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Cycling Plus

Cycling Plus #14:
Nepal - the road West

It was the beginning of the Hindu festival, 'Tihar', and Kathmandu's dog population wandered the streets, garlands of bright orange flowers wrapped around their xylophone bodies. Time too to leave this tourist Mecca, and say farewell to the community of cyclists gathered here from all over the world.

I'm joined again by Frenchman, David, a fellow Tibet cyclist, and Ferry, a young German Chinese, keen to investigate the wonders of bike travel. He's inherited Dutchman Bob's ageing Peugeot, cycled over from Lhasa. Bob and crazy Irishman Brian have swapped their steeds for a wasp yellow 'Enfield' Chopper, set to blaze a trail of mayhem home to Europe. Back at characterful Sonam's 'Dawn till Dusk' bike shop, Possum's been resprayed blue and a newchain and rear cassette have been fitted.

Leaving Kathmandu, our destination is Nepal's most westerly exit into India at Mahendranagar. We head for Pokhara and turn off the busy main road to begin our final pass - the reward for our 50 km climb is a spectacular vista of the Himalayas, that includes eight of the world's fourteen 8,000 metre peaks. After gazing out at this awesome panorama, a 60km descent feeds us into the lowlands at Hetauda where the temperature rises and the jungle hems us in. The road through Western Nepal is smooth and almost deserted, skirting the country's most beautiful wildlife reserves. The Nepalese are friendly and laid back, gathering around us when we stop to refuel on the national dish, dahl baht. Monkeys dangle in the trees, elephants wash in the rivers; further downstream, a crocodile floats just below the surfacelike a dead branch. Coated in a golden light, beautiful Nepali women with golden noserings and colourful saris work the land, clutching tiny babies to their hips. Children dawdle home from school and old men sit by the roadside, their twig thin legs crossed, watching the world go by with bemused interest. As dusk turns to darkness, the aromas of crispy samosas and spicy dahls drift from darkened eateries, where locals play 'carom' and chefs doze around the glowing embers of clay ovens.

One late afternoon, we stop in a small village still in the throws of festival celebration. Over dinner, as drunken men sway from one table to the next. A young Indian English teacher approaches us, makes small talk for a while and then broaches the main subject. Kedar was in love...He had been sent a letter of proposal by a Nepalese girl. She was young and beautiful, and her parents ran a successful shop. 'I love her, she loves me. Is it not the law of nature to get married?' But therein lay the problem: neither of his brothers were yet betrothed, and as the youngest of the family, how could he be the first? 'What to do?' he concluded with a look of angst and worry. She had been away for a week - 'I am highly longing to see her,' he lamented. Clearly something had to be done, and we suggested seeking permission from the elder brothers, reasurring him they would be understanding...Unlikely...and not a question I hope I'll have to ask my elder brother!

India loomed ever closer and the 'Enfield' was, nowhere to be seen. The peace and tranquillity of the last 700kms had been broken only by the occasional speeding bus, swerving round sacred cows nonchalantly crossing the road. Things were set to change - it was time to hit the highway to Delhi.



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