Monday, 28 January 2008

Day 250 - Pokhara

Oh its refreshing to be in Nepal.

I set off from Mahendranager in the western Terai which is very flat and agricultural, just south of the Himalayas and really only a few kilometres from India, but it is a world apart. It is a very poor country for a start and life here is very basic, I never expected it to make India look wealthy by comparison. But the cycling was just wonderful as there was nothing on the roads apart from a few pedestrians and cyclists, very peaceful. All the young wave and call out "bye bye", blimey, I have only just arrived. Progress was much quicker than I expected too. I worked out roughly where my stops would be based on the distances stated on the map, but they are way out, so I reached Lumbini with 2 days in hand. The map is double sided and has an overlap and even the distances on either side dont match. One section I will be travelling on is 73k on one side and 133k on the other. That makes the kilometre stones really important to me, but to start with they were useless as the Nepali numbers are different to ours, but I got somebody to write them out for me, so now I have learnt them the stones are once again very useful.

Being a non tourist area I had no idea where I would find a room, but I have always been lucky, not that they are easy to find as some only have Nepali signs, but by asking around I am normally pointed in the right dirction. But accommodation is very basic too, but so long as it is reasonably clean I like it that way. Restaurants too are basic. When I say restaurants you can forget your waiter taking your coat and showing you to a laid table with wine glasses and table cloths, they are more thatched huts with just holes for doors and windows, long old wooden tables and wobbly wooden benches, the kitchen is normally at the front and the stoves fuelled by firewood causing wood smoke to come back into the restaurant and make your eyes sore. I try mot to look at the kitchen too much as I keep hearing myself saying "ooh, that's not very hygenic". Occasionally a goat will wander through and if it times it right it gets to lick the pots and pans clean, "ooh, that's not very hygenic!" The only similarity to home is the candle lights on the tables, but thats only because in the Terai the electricity is cut every evening between 5 and 8 pm. They sell their electricty to India and don't have enough for themselves. My headtorch has become invaluable and I never stray to far without it and always make sure I can find it.

I was latched onto by a student the other day and he showed me around the village school, which was empty at the time. He showed me a piece of paper that had all his exam marks on and at the top was his date of birth. I was somewhat surprised to see that he was born in 2046! I asked him who won the Grand National in 2008 as I wanted to put some money on it but he couldn't help me. It is now the 10th month of 2064, I think its the 12th with the date being written as 064/10/12.

I also have a new record for the number of people I have seen on a single motorcycle, 6. There was the rider, 2 little kids in front of him and another 3 behind. We should be doing that at home to save on fuel and traffic congestion.

Fuel prices have risen here recently and a couple of days ago I passed a protest against them that was blocking the road. They had set fire to some tyres and blocked the road causing massive tailbacks, 3 buses on one side and 2 lorries on the other. It all seemed very light hearted to me, less of a protest, more of a sing song around a camp fire. There have also been a number of army roadblocks too, aimed at combatting Moaist Rebels, but I am always let through with a smile.

Travelling through the Terai was a bit boring at time. On one day it was almost entirely through forest which reminded me of the New Forest. I was a bit concerned about the size of a poo I saw at the roadside. It would have been a bloody big cow that dropped that one and as I didn't know what was out there I didn't hang about to find out. After a few hours it became a bit of a drag and so I decided to see how many calories I used per kilometre, 25 at a steady rate on the flat. It was 40 into a headwind. Like all cyclists I hate a headwind but I shall now take comfort in the fact that at least I can eat more at the end of the day. On Friday I turned and headed into the mountains and I seemed to be using around 55, not that I was bored, the scenery was fantastic.

I stopped a couple of nights in Lumbini. The village is tiny but it is well known as it is the birth place of Buddha, a stone covering the exact spot. A large Developement Zone has built up around it and monastries from countries all over the world have been built. The Chinese one was like part of the Forbidden City and right opposite the Koreans are building one to surpass it. The most pristine and colourful one was German, and I didn't even know there were Buddists there. It was interesting to see them all with their cultures showing through in the designs, though there is alot of ongoing construction which made me compare it to Dubia. Sabastian, a Frenchman that I met in the evening said he thought it was a Buddists Disneyworld and I could see his point.

Saturday was spent in Tansen a hilltop town with a maze of steep cobbled streets. I chose the wrong day though as everything was closed on Saturday and the weather was bad too so no point going in the countryside to see the views of the mountains. I had a great view down the valley from the hotel I stayed at but at times you could see nothing, just white cloud. I ordered food in the hotel restuarant, they had a fine selection on the menu, but everything I chose was either not available or would take 1-2 hours to prepare. I only quick option was chowmein. Noodles seem to be their staple diet here along with rice. As I pass through little towns and villages I see a number of painted adverts on walls from various companies, my favourite being Shaka Laka Boom, which reminds me of a Saw Doctors song and starts me singing. On Saturday evening 17 cyclists turned up at the hotel, a group of Italians on a 2 week holiday, they had just come over from Lumbini, the same journey as I made the day before. Only a couple spoke English so conversation was limited, but they were also heading for Pokhara on Sunday. One of the women wore a Paris-Brest-Paris cycling shirt and she finished in time, some going as it was the wettest event for 30 years.

Sunday morning was just perfect. I have been staying in Hotel The White Lake (photo), so named after one of the valleys that can be seen from the hotel terrace. Each morning there is a low covering of cloud across it that make it look like a white lake, and it certainly did on Sunday morning, really beautiful. I set off at 7:30 for a long ride through the mountains and it was absolutely glorious and the scenery fantastic. I kept expecting the Italians to pass me as they were setting off at 8. I passed there support team at lunchtime preparing a meal for them. The afternoon scenery was not as good, but there was plenty of land terracing cascading down the hills like molten lava. It might not have been as good as in the morning, but it was never dull. With about 15k to go 4 of the Italians caught and passed me. The day had clouded over and it looked threatening. It proved not to be an empty threat as it soon started to rain, then turned to a hailstorm, I was going to get seriously wet and the first time it has rained whilst cycling since 28th August, whilst in central Turkey, so I can't complain. Thankfully there were only a few k to Pokhara, but I soon heard shouts from the Italians who had been sensible and stopped at a little cafe and soon they were filling me with tea and busciuts, so much better than getting bombarded by hail. About an hour later once the rain had stopped and all the others had regrouped we set off for Pokhara. I had no intention of staying with them as they would fill a hotel. Pokhara is a major trekking centre and is cram packed with hotels, lodges and guest houses, restaurants where tablecloths are in and goats are out, internet cafes, trekking shops, travel agents and gift shops. I made my way up a quiet street off the main drag to a guest house, it looked far too posh for me but I would check it out as a bench mark for others. It had large rooms spotlessly clean, crisp clean sheets, even a carpet, a really nice bathroom with hot water, pure luxury compared to what I have been used to this last couple of weeks, it even had comfy chairs on a terrace surrounded by well kept large pot plants and a well kept and attractive garden, but I couldn't believe the price, just 2 pounds. I couldn't turn it down, especially as I would be here for 3 nights.

I suppose I ought to let you know that I am now back to normal healthwise and my fitness has returned thankfully as I will be in the mountains for a while now. A cold is still hanging on though and occasionally I cough, but otherwise I am 100%.

Every now and then I am overcome by guilt for doing this trip. I felt it the other night as I lay on the bed in Tansen, feeling totally content in the basic room that has just a bed with a desk and chair, the roof being corragated. I think, should I really be doing this, checking into yet another hotel. Shouldn't I be at home looking to start a new career and trying to earn a bit of money. The other night I was reading my book be torchlight, the electricty went off at 5 came back at 8 for half an hour, never to return, when a quote leapt out at me. It a fascinating book about womens life in Iran before during and after the Islamic Revolution and it has really given me an insight into life there that I could never find out just by travelling through it, I just wish I had read it before I had been there rather than after. Anyway, the auther was quoting from a book by Henry James, Ambassadors, and it was as follows: "Live all you can: It's a mistake not to. It doesn't matter so much what you do in particular so long as you have your life. If you haven't had that, what HAVE you had?" Well it's pretty obvious to me that you can't always live the life you want to, I can't, I am not in control of my first choice, but as a second choice I think I have got it about right. I have no doubt that the guilt feeling will return many a time, but I shall remember that quote and try and live life to the full.

Tony, I have cycled up THAT hill once. I hate cycling down it as it is so long and steep I feel I wont be able to stop at the bottom, but I hate riding up it even more, far tougher than anything I have ridden on this trip I can asure you.

Oh, and I have managed to upload a number of Nepal photos for when you are looking for something to do!


aoiffe said...

As it is the 10th month of 2064 may I be the first to wish you a very happy 104th birthday, and you don't look a day over 100.

Caff said...

Did you get a telegram from the Queen? Or is it now a King? Or a Republic? Is England still here?You should have about 4 telegrams by now!!
The book about Iran which you spoke of is I'm sure the same one I was reading whilst you were still in Turkey. It is a remarkable book and an eye opener about the real people. By reading the book and learning about Iran's history and culture from the feminine perspective, it gave me an opportunity to feel I could at least share a small part of your journey in spirit and through my wider understanding.
I don't think you should feel guilty. I think we would all welcome the chance to "escape" and live life to the full if we could. However by the time you do come home you may not recognize me though as I'm more likely to resemble colour and not size I hasten to add!!!!!!!! :-)

S said...

He who postpones the hour of living is like the rustic who waits for the river to run out before he crosses. -Horace, poet and satirist (65-8 BC)
I interpret that as meaning you should grab your opportunities while you can and live life to the full, so you shouldn't feel guilty.

Lorna said...

So good to hear you enjoying yourself again! What do you mean about '... should be looking to start a new career'? It looks like you're well on your way as a travel writer!

By the way, we missed you not pulling pints at the Quiz night last Saturday! There's another job you should have no problem with:-)

dad said...

Well I can't add much to what the others have said, except another saying I recently came accross: "You can never bathe in the same river twice" and you can apply that to any situation in life. So go for, enjoy it, and you'll never regret it.

pip said...

Would THAT hill be Asterton Bank??

Glad to read that your health has returned

Caff said...

Lent starts tomorrow Zibs - what are you giving up for the next 40 days? Cycling?!!!!!!!! :-)

aoiffe said...

The photo of the clouds over the lake is breathtaking.