airport and not have the hassle of finding a taxi. I had a few relaxing days to settle into Nepali life before the others arrived and was looking forward to getting started.
The hotel we stayed in was a brand new one in Thamel called The Kailash Kutee. It was so new in fact the builders were still working on it and the rooms still had to be dressed. The first three bikers to arrive were Kona Macphee & Patrick Andrews from Crieff and Nigel Grace followed by George & Steve Staines the next day. Introductions made and an orientation walk of the area completed, and we were ready.
Ram came to the hotel to give us a briefing about the following day. The idea was to pick the bikes up on the Saturday morning and have an ‘acclimatisation’ ride around Kathmandu for a few hours, it was more of a baptism of fire! We had been told that Nepal has the same traffic rules as the UK, the difference being they choose to ignore them!! On the ride we stopped off to visit the Monkey Temple which has great views over Kathmandu, a city which seems to double in size each time I return. Most of the bikes were ok but one had a reversed throttle and kept kicking into neutral !!! All easily sorted when we returned to the hotel.
We had a group dinner at the Black Olive (which became our favourite restaurant). We had an early start planned for the morning as we wanted to miss the worst of the traffic. So at 0600hrs without breakfast we set off for Chitwan National Park.
The ride out of Kathmandu was uneventful but very exciting. It was nice to feel that the motorbike journey had started properly. The roads were as manic as ever and the road surfaces challenging at times. Buses and vans overtaking on blind corners and coming up hill towards you made everything very unpredictable. IPSGA (Information, Position, Speed, Gear, Acceleration) was used to full effect although at times it felt like you didn’t get past information!
The temperature increased steadily as we descended towards Chitwan National Park which is close to the Indian border and is an important UNESCO site. I think all of us felt quite hot, tired and a bit relieved when we arrived at the lodge. Check-in was quick and lunch soon followed. We headed out on a dugout canoe ride across the river before the jeep safari drive. A few deer, rhino and monkeys later we arrived at the crocodile breeding centre. One incident was when another jeep tried to overtake us whilst we were parked looking at a rhino that was in the river. As the jeep passed it connected with our roof and ripped it off smacking Nigel in the head as it fell! Luckily he wasn’t too badly hurt but certainly shaken. Roof removed and Nigel reseated we continued. The rest of the safari was quite relaxing as the sun started to descend.
0700hrs breakfast was followed by a canoe trip along a crocodile-infested river down stream to the Elephant breading centre. We saw lots of brightly coloured birds including several kingfishers. Back to the lodge to pack and leave by 1030hrs. The temperature increased steadily all day which made riding very hot and dusty which wasn’t helped by the mass of road works we encountered on route. One minor incident saw me looking up at a small truck from the ground. No indicators, no vision but still they think they can pull across a road of moving traffic! Nothing broken but a few sharp words exchanged and we were on our way again. The views were spectacular, particularly looking down to the rivers which are quite often a mass of frothy white water. There seem to be temples of various descriptions on every hillock and cliff. Arriving at the Dragon hotel in Pokhara was a relief for all. Beer, food and bed.
Next day, what a day we had! Our first stop was at a small garage so the bikes could have the once over as this would be the last “franchised” garage we would pass and luckily they were able to squeeze us in. The roads started off like flat bowling greens, no pot holes or boulders and enough smooth sweeping bends to make it a pleasure to ride. Then after 2 hours everything changed! The road disintegrated into a sandy, rocky off-road nightmare. The going was very difficult but the views made it worthwhile. Some bikes were dropped more often than others, never at speed and only on the particularly deep sandy uphill bits. We came around one bend to find the road closed as they were blasting the cliffs to make them stable, but it meant we had to wait for a couple of hours before the road opened. Once blasted the digger moved in to clear the boulders over the edge and send them crashing down to the river below.
The road continued to be very exciting for another 45 minutes then, like arriving in Nirvana, it became perfect tarmac sporadically interspersed with hard pack gravel until we reached the hotel. We stopped a couple of times just to take in the mountain views which were spectacular and made the ride more than worthwhile. It was a little disconcerting knowing that we needed to ride back down the same road the next day. Our faces showed how relieved we were arriving at the hotel. I don’t mind a challenge but I had fingers crossed that the road up to the temple the next morning wasn’t quite as demanding.
The following day was definitely a day of two halves! Part one was the ride up to Muktinath which was very pleasant and on reasonable road which changed to glorious tarmac from Kagbeni to the temples. The views were incredible with clear blue skies and snow-capped mountains in all directions. The views down the Mustang valley were stunning and I’m sure will be the basis for a future trip. Riding through the town towards the steps up to the temple was quite entertaining, dodging hordes of pedestrians. Everyone was very friendly especially when you joined them for the walk through the 108 freezing cold water spouts followed by a dip in the two plunge pools. Having done it once I was told the minimum number of times you needed to do the circuit was three which I did and each time it got easier. I think our team and the other pilgrims thought Steve Staines and myself mad!!!
The ride back was wonderful and gave us all time to take in where we were. Lunch, plus a broken micro-switch on the Meteor side stand later, we headed down hill to Tatopani in ever-increasing rain. The dusty/sandy/rocky road had turned to a brown/black slurry in places which added quite a bit of technicality to the descent, with a few deep puddles and some bigger streams thrown in for good measure. Checked in and unpacked it was time to hit the hot thermal pool to soothe away the aches and pains of the last few days. Everyone seemed to be enjoying the ride so far.
After a great soak in the thermal pool and a few stress relieving beers we were set for the ride down the road of death to Pokhara. How these bikes kept going is beyond me. The abuse they received from the local roads and us was immense. I know my Multistrada would have had a really hard time of it on these roads as would those ugly GSs monsters. I think they would have spent more time on their sides than on their wheels. The biggest bikes we saw all trip were 350cc as they are light enough to pick up if and when dropped and can chug along steadily in soup, scree or over rock. Because we had heavy rain overnight night the road had every kind of slurry for us to slip and slide through. Sometimes thick black treacle or white liquid cement and dark brown soup. All great fun to ride! I think we had all improved and didn’t have the same levels of trepidation when we encountered ROUGH sections of boulders etc. As we left Beni the roads improved which allowed us to make great progress, however, you still couldn’t relax as the locals seemed to be drawn to us like a magnet. Our lunch stop was at Bhanjyang Village restaurant/lodge, and a more stunning location you would be hard pressed to find. The food was outstanding as well. On our ride in to Pokhara we stopped off at Bullet Station, a Royal Enfield dealership, to get some replacement parts and a bike wash before parking up for the night, well there’s no excuse for a dirty bike.
An 0900hrs departure meant a leisurely breakfast which was well deserved after the trials and tribulations of the last few days on death road! Our first stop was the Gurkha museum which is very interesting and tells the story of the various regiments. There’s also a picture of Major Ram and Gayanu his wife. Reading about the numerous VCs certainly makes you think. Leaving Pokhara on good roads we headed towards Ghachok where I would be staying after the bike ride, we should have known the smooth tarmac wouldn’t last.
As we neared the village the roads deteriorated once again into boulders and mud. We had arranged to visit Meghraj school where AliG, Tania and several other Dutch and British teachers were helping train local teachers from several schools. Looking around the classrooms and seeing the teachers so engaged was great to see. After being introduced to them they tried to use the ‘who, why, what, where, when’ they had learned on us. They seemed very surprised how old some of the team were and I think we could have easily married off George and Nigel who were at opposite ends of the age scale. It was great seeing Tania in full teacher flow, she made a great wolf. After lunch we left for Bandipur which is roughly three hours ride from Pokhara. We passed a motorbike that was well loaded up with the latest in technical panniers which would look great on any adventure bike and very reasonably priced.
As we left Pokhara the traffic came to a standstill so major filtering was called for. Two broken down cars, a lorry and a coach were the cause of the chaos. Shortly after passing the blockage a very loud and bright thunderstorm came over. Sheet rain, ear splitting thunder and lightning flashes all around us added to the excitement of the day. Leaving the main road for the ride up to Bandipur as the rain slackened meant we could enjoy the twists and turns of the narrow steep hairpin bends. The scenery was jaw-dropping and the drop-offs to the side of the road very impressive. After what seemed like an hour of glorious riding we arrived at our hotel for the night. The Durban Himalayan is certainly posher than we had been used to with amazing views from the rooms.
Looking across the valley to the Annapurna range from the view point opposite our hotel was fabulous. The valley was filled with low lying thick white cloud. After breakfast we had a quick walk around Bandipur which is very oldie worldie and very relaxing. Leaving for the ride down the hill we had ridden up yesterday in the pouring rain was fun as the roads were quite dry. The usual traffic jams and road works were waiting for us and allowed us to overtake hundreds of parked vehicles. Leaving the main highway for the breathtaking 20kms ascent to Gurkha was a dream. The road twisted and turned as it climbed. None of the bends were too sharp which allowed us to just ride and enjoy the flowing curves and views up to the temple which sits at the top of the ridge. The ride down was equally as interesting and a little quicker. More trouble with the dreaded Meteor meant a quick spell as a pillion for Patrick. Once we joined the main Kathmandu highway the traffic volume increased significantly so sharp elbows and nerves of steel were needed to make any headway. Trucks and buses were easily passed but the Toyota Hi-ace minivans caused a few issues. Topping the hill and arriving back in Kathmandu was a relief, and though the traffic was as manic as ever I think we had grown accustomed to it. The final stretch through narrow Thamel lanes full of tourist pedestrians was quite hair-raising, and by the time we reached the hotel everyone was ecstatic, hot, sweaty and in need of a long cold shower. We booked our favourite restaurant the Black Olive again to celebrate our safe return. A leisurely day of sightseeing was booked for the final day.
We visited a number of temples and even had an audience with a living goddess. I don’t think it has quite sunk in that the trip is over for the bike group. Some great memories and tales of ‘daring do’. Lots of stories to share with friends back home.
The Royal Enfield Classics were ideal, robust, not too heavy, had enough power and all with a fantastic exhaust note. I think I’ll be back to explore other areas of this stunning country by motorbike in the not too distant future, but next for me is a trek with other friends followed by some voluntary work teaching in some schools in Ghachok.
A few more pictures: