Trying to get to the top of the world

 

Hello blog readers! Again, I have been too lazy to update the blog in time and now too many things have happened (I have left Nepal, spent a week in India and now entered Pakistan) to summarise in one blog post. So we will have to make due with this one just being about my last week or so in Nepal and then another post will follow as soon as possible about my week in India. But as always, to keep up to speed with the latest happenings – follow me on instagram @on_the_scenic_route!

My last week in Nepal was a rollercoaster of mountains and valleys, hurdles and wins. The idea when I left Pokhara (last blog post) was to try and get as far up into the Annapurna mountain range as physically possible on the bike. And that’s exactly what I did. I made it to a town called Muktinath on 3,800m above sea level (which is high for a motorable road, although nothing compared to the 8,000m+ peaks surrounding you when you are up there).

Day 83 – getting a first taste of the “road” up the mountains: My first day stint was from Pokhara to a town called Tatopani, just on the edge of the Annapurna national park. I had heard horror stories of “the road to Jomsom”, which is a 90km stretch of road from a town called Beni to Jomsom (which is near Muktinath) and also the only road up the mountain from this side, so I was expecting a rough ride. This first day included a couple of hours on a perfectly normal road from Pokhara to Beni followed by an attempt at conquering the first 20km of this infamous road to Jomsom.

The day started out with some very normal Nepali roads
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Now we had some pretty technical riding before when Lennart and Pontus were here, so I was mentally prepared for some pretty rough sections. But I really wasn’t prepared for the rough section being the entire 90km stretch from Beni to Jomsom… After turning onto this road in Beni I spent the next two hours conquering thigh deep water crossings, sandy hills and slippery mud patches I made it to Tatopani. Two hours, 20km and I was absolutely exhausted.

And then got a bit more muddy and very slippery… just pick it up and try again 🙂
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At the lodge I stayed I met a group of four American guys doing the same ride up to Muktinath on rented Royal Enfield bikes. Delighted to have some fellow bike enthusiasts to speak to we sat up for quite a while and talked about bikes, adventures and a bit of everything over a few beers.

Day 84 – a workout as good as any: After crawling up those 20km the day before I asked around a bit at the lodge what the next 70km up to Jomsom (where I had planned to spend the night) would be like compared to the stretch I had done. Everyone basically just said “Same same all the way”, which is not what I wanted to hear so I decided the language barrier was too big and they actually meant the opposite. After that little exercise in logical reasoning, concluding that the roads would be much better for the next 70km I decided to take a relaxed morning and get going around lunch time (there may also have been a slight hangover influencing that decision).

Imagine my surprise when the roads were really bad the entire way! Although the scenery became increasingly spectacular as I made it up the mountain towards Jomsom (2,600m above sea level). But practice makes perfect and after a while I felt that I had mastered most of the surfaces present (sand, mud, loose rocks, sand with hidden rocks, river crossings) and I made it to Jomsom in something like four hours – average of almost 20km/h! Although at that point my body was completely destroyed wrestling 300kg+ of bike (with luggage) across this terrain all afternoon.

Stopping to enjoy the sceneryP1010789

And stopping again to enjoy the scenery even more…P1010860

Day 85 – high point of the trip (literally): The day started with a quest to get fuel which up here is only sold litre-by-litre in old PET bottles which have been filled down in the valley and driven up the mountain on a jeep. Sometimes there is fuel available in every little shop, sometimes there is no fuel in the whole town. Today was one of the former and the lady in the shop next to my lodge easily dug up five bottles of petrol which would be enough to carry me to Muktinath and back.

The first step was taking the “main bridge” over the river in Jomsom
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After sorting fuel out the plan was to head up to Muktinath (3,800m above sea level), stay there for just an hour or so and then head back down to Jomsom (to manage my altitude exposure). Turns out going from 2,600m to 3,800m makes a big difference. Not only does the air get colder (around 5 degrees compared to 15+) and thinner, the vegetation also disappears and you get into a spectacular moonscape like scenery. The other nice surprise was that this stretch of 17km or so was actually the best road of the entire thing.

The ride up to Muktinath was really spectacular

And in the end I made it, to 3,800m above sea level
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Another nice surprise was that when I got back down to Jomsom in the afternoon I again found my new friends, the motorbiking Americans parked outside one of the lodges. So I parked right next to them and found them in a nearby restaurant where we again shared stories of our various motorbike achievements and occasional crashes over a few beers.

Day 86 – going down is just as hard as going up: Time to get down again, which supposedly is easier because Newton is there with his gravity helping you out. Therefore, the plan was to get all the way down to the bottom of the valley (the full 90km) in one day. Although perfectly doable (I did make it all the way down) it turned out that going down is just as painful as going up and not really much faster when the road is trying to kill you with challenging surfaces at every turn.

There is always somewhere to stop to enjoy the scenery…
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After finally making it down to the “real road” again, I stopped for the night in a town called Beni, waited for the American guys to arrive a bit later, had some dinner and passed out around 8 or 9 pm after another exhausting day.

Day 87 – some unexpected challenges: At this point I was done with the sights I wanted to see in Nepal and the plan was to begin making my way towards India. The first step was to get out of the mountains down into the lowlands of south Nepal, and for me that meant the goal for the day was getting to the city of Butwal in south central Nepal. The ride took me back through Pokhara and then south through some spectacular valleys with very good roads by Nepal standards. Everything was great and the riding was super smooth.

Then as I was stopped at a rest area for a break just 10km from Butwal, a reversing truck ran over my bike. Crash! Boom! Bang! The truck only stopped as its rear wheels tried to roll up over the front wheel of my bike. Damage assessment revealed a bent front wheel and bent front brake discs, which meant a wobbly ride and no front brakes. The rack for the rear panniers was also bent to one side so the pannier boxes were all lopsided. Luckily two really nice Nepali guys stopped to help me and after assessing that I could make it down to the hotel by myself we agreed to meet up the next morning to sort the bik e out (it was the Nepali new year’s eve so everyone was on their way to a party). Eventually I ride the remaining 10km or so at walking speed with only rear brake and get to the hotel.

Day 88 – fixing the bike: After initially being a bit upset about having my bike crushed by a truck I wake up in positive spirit and wait for the guys from the night before to call me so we can meet up and fix the bike. A bit after 9am one of the guys comes to pick me up at the hotel and we ride slowly over to his friend’s bike shop a couple of hundred metres down the street. Then it’s a quick operation of removing the front wheel and both brake discs for damage assessment (at this point I have been given an old bike saddle to sit on and a glass of coca cola). A quick look from the boss of the shop and he agrees that they are all bent but it is all fixable.

Fixing the front wheel and brakes at the local motorbike workshop
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Then one guy takes the front wheel under one arm, hops on a motorbike and heads off down the street. Another guy takes the brake discs in one hand, hops on another motorbike and heads down the street the other way – “They are going to different workshop, to do engineering”. Well, if there is one thing I am a fan of it is engineering so I relax and sit back down. At this point my friends from the night before take me along for lunch and we sit around there for an hour or so until they call from the bike shop to say the bike is done. We get back and not only is the bike all put back together, it is washed as well. I pay the bill of about $20, exchange social media profiles with a few people and roll off with my bike which now has perfectly working front brakes and an only slightly wobbly front wheel (the rim is aluminium so it cannot be straightened as much as the steel brake discs).

Because it was only lunch time when the bike was back in action, I decide to make the 300km ride west to Bardia national park to make some progress towards India. I was now on the main East-West highway where you can sometimes go as fast as 80km/h between the many villages, so it only took around 5 hours to get there. And it was a lovely place to be, so I decide to stay for a day to relax.

I stayed at this amazing little place (called Forest hideaway) in Bardia national park
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Day 89 – relaxing and just a little bit more bike fixing: After a few intense days it was nice with a day with very little moving around. Although I did decide that I wanted to fix the bent racks for my pannier boxes so the morning activity was asking at the lodge if they had some old iron rod lying around, or anything really I could use as a lever to bend some steel racks into shape. They did! So I lodged the bike up against a tree and applied some gentle but decisive violence in the right places and voila! Everything was back to (almost) straight. So now I was confident I would make it to New Delhi where there is a Triumph dealership, which means I can get actual spare parts to replace the odd broken thing on the bike.

Because the pannier boxes where hanging sideways like this
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I decided that some carefully applied violence was in good order
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