Nepal has been a country on my ‘Must Visit‘ list for as long as I can remember, though I had always assumed that the intent of my inevitable visit would be to tackle some form of long distance, high altitude trek or perhaps even make it to Everest Base Camp. It never occurred to me that I would arrive without the accompaniment of my beloved hiking boots.
Jacob and I had grown accustomed to crossing notorious border crossings with unnecessarily long procedures and stringent security checks. Upon clearing Indian customs and entering Nepal we almost cycled into the country without our passports being checked my officials and had to search for the immigration office in order to request a visa. The Indo-Nepali border at Nepalganj must not see a high volume of non-Indian tourists, especially non-Indian touriats travelling by bicycle. This fact was reinforced when the jovial immigration officers who literally had one job not only entered Jacobs passport number on my visa before sticking it into my passport and entered the incorrect date on Jacobs visa, I actually caught one officer playing online shoot-em-up games when I walked behind the desk to assist point out their blatant mistake.
We immediately felt a sense of ease when riding from the border into the town of Nepalganj. Traffic was perhaps 10% of which we experienced in India and there was an almost uneasy stillness, busses and lorries didn’t feel the need to blast their horns every 12 seconds, delightful. We checked into a hotel and set out wandering the streets to find the coffee shop recommendation, we were astonished to walk along a pavement for the first time in months. We immediately felt safer about cycling the roads of Nepal. Unfortunately, it wasn’t all rainbows and roses. It took over an hour to find a restaurant that served vegetarian food and we were horrified to discover that curry or chapati were nowhere to be found. We settled for a plate of vegetable fried rice, noodles, momos and some form of veg balls in gravy. Fortunately, cycle tourers have enormous appetites and are grateful for almost any edible substance that is placed under their nose, and in this instance, the new Nepali cuisine came up trumps, it was delicious and we were certainly satisfied. So much so that we went back for lunch the following day when Jacob decided to take on the town at dual carriageway badminton, defeating one child at a time in an epic El Classico England Vs Nepal thriller.
Our first day of cycling in Nepal was a positively short, horn-free 90 minute stint to a town called Kohalpur, where we stumbled across a restaurant that thankfully served our most sort after cycling fuel, the typical Indian dish of mixed vegetable curry and chapati. Frustratingly, the restaurant owner turned on the television right next to our table with the obvious assumption that all customers enjoy eating to the reverberations of unintelligible, foreign music videos, however, in this instance the television remote was left in our reach, Jacob, without hesitation, turned it off. Two minutes later, our friend, who now assumed an electrical circuitry problem, was back to switch it on. Accepting defeat, we decided to flick through the channels, we had fortuitously decided to eat lunch at the exact time that this week’s Premier League highlights were aired. We had both been craving a football match for some time. Though typically, after a relatively positive run of results, Leicester City lost 2-0 to Spurs this particular week. We abated our woes by sinking three cornettos whilst sat in the afternoon sun on bright plastic chairs outside a Nepalese bakery.
With the exception of a throbbing, bandaged, bloody finger caused by careless culinary skills and a squeaking bike in desperate need of a welding repair job, the next few days were idyllic. We cycled along jungle lined roads and through Banke National Park like excited children in a hope of spotting two of the big five, however the closest we got was the equivalent to spotting hazards on your hazard perception driving theory test. I was later corrected when realising that neither an Asian elephant or a Bengal tiger were classified as Africas Big Five. Upon reflection, I hVe decided to detract my application for the next David Attenborough.
In the absence of wild cats and elephants, I fortunately managed to track down an indigenous man armed with a welder. The other side of my frame where the rear pannier rack attaches had now eroded and the whines emanating from Victouria were painful to my ear, a swift repair was vital if I hoped to make Kathmandu for Christmas. Worried about damaging the frame, he tentatively spotted a few welds around the joint. I was pessimistic but if it can get me to Pokhara, I should certainly be able to find somewhere for a more substantial repair.
Mornings were cold as winter grew ever closer, though once the sun penetrated the mist the days were divine, we cycled through luscious green farmland, past small villages lined with grass roofed huts and perforated with tall palms. Strangely, the larger towns had a somewhat modern Wild West feel to them. After cycling our 900 kilometre detour across the flats of India the view of the Himalayan foothills to the north as we rode in parallel sparked excitement, the incessant lure of the mountains persisted, as we continued to cycle southeast, the mountains became tantalisingly close. We spent a night a Butwal, a town nestled into the crevice where the emergence of the Tinaau River marked the start of our first major Nepali ascent. Here we spent much of the evening in search of our favourite chocolatey treat, a Bar One, we enquired in every convenience store we passed however, to much dismay, this drug addict behaviour failed to prosper, we settled for an assortment of, in our eyes, substandard chocolate bars. Nevertheless, it filled our ever deepening black, voracious holes.
I woke the next day mentally and physically prepared for a challenge. We only had 40 kilometres to ride but 1000 metres to ascend. Immediately out of Butwal the reliable tarmac turned to loose, wet sludge and rock, we hit a series of first gear, stand up ascents, dodged a convoy of large trucks, and battled against a vicious headwind. This was a stark wake up call after a relatively gentle ride through Nepal thus far. Fortunately, by mid-morning the road and weather conditions improved and thankfully the sun greeted us with open arms.
As we gained height we were welcomed back into the mountains with spectacular views, as always, the hard work had paid off. We arrived at Tansen, a small town situated on the crest of the Mahabharat Range, where we had planned for a day of rest. We checked into a cheap and comfortable guest house above a pungent paneer factory, though tolerating the cheesy aroma was worth the view from our balcony. I woke before dawn the following morning, brewed a fresh coffee, donned my down jacket and assumed position on the balcony. The low lying mist of the valley below was illuminated as the sun rose over distant peaks. Another reminder of how beautiful the natural world is and the visual riches that an early moring has to offer.
We spent the following day as a typical cycle tourer spends a rest day, exploring the local area, eating in gluttonous abundance and drinking coffee, however on this particular day I was delighted to discover where the beloved roasted beans originate from. We visited the family run Bista Organic Coffee Farm. Bina Bista kindly took us for a tour through the twisted, steep sided maze of coffee plants and shared her knowledge of growing, harvesting and processing coffee beans. The patriarch of the Bista family offered us a mug of the good stuff as we sat in the glorious sunshine and enjoyed conversing with the next generation of coffee growers.
After yet another stunning sunrise the following morning we hit the road. With only one week until our planned arrival in Kathmandu the realisation that our time cycling together would come to an end was slowly sinking in. Though the promise of a festive Christmas in Kathmandu with my good friend Eliza was keeping my underlying solicitude at bay.