Day 187 – Monday, October 28th 2013
Oulala… this trek thing was nearly upon us. The fear of these mighty Himalaya things had spawned a last minute order of bike bits, which we had delivered to Jagan. There were some lower gears for V to crawl his way up these mountains, and bigger brakes for K to ease her descent.
We arranged our transport to Aarughat Bazaar for the following day – we would need a 4×4 since even our starting point was relatively inaccessible. Grabbing a quick sandwich for lunch, we took a guide from Jagans shop (Don), and headed out for a ride – to test both our bikes and our bodies.
After a gentle cruise through town to loosen the legs up a little the ride started in earnest with a cruel 5km ascent, gaining a good 600m. It started on tarmac, and about halfway switched to dirt track – which was considerably steeper. We were both really feeling it, months of inactivity, and Vaughan’s two weeks of concentrated bed rest had taken their toll. We got to the top after a few breaks absolutely gasping – but, at least we got there right?!
The heavens had truly opened as we reached the top, so we took shelter in a tiny village and warmed ourselves with cups of tea before starting the descent. Taking advantage of a gap in the clouds we set out down the trail which changed from dirt track to single track. We ducked into the woods, and were treated to some of the slipperiest conditions we’ve ever seen. The clay topsoil never fully dried out under the shade of the trees, and it had just received a fresh coating of rainwater so the top few millimetres were like grease – even walking on it was nearly impossible. Dabbing feet all over the place we eventually slid our way down through the woods, with our riding improving noticeably as we remembered how to handle the bikes.
By the time we dropped out of the woods and back into town we were both grinning, but we knew that it was going to take more than an afternoon of mountain biking to return us to form. It was as yet unclear if we were really in a state to be taking on a two week trip into proper mountains, carrying all of our kit. We would be finding out soon enough.
That night we rushed though some more last minute preparations – our biking gear was soaked and covered in mud, we still hadn’t packed, the bikes were covered in crud, and we were yet to pick up some last minute supplies for our trip into the unknown. Jagan, who was organising our next trip, helped us out by washing the bikes and arranging somewhere for us to leave Ivor for two weeks, and we panicked about the rest of it, packing late into the night.
Day 188 – Tuesday, October 29th 2013
Up bright and early, but without really knowing what we were preparing for, and so many decisions to make about what to take, it was no surprise that we were rushing to meet our 9am pick up from outside of the Himalayan Encounters office.
15 minutes late, we handed over a load of money, stripped the wheels off the bikes, and bundled our stuff into the back of a Mahindra jeep.
The last stretch to Aarughat Bazaar was a couple of hours of getting bounced around as the jeep dragged its way through rutted dirt track. Although the driver was competent and careful for the most part, he was not fully aware of the workings of the various 4 wheel drive knobs and levers at his disposal – so parts of the journey were a little more hair raising than they should have been.
We pulled up at our hotel, to see Jackson and Jim already there – clearly excited for what was set to be quite the adventure. We collected an Ivor Aid package that had been sent out with them, and were reunited with our passports, complete with associated trekking permits . Phewph.
We were introduced to our guide, Gelu, who would accompany us around the circuit. It turns out that Gelu was even more accomplished in the mountains than we could have hope for – having summitted Everest 4 times and Manaslu once. If anyone could get us around this trail, it was going to be him.
Kim re-packed her bag, and sent back any kit that was duplicated in the other boy’s sacks to try and bring the weight down a little. We sent the whole lot, along with the Ivor spares back with our driver to wait for us in Pokhara. We got down to an early night, it was clear that tomorrow would be a big day.
Day 189 – Wednesday, October 30th 2013
The first day on the trail, we had about 30km to cover. It didn’t sound like much, and as we covered the first 10 or so on dirt tracks it seemed quite manageable. We were in good spirits, and we cruised our way through the villages that line the Aarughat valley floor. Our only real interruption at this stage was removing our footware occasionally to cross the rock lined rivers.
The trail soon changed in character, revealing a more sinister nature. The stretches of riding decreased rapidly, and the sections of pushing increased as the rock sections became impossible to pedal through, and the sloping hills turned to jagged rock steps. Both of us were beginning to struggle – the lack of fitness was obvious. We attempted to push our bikes, feeling that we didn’t have the energy to lift them – but we were actually making life harder for ourselves having to lift them over each and every rock that blocked our path. If we were going to get through this, we would have to learn to shoulder the bikes, and carry them.
After 5 and a half hours on the trail we stopped for lunch, coming close to collapse wondering if we could really last it through 12 days of this. Fuelled by pasta, caffeine, and snickers we had another long session before making it to our destination for the evening. We arrived at 5, and that was only with the help of Mark and Jim, who came back for our bikes on the most difficult of sections.
Stopping at Tatopani for the night we were well and truly beaten by the day – happy to find that the accommodation was more comfortable than we had expected. These places are known as tea houses throughout the trekking routes, but they range from guest houses to those that are actually just huts on the mountainside. We ate all that we could manage, knowing that we had another hard day ahead of us, and settled down for an early night.
Day 190 – Thursday, October 31st 2013
Although the distance for today was shorter, Gelu announced that we would be carrying the bikes for most of the day. It was not long into the day that we decided we should try to track down a porter to carry Kim’s bag, and to take some of the weight from Vaughan’s.
We did not really need to be carrying anything else along with the best part of 15kgs of mountain bike, particularly given the precarious nature of the trail. At one point we were scrambling along the rock banks of a riverbank, passing bikes along a chain of us, and with an icy swim waiting for anyone who lost their footing.
It was a long day, and despite setting off before 8am, we only made it to our stop for the night at Philim just after 5. It had started to rain in the last hour of our journey, but the trail became a little more gentile for the later stages, so we were able to push, or even ride our cycles in places.
We met some walkers who were coming in the other direction, on their return from an out-and-back trek up the Tsum valley. We took dinner with them, but it was not long before we were all yawning and off to our sleeping bags.
Day 191 – Friday, November 1st 2013
Setting off early again, the bikes would be on our shoulders for the majority of the morning as we climbed through the alpine scenery, crossing the valley a number of times on suspension bridges high above the river below. Just after the trail split from the one heading up the Tsum valley we crossed over the valley once more and stopped for lunch at the collection of shacks that forms Chumjet.
We had started the trek at the same time as another couple of Brits who were also attempting to cycle the loop. For reasons that had been steadily more obvious over the last few days, the Manaslu circuit is more widely recognised as a hiking trek than a mountain biking one – and as such Simon and Dave stood out, about as much as we did. Dave and Simon arrived at Chumjet at the same time as us, so we all shared a questionable dish of vegetable pasta, and chatted about the route we’d covered so far. The feeling was unanimous; we hoped it would get easier.
After lunch our hopes were realised, as the trail mellowed a little. There were still long stretches of carrying needed, but at least now there greater gaps between them so that we could recover a little. During the afternoon Simon began to get steadily weaker, and although we waited for him at several points he was getting further back each time.
By the time we arrived at the night stop of Dang, Simon’s state had deteriorated yet further – he would be going to bed without supper. We all congregated in the communal area at the tea house, sharing warmth and nursing cups of hot chocolate as we waited for some food to arrive. Now at 186o meters, we’d gained just over a kilometre in altitude. Although we were not yet at a point where the oxygen levels would make a difference, the temperature had dropped considerably.
Jim was showing signs of coming down with a bug as well. Despite the calorie sapping day he couldn’t force his way through dinner – a sure sign that something was up. We went to bed early, but with the songs of porters and guides drifting into our rooms from the celebration of a Hindu festival that was going on around a campfire outside – we would have loved to join in, but the long day had taken its toll.
Day 192 – Saturday, November 2nd 2013
Jim was struggling in the morning, so we took a later start. At 9am we were out on the trail again – but this time without Dave and Simon, who were unable to leave due to Simon’s degrading condition – we received reports of a whole night sweating profusely and the worrying onset of hallucinations (as 2 and 2 became 4 later in the trip, it was with some amusement that we realised they were probably brought on by a mix of feverish confusion with Hindi singing).
We were joined by Ajay Pandit, who had previously been making the route with the other two and their guide – he was scoping out the circuit to see if it would be suitable for the infamous 10 day mountain bike endurance event ‘The Yak Attack’ (thought by many to be among the toughest on the planet). It turned out Ajay was 3 time Nepali cross country mountain bike champion (now 4 time), and had won the Yak attack 3 times as well. Needless to say, he was not making quite the same big deal of the route that we were.
The morning went by with a little less carrying and a steady increase in riding, but with Jim’s energy fading away rapidly – he was even lying down at the mid morning tea stop to conjure up the strength to continue. He was exhibiting a good few of the symptoms of gardia – stomach cramps, general tummy troubles, and burps that (in his words) had an air of toilet about them. This was enough to get us worried, and start him on a course of anti-biotics from our emergency supply.
We still had some brutal climbs, at some points the rock face was so steep that logs had been laid up them vertically with notches cut out to make footings, which we had to climb as if a ladder – not easy with a bicycle in tow.
We rolled into the lunch stop at Glap and decided to finish there for the day to give Jim a chance to recover. We all benefitted from the rest, and we whiled away the afternoon playing cards with Mark and chatting to other trekkers as Jim tried to sleep off his illness.
A team of American hikers stopping at the same tea hut showed us how the other half lived, with more porters than there were hikers, and their own chef – when they arrived their tents were already pitched for them in the gardens and tea and biscuits were passed around shortly afterwards. Although it would be easy to think of this kind of trekking as self indulgent, or even lazy, Nepal is in dire need of employment for its’ population, and this may well be the most efficient way of getting the money to the people who really need it.
Day 193 – Sunday, November 3rd 2013
After the breakfast of porridge which was now a routine, we were again hike-biking our way up the valley. We made surprisingly good progress, with a stoic effort from Jim to get back on his feet, as it were; we arrived at the planned lunch stop by 11am. For the first time in the entire trek we were ahead of our planned route for the day.
With another increase in the rideable section than the legs proceeding it, we were again able to surprise ourselves with the distance covered – getting to the stopping point for the night of Sho by 2:30 in the afternoon. We were aided by a steady reduction in overall stage length each day – designed to help us acclimatise to the oxygen levels, since we were now just over the 3000 meter mark. We were now getting to a height where you need to be wary not to gain too much altitude too quickly – for fear of the dreaded altitude (or mountain) sickness.
We had enough time to walk up to the next village, with the intention of visiting the monastery that was perched on a rocky outcrop just passed it. Jim’s energy took another dive, and we accompanied him back to the tea house, whereas Mark (of ceaseless energy) went on to take a closer look.
Jim’s condition was fluctuating; he would be feeling as if at full heath and then moments later taking a turn for the worse, needing to lie down. At least during the upper points he was able to get some food in, in the hope of putting paid to this bug once and for all.
Day 194 – Monday, November 4th 2013
With another shorter day ahead of us, we opted for a late start, starting out journey at 9am to give Jim the best chance of recovery possible (and partially, because deep down we are inherently lazy, and clutch at any old excuse to sit around drinking hot chocolate rather than carrying bikes up a sodding hill).
Dave caught up to us early on in the day, and brought with him the news that Simon needed to be flown out by helicopter. Despite improving slightly, he was still not in a state to make the 3 day trek back to a point that a Jeep could take him to hospital for a proper check up. Dave had decided to carry push on, catch us up, and try to finish the circuit.
We stopped at Lho, the village that we had walked to the previous afternoon, for a snack. We were a source of great amusement to the local children, who seldom got to see any contraptions as complex as a bicycle. Such is the dramatic terrain that anything with wheels is still an exotic notion, and it was all we could do to keep tiny hands from rotating spokes. Even once we had stopped, most were happy to just sit and spin the pedals on their axles.
Just the other side of Lho was the Buddhist Monastery that had eluded us the day before. We pushed our bikes up the steep trail that lead up through the gates, passed the school, and up to the living quarters and temple at the top. A kindly cleaning lady unlocked the temple so that we could take a look inside.
Aside from an earnest enthusiasm to learn about the Nepalese culture, there was in the back of all our minds another reason for this pilgrimage – and another reason that we had pushed our bikes passed the entrance and all the way up there – instead of leaving them under the covetous eyes of Monks, who are hardly renowned for their love of worldly possessions.
The descent was superb, weaving its way back down the twisting trail was made all the more fun as the Monks and students took a break from their classrooms to come out to watch.
The good trail continued after Lho, skirting the edge of the valley as it plummeted to cross one of the tributaries to the main Budhi Gundaki River. That much downhill would come at a cost though, and we would pay for it with well over an hour of solid climbing, with our bikes on our backs for almost the entire way – taking it in turns to go back to help Jim with his bike as and when he needed it – Well, until the porter who had been carrying our baggage came back to lend an extra hand. The man was incredible, he showed no signs of the hardship in the slightest, always with a smile on his face, and always ready to help us out in any way he could.
Having covered most of the worst of the day’s ascent in one hit, the remainder of the stage would undulate its way along the valley wall, finishing with a gentle drop down to the village of Sama. It was here that we would catch our first sight of the mighty Manaslu – standing at 8163 meters above sea level (and 13th highest peak in the world), the summit was still over 4 and a half kilometres above us, it was humbling to say the least.
As the sun dropped behind Manaslu, the temperature quickly descended past zero, and we spent the rest of our day huddled in the tea house common room.
Day 195 – Tuesday, November 5th 2013
Now at around 3400 meters, we would spend the day in Sama to give our bodies a chance to get used to the reduced oxygen levels, and so that we would cope better with the climbing that was still ahead of us.
As we crossed the last ridge before the lake we could tell Jim was getting back to his old self – with a glint of mischief in his eye he set about trying to dislodge the largest boulder that he could move and send it careering to the valley floor below.
As we were taking in the view from the lakeside a helicopter came overhead, it was skimming through the mountain range showing it off to some tourists (whose wallets are considerably better stocked than our own). Not long after as we walked away we heard a rumble, not entirely unlike a helicopter making another pass – but this time something was different, the pitch was deeper, it had more force to it.
We turned, and to our amazement a cascade of ice, almost a kilometre high, was tumbling with a roar into the lake below. The level of the lake changed instantaneously, and the outpouring created such a surge in the stream that, we would learn later, swept a yak away.
We’ll never know if the sound waves from the helicopter’s rotor triggered the avalanche or not, but our preferred version of events will always be that it was the vibrations from a large rock bouncing its way down the valley, pushed by a foolish tourist boy.
Mark, Jim and Vaughan wheeled their bikes out after returning to the tea house and pushed back up the trekking route to the lake. The twisting singletrack had seemed just too much fun on the walk down, it simply had to be ridden – it was well worth the effort, but the fading daylight limited it to one run.
As the day drew to a close, a group of children congregated in the tea house courtyard, and as a continuation of the Hindu festival sang a selection of songs to earn a few rupees for their school.
Day 196 – Wednesday, November 6th 2013
We made an early start – after the ‘easier’ time of the last few days, the trek was about to get more serious. The trail along the valley floor to Samdo was tranquil enough, gaining a steady 300 meters. We stopped there at 10:30 for an early lunch to get some calories in us for what was set to be a far more challenging afternoon.
Still in the shadow of the enormous mountains that lined the valley, it was bitterly cold as we started the toughest climb of the trek so far. The ascent of 800 meters would take us nearly 4 hours, and as the dropping oxygen level began to make itself known – with each last push seeming even more difficult than it should have done. To put it in context, we were now slightly higher than the tallest peak of the Rockies.
Getting to Dharamsala, which is essentially just a base camp for the Larke Pass, we settled into our canvas home for the night, and caught some shut eye before dinner. We filled up on pasta, and played cards with Ajay before going to bed early. We all slept badly, with headaches from the altitude, freezing conditions, and with the pass day looming ahead of us.
Day 197 – Thursday, November 7th 2013
Getting up long before sunrise to take breakfast at 5, so that we could get the worst of the pass conquered so that we would be able to descend before any snow that did catch sunlight refroze into vicious ice. Mark started the day feeling under the weather, announcing some tummy troubles, but still claiming to be up to the task ahead – being the fittest of the bunch, and probably the most experienced in the mountains we had to take his word for it.
Although the trail was steep, our main battle when we set out was against the cold – almost all of us struggling to get blood flowing though our fingers. As we ascended, the trail which had skirted the edge of the glacier crossed onto it, and the patches of rock became less frequent. It was slow going, with the pair of us finding it the hardest. It was difficult to find grip for our cycling shoes on the slippery hard packed snow, and we just had to edge our way upwards the best we could.
A gap had opened up between us and the other guys, who were pushing on the best they could; everyone wanted to get this over and done with. At one point, Vaughan even turned to Kim and uttered the words “We just have to get through this, and we never have to do anything like it again”. It was that kind of challenge. Gelu came back to help us with our bikes once, and shortly Ajay returned to help Kim up the final ascent to cross the highest point.
The scenery all the way up had been phenomenal, but it was difficult to take it all in as we focused on inching our way up the pass. At around 10, we finally made it to the summit, and took a moment for ourselves to look around and absorb the scenery – at 5106 meters, we were now higher than Mt Blanc, it was a proud moment, but not one that we would relish in for long. There was still the matter of the 1.5km of height we had to lose before our resting point of Bimtang.
With less than half the oxygen of sea level, the others had been feeling the effects at the summit, and understandable had not waited around for us. We too, were keen to get down. We were already later than we wanted to be, and much of the path was caste into shadow – making for a treacherous descent. Staying on the trail meant sheet ice, and veering off of it was often waist deep snow. We fell countless times, and on occasion found it easier to use our bikes as ice axes into the mountainside to lower ourselves one step at a time.
After several hours the ice turned back to gravel and rock, and although still too steep to ride, our progress was greatly improved. In the last rocky section before we made it to the stop for the night two porters arrived to help with our bikes, and Jim showed up to walk with us back down into the village.
With relief and exhaustion we ate a well-earned meal and went to bed shortly after. At last, the hardest was behind us, and those damn altitude headaches could leave us in peace too.
Day 198 – Friday, November 8th 2013
You reap what you sow, and we were set to be rewarded for our efforts with the best riding trails of the trip by a long way. Although we were still needed to shoulder our steeds on the odd occasion, the vast majority of the day would be covered on the pedals, rather than by foot – and we were set to lose over 2000 of the meters that we had so painstakingly climbed.
With technical rock sections, rooty single track as we dropped back through the tree line, and flat out fire road as we approached the relative civilisation of the Annapurna circuit at Dharapani, we were in for a blast – and the effort that we had gone to dragging heavy full suspension freeride bike with us paid off at last too. For so much of the trip so far Ajay had smugly been parading his 10kg titanium hardtail, but even he was beginning to look weakened through the technical sections – though he was gathering pace throughout the day as he chased the full springers down the rough stuff.
There had always been an option to carry on the Annapurna circuit when we joined it at Dharapani, and it was supposed to be considerably easier than the Manaslu with a bike – but we had decided that after the efforts of the previous day, we were all ready to head back to the town of Pokhara, where we would be able to do some day rides or shorter treks into the surrounding hills.
Although the dirt trail leading away from Dharapani generally lost altitude, there were still some tough climbs – and it was here that Ajay clearly demonstrated why he was the national champ – barely dropping in cadence, and hardly shifting gears at all – none of the rest of us could even get close to him.
Stopping the night at Charmche, we gratefully tucked into some cold beers with dinner knowing that we just had 30km of fire (dirt) road to cover the next day before catching a jeep ride back to Pokhara.
Day 199 – Saturday, November 9th 2013
Not quite home and dry yet, there was still 30km of trail, including 700m of climbing to cover this morning on the ride out down the Marsyangdi Valley. We foolishly took onboard Ajay’s suggestion that it would be an easy 3 hours, all neglecting the fact that he was the nation’s champion, and held many of the stage records for the Annapruna route, which we were now on. 4 and a half hours after setting off we rolled in to the town of Besisahar, again exhausted, and grateful to have completed the route.
Our immediate needs were now food, caffeine, and to find the minibus that Dave had booked to get us back to Pokhara. After slumping at the first lunch venue that we could find – we were disappointed to discover that, despite having written the words ‘sweet and sour chicken’ on the menu, the chef had clearly never seen or tasted the dish in his life, let alone looked up a recipe for it. The gruel that we were served was quickly substituted with chocolate and soft drinks from a shack across the road, and the elusive minibus had been parked in front of us the whole time – with the driver even having been at the same restaurant.
We had a slight delay in getting on route back to town, since our minibus managed to get blocked in by a truck that had also driven into a hole – so it would need to be freed before we could get on our way. Evidently keen to make up for this slip in schedule, our lunatic of a driver set about scaring us all senseless in a shocking display of late braking down the twisting mountain roads. After a few good stern words from Jim he behaved much better.
Back in Pokhara, and after a well needed shower, it was time for a feast – and one that broke the rice-based trend of the last few weeks. After steaks and chilled everest beers all round we treated ourselves to a nightcap at the reggae bar across the street. The weapon of choice was the stunningly named ‘Jamaican Me Crazy’ – endless entertainment for our exhausted trekkers. When you laugh that much at that name it is past your bed time, so off we went.
Day 200 – Sunday, November 10th 2013
Sheblamo, 200 days! We started off our double century day in keeping with the theme of this blog, and the whole trip: A bit late.
We treated ourselves to a non-porridge breakfast for the first time in a couple of weeks, and then tracked down a medium posh hotel for Jim and Mark. Their new boudoir was a bizarre mix of love-nest (gigantic double bed), and James Bond villainous lair (large fish tank down one wall, though no sharks, disappointingly). The most important feature of their new hotel, as far as we were concerned, was the large parking lot where the hotel manager would let us park Ivor in exchange for small fee.
We spent the afternoon equaling out some of the recent extreme activities by renting a pedalo, and taking it, along with a few cold tinnies, out onto Phewa Lake.
That night we discovered the following (in order):
- a Turkish restaurant that was extremely good value
- if the evening is winding down you should not order a double espresso
- if the Nepalese lack anything in skill, they make up for in enthusiasm – both when mixing cocktails, and performing in covers bands for 80’s / 90’s rock songs.
Day 201 – Monday, November 11th 2013
We were back into trekking mode this morning, up early, and on the bikes to meet a guide for the day. Provided by the company that we would be using for our next mountain biking adventure to the Mustang region of the mountains, Don would today just show us some of the single track close to Pokhara. We would be joined by an American girl who was taking a break from Paragliding for the day due to a strike (more on that later), and who clearly rode a fair bit back home.
We did the same route as we had for the pre Manaslu trek warm-up back on day 187. Despite Kim fighting off a cold weather cough she had picked up in the mountains, we did significantly better than we had two weeks previously. The 5km climb to start was still not a pleasure, but we were certainly in a better state at the top of it, and the descent through the trees had lost some of its greasy coating, allowing us to benefit a lot more from having dragged ourselves all the way up there.
After a pizza break for lunch (we were all still very happy at the availability of non rice food), we swapped guides and headed towards Sarangkot, the hill that dominates the view from town. Kim was feeling the strain of so many days on the bike, with aching knees and a heavy cough she turned back to town a short way up the road incline.
Having cranked their way up the majority of the tarmac drag leading to the summit, the remaining riders were only too pleased when the guide veered off down a dirt track about 3 quarters of the way up. This climbing effort would be rewarded with a sketchy descent that started on steep open grassland before sliding its way down some tight walking trails, and which eventually ended up in the all-too-familiar blast down jeep track – losing all of the height in only a few minutes. Great fun, but we all agreed it was not worth the effort of the long drag up there!
The Job-well-done would be celebrated with (unnecessarily strong) cocktails, (unnecessarily large) steaks, more (unnecessary) drinks, and eventually getting to bed again quite late.
Day 202 – Tuesday, November 12th 2013
We tried to arrange a jeep uplift, but were told by Jagan (nice man, runs www.pokharamountainbike.com and bike shop) that it would not be possible because of the strike. Now seems as good a point as any to fill you in on that strike business we mentioned yesterday….
Unfortunately (for you) an understanding of our mild inconvenience requires knowledge of Nepalese recent political history. We’ll endeavour to provide this for you in a handy bite sized format, but don’t get all upset if it’s either glaringly inaccurate or shockingly incomplete, it’s your fault for not doing your own research properly. You can’t just take any old rubbish you find on the net as gospel you know.
Once upon a time, not all that long after the British split the ‘Jewel in their Crown’ into bite sized lumps, there was a King of Nepal – who ruled over the most northerly, Bhuddhist, section after the breakup. He was a bit crap, but not all that bad in the grand scheme of things. According to the press, in 2001 one of the princes got quite drunk and, for reasons best known to himself, got all shooty and wiped out significant chunks of the royal family – Including the main man. This was the beginning of the end for the monarchy in Nepal.
Various political parties had a go at controlling the subsequent aftermath, but eventually a bunch of crooks mounted a sustained campaign of terror (/ civil war) and took control in the name of communism. The country has been relatively peaceful for the last 6 years or so, since the grumpy Moaists (modelled on the famous Chinese Chairman) were then in power, and anything going on that they didn’t agree with became their fault.
Now we’re up to present day Nepal, and due to outside pressure from countries refusing to deal with them, the Moaists have finally conceded that there must be an election. Knowing that they are likely to lose, and largely due to the rural vote, they introduced ruling whereby voters have to return to their town / village of birth in order to vote. Now here’s the clever bit; they then orchestrated a ‘strike’ whereby no one is allowed to use the roads in the 10 days preceding the election, and if they do groups of thugs will smash their windows / heads with baseball bats. Q.E.D. they should win (they still didn’t).
Generally, drivers were okay just so long as they were carrying tourists rather than locals – but this whole strike situation was making them all a little jumpy, and the net result was us not being able to get a lift up the hills so that we could play on our bicycles on the way down.
Rather inconsiderate of them to put hundreds of years of political unrest above our need for having a good time, but there you have it, they’d made their decision and they were sticking to it.
Set back by this news (exhausted by the previous days hill climbs more like), we gave the bikes a rest for the day. Instead we did some Ivor chores – changing an inner tube that seemed to be leaking (with Jim’s help), and tidying up the living area.
While Mark and Jim went to try and rent a sail boat to have a play on the lake, K n V took a hike up towards Saragkot in search of some better trails. We rendezvous’d back at the truck later for a beer to debrief; they had found no boats, just as we had found no good trails.
Though equally unproductive, the evening would be more entertaining since we were challenged by locals at pool – with the stakes being alcohol (of course). This would normally set alarm bells ringing – surely the signs of a pool shark?! A few games in and it was clearly not the case, but the winning became steadily less important as the evening progressed.
Day 203 – Wednesday, November 13th 2013
Determined to bike again, we had downloaded some GPS routes and we set off on a cross country jaunt up and around a nearby hill. Back on the jeep tracks (fire roads in forestry speak), it was uninspiring riding, but the area was beautiful, and it was good to get out.
As we climbed the trail away from town an old man was walking back down, even though we could barely exchange a single word across the language barrier, he insisted that we took some fruit from him. This is just one demonstration of the kindness that we have witnessed over again in Nepal – even people with almost nothing still want to give you something.
Continuing the climb we passed a small shop with some kids playing Karrom out the front. We were invited for an impromptu game / lesson. Vaughan could now draw on skills still back there from playing many years ago, since his folks have a board. This meant he could be very slightly less humiliated when it took the best part of an hour to clear the pieces from the board, even with a selection of infants stepping in to lend a hand.
After returning to town and a late lunch, the boys thought they would try their luck at finding more trails on the Sarangkot hillside. It ended in a Manaslu-esque hike with bikes on shoulders gaining 400 meters or more up a hiker’s trail that was basically a staircase. Not wanting to descend by the same route, and with fading light, it was decided safer to drop back into town using the road that we had climbed a couple of days earlier.
That night we discovered a great acoustic set being played at our now-favourite Pokhara bar; The Silk Road. We were in danger of becoming locals at this place.
Day 204 – Thursday, November 14th 2013
More bike riding today, who’d have thought it? After a faffy morning we set out around Lake Phewa, and three quarters of the way round found that the only way to continue our lap was to climb 800 meters on the side of the peace pagoda. Getting to the top of the ridgeline as the sun was looking heavy, we decided that another blast down the jeep tracks and the tarmac would be the surest way of making it to town before dark.
The evening would follow a worryingly common theme: Good food, strong house cocktails, low quality but amusing rock bands.
Day 205 – Friday, November 15th 2013
For some reason, we were all a little sluggish in the morning. Mark decided to stay in town to recuperate, as the rest of us rented a couple of Royal Enfield motorcycles to explore the area without the hassle of pedalling. Jim took the heritage bike (knackered), leaving the newer one for us since we would be two-up.
The guy at the rental shop said that as long as we didn’t go too far, we would be okay despite the strike going on. Our aim was to get to Begnes Lake, from the ridge there were supposed to be good views of the mountains, and since the lake had once been visited by Prince Charlie and his missus (hence the route there is now known as the royal trek) we figured it would be good enough for us too.
On the way we saw one windowless bus that had not taken the warnings of the strike seriously enough, but saw no other signs of trouble. With a few wrong turns, and some dirt tracks that were at the sump grinding limit for these (don’t be gentle, it’s a) rental bikes, we arrived at the view points and the lake. We had enough time before returning the bikes to make it to the summit of Saragkot at last to take in the views of the Annapurna range, and of Pokhara from there.
It was Mark and Jim’s last night with us, so The Silk Road was inevitable – they’d even started giving us free food by now. We did drop by another bar on our way back to the hotel, where we encountered the bizarre situation of being allowed to play pool, just so as long as we did it quietly – they had a neighbour living below who complained otherwise.
Day 206 – Saturday, November 16th 2013
Not a lot on today, just a big breakfast to pack away as our last meal with M & J before sending them on their way flying back to Kathmandu where they would catch their return flight to the UK the following day. We were sorry to see them go, but shouldn’t have worried, since it wasn’t long before we had a knock on our hotel door from Jim. Apparently you need something called a passport in order to travel. With some enthusiastic driving from a taxi he still made his flight, and they were on their way for good this time.
We did some more Ivor chores – taking the water tanks off to replace the connectors that the bad Indian roads had smashed to pieces, being one example, and replacing the mounts for the cabin with new ones that Vaughan’s brother Owain had kindly made up that should take the beatings of the rough roads better than the originals, which had collapsed. We also met up with Jagan to start talking about our next biking adventure, which would start in a couple of days time.
It had been great having the guys out to see us – our first visitors of the trip, and we’d made it through a challenge that we would not have even attempted without their enthusiasm – let alone been able to complete it. We now had a greater excitement for the Mustang riding that lay ahead of us. But for now, without further temptation towards the Pokhara nightlife, we settled for an early night.