'You must return to Delhi for a new Visa...' the customs official calmly announced. ' Your Visa is out of date'. 'Or you can make a small extra payment', said his identical twin.
A 'small' payment was infinitely more appealing than a ride back to the offices of Delhi so it was with some relief that I crossed into Nepal. So far so good, but now which way?
In truth, my visa had run out the day before but I'd arrived at the border at Sunauli at night and, not wanting to cross into Nepal in the dark, had decided to return the following morning. I'd booked into a rough 'hotel' nearby and was duly asphyxiated by the exhaust fumes from their generator which chugged and coughed beneath my window through the night. Oh for some fresh Himalayan air.....
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With great relief I rode quickly north, through Butwal over the mountains towards Pokhara. Quickly - because I'd heard that the Maoists were planning a 'travel ban' for one week and I didn't want to be caught in a one cow town.
I swept up the well surfaced mountain road which was amazingly traffic free. The reason for the traffic free roads soon became apparent - Road blocks. Felled trees and rocks put there by the Maoists. I came up behind miles of queuing buses and cars and the situation was explained.
'Maybe open tomorrow.. Maybe the day after...' I didn't have that much time if I was going to get Pokhara before the Travel ban set in. Only one thing for it - return over the mountains to Butwal and the next day go to Pokhara - 'The Long Way Round' (I've been dying to get that one in). I did just that.
I rolled into town and booked into the Nepali Cottage Guest House. Quiet rooms, garden and excellent service. Even got tea in bed the following morning. I ate and drank well in Pokhara and spent many a fine night in good company at the 'Blues Bar'. A hardened biker could go soft in this town. Wonder if I could get another pillow....?
I lounged in Pokhara for many days before being talked into trekking nine days up the Jomson Trail with Sam and Fred (Team Blues Bar) to the shadow of the mighty Annapurna. A spectacular hike and a route well serviced with friendly guest houses. At Muktinah, just before the final pass, decisions were made as to whether to cross and do the full 'circuit' or to descend to the small airport at Jomsom and fly back to Pokhara. Well the decision was made and it sorted 'the men from the boys'....The 'boys' left at 5.00am and this 'man' went back to bed. Good Choice.
The Maoist ban lifted, and the call of the road was strong again. Royal Chitwan Park was on the tourist trail and it seemed rude not to visit. The Rain Forest Guest House seemed as good as any so I booked in. Tea ordered and the immediate onslaught of 'Trips you should do from this Guest House' began...I'd planned on an elephant ride into the 'Jungle' but got talked into a 'canoe trip' and a 3 hour 'Jungle Trek'. Spirit of Adventure, eh?.
Day 1. 6.00am. Why do I do this? But, it was the right time. The canoes were dugouts with room for four people - gingerly sitting on makeshift seats. The guide stood and eased the canoe out into the current and we drifted down river, through the early morning mist for a couple of hours. Stunning. So quiet. Silence only broken by exotic bird song and the occasional cry from the surrounding jungle. Even spotted some crocodiles... fingers out of the water and back in the boat, please.
The mist slowly cleared and we pulled over to a small beach. From here it was up into the 'Jungle'. Fine. Until the guide pointed out that this was a watering hole and that was rhino dung...OK. He then went on to explain the correct behaviour to escape a charging rhino and, believe it or not, how important it was to maintain eye contact should we be confronted with an irate tiger. I began to feel like the group in Jurassic Park when the power fails on their 'Introductory Tour' and they decide to walk back to the base....Did someone mention Velociraptors?
I positioned myself, manfully, in the middle of the group, and kept my eyes open trying to remember if I was covered for 'Damage inflicted by irate Maneater'. Luckily we came across nothing large and hungry although got uncomfortably close to a number of impressive looking crocodiles. It was a jaunty walk I had, as the village came in sight, even nonchalantly waiving the offer of a jeep ride over the final kilometre.
Day 2. Elephant ride. 6.00am. Why do I sign up for these things? Staggered down to the meeting place and climbed the wooden stairway up to 'Elephant' level and stepped into the wooden frame work which held four adults. You each sit diagonally with your legs on either side of the corner strut - painful even when sat still - agony once the elephant starts moving. I'd expected a lolloping stroll similar to a camel. No. An elephant walks as if it's head butting a tree after every stride. JOLTS. Fine if you're smuggly facing forward and can anticipate the jolt, but a nightmare if you're facing backwards - as I was. ( That'll teach you to get there last...Ed.)
Worse. Elephant farts. Unbelievable. The guys on the front kept calling out ' Wow! Simon, did you see that? A Rhino!' All I'm getting is hit in the back of the head by unseen overhanging branches while being overcome by elephant sized farts.I did get to see the rear end of a small disinterested Rhino. Small compensation. Safari parks? You can keep them.
I loaded the bike up for the last time and bid farewell to the gathered group. The last time. Hard to believe. Nearly seven months of 'loadin' bike and ridin' on...
Final scene: Helicopter shot of our Gritty Biker winding his way down the pass into Kathmandu... Rider sweeps past long line of trucks before grinding to a halt in the chaotic outskirts...helicopter pans away leaving ‘biker’ struggling through traffic....Biker blends into Kathmandu cityscape/pollution…….big grin on his face.
Soundtrack: 'My Way' Sid Vicious.
Credits interrupted by new footage of our Biker riding hard along a cold and wet M4 motorway, back in England – other motorists oblivious to his plight. The dashboard lights up…Oil Failure! Rider pulls on to hard shoulder. Sure enough, despite top ups, there’s no more oil in the sump. The leak which had begun in India had finally caught up with him. It’s all over….
But, a hasty renewal of a lapsed AA membership has our hero returning home – the last eight miles - on the back of a rescue truck. Made it!!!!
Our veteran travellers share their tips (and great stories) for staying healthy, happy and secure on your motorcycle adventure.
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