Next day I reached a town called Tansen which is know for it’s trekking and decided to stay here for a day and explore the mountain villages around. Tansen is a medieval town, perched on a mountain top high above the Kali Gandaki river. Unusually for Nepal it has a pedestrianised centre simply because the roads are too steep and narrow for the cars to pass….and the Rickashaw drivers even shy away from the hills! It was dark by the time I arrived, and although it was only 5.30pm it may as well have been 3am when it came to searching for accommodation as when there is a power cut you can see nothing. I managed to find a hotel, a very basic one at that, beside the bus station. When the electricity returned 3 hours later I turned the light back off as on arriving by candle light I had neglected to see that I was in fact sharing the room with a colony of ants. I went to sleep exhausted dreaming of lye in but as in all Nepalese towns buses start to leave at 4am and I woke to the shouts of bus and mini-van drivers touting for business “pokhara, pokhara, pokhara”. I gave up on sleeping and decided I may as well get an early start on my hiking. My only saving grace about the town is that their were no buses after dark due to fears of Maoist attacks which meant I had a peaceful nights sleep until 4am. Despite the lousy accommodation and lack of sleep I had a very pleasurable day exploring the mountain villages where smiles abound and I was almost tempted to stay another day if it wasn’t for hotel. With the touts as my alarm I got an early start the next morning and I checked out of the hotel realizing that I didn’t deal with anyone over 10 years during my stay. Its funny how I have just gotten used to children doing the jobs of adults, in restaurants, shops etc but normally when it comes to bigger money like hotels you deal with an adult at some stage. Not in Tansen, where it seems the hotel was run by 3 brothers between the ages of 5 and 10 years. I guess children don’t find ants an issue!Tharu woman.
The road weaved around the mountains revealing a new glimpse of the Annapurna range at each turn. The road was pretty dug up due to the large amount of agricultural vehicles and the landslides during monsoon times, resulting in me chewing dust on more than one occasion. I was so covered in sand and dust by the time I reached Pokhara I looked like I had come straight from the Rajistan desert!
Pokhara is a touristy town but desolate in comparison to the tourist Hub of Thamel in Kathmandu. On arriving in the city I had the usual hassle of touts on motorcycles chasing me trying to sell me a room. They just don’t take no for an answer. As always I tell them I already have a room yet they still insist that I stay in their hotel. I finally cracked them when I asked what should I do with the spare hotel room as I only need one….I must remember that line for India. I cycled just 5 minutes north of the main tourist hub and bagged a room overlooking the lake. With Yoga and meditation centres as neighbours I hope to get a lye in after the touts and noisy trucks that have interrupted my sleep the past few days!Happy bananna trader.
Hotel owner who obviously wanted a daughter among her 5 sons...a case of gentle kidnapping when she wouldn't let me leave the next day!
Over dinner that evening a fellow local biker clapped eyes on my bicycle and the usual questions ensued. I told him I intended hiking to Sarangkot (mountain with a viewpoint over Pokhara) the next day and he said he also wants to go and he could be my guide and friend. After the scooter episode I tend to lay thing straight from the beginning. So with no funny business assured I hiked with Michael (I can’t pronounce his Nepalese name) to Sarangkot, an adjacent mountain which is supposed to have spectacular views of the Phewa lake and Annapurna mountain range….I’ll let you decide from the photographs. My guide…sorry new friend was also knocking on my door early next morning to begin our city tour. A bit disgruntled at yet again another early start, a knocked back a coffee and was hot on my guide’s heel. We visited the ghats where the bodies are cremated and thrown in the river….he offered for us to go boating in the lake but the concept of pushing the occasional toe or shoulder out of the way with my oar was less than appealing in my eyes. The most bazaar thing (for me anyway) was that people were washing themselves and their clothes only 30metres away from the cremation site. Even if the water is “spiritually” clean you won’t find me washing with floating carcasses!
The trip to Pokhara from Butwal was a side trip so I decided not to do the same route twice so I took the bus from Pokhara to Tansen and then enjoyed the 35km rollercoaster ride of pure unabashed fun into Butwal. Butwal wasn’t the end to the day I was looking for after the stunning ride but being pitch dark I had no option but to stay there. It’s an odd town Butwal which hasn’t a whole lot going for it apart from its bus station being a main hub for Nepal. The “Annapurna view” hotel where I managed to get the last available bed offered nothing more than a view of the rear of the bus station and the busy road it fronted. Talk about false advertising, the closest thing to a view of the Annapurna range were the postcards he was trying to sell me over breakfast. My prison cell… I mean room was initially in the top ten for worst nights accommodation. The room had a strong musty smell not unlike a wax jacket stuck in a press for a year but once I burned my anti-mosquito spiral which I have grown to love over the past weeks, the room was bearable. What appeared to be blood stains on the wall, making me think the last guest left in a body bag were thankfully only beetle nut tobacco stains that they all chew here. It’s awful to see children as young as 10 with tobacco stained teeth resembling a night on the wine with a strong residue vintage! Most importantly however when you hear someone churning up some phlegm you have to get out of the way quick or you will have a tobacco stained leg to show. Sadly this is from experience as I flew past an old man on a bike who didn’t hear the gentle hum of my “missile” over the clunking of his own and accidentally projected on my leg. The wine coloured stain on my leg is 3 days old now and as it fades it resembles a more convincing birth mark.Farmer tending to his Buffalo.
and a better look at the happy chap...
I feel like I have been racing over the past few days as I never intended to make the side trip to Pokhara and Tansen and then questioned myself as to why I’m rushing. Although I raced out of Butwal I believe it was with good reason but stopped 65km away in the crossroad town of Chanaute for an early day. The town has a direct road connection to India and with that comes a diverse mix of people. As I approached the town I saw a woman in a Burka cycling past me and for a change I was the one staring at a woman on a bike. You see all castes and ethnicities of Nepalese society here form the muffin top Tharu women showing off their flab (sign of wealth if you are obese) to turban Sikhs, to Bajis ( Abadhi speakers from India), Newars, Magars etc. Also in the mix are the skull cap and long bearded Muslim community who settled here in 1857 to escape the Indian uprising and last but not least the odd smattering of Tibetans. Altogether it was a disorientating experience.
From Chanaute onwards the traffic thinned out once again and it was clean sailing through jungle and lake landscape. I managed to find a hotel or guesthouse every evening, although I did have to pedal on in the dark on two occasions as the villages thinned out the further west I travelled. Travelling in the dark also comes with a catch 22. I need to wear a head torch or else I obviously see nothing but the light attracts all the flies. As the torch rests on my forehead its obviously not far from my eyes and flies and eyes don’t mix. Why don’t I wear my shades…well they are to protect me from the sun so in the dark with sunglasses I see absolutely nothing. On these occasions I arrived with squinted eyes and a massacre of flies across my forehead. Luckily there was the obligatory power cut so they couldn’t fully see my dishevelled look as I arrived. In the previous town called Amile I was assured there was a hotel so I stupidly took their word on it and tucked into a well overdue lunch at 5pm. Afterwards I discovered the Nepalese like to call their shack/hut style restaurants “Hotels” as they think it sounds more professional. Flippin fantastic just another 20km to the next town! Sadly I discovered this at the start of my meal and then wolfed it down before it was pitch dark. I haven’t quite adjusted to the spicy diet here as yet so that wasn’t my cleverest move to date. On arrival in the next collection of huts which was smaller than the previous town….beyond me how a smaller town deserves 3 hotels and a bigger town none! Things were a new level of basic here with no running water or electricity but nonetheless delighted to have a plank of wood (bed) to sleep on that night. After a few hours the affects of my hurried eating kicked in and over half the night was spent in the outside squat toilet. There was an old oil barrel outside full of water at the start of the evening which was to be used to scoop water from instead of the luxury of a flush toiled. I apologise in advance for the following content but if you don’t talk about your daily bowel movements then you’re not a proper traveler. To cut a long (painful) story short by the morning there was no water left in the barrel I hadn’t the energy to head to the river to get more water and hide my nights entertainment. An hour later as I was finally able to sleep I awoke to hasty grunting and grumbling from the cleaner. Feeling a touch guilty I rolled over and fell back asleep. I arrived so late the night before I only got talking to the owner properly at breakfast the next day. As I feebly only ordered tea for breakfast he knew I was the culprit for the toilet. When you travel abroad you are an ambassador for your country especially in areas where they don’t see a lot of tourists. As I was leaving this was in the back of my mind when the manager asked me what country I’m from. “England” I replied and pedalled off.
We enjoyed a morning "chai" together. Chai is tea flavoured sugar and not the other way around.
The following day I had to set off early as there was supposedly 150km of jungle ahead of me and no accommodation in between. Nobody could tell me if a foreigner was actually allowed cycle through so I decided to play the ignorant card at the police checkpoint on the way in. They were so gob smacked to see a foreign cyclist with a fully loaded bike that I just built up speed shouted “namaste” ,smiled and gave them a big wave. About 700m down the road I glanced in my side mirror and now saw 9 (previously 2) police in the middle of the road catching flies. The cycle in the jungle was incredibly relaxing apart from the useless advice of some of the construction workers I met repairing a bridge at the halfway point. They told me the jungle was too dangerous to cross and I should turn back. Now that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense seeing s I’m already half way through it’s the same distance to continue on. I stopped to take a sip of water-“No no don’t stop it’s too dangerous”. I mean they are in the same area for 10 hours a day trying to fix a bridge and they won’t let me stop for 2mins to take a drink. My philosophy was that I spent an entire day running and squatting like a lunatic in Chitwan national park looking to see a tiger and I didn’t so I figures my chances were slightly less here on a road with occasional traffic. That said most of the traffic was monkeys. After about 20km I must admit I did have to eat my words. I was cycling along merrily with my iphone belting out music when all of a sudden I see the dark muddy head of a rhino. I stopped pedalling but bike still freewheeling closer and tried to get a confirmation on it being a rhino. With my short-sightedness that got me within 100m of it when I could confidently say it was not a water-buffalo and in fact a rhino. With that I screeched on the brakes, just to ensure he saw me in case the music wasn’t sign enough and ran to the first tree I could find and started climbing. My guide in Chitwan had taught me this trick as rhinos don’t charge above 2metres. The only problem was the tree trunks were so flippin wide I couldn’t get my arms around it to climb. Eventually I found a suitably proportioned trunk for a novice climber and surprised myself at my newly acquired skill at climbing. I think the secret is adrenaline and I sure had it by the bucket at that stage. Ironically my iphone was playing “tell me what to do” by metro station as I sat in the tree awaiting my next move. After about 20 minutes which felt like an hour the rhino had given a quick sniff at my bike and wandered back to where he came from. I waited another 15 minutes to be sure in case he wasn’t just napping behind the next tree and then made a dart for it. I think it’s fair to say I increased my average KM per hour limit as I cycled away!It's harvest time.
The remained of the journey was appearing to be uneventful in comparison to the previous days encounters until I hit the town of Chisapani. I had planned staying the night there but it was still quite early and with the assurance that there would be a hotel in the next town I set off. About 2km down the road a docile pig came up out of the undergrowth an ambled straight across the road. With that an agricultural vehicle with a trailer on the back used as public transport, had to slam on the brakes and try to avoid the big. At this stage I was now in the undergrowth and questioning how the driver thought the life of the pig was more important than mine….ok being Hindu I can understand the animal is sacred but it was a pig not even a cow. Jokes aside what ensued was quite horrific as the pig was decapitated by a head on collision with the drivers side and out of the 50 odd passenger on the trailer one wasn’t quick enough to hold on and somersaulted off the trailer landing on her head. It was clear she was dead from the moment she hit the ground. I’m guessing this is a regular occurrence as the driver swiftly got a black piece of fabric from the cabin and draped it over her covering her frail frame. The passengers jumped of the trailer and started collecting rocks to place on the road as a barrier to stop traffic. I didn’t quite understand the reasoning of this as within minutes there were people blowing horns and shouting which is hardly the atmosphere you are looking for when someone has just died. As I dragged myself and bike out of the undergrowth the driver was pulling the remainder of the pig into it. The locals were quite embarrassed about the whole situation when they saw me and all made a gap for me to pedal away, which I was quite happy about because I felt quite uncomfortable being the only foreigner there in such a situation. That said I did get a few disgruntled looks from guys on scooters who weren’t allowed pass and I was. I cycled on a bit shook up for the next 50 mins but the friendly faces of the next village soon made me pull myself together. Until I saw the ambulance fly past that is….no point in rushing now it’s a good hour since the accident happened now.Funeral on the road... which felt more like a parade.
I thought that was enough excitement for one day until all of a sudden an old women, not a day under 80 steps onto the road. Naturally I screech on the brakes and try to swerve around her as the onlookers shout at her “cycle”. The problem with a good bike is that no one hears you and they don’t bother to look. Safe cross code has not reached the Nepalese education system. Reaction the audience the hunchback straightens a little and she makes a bolt for the other side of the road which unfortunately for both us involved an unwanted meeting. The poor woman fell like a plank head first. This was not my day. So I removed my tyre from under her dress, glanced at my own scratches and when I turn around there was a mob of people around her. The bizarre thing was she was complaining about her ankle when surely her head would be the main cause of her pain….or maybe that explains why she was complaining about her ankle. Within seconds the old woman was forgotten about and all attention was on me and how much I was gong to pay for her medical bills. To this day I’m not sure if the whole situation was a scam or not but I am truly amazed at how a mob of people appeared out of nowhere so quickly. Also I think the woman had it in her head that she was to complain about her ankle and had practiced that routine before. What she didn’t expect was that my bike is quite fast and that she wouldn’t be able to outrun me. The prices they were quoting would have bought a small doctors practice for the community so I settled on enough to buy a sizeable pick and mix from the local pharmacy. If someone is desperate enough to run out in front of a bike for money I’m happy to them the money. Sadly I don’t think the poor old woman saw much of the money though and went straight into the hands of the chief negotiator. I asked to be shown the local pharmacy so that I could get her what she wanted but suddenly their English faded.
Thankfully the road carnage faded like their English in the next few days and I enjoyed glorious weather 27 deg. and uninterrupted views of the river beds, paddy fields and all things Nepali. On my last day cycling in Nepal I stayed in a junction 2km outside the intended town for overnighting. As I asked at what appeared to be the hotel I got the usual yes/no head headshake so I know at this stage you just have to barge into the building and try and find the room. Within minutes someone usually comes scurrying along to assist you. The room had to be emptied of a few little things like empty whisky and vodka bottles, various items of clothing, tins of paint. It was basically a storage room with a bed for the local drunk who couldn’t fink his motorbike keys. The broken furniture did give it an air of bar after a nasty fight….but it was dark, and I was tired and delighted. I was looking forward to a decent meal but when I came out of them bathroom after trying to find my face under the dust the whole “town” had shoot down and there was bearly a candle to seen. I asked the owner what had happened and he said the last bus to next town had just left. Guess it was going to be an early night. I asked if he had my trusted “Dal-bhaat” which I’ve grown to love as it has never made me sick. Unfortunately the only culinary delights the junction had to offer were packet noodles. Since Tibet I have avoided packet noodles at all costs as I fear my MSG levels are still dangerously high! When he saw my face drop he said he would take me on his motorbike to the next town and he would wait while I ate. As far as I knew the next town was 40km away, until he revealed that the town I actually wanted to stay in was 2km away….the penny dropped. True to his word we rode off to the next town and he sipped tea while I gobbled an inhuman amount of food while he boasted that the foreigner decided to stay in his drunk house. It was a clear win win! When we returned I had my final cup of Nepalese tea with his family which is another cycling treat I will miss from Nepal. Its made from buffalo milk, masala tea and swamped in sugar. Best enjoyed after a gruelling hill or after a night in a squat toilet when you are feeling particularly dehydrated. I looked around the bar that night and it was 9pm, as usual in small villages there was not one woman to be seen as they were already at home. The men who were out at this hour were either salesmen waiting for an early bus the next morning or drunks up to no good. Alcohol here is purely to get drunk and the favourite that evening was either a mix of rum and beer or whiskey and beer….despite their best efforts I’ll stick to the tea thanks!
He used this face to extort "chai" money out of me....