It is a lot of hassle in Tbilisi (Georgia) to get the bikes ready for the flight. Especially because we have purchased cheap tickets that allow us to check in 30 kilos of luggage per person and to carry 10 kilos of hand luggage in a standard size bag. We think that our total luggage including bicycles is just under 80 kilograms, but to divide it into this division (30 + 30 + 10 + 10) requires a lot of puzzling and especially a lot of standing on a scale with boxes, bags and stuff. After writing notes on several post-its, calculations and many changes (pedals, luggage racks and tools, for example in hand luggage) it is finally sorted out.
After spending a night in Sharjah, one of the United Arab Emirates, we arrive in Kathmandu. We are a little worried that the hand luggage bag with the pedals does not pass through the security check: the security officer does not accept all the metal objects. He is also aware, however, that we need the equipment for cycling and that the Georgian security guards have passed the bag and he wants to find a solution. After some talking, the cabin crew take care of the bag.
In Kathmandu we look for an odd size baggage claim. We are excited whether our bikes also had a good night in Sharjah and of course whether they passed the trip well. The large bicycle boxes are on the normal baggage belt. The bag with the pedals comes a bit later with the cabin crew. Everything is complete! A minivan is waiting outside the airport for a transfer to the hotel. The bicycle boxes are tied up on top of the roof and a little later we get to know the Nepalese way of driving: overtaking, honking, lots of light signals, tailgating and close your eyes and hope that things are going well...
The most important thing we do the next day is to prepare the visa application for India. While filling in the online form, we encounter a few difficult questions. With help of websites and the Indian visa help desk, we are able to complete the form. Full of confidence we visit the embassy the next day. The opening hours of the service point is from 10.30 to 12.00. After two hours of waiting it is finally our turn and they very kindly point out some wrong answers. Our "defense" that these answers have been sugested by the helpdesk are resolutely discarded: the application is rejected. Filling in a new online form and get back in line does not make any sense anymore. An application can only be submitted til 12 AM and there are still many people waiting behind us, or actually now before us. Once again extremely friendly is said to come back Monday. We won't do that. We first walk the Annapurna Circuit (see our previous blog).
On a Thursday we return late in the afternoon in Kathmandu and we refill the online visa form with hopefully the correct answers. The next morning we are back at the embassy one hour before opening time. Yet we are not the first: that is a young boy of 24 years from Israel, who wants to travel through India on a to be rented motorcycle. We chat with this nice guy and behind us the queue grows. The Israeli guy only needs to bring in his passport and we can hand in the forms immediately after opening time. We are very happy when they are accepted and also that we can return on Thursday to bring in the passports. That would mean that we could pick up the passports the next day and we could finally cycle again on the quiet Saturday morning: 8 more nights!
If we bring the passports on Thursday, it becomes clear that we can not collect the visa the following day: Friday 23 November 2018 is a national holiday in India and the embassy is closed. We therefore have to be even more patient and can only start cycling on Tuesday.
We were quite bored because of the waiting but also enjoyed the Kathmandu vibe in the backpackers district of the city: Thamel. The mix of Nepalese culture, backpacking youth, mountain hikers of all ages and (yes, they still exist) hippies complemented by a lot of honking, dust, chaos and numerous super small shops. It's definitely a unique city.
On day 150 of our trip around the world and after not having cycled for a full month, we leave early in the morning to stay ahead of the chaotic traffic of Kathmandu. We first enjoy a last breakfast on the roof of Hotel Family Home.
For the first time, we put on a mouth cap to breathe in the smog and the dust. It has been hazy for days and the snow-covered mountains north of the city have not been seen since we are back in Kathmandu. Not only is the mouthpiece new, we will also cycle on the left for the first time. It takes 20 kilometers before we are out of city and it is getting busier and busier. In that 20 kilometers we only see a traffic light twice. Often, at busy intersections, a more dynamic traffic management system is opted for: traffic police.
We take the H03 highway to the east. The road is quite flat and wide. In town Dulikhel we turn to the H06 (better known as the B.P. highway) that takes us to the Terai, the Nepalese valley. The B.P. highway is a neatly laid out and still relatively new road. Although we climb to a height of 1,700 meters it is not heavy. Kathmandu is at approximately 1,300 meters. After that we descend 1.000 meters to a hamlet in the valley of the river Kosi, where we spend the night.
The next day we continue our route over the B.P. highway, which is not so flat anymore. The road seems to follow the river on paper, but several times the road gets up higher up mountains with quite a few hairpins. We end up climb a lot on the road next to the river.
We know that the real challenge still has to come. From the river valley at about 450 meters the road turns to a mountain pass at 1,450 meters. That will take us some time. We discuss the idea to shorten the stage. But it is still early when we can start the climb. It is a pity that it is hazy again. Only at the top of the pass the air seems to be clearer and we see the tops of a few Himalayan giants behind us.
After the summit it is a nice and steep descent. In no time we are back at 450 meters altitude and stop to spend the night in Sindhuli. The hotel is above average by Nepal standards: there is a hot shower, a towel (one) and even toilet paper! And the price remains below $10.
The next day, 40 kilometers of B.P highway through the foothills of the mountains remain. From valley to valley or in other words: up and down. We cycle through a tropical rainforest and bananas and mandarins grow along the side of the road. We pass countless floodways (yep climbing again), most of them are now dry, sometimes we have to go through a layer of water. After 37 km in the city of Bardibas, the BP highway and also the hills end. We turn left onto the H01, towards the east. The H01 runs through the Terai, the low and flat south of Nepal.
We notice quite some changes: it is crowded everywhere. Now that it is flat, we also see a lot of cyclists, many with a rack behind the saddle and on three wheels. The most diverse and often unbelievable things are transported there: (of course) bags of rice, jute, sugar cane, (fire) wood, double folded concrete irons of 6 meters), bamboo poles that protrude before and behind a meter or 4 and piled high boxes. Respect for people and bicycles.
We also see al to of people carrying heavy loads. The people in the Terai seem to have a darker skin color than we have seen in Nepal so far. The clothing of men is sometimes minimalistic and (at least originally) white: a shirt and a very short and / or translucent turn-over skirt. The ladies dress like Indian: short top and wrapped in a sari also covering their heads in the most beautiful shades of red and orange. What is also striking is the heat, and worse: mosquitoes! And unfortunately, the dust remains present.
Along the route everything caught the eyes: colorful houses, long eared goats, cows, water buffaloes, enormous high or wide fig trees, lots of motorbikes, many more fully loaded tuktuks and buses and beautifully painted trucks.
We get a lot of thumbs and greetings along the way. Motorcyclists regularly ask questions: "Where do you come from?" "Where will you staying tonight" and "Where are you going?" Are always three of the questions. The traveling Indian motorcyclist Hemanth from Bengaluru also cycles and gives us his business card. We are always welcome at his home!
Stray dogs are also there and there are many. In contrast to all previous countries, the dogs do not pay any attention to (us) cyclists. The dogs know that the street is extremely dangerous. Generally they are very cautious about it. Unfortunately, we also see many dogs with a (non-treated) mutilation; even worse is that we saw a collision; horrible…
In the town of Mirchaiya there are loudspeaker boxes everywhere and a lot of noise comes from that. We pay no attention to it: this is the main road. We hit our brakes a bit further along the road and turn in to a side road to an intended hotel with good reviews on the internet. The loudspeaker boxes are unfortunately also hanging in this street. During the evening and all through the night there is loud, terrible music. One of the boxes hangs in front of our hotel and so in front of our window of our roadside room... We wake up several times. The music is not nice to hear: shrieking voices, incredibly out of tune and the ritme is monotonous. It is incomprehensible to kill the night's rest. The next morning (the music is still present) we ask more surprised than appalled what is going on and whether this is normal here in this town. There is a multi-day festival going on and that would only give some music in the evening ... Well, this just raises more questions, but we decide to leave the noise quickly!
We do not only cycle fast but also a lot further then normal. We end up cycling the longest stage so far: 119 km to the town of Inaruwa. That was not the intention: our day goal was somewhere next to a long bridge around 93 km. Google Maps showed several hotels. The name 'hotel' is very easily applied in Nepal. Around the bridge we see 30 "hotels" but no one actually rented out a room. Presumably they offer meals to drivers who can stay overnight in front of the "hotel" in their truck. We also cycle this far because it is probably the stage with the least difference in altitude and the least difference in speed: the bike computer shows average speed 19.5 km / h and maximum 27.1 km / h (typical for riding in The Netherlands).
It is almost dark when we reach Inaruwa and stop in front of the hotel Royal. There we are greeted by young staff, a very cute fluffy puppy and a runaway rat or mouse. The air conditioning does not work, the fan makes a loud noise and there is no hot water. Well, it will do. We lack the energy to search further.
The next day we make a shorter stage of 63 kilometers to the city of Damak. On the way we pass a funeral procession and shortly thereafter a Hindu temple on the riverside. We pause on the bridge to view the ritual. In Kathmandu, the ceremonial cremation is a tourist attraction that we did not feel the need to visit, but now that we encounter it we are a bit curious. From a suitable distance we see the procession coming to the waterfront to say goodbye, after which the body is put on the woodpile and is stripped of the shroud and flowers. We've seen enough and continue cycling.
On the way we are (still) occasionally surprised by the hectic and bustle in the "cities". First the road becomes wider and the quality will deteriorate drastically. The center of the city is marked by dust and a roundabout. Then the crowds decrease and the quality of the road improves again. Along side of the road is enough space for trucks, buses, tuktuks and rickshaws to "park" and stand in the way of each other. Inserting again is done consistently without looking. Just go. Despite the fact that there is an occasional traffic sign that forbids or kindly requests not to do so, they blow their horn to make it clear that they exist or that someone is in the way. At the facades of the buildings, advertising signs are screaming for attention, but the multitude of panels is too big to process.
Our hotel is somewhat more expensive than we expected due to some misunderstanding. Nepali usually speak good English, but this time we had some miscommunication with a young boy. We hoped we had enough Nepalese rupees to get to the border with India; now we are short of 1000 rupees. Before we leave our last part through Nepal, we have to get to an ATM. Early in the morning we search for thousands of advertising signs in the center of Damak. We find several, but all break off the transaction. Presumably the same problem as in Jomsom: foreign bank cards do not work here. Back at the hotel, they accept US dollars as well. We have 10 of them and that corresponds to 1100 rupees. We are able to pay the bill and cycle the last 50 kilometers through Nepal to India.
There is again a hectic scenery at the border. Apparently the buses and trucks are not allowed to cross the border (a long narrow bridge). Trucks are parked to probably drive to the other side at a later time. Part of the freight is transferred and stacked on bicycles.
The bus passengers switch to rickshaws and tuktuks, which then join in on the narrow bridge between the walkers, cyclists, motorbikes and cars. On the bridge we wonder how long will we have to wait to get through the border control with all these people. The answer is: not long. Nepali and Indians can travel back and forth freely. When we get a stamp to go out of Nepal, we are the only ones at the Immigration Office. Very briefly, but really only for a short moment, no crowds, no chaos, no honking.
And then we enter India, full of anticipation, full of curiosity ...