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Rishikesh to Pokhara – Down in the lowlands

February 6, 2012

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My volunteering post had been confirmed, I would begin working at REEC (Rural Environment and Empowerment Centre) a small charity supported by ICT on the 10th of October.  Therefore any mountainous routes to the Nepalese border had to be shunned in favour of quicker lowland main roads, something I hate to do as I knew what would be in store, but sometimes needs must.


The first few hours out of Rishikesh were a dream, huge tarmac paths next to concretised river channels feeding into the mighty Ganges, it felt a bit like a tropical Eurovelo.  The route took us through dense forest with not a sole around out onto a main road replete with all India has to offer in that department.  Still in the forest the road was bareable, warning signs for wild elephants leaving us both in a constant head turn to spot one of the mighty beasts in the undergrowth.  Suddenly I hear a crack in the woodland and as I stop to take a closer look 2 huge grey faces can be seen in the dense foliage.  I quickly reach for my camera eager to get as close as possible without getting trampled (these guys don’t mess around and are constantly pissed off) as both of them look content to destroy everything around them at a safe distance.  Our excitement doesn’t go un noticed and before long a lorry stops and tells us to get away from the area very fast, with a quick snap and a good look were quickly on our way feeling pretty buzzed.


Camping seems unlikely amongst the dense settlements organised around endless green fields plus the humidity would make camping uncomfortable so we try to find a cheap hotel (dharamsala).  We find one after collecting two ice cold beers from one of the many ’wine shops,’ your order is passed to you through the prison bars as no one is allowed in apart from the poor sole who has to remain trapped inside all day serving drunks.


We spent the next few days battling along the main roads trying not to let our tempers get the better of us.  In dusty, hot and hectic conditions its easy to become frustrated and angry but its part of the experience, even though it doesn’t get you anywhere.  Feeling tired, the only restbite for fresh lime juices and ATMs we made our way to the border eager to get into Nepal, a country known to be a little less intense than India.  We arrived at the border, the most lowkey of the trip, consisting of a table and a few disinterested guards, my well concealed hashish could have been in my hand for all the attention we received and we freely passed the check post as hordes of Nepalis and Indians drifted between the countries without hindrance.


It was a momentous occasion to enter Nepal, the original destination of the trip was tangibly close now, good reason to find a hotel, get some beers and celebrate with the friendly hotel owners, who were far removed from the off-putting stares of some Indians, despite taking advantage of our newness to the Nepali language and teaching us rude words instead of the name for the traditional dish.


Terai, or lowlands comprises roughly half of Nepal stretching from one end to the other and cutting the country in half lengthways.  The top half of Nepal is mountains, it has the highest concentration of plus 8000m peaks of any country.  But we would spend the next week or so pedalling along the only road, a straight monolith stretching from West to East.  Despite its lack of turns the road showed itself to be the lifeblood of the areas we passed through, people constantly on or around it, some busy working others sitting around watching the world go by.


Many houses were wooden tree houses on stilts nestled in the thick forest, people could be seen fishing in shallow ponds with makeshift nets and we would constantly pass giant bundles of sticks and grass trundling along the side of the road attached to the forehead of a hunched individual returning home with firewood and feed for the animals.


The vast expanses of woodland would have been perfect for camping were it not for the constant stream of kids somehow managing to find us even when we thought we were completely hidden.  On a couple of occasions you would wake to hear giggles from a group in the near distance and peering out of the tent the campsite would have been ransacked of anything that had been left out, including any rubbish.  After some shouting the stolen items were returned luckily but we soon learnt that it was best to keep everything out of sight of these light-fingered Nepalese.  In addition to some thieving children the humidity was pretty uncomfortable and every night we would try to camp near a water source in order to wash away the days sweat and try to cool off before the mosquitoes began munching at us.


After a few days of lowland riding it was time to turn up into the mountains towards Pokhara.  This route offered some spectacular and tough riding, Nepalese roads pitching up and down relentlessly, you never hold the altitude.  It was all worth it for the views of Machuppachure mountain or ‘fish tail’ as its known (the northern view has given it its name), forming part of the Annapurna range this mighty mountain sat above the clouds like a ghost.  After some more relentless climbing through the maturing rice fields we could see Pokhara sitting beneath next to Fewa lake.  The decent was sweet but a monumental explosion from my rear tyre revealed a shredded rim, the walls of which had become progressively thinner over the past year and had now given way.  So with only 5kms remaining I slung the bike into the back of a pick up and Tim rode behind towards the river side and a hotel with a hot shower.


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