Wednesday, 6 February 2008

Day 258 - Kathmandu

Pokhara felt a bit of a waste of time. The first day I decided to chill out, wander down the main Lakeside street and see all the luxuries available that haven't been there for so long. I even had a pizza which I had been craving for since I was ill and just wanted simple foods. I took a boat out to the island where there is a small temple and generally enjoyed the nice weather and surroundings and looked at the mountains. The second day was to be sent climbing another 800m above Pokhara to a ridge that gives unobstructed views of the Himalayas, but when I got up early the cloud covered most of them, so I delayed my start and had a relaxed breakfast and after that only the tip of one of them was visible, and that went soon after too. I decided I didn't need to climb so high for an obstructed view of the clouds, afterall had had seen the inside of one a couple of days ago in Tansen. So I went to the 'Bat Cave' instead, where as I entered I met a large American woman waiting for her husband to come out of the alternative very narrow exit. I descended into the cave with my torch, through a smallish hole into the main cavern where sure enough there were thousands of Horseshow Bats hanging from the top of the cavern. I almost expect one to drop off and land on me. I could see lights from the direction of the narrow exit and before long they all passed me having given up and I was left in the cave all on my own. I switched my lights off, then closed my eyes as tight as possible, then opened them as wide as possible and I couldn't tell the difference. We are talking dark. On exiting through the way I went in, I met the American husband who matched the size of his wife. "I bet you didn't get through that little hole" I thought. I was right.

The following day I was paying just before leaving the hotel at 7:15. There was a low mist and I couldn't even see the nearby hills let alone the mountains and the rain was settling in nicely. The guy at reception said it would be like this the whole day as there was no wind and suggested I should stay another day. Being somebody that does not give in easily once my mind is set, I wet back to bed! When I got up the rain had stopped but I still couldn't see any hills and it had seemed a bit silly to me to cycle through the wonderful landscape and not see anything of it. As I had breakfast it rained again and that was the theme for the day, so I didn't do alot apart from wandering around the book shops and drinking tea and coffee. A waste of a day, but surely the weather would be better the next day.
With the simple life, the low season and a lack of electricity the night life is not great here, consequently I read a reasonable amount. Whilst I am happy to look in bookshops I never buy anything, I prefer to exchange, normally at hostels, lodges, hotels etc. The thing I like about that is that the selection is not so good and I am forced to read books that I would normally never choose, I have even read a few novels recently. I have just aquired 'Angela's Ashes' but I need to read it quickly as it is a big heavy edition. I now have 3 books so that I don't run out of material before I get another chance to exchange, also it stops me dashing up the hills too quickly. Talking of Angela`s Ashes, it has made me think. He had a tough time of his youth in New York and Ireland, but taking nothing away from his hardships, what I see around me everyday here is very similar. The photos of the 2 little children are pretty much as I would have imagined him and his brother.

The following day didn't dawn much better, but at least it wasn't raining, so I was going come what may. The route out of Pokhara was like the weather, dismal, but at least I was on the move, even if I couldn't see any mountains. I had decided to take the short route along the main road to Kathmandu, as there was no point taking the longer route over a high pass just to see more clouds. My map was wrong again as the 92k to the turn off to Bandipur was in fact 71k, so I arrived much earlier than expect. I was told that there was a 600m climb off the main road up to Bandipur in 8km, that's steep I thought, they must be wrong, but after slogging up it for an hour and a half I can confirm that they were spot on. The weather improved greatly in the afternoon, it was still hazy, but at least I had a bit of a view heading up the climb. Bandipur is a very rustic little town sat on a ride top. There is no traffic there as its difficult even for bike with a few steep steps needing to be negotiated. I checked in at a very 'rustic' Guest House, complete with wooden floors, steps and tiny balcony looking down the valley, and after a days cycling you cant beat a freezing cold shower! The whole village is rustic, lovely old wooden houses, kids playing the the traffic free street, and wonderful views of the nearby mountains and more clouds.

The next day was clear, at least it was at Bandipur, but the mountains beyond were still obscured by mist and as I dropped back down the same road back to the main road I descended into cloud, lovely cold cloud. Back on the main drag the weather wasn't much better, but I felt better in myself and decided not to stick to the main road, but take the longer route south to the Terai, then east to Sauraha and Chitwan National Park. The road south rolled alongside a large river (photo) and would have been fanastic if it had been clear, but it was still good. Sauraha is across the river from the National Park, but everything there was expensive, so being a cheapskate I didn't go in but satisfied my self with a cycle down the rough track to the Elephant Breeding Centre which involved a little punted boat across another river. The elephants where just returning from a days work/training and evidence of its success was obvious from the number of babies about. They were allowed to run loose and terrorised the kids there, in there search for biscuits which soon appeared. 'Lights out' has now increased to 2 blocks of 4 hours, yippee! At least it was a couple of degrees warmer here as it is back at seaish level, but I still live in a jacket and a hat.

The following day I waited around for the elephants bath time at the river, a bit of a disappointment as there were only 4. Entertainment was provided by the tourists that went in to sit on the elephants and get showered from their trunks. They had also been trained to shake their back and deposited them in the river. The ride in the afternoon was flat all the way to Hetauda, a largish town, which felt really strange after all the little places I had stayed in.
I was awake early the following morning, probably aprehensive of the climb into the mountains ahead of me, climbing from 420m to 2488. After 10k I reached the first village and had assumed I had climbed about 300m but was really depressed to discover I was only 150m higher than Hetauda, it was going to be a long day. I wasn't long before visibility was reduced to not a lot. I then hit the school run, literally. As I climbed kids ran along beside me and I picked up more the further I went. If it wasn't tough enough already they made it harder by hanging on the back or pushing down on the brake levers. I was somewhat relieved when I saw the school ahead, but it soon turned to disappointment as they kept on running past it. They were getting a bit excited so I rather encouraged them to head back to school. From there I could see just far enough to see the road zig zagging up the mountain, it was a long time before that village disappeared from sight. I later stopped at a village cafe and had tea and a snack where I met some students on motorcycles. I was asked the usual questions, was I married, how many children, how old was I. When I told them my age I said I was papa, but they said no no, papas papa. That made me feel really good but in a country where the average age is just 20, that is probably about right. The road carried on winding its way up, houses being few and far between and the temperature dropping, so I stopped and put another layer on and ate at the same time. Soon after I had a rough patch and decided to throw more food at the problem, a spicey snack which was salty and biscuits and that seemed to so the trick. I was heading for Daman but still had no idea how far it was, then I realised the kilometre stones were to the village at the top of the pass. That seemed to made it tougher, but it was all in the mind. At last I came out of the top of the murk and the sun shone and I soon began to warm up and to make it worse I could see the road further ahead way up the mountain. But at last I made it to the top where I stopped for another tea. It had been a climb on 2180m over 52k, taken 6 hours 20 minutes and I had used 4800 calories, sometimes I even bore myself you know. It was cold at the top but got even colder on the north facing descent but thankfully it was only another 3k to Daman.I checked into another basic hotel, where there was one little hand basin to serve everybody, guests, family and kitchen. Good, I couldn't face a cold shower, I was shivvering already. After I had changed I went down to the view point for a wonderful view of the clouds. The only place to eat was at the hotel and having seen the kitchen I didn't really relish it but I needed to replace some of those calories. Mother brought over the rice and veg I had ordered and sat very close with her arm around me which made all the other women there laugh, but she soon scooted laughing off as 2 men walked in. She returned after a while and did the same which didn't bother me that much as I was far more concerned about all the other women that had gathered around and were sneezing over my dinner, yum, yum, extra calories. It was cold during the evening as the clouds cleared and I could see the stars. The ground was crisp and there was likely to be a frost. It dropped to 5 degrees in my room and I sat on my bed and read a book with my jacket, hat and gloves on and a duvet over the lot.

Yesterday dawned bright and clear, an almost perfect day and at last I could see the Himalayas layed out in front of me, that really lifted my spirits and made the wasted day in Pokhara worth while. I was very cautious on the 9k of steep descent at the start as there were odd bits of ice about. The after a few undulations there was another 7km climb which my legs really weren't interested in. At the top of that there was another fantastic vista across to the high mountains again and I could see the road twisting way down the mountainside miles ahead. I started a 30k descent to the main road and a bus passed as I stopped to take photos. I kept catching it and then losing it as I took more photos. The descent was slow, twisty and bumpy the whole way, but what a delight it had been the whole way from Hetauda, on a traffic free single tracked road, bliss. At the town at the bottom I refueled and got talking to a man who had been on the bus and had been tracking my progress down the hill. Back on the main road it was terrible, lots or lorries and buses, but the worst of it was the road surface, it was awful the whole way up a another 12k climb, great patches of road had disintergrated and I either had to skirt around them or squeeze through on a thin strip on the inside with drops just inches away, hoping the trucks wouldn't come too close to me. It wasn't long before I was heading down into Kathmandu valley. The city is busy for Nepal, but its not that big and it didn't take me long to find the Guest House recommended by Judith and Andre. Before I could even go in I was accosted by an Aussie nutter. I could tell he was a nutter before he even spoke. He was dressed very strangely, but I couldn't take my eyes off the playing card held on to his jacket with coloured clothes pegs. He said I was bonkers to be cycling in Nepal and as he talked he got louder and louder. He told me his unlikely name, which I have forgotten already, but said he was the richest man in the world and was going to bring down the pound sterling. As I was wondering how I was going to get away from him, when I saw Aldrick walking up the street. He and Sonya are the 2 cyclists we met in Agra. They were in the Guest House opposite so I checked in there instead. I had hoped to find them in Kathmandu by email as I guessed they would still be here but I didn't expect to find them that easily. Whilst stood there another cyclist introduced himself to me, Andreas from Germany and he had met Judith and Andre at Chitwan. It's a small world. So I now have a decent little room here, but it is freezing cold in there, it's warmer outside. I expect to be here about a week while I sight see, head into the valley and sort out flights etc. S and A have a flight booked to Malaysia and will then head back up to Bangkok. They too are fed up with to cold. 5 degrees might not sound cold to you back home, but you all have central heating. Central heating here is an open fire outside in a metal container with a group of people huddled around it trying to get warm. Even with jacket and hat on its hard to get warmed up in the evenings. I spent the evening chatting away to S & A, comparing notes as they, J & A and I had all taken exactly the same route through Nepal, not that there is a lot of cloice mind. They had met up again with J & A in Pokhara after they had come back from a trek.

Today I decided to try my luck at the Myanmar Embassy. It took an age to find. It was only a few hundred metres from where it was marked on the map but everybody I asked said they didn't know where it was, or sent me off in different directions, but perseverance paid off. As I head off for a visa I always think of packed chaotic consolates, trying to find forms and information, getting photocopied done etc, but this one was great. I was the only one there and I just sat at a desk with and official and filled out the forms with his help. There were some tricky questions like, the colour of my hair, I wish, the colour of my eyes, which I didn't know the answer to so I asked him and he just laughed so I just put brown. I paid my $20, gave him 4 photos (what a waste!) and was told to pick it up at 3pm on Friday. Excellent. It was down hill all the way there, but strangely enough down hill all the way back too, so it just goes to show what a difference no baggage or mountains makes. I spent the rest of the day wandering around the Thamel district of Kathmandu, a bit like Pokhara Lakeside with hotels, guest houses, gift shops, book shops, travel agents, internet cafes etc. I know need more maps, books and air tickets. Oh to be able to cross those borders by bike, wouldn't life be a doddle. I heard on the news recently that the India - Pakistan border is shut because of bird flu, may be that's why they told me I had to fly.

Every bus that passes here has people sitting on top, they must be absolutely bloody freezing! I read in the paper this morning about a bus accident that killed 7 and injured 60, it was travelling full shall we say. It was carrying 70 more than its legal limit. The headline was "7 die and 60 injured in bus mishap" Mishap! That's a bit of an understatement.

I have just topped 16,000km, that's 10,000 of those strange English things. I am sure it shouldn't have been that far to Kathmandu, so I must have taken a wrong turn somewhere.

I suffered from a tooth ache a couple of days ago. I think it was the same tooth as I had some work done on when I was in Dubai, but I really don't fancy a dentist going anywhere near it in this part of the world. I noticed there is a monument to the Toothache God here, so I will go and pay it a visit, it's probably cheaper too.


Lorna said...

Wow! More amazing photographs. I'm so glad you're sharing them with the rest of us! You are so lucky to have this opportunity - not a bit envious, honest!!

Caff said...

What's this posting at 04.59 - are you not getting any sleep? I reiterate what the others have said about the photos, they are excellent. However, the picture of the elephants foot needs something to show scale, couldn't you have put your hand there?!!!!!!!!!! :-)