The Tour of Nepal 2017 was on my bucket list ever since I did the Tour of Bhutan 2016 with the team the previous year. The experience had been far too “life changing”for me. I had already quit my job and was eagerly looking forward to the Nepal chapter.
Luckily I got the conformation of the first leg of the tour from Lucknow to Kathmandu starting from 7th April 2017.
The Nepal journey began from Lucknow at the Golden Tulip Hotel. It felt like déjà vu entering the hotel lobby, seeing the riders wait with their riding gear and luggage with curiousity and high hopes in their eyes. Some of the people from the Bhutan team were back again for this one and I could completely understand the excitement in their hearts as we caught up and discussed old episodes.
The highlight of the team this time were the 4 female riders who had joined us from Bangalore and Aurangabad. They seemed confident, experienced and ready for the challenging ride with all their charm.
Day zero was First aid training by Tarun (Rashtriya Life Saving Society) followed by tour brief by Shawn Dsouza and Rohan Pimpley (RE team) with a thorough Q&A session breaking the ice and setting the tone right for the team to kickstart the journey next day.
Goodies and Tags
Akshay and Kailash all set to ride out
Deenesh checking the bikes
Getting to Nepal
“It is better to travel well than to arrive.” - Buddha
Nepal with closest proximity to India has numerous entry points. Jhapa/Birgunj (East) , Bhairahawa /Nepalgunj (Center) and Dhangadi/Mahendranagar (West) are the prominent border towns touching Indian borders. The only way in via air is through Kathmandu from where flights can be taken to a fairly large number of smaller airports distributed throughout Nepal.
We stared from Lucknow and headed towards Sitapur. The journey started with plain straight roads under the hot sun . The stretches got greener as we got closer to Lakhimpur where we stopped for snacks (courtesy of the local RE dealer). The last leg of the day progressed through sandy and barren stretches of the weakened Sarda River to lush green stretches of the Dudhwa National Park which took us straight to the Dhangadi border. The SSB troops had set up the last checkpost of India with only a small milestone marking the boundary between the two nations. While the Indian authorities let us pass quickly (checking only our driving license), the Nepalese authorities took time crosschecking our documents/permits. We spent the evening sharing the day's experiences enjoying refreshments at the very first Chai tapri of our Nepal journey while we waited.
The Chai Tapri
Sarda river bed
Shawn and Pratima sharing a joke
Documents and Money
Nepal doesn’t require passport as a mandate for identication and any other government authorized document (preferably Voter Id card) will do. Also carry extra passport size photographs for other paper work post entering the country. Nepal is a Hindi understanding nation with a cheaper currency than the Rupee making it approachable and feasible alike. With a conversion rate of 1 INR = 1.6 NPR this place deepens your pocket a bit and also offers a market complimenting the same.
Lady operating the loom - (c)Pratima Hebbar
People and Culture
Nepal being a landlocked Himalayan territory with difficult terrain has evolved with limited resources through the ages. Sandwiched between China (read Tibet) and India, both Buddhist and Hindu traditions are visibly prevalent in the society. Nepalese people are generally polite, well-mannered and god-fearing/superstitious. Work culture is relaxed as Nepal has a five day week and has the maximum number of government holidays in the world. Agriculture, trading and adventure/religious tourism are the major contributors for the economy. Folklore is an integral part of Nepali society. Traditional stories are rooted in the reality of day-to-day life. Tales of love and war as well as demons and ghosts thus reflect local lifestyle and beliefs. Many Nepali folktales (Bhairahavi and Newari art forms) are enacted through the medium of dance and music.
Traditional food resembles a lot to Indian and Tibetan cuisines. Set meals (thalis), Dal, Rice, all forms of meat, momos and noodle items are part of staple diet.
Dhangadi is a simple town, fairly crowded for its size. We stayed at Hotel Rubus which gave us a royal traditional welcome with flowers and strolls on arrival. The appeal still felt Indian as elements of both cultures reflected in transitioning territories. We also arranged local sim cards to get back on the grid. The riders geared up next morning all set for Bardiya National park.
The road to Bardiya was a fairly smooth and well-built. We moved on the East-West Highway crossing Atariya, Majuria and Lamki. We stopped for food at Chisapani with a view of the iconic Karnali bridge which is remarkable Japanese construction joining the two districts of Kailali and Bardiya. The Bardiya National park check-post came soon after and the terrain changed to forests with barren patches. The road which goes about the park was under construction, giving riders a teaser of stretches yet to come. We reached our accommodation – Nepal Wildlife Resort by late afternoon (covering 160 kms) with chilled beers waiting to relieve us from the scorching heat. While I enjoyed the snug cottage in my bed, few of us went for the jungle safari in open jeeps. They could manage to cite a few rhinos and deers . The evening was spent around a huge bonfire (in the humid weather) and we had traditional Nepalese food for dinner.
The trip had started to get exciting as we started the longest ride of the tour (approx.360 kms) to Lumbini. We continued to move on the East-West Highway as we passed Lamahi and Chanaute. Being a long day, the riders were moving at their own pace stopping at different spots as per convenience.
I took a pitstop at Bhalwang, which was also the onset of a minor ghats stretch with a few winding roads to offer. Lunch stop was near Butwal, another major town close to Bhairahava-Sanauli border. We enjoyed some delicious dumplings and thukpa for lunch (now it felt like Nepal).The final leg of the day was till Lumbini via Bhairava border. We reached Hotel Buddha Maya Garden around sunset and called it a day soon.
The following day began at the crack of dawn as the group headed to explore the humbling Lumbini complex. The pristine Maya Devi Temple houses the birth spot/birth stone of Siddhartha. It is surrounded by lush green lawns and a holy pond where monks gather in unison chanting mantras and absorbing the pious energy. The area also houses various monasteries built by countries following Buddhist belief - Taiwan, China, Singapore and Korea to name a few. I personally visited the Chinese and Thai monasteries and was happy to see the differences and the similarities of a culture which has conquered a million hearts through the ages. A highly-recommended enriching experience.
It is not possible to explore the whole area in a day and due to time limitation we had to get back and gear up for the next destination - Chitwan.
The ride to Chitwan was fast paced and steady. I took no breaks in the 190 km stretch (overshooting the team and being mocked for the same throughout the journey). Chitwan being the 5th largest town in Nepal, is fairly populated and urbanised. We were welcomed by the local Royal Enfield distributors who escorted us to our final destination – Hotel Royal Park – a country resort surrounded by lush green spaces. We headed out immediately to the Rapti river, enjoying river crossing and lazing on grassy banks watching the sun go down. We also encountered a baby elephant Appu (could it be more obvious) who was fairly playful and interactive. Numerous river side shacks offer good food and drinks with a view of calm running waters .
The next day was one of the longest-most tiring legs of the journey. We headed from the southern most end Chitwan to the northern most end Kodari.Taking the Prithvi and Araniko highways, we crossed Hetauda, Kathmandu, Bhaktapur and Dolalghat. We pushed on over 270 km of drastically varying terrain, from narrow twisty patches to sections of gravel, dust and slush. At the end of an enjoyable day of hard riding (over 100 kms of extreme off-roading), we arrived at Kodari for a night of much needed rest.
Swinging bridge on the Narayani River @ Hetauda
Sunset near Bhaktapur
We stayed at The Last Resort. It is an adventure getaway catering to enthralling and rejuvenating experiences alike. The place offers Bungee jumping, Canyon Swing and River Rafting. Being the second highest bungee point in Asia there was no saying no for this. Diving into the narrow Bhote Kosi river gorge from a suspended bridge and flying for 500 feet definitely changes a lot of things for you. Personally, I was not ready for it and was completely blown away by the baffling experience. No set of words can do justice to the feeling. I was happy to see most people beat their fears and take the leap of faith emerging as heros in their own eyes.
A few people also visited the Nepal-China border. The Sino-Nepal Friendship Bridge connects Kodari and Zhangmu, China. Photography was obviously prohibited.
After a pumped up morning the riders headed back to Kathmandu.
The ride to Kathmandu was a short and smooth affair. We stopped for lunch at small joint in Khandichaur and enjoyed local fish meals served like thalis. Entering Kathmandu via Bhaktapur brought back congested roads and slow-stuck traffic bringing the city blues back again. Kathmandu is densely crowded and still lives in the aftermath of the horrendous earthquakes of 2015. With the town covered in dust and smog throughout, every face on street has a filter mask on. By evening we reached Hotel Manaslu (a traditional Nepalese hospitality experience) in Lazimpat.
Reena contemplating the road ahead
Tejas taking a smooth left hand curve
Feeling both despair and joy of returning to city, the riders headed out to town exploring Thamel, the touristy-commercial neighbourhood which is also the mecca of mountaineering gear.
This day being the New Year’s eve of the Nepalese calendar had a different shade to offer. The streets were crowded with folks headed for parties and gatherings. Roadside stalls were lit up and running busy offering good fast food options. The Thamel street was shut for traffic and had been transformed into a mini Tomorrowland with artists belting out dance numbers as the crowds danced the night away welcoming the New Year 2074.
Next day was the much needed rest day of the tour. The morning was spent getting bikes checked at a service centre, followed by some us visiting the local heritage spots – Pashupatinath Temple, Durbar Square and The Garden of Dreams.
Pashupatinath Temple - (c) Pratima Hebbar
In the evening Robin and Sonam (our Nepalese tour operators) had organised a traditional Nepalese experience at Authentic Utsav Restaurant with local dances, drinks and dinner.
Traditional dance - (c) Pratima Hebbar
Traditional dance - (c) Pratima Hebbar
This was also the moment I got to know that I will get to continue the tour and experience the second leg from Kathmandu to Lucknow. My wish had come true. The journey goes on...