Jane Wilson-Howarth

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Nepal Road Trip

Friday, 20 April 2018
There’s something very seductive about the name Lhasa, and our oldest son, Alex, dreamed up the idea of riding there on a motorbike. Maybe on a wonderfully throaty Royal Enfield that are made in India these days. He was generous enough to consider that I might join him on the trip but when we realised the complications of crossing into China we thought of a slightly more modest first road trip. Just 200 crow-fly kilometres north-west of Kathmandu is Muktinath in Mustang.
The route up into the mountains to this very significant place of pilgrimage for Hindus is along the dramatic Kali Gandaki gorge. As the river cuts between the eight-thousand-metre peaks of Dhaulagiri and Annapurna, this is the deepest gorge in the world. We’d been there as a family when Alex was three and wondered if we might again lunch at the Hotel Deep of Worldtop. I was keen to see how much I recognised. We knew that the route would be challenging and although we heard the siren calls of Royal Enfields we knew lighter, more manageable bikes would be most practical. We arranged to hire a couple of 150cc Bajaj Pulsars. And so it was that we strapped our bags onto the back seats of these sturdy little Indian bikes and, seriously wondering whether this trip was completely foolhardy, wobbled uncertainly through the narrow congested streets of Thamel – dodging unwary people, cycle rickshaws, wandering fruit salesmen, sleeping dogs, chickens and a few cows.
I hadn’t ridden a motorbike for 33 years and it took me a while to remember how to change gear. More importantly I couldn’t initially find the most important control on the bike – the horn. Then, after just about a kilometre, I drew alongside Alex, who’d pulled over. As I struggled to get my bike into neutral, I heard him say, ‘How do you change gear?’
Fortunately, Kathmandu traffic is slow-moving and generally good-humoured so we learned quickly and without incident and managed to navigate out onto the ring road. Things then seemed to go well until we encountered a wall of stationary vehicles on our side of the road three trucks wide. We’d reached the debacle that is the permanent traffic jam at the wonderfully named Kalunki cross roads and tried to follow the local motorcyclists lead of weaving forward through it. When we were finally forced to a stop up near the front of the waiting vehicles, we appreciated why there are so many posters extolling the value of ‘Traffic Uncles’ or assuring us ‘Police My Friend’ as a team of Traffic Uncles kept us swaeting at the Kalunki junction in the heat and dust and fumes for the best part of half an hour. We sat astride our mounts, stressing about keeping together and about being able to restart our bikes at the given time. Fortunately, a local biker who was also stuck with us in the jam was able to give Alex a quick lesson in kick-starting his bike. It was quite a relief to reach the pass at Thankot after a couple of hours. Here, just under 30km from central Kathmandu, we joined innumerable ancient trucks in the slow, precipitous, winding, 300m descent to Naubisi. At this rate it was going to be a big push to reach Pokhara before dark.
 
The narrow congested streets of Thamel weren't the best places to rediscover bike-riding skills but at least traffic is slow-moving
 
The pass at Thankot pass and the two-lane road by which most goods arrive or leave Kathmandu. Note the recently crashed orange truck and the reminder: Police My Friend
 
Ah - at last the open road. From Naubisi the road was wider and less congested. Note the wrecked minibus at the side of the road. 

This piece is part two of a series of posts on our Mum-and-Son transHimalayan trip. Depending on how the internet is performing, I plan to post the next instalments on alternate days. The link to the first of the blogs is here transHimalayan Adventure. The next is The Open Road.