Jane Wilson-Howarth

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Jam and pakoras

Friday, 11 May 2018
Retracing our route seemed so straightforward at first, I wondered if we’d been too hasty in our decision to head for home but then I came to the first vertiginous descent and knew we’d been wise. Going down was easier but I was also more aware of the distance we’d fall if a bike did slip seriously. And even where the road surface was exceedingly poor, upcoming traffic never slowed much or left us much room. We all wanted to avoid the edge. Our increased confidence though meant we made good time. Or we would have done if the road wasn’t majorly blocked in three places. The first “jam” was because a huge tree had fallen onto the road. It needed a JCB to shift it. In two other places heavy machinery was clearing landslides and working to stabilise the road. Sometimes boulders the size of cars were tumbled down into the river.
There was time for chat and we were told about Nepal having an abundance of face powder. Face powder? They called the dust that is churned up on these unmade roads and which sticks to everything Nepali Powder.
We charged on downhill to butterflies and birdsong and less precipitous drops off the side of the road – back through familiar terrain as far as an overnight stop in Kusma. We picked up antibiotics for Alex’s nasty-looking wounds. Then we rode on again, witnessed a nasty skid and crash of a motorbike that was going too fast around a blind bend and slid on some oil. They weren’t badly injured but lost quite a lot of skin. Alex was especially sympathetic and we reflected on the importance of protective clothing for bikers. People don’t protect themselves here though; they often ride in sandals or flip-flops and pillions never wear crash helmets. They say that during the Civil War it was illegal – presumably because the pillion could be gun-toting.
Heading ever closer to Pokhara, the road surfaces seemed unbelievably smooth and we had to remind ourselves of previously acquired driving skills, namely coping with vehicles coming at you unpredictably and from at least four directions. There were cows on the roads again too. And kamikaze goats. And plenty of snoozing dogs.
One sign we were returning to ‘civilisation’ was a huge billboard advertising OFFICERS CHOICE – “the world’s best-selling whisky fragrance”.
Once in Pokhara, Alex announced he wasn’t leaving until he’d seen Machhapuchare – all of it.
I was out of bed at sunup next morning and Alex thought I was teasing when I told him the skies were clear and Machhapuchare was visible. We rushed out, cameras in hand to clear blue skies with the top of mighty pyramidal mountain visible above buildings and closer ridges. We raced out to the Lakeside then south until we could see most of the mountain, and the Annapurnas came into view. And Alex had to concede that Machhapuchare was finer than Ama Dablam.
It was great to relax in Pokhara where tourists seem determined to mispronounce the place as Pock-her-er; we even heard someone call it Pakora, but maybe she was thinking of food at the time. Alex was hell-bent on getting the perfect photo of Machhapuchare so we rode up onto the nearest ridge at Sarengkot and weren’t disappointed. From up there we could see Dhaulagiri himal to the west and the entire Annapurna horseshoe with Machhapuchare snuggled within and Lamjung himal further east. While Alex did some paragliding from nearby Sarengkot I watched the real masters of the thermals – huge Griffon Vultures and yellow-faced Egyptian Vultures.

We had to consciously restrain ourselves on the ride back to Kathmandu on our ninth day. Our confidence was so much better but so was our awareness of our mortality. At one point I was sedately tailing a large truck with SEE YOU emblazoned across its backside as it wound slowly up an incline. Suddenly a taxi swerved in alongside me and missed me by centimetres. I was puzzled until Alex later explained that it had tried to overtake on a blind bend and had narrowly missed a head on collision.

The trip had been fun but biking on Nepal’s main roads is definitely not good for longevity.
 
Waiting for the road to be cleared
 
And waiting....
 
Landslide
 
Alex with a good dusting of Nepali powder
 
Kusma - a typical bustling small town in the Middle Hills
 
Machhapuchare and the Annapurnas
 
Machhapuchare - our favouritie mountain, at dawn from Sarengkot
 
A velvet-fronted nuthatch against a setting sun, in Kurentar

This is the seventh and last of a series of posts on our Mum-and-Son transHimalayan trip. The first is here transHimalayan Adventure.
My next blog is about some health mentoring in Nepal's middle hills Midnight emergency