On a motorcycle through Nepal's Himalayas

Apr 2, 2019

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Mountain roads that wind along azure rivers with icy meltwater, old forgotten fortress cities, the vast snow-capped mountains of the Himalayas in the distance, tropical jungle and a thoroughly friendly and welcoming people. That Nepal is an enchanting place to travel by motorbike, 15 Danish motorcyclists had to admit when they drove through Nepal's mountains.
We were handed our motorcycles, Royal Enfield 500 cubic, at the hotel in Nepal's capital, Kathmandu. There was a lot to keep track of on this first day in Nepal: some participants had chosen to ride on English model motorcycles and therefore had the brake on the left foot and the gears on the right foot. Add to that the fact that you drive on the left side of the road in Nepal. So after taking the first lap to test braking distance, the first motorcyclists had already broken one of the most important rules of traffic in Nepal by driving on the right side in a country where there is left-hand driving! This offense was immediately reprimanded by the hotel's security guard, who, in black uniform, jumped forward, grabbed the whistle and with a large gesture commanded the travel-weary Danish motorcyclists to their seats. Much to the delight of the other hotel guests who stood and watched. And probably much to the annoyance of the hotel guests who had hoped to sleep long this morning, because the sound of 15 Royal Enfield motorcycles starting at the same time is inescapable.

Off it went through the dusty streets of Kathmandu, and after approx. 1.5 hours of city driving in Kathmandu's dense traffic, where it felt as if the other road users were coming from all sides, we were out of the flat Kathmandu valley and the road began to wind its way up through the mountains. We drove through villages and past clusters of school children walking in large groups along the country roads, all washed and wearing freshly ironed shirts. They jumped and danced when they caught sight of us, who, with yellow vests, cameras on the helmets and all the driving equipment, most of all looked like an army unit on an excursion. Many of the children shouted "Hallooooo!" and held out his hand for a high five, and they laughed uproariously when this gesture was reciprocated.

This day we were overwhelmed by all the new impressions in the traffic, and we had plenty to talk about when we took a break and tasted the special "Masala Chia", which is a sweet and spicy milk tea that is drunk everywhere in small tea houses along Nepal's country roads. In the afternoon we arrived at our hotel in Nuwakot, which was a real gem: an approx. 100 year old Nepalese manor that has been restored and turned into a hotel by a passionate Englishman named Tony. He is a true firebrand and dedicated to restoring buildings worthy of preservation in Nepal.

The next day we drove along the Trisuli River and further into the Himalayan mountains, where the road wound up towards Langtang National Park, a favorite place for mountain trekking. We reached an altitude of approx. 2000 meters above sea level. Everywhere the mountains were cut into the characteristic terraces where rice and millet are grown. We were to get acquainted with the latter crop later that same evening at a small local inn, as it is used to brew "Raksy", which is a home-made Nepalese brandy with a strong fermented taste.

Heading towards the old trading post of Bandipur

After seeing the old fortress town of Nuwakot, the next day we set course for the town of Bandipur, approx. 140 km away. 140 km may not sound like much, but on Nepal's winding mountain roads you drive at an average speed of 35-55 km/h, so we had the prospect of quite a few hours in the saddle. The trip went along the Trisuli River, where we stopped to see one of the many metal suspension bridges that span the rivers of Nepal, connecting the isolated mountain communities to the rest of the country. Our Nepalese motorcycle guide did a little impromptu display and before we looked around he was out on the suspension bridge and over on the other side of the big river. The most adventurous motorcyclists in the group immediately followed suit and rode back and forth across the narrow suspension bridge while the rest of us filmed and photographed.

Shortly after this climb, we drove onto the main road that connects Nepal's two largest cities: Kathmandu and Pokhara. Here there were wide roads and trucks from India, painted in all the colors of the rainbow, and local buses with goats and children on the roof and passengers hanging on the outside by holding onto the door handle, passed us at high speed. Later we turned off the main road and drove along a small winding mountain road up towards the town of Bandipur. On our way up the mountain we passed corn-yellow haystacks and green grass piles coming walking down the road, feet sticking out from below. It was the local mountain farmers who brought home feed for their goats, cows and water buffalo. Suddenly the snow-capped peaks of the Himalayas stood clear in front of us and we stopped and admired the magnificent view. This day we had a view to the mountain Manaslu and to the Annapurna massif, with its impressive 8100 meters. Arriving in the village of Bandipur, which is situated on a mountain top for approx. 1000 meters above sea level, we enjoyed a view of the sharp Himalayan peaks with the eternal snow.

Adventure and fun in the Himalayas

Our next destination was the mountain lake Begnas Tal, where we subsequently had a much-needed rest day, after some hectic and adventurous days on the Nepalese country roads with many hours in the saddle. The early risers among us got up early and watched the sunrise from a small temple on a small mountain peak above the mountain lake. It was a beautiful sight when the very first rays of the sun made the haze around the Annapurna massif disappear and colored the 8100 meter high peaks pink.

On the short walk back to the hotel breakfast table, we passed through the local village as it slowly awakened; there was a boil in the tea kettles over the small fires, buffaloes were milked and goats fed. The rest of the day was spent with some exploring the mountains with off-road driving while others went to the town of Phokara. The afternoon's "happy hour" in the hotel's bar was used to the full by all participants. In particular, the Nepalese beer, with the name "Everest", was popular. The bartender laughingly told when he poured it that it was "the biggest beer in the world".

Our next stretch of driving was one of the most beautiful and enchanting routes of the entire motorcycle journey through Nepal. The mountain road wound through green, lush valleys with agriculture and recently harvested rice fields and over several small mountain passes with lush forest that offered great views.

For a wedding on the way to Buddha's birthplace

On our next day of driving, we moved down into Nepal's subtropical lowlands, called the Terai, which was originally jungle and a heavily malaria-infected area. The Terai was previously inhabited by only one people, the so-called Tharu, as they could resist the malarial parasite. However, with the spread of DDT in the 1950s, the authorities were able to combat malaria mosquitoes, which led to a migration of highlanders from Nepal's hills and valleys.

The settlers cut down large areas of the jungle and cultivated the land. In order to get really close to Nepali folk life, we drove this day along some small roads through the agricultural country. And we also managed to experience it up close when we literally drove straight into a Nepali wedding party: in the middle of the road stood a wedding band playing animal skin drums and blowing long wooden horns, while women, in the most colorful robes, danced around the road. We were asked to dance and invited to the wedding ceremony and to the outdoor dining afterwards. It was a fun sight to see the Danish motorcyclists in their big leather jackets and yellow traffic vests dancing side by side with the graceful women in red silk saris, with colored spots on their foreheads and flowers in their hair.

Once in the city of Lumbini, which according to Buddhists is the birthplace of Buddha, we saw a few of the many temples that Buddhist countries around the world have built here. Most ostentatious is the Chinese temple, built in the same architectural style as the Forbidden City in Beijing. Every year, thousands of Buddhist pilgrims come to Lumbini from all over the world, and we also experienced this up close when we sat all alone in the hotel's large dining room in the evening. Suddenly it swarmed in with no less than a hundred crowned pilgrims, monks and nuns from Thailand and Laos, wearing chalk-white clothes. They were all visiting Lumbini, a holy place for Asian Buddhists.

On the way to the jungle

We continued our drive through Nepal's tropical lowlands, and the course went towards the jungle of Chitwan National Park, which used to be the hunting grounds of the Nepalese king, but which today is designated as a national park. Here the roads were wide and with good asphalt, so we could really get the machines up to speed.

The next day we got up early as we were both going to ride elephants, go river rafting in hollowed out logs and hike through the jungle. It gave a stomach ache when you drifted down the Rapti river in a hollowed-out tree trunk, and there on the bank, approx. 15 meters away, a large crocodile lay with its mouth open, baring its sharp white teeth, glinting in the afternoon sun!

Back to Kathmandu

Our last day of driving consisted first of a trip through the lowlands of the Terai before turning off at the town of Hetauda, the terrain changing from lowland to highland. The last part of the stretch to Kathmandu was distinctly mountain driving. There were steep and winding roads, and we had the opportunity to test the skills we had built up over the many days in the saddle on the Nepalese country roads. Along the way there were fantastic views

above the mountains, which the farmers had transformed over generations into terraced fields, and out on the horizon we could see the eternal snow on the white peaks of the Himalayas. We arrived in Kathmandu in the afternoon and drove in a group to the hotel. There was wild excitement when we arrived at the hotel, and our Nepali guide gassed it up with tire burning. After a few cold beers at the hotel, we went out to have a farewell dinner at a Tibetan restaurant.

Mountain flight to Everest, cremation and back home to Denmark

We got up early on our last day of travel as we had booked a mountain flight to take us to Mount Everest. On arrival at the airport we were greeted by a screen showing that all flights were postponed indefinitely as there was dense fog closing the airport this morning – naturally to our great disappointment. We waited and waited and our spirits dropped when we heard that other flights were now cancelled.

But suddenly we were called to the gate and boarded a small propeller plane. As the plane took off and we flew up through the clouds, the Himalayas were clear with their almost endless ranges of mountain peaks. As we increased in height, we could see one snow-capped mountain peak after another, and finally we had a view of Mount Everest, towering like a giant among giants with its impressive 8848 meters. One by one we were given access to the cockpit, from which there was a panoramic view of the Himalayas, while the plane headed straight for Mount Everest. It was an indescribable and unforgettable sight!

Later in the day we visited the cremation steps at the Pashupathinath temple complex, where local Hindus come to cremate their dead. Death is not a taboo among the Hindus of Nepal, and like everywhere else in this country, we felt welcome. We were allowed to look along and witness the ritual, but we had to refrain from taking photographs. It was a very special experience to witness the cremation at Pashupatinath, where time seemed to stand still. The place is like a medieval pocket in the vibrant capital, because the rituals surrounding the cremation take place in exactly the same way as they have done for millennia. At the temple complex we saw several of the so-called Shiva-Saddhus, holy men from India who have abandoned family life in favor of a life as wandering Hindu beggar monks.

After this intense experience, we drove to Nepal's international airport, which is a pure goat market and where monkeys crawl around on the roofs and sometimes also inside the airport building. Tired and full of impressions, we said goodbye to Nepal and set off for Denmark.