Posted by: sarahandphil | August 12, 2010

We’re home!

This is just to say a big thank you to everyone for all the messages of support while we were on the road, and congratulations since. They really helped us on our way!  We are now back in London enjoying coffee (Sarah), lying on grass (Phil) and trying to put back on some of the weight we have lost (a stone each).

Also, this blog will remain live. I (Phil) am going to be adding a few pages on the environmental aspects of the trip (China and India being so much in the news as fast-industrialising countries, there is quite a lot to be said about what we saw en route) and we will put some more photos up now that we have time.

Apparently we have made the illustrious back page of the Economic Times of India today (12 August). See:

http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/News/News-By-Industry/ET-Cetera/Beijing-to-Delhi-No-mountain-too-high-on-a-bicycle/articleshow/6295671.cms?curpg=2

So, further info and updates coming, but for the moment, thanks again!

Phil and Sarah

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Posted by: sarahandphil | August 3, 2010

Delhi!

So, our last day on the road.

Mixed feelings from both of us. Slight exhaustion is setting in after this particular stretch – 20 days non-stop since Lhasa, averaging 100+km per day and with all those passes and then the seriously full-on energy-sapping heat of Nepal. Our bodies have held out pretty well considering what we have been putting them through, but somehow they just keep going and going. Our minds, however, have had 2 months of rest, worrying only about food, water and shelter and about distance covered, but otherwise being able to spend most of the day in a zen-like trance watching the world roll by. On the other hand, I think we are both feeling slight reluctance to reach the end, having had such an amazing time. It has been wonderful to pass through such awesome places and to have had so much time together.

Our final stretch into Delhi was fairly uneventful. Traffic got heavier and heavier and there were the usual loads of passing motorbikes, cars and trucks slowing to stare, yell or give the thumbs up. We seem to have got the hang of large cities now and fairly easily made it right into the heart of a monsoon downpour New Delhi, where we headed for India Gate, the heart of the city. And, after 4,612km on the road, we finally arrived… a big hug and a smooch (typically, as we finished, a staring local who had clearly got a bit of a pervy kick out of it (PDAs are rare in India) urged us “More, more. Kiss again!”) and that was it.

We stood there in the drizzle at India Gate thinking of everything we have done over the past two months, hugged some more and then realised we needed a long, hot shower.

And so we cycled off towards our hotel up the main avenue, Rajpath. As we waited at some lights, we were stopped by a guy who asked us what we were doing and where we had come from. We told him the usual details and then cycled on up to the Presidential Palace for a quick peek (and even had a final race up the hill) and then turned round and come back. The guy was there waiting at the lights again. He stopped us and said his wife is a Times of India reporter and the paper wanted to do an interview on us. So we met her that afternoon. It was a great chance for us to recap our trip. Watch this space….

And then that shower.

And a rest.

And, we are still talking. And the wedding is still on!

STATS: Dist 60km. Avg 21.3. Time 2hr 47 mins

OVERALL TRIP STATS

Overall distance – 4,612km

Time in saddle – 239 hrs, 46 mins

Longest day – 150km

Fastest day – 25.1km/hr

Slowest day – 8.3km/hr

Highest point – 5,220m

Highest climb in a day – 2000m

Max speed 59.9km/hr

Litres of liquid (water, tea (in China), fizzy drinks (Nepal and India) consumed – about 282L each

Number of mossie bites – Sarah 359, stopped counting after that; Phil 3.

Number of single shoes spotted on road – 57 (estimate!)

Pairs of shoes spotted on road – 1

Number of swear words shouted at truck drivers –Formula: # = vocabulary quotient x (days in China + days in India) x crazy truck drivers on road.

Pairs of socks worn – Sarah 3, Phil 2

Pairs of shorts – Sarah 3, Phil 2 (girls, so much cleaner!)

Punctures – nil (thank you Schwalbe marathon tyres!)

Breakdowns – nil (thank you mechanic (Sarah))

Navigational errors – one

Most common question asked of us – “How much does your bike cost?” (China) and “Is she your wife?” and “Love marriage or arranged marriage?” (Nepal and India)

Best piece of equipment taken – squeezy container for honey.

Best moment – coming down from altitude and being able to breath (Sarah), Sarah coming down from altitude and no longer being grumpy (Phil)

Worst moment – losing each other in Kathmandu

Next Trip…………….???

Posted by: sarahandphil | August 3, 2010

Nearly there!

The Day Before Delhi

We started off this morning from the “Taj of Moradabad” knowing that this should be our last full day of cycling before Delhi…before the END. It was raining cats and dogs and we laughed about a conversation we had a week earlier in Nepal that went something like “if you had to choose between no rain and sun everyday or, rain everyday, from here to Delhi which would you prefer?” Given that day was baking hot sunshine, we had both decided we would prefer rain…luckily!

The road was pretty much the continuation of the smooth by-pass we were on yesterday and we knocked out 50km easily before stopping at a roadside “dhaba” for lunch (more aloo!).  After lunch we thought we would try for another 40 or 50km and get to, or just past, Hapur, leaving only 50km to cover on our last day to Delhi. As is usually the way when you are thinking about how well you are getting on, things turned to custard a little from here.

We crossed the Ganges and the by-pass road ended and we were back to stretches of potholed road with the exhausting blaring of horns as drivers speedily approached us from behind and impatiently wanted to get past us (there being little room often because a truck would be coming the other way and a car trying to overtake it thereby taking up the width of the road). We have to keep constantly on edge to navigate the crappy broken road without getting in the path of any of the cars/trucks/buses. It doesn’t help when so many of the motorcyclists slow down and stare as they come up behind us or when they pass us, squashing us further toward to edge of the road.  With all the rain, the road turned completely to mud where it went through towns and the potholes were so full of water you could not tell how deep they were or in fact where the edges were – leading to a quite spectacular ‘very nearly over the handle-bars head first’ incident for me; thankfully managing to keep myself and bike upright and only minimal damage to certain bony bits.

Anyway enough of the road works stories. We also met some nice folk on the road today. We met a carload who had seen us 250km earlier at the Nepal border and had some photos with them. We also met some nice guys who work in the seed and vegetable industry and were kind enough to check the location of the hotel we were headed for near Hapur (having seen a massive billboard for it 50km earlier). They were all very impressed that we had come all the way from Beijing.  Seeing people’s reaction here to the fact we have come from Beijing by bike really makes it hit home to us how far away Beijing is, in distance, culture, colour – everything. 

We are now really starting to think about reaching Delhi (fingers crossed) and completing the journey we set out to. Over dinner we got chatting about the things we had learned about each other and ourselves during the trip – thankfully nothing scary learnt – and whether the trip had fulfilled what we wanted it to, sort of irrespective of making it to Delhi tomorrow or not. Then the food arrived and we tucked in to some aloo – again! For those that are not well acquainted with Indian food, if you are avoiding meat (as we are just to be on the safe side and having seen too many trucks of crated chickens) you are pretty much left with potato (aloo) or paneer (a type of soft cheese) dry or in gravy and generally spicy. We have tried most of them we can highly recommend a few of our faves such as Dum Aloo Kashmiri, Aloo Jeera and Paneer Pasanda. Yum!

Tomorrow, well, all roads may lead to Rome but this one, we hope, leads straight to the centre of Delhi. Bring it on! 

STATS: Dist 100km. Avg 22.8 Time: 4 hr 23 mins

Posted by: sarahandphil | July 30, 2010

“Hello, Pretty Boy”

(NB we have finally, after 10 days in Nepal with v intermittent access to internet, arrived in India where it’s better. So, lots of photos since last day in Tibet added to the various last few posts below).

Day 16 Lamki to India and Khatami

Day 17 Khatami to Moradabad

We set off from Lamki towards Mahendranagar and the Indian border at 7.30, our earliest start yet, as we wanted to cross over before it closed and we had an idea it could be bureaucratic. How right we were…

The 115km to the border was very much as our previous 4 days have been in Nepal since we hit the Terai plains: A hot slog (we reckon 35 degrees ish and humid, even hotter earlier in the week) through paddy fields, with local life unfolding as we went along, and then occasional sections on slightly higher bits of ground (we’re talking a matter of only a few feet), uncultivated and with no houses or people, and with jungle and all its thick smells and noisy animal calls.

 Although in the populated sections there is a lot going on and there are lots of people about, it is not at all built up – or at least nothing compared to similar paddy field terrain in China. It’s probably because so many more people live to a house here.  Also, although there’s lots of traffic, it’s not motorised, but instead is people on foot and bike and herding livestock, with only the occasional overloaded truck, bus or jeep with people jammed in, leaning out of the windows and sitting on the roof. It’s pretty pleasant bike riding for us as we just tootle along, shouting the usual road-debris warnings to each other –  bike, shoe, cow, goat, jeep , rock, dog, dead dog etc – and watching life roll by.

Western Nepal, which we have been going through, definitely seems poorer than the areas around Kathmandu.

There are many fewer brick houses and most people live in mud huts: a hard packed area of mud raised slightly above the paddy, with a thatch roof and with walls made of mud and twigs. Animals either live in a separate hut or sometimes on the ground floor with humans on a raised platform.  It is pretty basic. Electricity only to some houses in the towns (where there are brick buildings), and the towns finish almost before you realise you are in one. Most people seem to have goats or chickens and then there are the water buffalo and cattle which are used to plough and to pull carts, a few of which we have seen almost entirely submerged in the rivers, cooling off, or lying in pools with their owners scrubbing them down. Quite a few dogs; almost no cats.

So, we rolled on from Lamki towards the border, drinking loads of water to replace the sweat as we cycled (we are so sweaty that we now have interesting looking sweat rashes – nice) and stopping every 20km or so for a short 5 minute break of proper water guzzling and every 40km or so for 15 minutes and a cold fizzy drink if we find a shop. Lunch was at a tiny collection of mud huts after 80km. We have now got Nepali food down to a tee. We spotted a pile of samosas as we cycled past and stopped and had them (once the thick covering of flies had been  swatted off them) – delicious – followed by fried noodles with spices and veg. Yum. A large crowd gathered while we were eating. Mostly just to stare. It is really interesting how the interaction we had in China-proper pretty much stopped once we got into Tibet and how it doesn’t really happen in Nepal  either. Our in-depth, on-road analysis (i.e. our guess), is that the gap between our lifestyles is so great in these poor areas – Tibet and Nepal – that the points to talk about are very few and so staring and yelling (“bye bye” or “Amreekan, Amreekan”) is as far as it goes.  But in China-proper and in India (where we now are) there are people with a lifestyle closer to ours – i.e. job that is not a “life”, leisure time, disposable income, education etc – and so there is more to talk about and more confidence from the locals to start up a chat. Anyway, so, the “foreigner eats [select food item depending where we are (usually watermelon in China; here samosa)]” roadshow kicked off, with a large crowd staring as we chowed down our samosas.  There were also two guys who sat near us who spoke good English. One of them had just come back from working as a security guard in Iraq for 3 years and was now looking to go and work in Afghanistan. Apparently lots of Nepalis are employed there. He had been earning US$1,000 a month, which is a obviously a fortune here. We also chatted to them about the monsoon as we haven’t had any rain since just after Kathmandu (a week ago) and all the rivers are dry or very low. They say that it’s been a very “bad” monsoon, with much less rain than normal.

We found the day pretty tough going as the road, although good quality, had quite a rough surface, which made it high-friction, so we were pedalling hard to maintain even 20km/hr instead of a smooth run at 27km/hr or more. A big difference on a bike.

Eventually, we arrived at Mahendranagar, the last town before the border. We had a drink and then changed our Nepali rupiyas into Indian rupees. Then on to the border. We were tootling along the road when someone ran up onto the road behind us and yelled. We stopped and looked back. The gesticulating man pointed off to the side, down a slope, where there was a little hut which, it turned out, was Nepal immigration. We had cycled right past it. So, we turned back and went down to the hut, which had one bed and a desk and two very bored looking men, the immigration officials. They then came up with a whole complicated spiel about how they didn’t want to stamp our passports for departure as the Indians might not like it. We were confused and said surely we need a departure stamp. They insisted they would not stamp them and said that we should go to the Indian immigration guys on the other side of the border to get our Indian entry stamp and then come back. “It’s only ½ a kilometre”…

So we set off. The road very shortly stopped dead and dropped into a field with some cattle, a few herders and some monkeys. There was a dusty, very bumpy track which wriggled along by a canal for about 2km, which we bumped along, passing by a few people and a little concrete hut and… then another “Heh! Heh! You!” We stopped again and looked round. Three soldiers were standing outside the hut waving at us. Again, we turned round and went back. We said we were going to the Indian border. They said they were the border and we were now in India. They wanted to see our passports and asked why we had no Nepal departure stamp. We explained. All very complicated. We suggested we carry on to India immigration to find out what was what.

So, to India immigration, a sleepy hut a further ½ km on, with two sleepy men scratching their tummies while listening to the cricket on the radio. “You need a Nepal departure stamp”. Discussion. Insistence by them. So, back on the bike for me (having taken my panniers off), leaving Sarah in India, and all the way back on the bumpy track to Nepal, waving at the Indian border guards as I shot past. Back into Nepal, passports handed over (slightly concerned at leaving Sarah with no passport in a different country from me) and explained to the dozy Nepalis that the Indians wanted Nepal departure stamps, as one would expect. A shrug and a stamp was produced and all done. Still not sure why this couldn’t have been done first time. Then back again along the bumpy track (I had spent enough time banging along it now to start worrying about my future ability to have children), past the cows and the monkeys and again across the Indian border where the guards now gave a friendly wave as I rattled past. Back to the Indians. Another tummy scratch and mutch tutting and tip-ex-ing as we filled forms in wrong and they had to be corrected. Then stamps and… finally…. we were into India (not before Sarah then had the guards running again after taking a photo of me in front of the Indian flag and being told that was not allowed – terrorism, security, etc etc – and being made to delete it).

And while all of this was going on for us, countless Nepalis and Indians, cows and monkeys wandered back and forth past the immigration officials at both ends and through the border. We think there must be an open-door policy between Nepal and India. Either that or this is the best border between the two countries to enter illegally, with no checks at all.

After that, a final 20km or so in India to the town of Khatima where we spent the night. It was a perfect first stop in India. A clean hotel and loads of yummy street food stalls outside. So we sampled aloo tikki (potato cakes smashed up with chickpeas and spicy sauce) and some decent chocolate (Cadbury’s, which having been spotted by us at the Tibet/Nepal border was then nowhere to be seen across Nepal) before a delicious supper of curried potato and curried cheese. Two young guys who had passed us earlier on their motorbike found us in the hotel and gave us a quick Hindi lesson and recommendations on good local food. They were really great to chat with, both about to head off to different universities and having a final knees-up in their hometown.

Today we carried on from Khatima all the way to Moradabad (“The World Capital of Brass Manufacturing”) – a record 150km ride.

 The change has been amazing, and in one respect more than any… the reaction of locals. In Nepal, we had had stares and children yelling “bye bye”. In India, everyone is in on the act. The usual yell is just “hey” or “oy”, very loudly, and not just from individuals, but whole shops of men sitting around or jeeps or motorbikes or tea stops. But the real focus is Sarah. There are whoops as she passes by. All eyes follow her. It’s a bit like being with The Girl from Ipanema… and as she passes each one she passes go “ahhh” or, in this case “Wahey!/Woohoo!/Hey!”. She has even had said to her in a slightly elicit, breathless, manner “You are sexy!” I feel a bit like security cycling behind Angelina Jolie. And it got worse for me when the only comment directed my way – at a crossroads as I stopped to ask directions – was “Hey there, pretty boy!”. Hmmm. The road interviews have also become far more frequent. Four of them today alone, and one by a woman – a first for the trip – a rather lovely Sikh girl sitting on the back of a scooter being driven by her father who egged her on as they scooted alongside us.

We think part of the excitement is that our “Beijing to Delhi” Nepali number plates finally mean something to passers by, who can see (and can believe) that we are heading to Delhi. Loads of thumbs up from cars etc. Tonight, as we arrived at our hotel another local came up to us and said “I saw you 50km back on the road and waved”. He is heavily involved in brass manufacturing here in Moradabad and has already asked if we would like to be importers of brass casts for him into the UK, “You can make a lot of money”. We are meeting him in the bar shortly… a new career for both of us perhaps.

Today was a long day, but not nearly as knackering as in Nepal.

 The monsoon has finally caught up with us and, for the first time in ages, it was raining, hard, so it was cool (and had been all night), and continued so all morning. In addition, the road surface was beautifully smooth. So we shot along and had done 65km before lunch in Rudrapur – a bit of a dump, but with great street stalls where we sat on a bench eating samosas, covered in flies (us, the bench and the samosas) before going across the street to another place for roti and dhal, covered in flies.

As usual, within a minute or so of parking our bikes a crowd of children slowly but surely grows, soon joined by adults, all very inquisitive about the bikes and wanting to watch us eat.

We were heading for Rampur, but decided we should take advantage of the coolness to push on to Moradabad, another 26km towards Delhi (thank goodness, because Rampur turned out to be a hugger-mugger of passing lorries, flies and a stinking rubbish dump). The afternoon shot by, with only a few altercations with oil tankers, cars and motorbikes and only one seriously bizarre incident

– standing at the barrier at a level crossing waiting for a train, along with hundreds of scooters and cyclists, and Sarah being handed a baby by a random passer by and being asked to pose with it for photos. Angelina indeed. Of course, as “Security”, I appear at the edge of the photos looking a bit dodgy (but very burly…). Train passes, baby (screaming) handed back, we’re off.

After finding our road in fact by-passed Moradabad, so no chance of staying there, and then reaching nearly 150km and really starting to feel quite tired, we then asked a few policeman and a petrol pump attendant if they knew anywhere to stay. As always, views varied but it appeared there was a place 2km (one officer’s view) or 10km (his boss’ view) further on. We weren’t fussy, we just wanted a bed and a shower (though Sarah was worried it might be another Arunkhola), but then we rounded the corner (after 10km, the boss was right) and there was the “Taj Mahal” (of sorts), the “Holiday Regency” Moradabad. And so here we are. AC, swimming pool, luxury, deserved we think after such a long day, and a meeting shortly with our new brass manufacturing friend!

We will aim for Ghaziabad tomorrow and then a short hop to Delhi on Sunday…

STATS

Stage 3, Day 16 Distance 133km, Ave 20.4km/hr, Time 6hrs 30

Day 17 Distance 150km,  Ave 22.4km/hr, Time 6hrs 42

Posted by: sarahandphil | July 28, 2010

Bike into the Danger Zone…

“Bike into the Danger Zone”
So after the night of sweaty camping, the manky dive that was Arunkhola, the steam room of Gorusinge, we seem to have hit a good run. Lamahi, where we last updated the blog, turned out to be a right wee metropolis. It had a hospital (one room, some ancient looking equipment and a doc sitting outside waiting for patients – and one turned up in an equally ancient ambulance, thankfully not in too bad shape), a couple of restaurants (spoilt for choice) and even an internet cafe (though lack of electricity meant is wasn’t working). After a nice evening, able to relax in a reasonably clean room (loo/shower down the hall did stink of poos and wees though) we had a yummy dinner in a place that seemed to have a ‘womens-sitting’ as Phil was the only bloke there. These gorgeous women, in their beautiful and colourful garb still manage to look a bit less elegant when eating in the traditional Nepali way, with fingers rather than forks. I was impressed with how much some of them manage to put away too given how small many of them are! The best part of the evening was the cool breeze blowing. Bliss!
The next morning, after the best breakfast we have had since The Last Resort, consisting of: Omelette with paratha followed by paratha with banana and honey, and for me some coffee made with boiled bottled water just to be safe, we headed out of Lamahi at a sprightly 8.30am and in fact rode all day in grey cloud and a slight tail wind. What bliss to be out of the sun for the day and to have some breeze. We were headed for a place called Kohalpur and there were few other towns in between. After a morning of small ups and downs on a road that amazingly, continues to be good quality, we found a great spot for an early lunch – a tiny village that was in fact marked on our map but had no proper buildings, just huts. We have now got to grips with where to find good food and asked a woman who was cooking over a traditional clay oven if we could get dahl bhat. No problem! Even better, she had some fresh samosas just made so we had a few of those as a starter too. All delicious. Given it was cool enough we sat and read our books for a few minutes before getting back on the road, given by this stage it was only about 12.45 and we have done 55km of our 112km for the day we were feeling pretty pleased with ourselves. The road was reasonably flat, a few gentle ups and downs but nothing major. We arrived pretty early in Kohalpur, a place marked as a wee dot on the map (the same as the place we had lunch!) but was huge by comparison, and saw a sign in English for the Hotel Central Plaza. Thinking that looked like a likely candidate we followed the signs where they existed and eventually found a hotel – under construction but thankfully finished enough for us to stay. It was pure luxury compared to all else we have come across. CLEAN BATHROOM!! CLEAN ROOM!! Wow. And a fan that works even when the power goes off thanks to a generator. We were in heaven. Oh AND, on the ground floor of the hotel, both an internet cafe and….an Ice cream shop!! No more lean mean cycling machines powered by dahl bhat for us! To top it off the hotel had a restaurant attached and after deciding we had eaten our share of Chinese, dahl bhat, momos etc, we settled on a dinner of pizza, spicy potato curry and fried garlic naan (pretty much as close as you could get to Pizza, garlic bread and fries though that was not our intention).
Our hotel hosts were really friendly and gave us some tips for our ride the next day. I didn’t hear anything other than “danger zone, tigers, elephants, 15km”. Eek! Apparently our road goes right through Bardia National Park and there is an area of dense jungle where it is rumoured that motorcyclists have been attacked (and eaten!) by tigers. Phil was quite keen to see a tiger in the park but I was not so sure that ‘seeing a tiger’ from a heavily loaded push bike was such a good idea. My eyesight is not that good that to see it would mean it would be close enough to close the gap on my and my Trucker pretty damn quickly. So off we went for another day’s ride, a bit of trepidation but mainly just enjoying the views.

 It was a gorgeous sunny day, hot but not too hot (though maybe we are just getting used to it?) and the road was full of action.

Lots of people out on their bikes, including a large number of young guys who seem to have no qualms riding bright pink girl’s bikes called “Beauty” (they all look quite new – must be the latest fashion), women riding bikes at a leisurely pace in their bright saris and all of them usually riding at least two to a bike! As usual on these open sections of road with paddy fields all around there are always goats and cattle being herded down the road and we are often chased by beautiful butterflies – bright orange or yellow or black and white, they nose dive around us as we cycle along. Apparently Nepal us loads of the worlds butterfly species and they are everywhere.

After much of this lovely open riding the road headed into Bardia. It was really steamy and jungley in the park with long grasses bordering the roads (perfect for those pesky tigers to hide in). Thankfully no tigers for us but as we crossed over a bridge we looked out at the river and saw a wild elephant having a wash in the river.

It was soo cool. He was quite close to the bridge so we had a good look at him as he drank and splashed himself. What a treat! (and not close enough to get us!). There was another one just further down river as well. We were the only ones on the bridge so it felt like our own private view of the gorgeous creature going about his day.

Just as we were about to ride off, we also spotted a massive crocodile in the water directly below us. Crikey. No swimming in the river for us today! It hit home that there really are wild animals all around us in the park (uh oh!!). We had not reached the 15km “danger zone” yet either. After another lunch of dahl bhat (we are sometimes not sure whether we are eating in a restaurant or just in someone’s home as we sit and eat at what could be their table and eat the dahl bhat that is already prepared on the stove) we headed off to the next section of the park, the so called “danger area”. Having prepared a ‘tiger attack action plan” and unstrapped our front panniers to use as missiles should we need we were of course greatly disappointed (Phil) and relieved (me) to see nothing but a giant lizard pop out onto the road. We were soon through the park and arrived at what we thought might be our stopping point for the day, Chisapani, marked on the map as bigger even than Kohalpur (wow!!) so we had high expectations. We are reliant on the map to gauge whether a town might be a possibility to stay the night. After Chisapani the next place was marked as smaller and was a good 50km away and then awhile further to the next town. Luckily our host at Kohalpur the night before had suggested there is a town only 10km on from Chisapani and which has a hotel. We arrived in Chisapani, looked around and realised that our criteria for accommodation is this: a proper concrete building with plumbing and electricity. Unfortunately, though Chispani offered a hotel, it didn’t meet our criteria (in any respect!). Thankfully, as our hotel host in Kohalpur had suggested, there was a town about 15km on, with many brightly coloured concrete buildings and much more of a town than Chisapani (which we have renamed Shitapani). We also have a new approach to finding a hotel. Look for the newest and most brightly coloured concrete building and ask if it is a hotel. Though there are some hotels signed they often look to be of Arunkhola standard so we don’t bother with that anymore. Though not to the standard of Kohalpur, here in Lamki we have a clean room and a decent bathroom (maybe our standards are dropping??). Most importantly, we are not in the tent! When some fellow cyclists in Tibet advised us not to camp in the lowlands of Nepal because of Tigers we laughed but now….no camping for us.
Oh and a couple of other things we saw en route to Lamki: A stylish looking dude breezing past on the back of a motorbike, extravagantly blowing me (I hope) a kiss; and more disconcerting, a ‘parcel’ being held down by two men and wrapped tightly in sacking and string, making distinct ‘squealing piglet’ noises. Still spotting lots of single shoes on the road and have many theories as to why there are never two. We did try to work out the mathematical probability of losing only one shoe but it all got too complicated in the heat and on the road. Elephants seem to poo on the side of the road so we didn’t have to shout out to avoid that. Generally the road here in Nepal has much less debris (minimal smashed glass especially) than China and also the cyclists seem better able to ride in a straight line and carry fewer hoes on their bikes. The buses and trucks still toot their horns but they are funky sounding horns and not as ear shattering as the Chinese ones. Hearing is recovering although we both have to repeat ourselves a lot when speaking to each other.
Tomorrow we are off to India (we hope!)
STATS:
Day 14 Lamahi to Kohalpur. Dist: 112km Avg: 20.4km/hr. Tim: 5hr 30 mins
Day 15 Kohalpur to Lamki: Dist 90km. Avg 20.4km/hr. Time 4hr 23 mins

Posted by: sarahandphil | July 27, 2010

Blazing Saddles

Day 12 Arunkhola to Gorusinge & Day 13 Gorusinge to Lamahi

Here we are in the town of Lamahi – to call it a town is perhaps stretching it a bit but it is at least marked on the map; only the second town we have been through today that is big enough to be marked. Despite this road being the main East/West highway through Nepal, most of the towns are pretty small and offer neither food nor accommodation. It has been another couple of days of heat and sweat. In fact that is my overriding memory of our time since Kathmandu – SWEAT! Yuk. The sun when it shines is blazing hot and despite our layers of sunscreen, we have both been a bit pink at the end of the day (despite having built up a bit of protection over the last couple of months). Even without sun, often the air is still and damp so as soon as we start to ride we break out in droplets of sweat everywhere. At night there is no relief, partly because it is still warm, partly because we are sleeping with the doors and windows closed to avoid mossies and partly because the wonderful ceiling fans that would keep us cool only work when there is electricity – and that is pretty random! Yesterday evening we arrived in a place called Gorusinge where we hoped to stay the night. The first place we enquired about accommodation (with a massive sign outside saying Hotel) was in fact not a hotel and they looked at us like we were mad. The next place we went was more promising; they wanted to clean the room before showing it to us! I am not sure that the place we stayed the night before in Arunkhola had ever been cleaned so this looked like a good sign. The room was in fact ok (Mum, you wouldn’t be caught dead in it!), had its own bathroom (which smelt of poos and wees as they all seem to), a shower (cold only but that is just what we want!) and a ceiling fan PLUS what was described as air conditioning – a massive air cooler thingee that seemed to just be a giant ‘fan in a box’. The downside being that the room was at the front of the house, was brick and had baked in the sun all day causing the bricks to heat up and the room temp to soar. It was kind of like I imagine the inside of a pizza oven would be if you tried to sleep in one. Never mind at least we had the fans, or so we thought…

One thing we are just getting used to is the electricity outages that occur sometimes randomly and sometimes planned. We had just had a lovely cold shower when the electricity went out. With no fan in our room we started to cook like a meat lovers with BBQ sauce. We headed out to the next door house that also seemed to function as a restaurant, with an open front, to sit in the cooler temperature and have some dinner. We asked the 10yr old boy, who was helping in the restaurant, when the electricity might be back on and he got on the phone (a strange contraption in a wooden box) and called someone, maybe the electricity company, and found out that the electricity would be back on at 9pm – about and hour and a half outage. God knows how a country can survive and develop with unplanned, regular electricity outages.  Especially when it is so hot that the only way to be comfortable is to sit under a fan. Once we eventually went back to our room to go to sleep, electricity back on and both fans blasting we thought we had it sorted. Just as we were nodding off, the whir of the fans stopped again and we started to sweat, AGAIN! The only thing we could do was open the doors, hunker under the mossie nets and hope the fans would come back on, which they eventually did. Today when we stopped for lunch we found a nice restaurant (surprise, surprise) and were just commenting how it was almost like rural China, finding a small, clean place to eat that actually looked like a restaurant. They had Dahl Bhat on the menu, a nice cool room to sit in away from the heat of the sun and a FAN whirling overhead. We thought we could settle in for a nice lunch, cool off and relax for an hour. Then the electricity went off. No fan so no longer nice and cool and the flies and mossies start to gather round. Que for us to get back on our bikes and get moving. One thing we are finding much tougher here in Nepal is the heat, with nowhere to get relief, cool down and relax. Nowhere has AC. Fans don’t work as soon as the electricity goes off, sitting outside in skimpy clothing is a no go because of the mossies and you really can only spend so long in a cold shower getting all pruney and wrinkly– especially when it smells like a toilet. Today when we were riding up and over our last (hopefully!!) climb of the trip, a solid hour and a half of climbing, we were watching the grey clouds build above us, swirling round the top of the hills, and hoping they would burst open and bucket heavy rain on us. No such luck. The only rain that passed us today was when we had got off the bikes at our present accommodation (with fan, still going and managing to stay cool enough to sit and write this). Never have we both wished for rain as much as we do on the bikes here – where is the bloody monsoon when you need it!

So other than the sweat and the heat and the gripes about electricity, the past couple of days have been more of the same beautiful views of rice paddies on one side, mountains on the other and the frequent site of an elegant Nepali woman in a gorgeous brightly coloured sarai, wandering along beside the road or in the paddocks, herding cattle – makes me feel a little inelegantly attired to say the least!

We even managed a swim in the river today, floating in the rapids and managed to spot some monkeys clambering in the trees above us.

We are back to being the only westerners in the ‘hood and everyone, especially the young boys, likes to yell their best English at us. E.g. 6 or 7 yr old boy, hands on knees, giving it his all yelling at Phil as he went past “WHAT IS YOUR NAME?”, the young chap who yelled out to me “Hello I love you” and the most common, from all kids is “Bye Bye” (no “hello” – we wonder if they are trying to tell us something?). Sometimes it is hard even to pick where the voice is coming from and today I turned round to see a tiny wee cha standing on a tin roof, arm waving madly in the air yelling “bye bye, bye bye”. The on-road interviews that were so frequent in China are back. Yesterday Phil had two scooter riders slowed down for a chat as we cycled along (no one wanted to chat to me) and the questions were a bit different from China too – no “how much was your bike” but still lots of “where are you going” and a new favourite “Is she your sister?”. We are also back to people taking photos of us on their mobile phones as we go by, though we can’t complain given we are also taking lots of photos of them! We are getting better at finding restaurants and knowing what to look out for. People seem to think we want to eat salad or something complicated and we have to tell them we want to eat Nepali food, Dahl Bhat. This is usually readily available now we know where and who to ask. The piggies from China, tucking into ice creams at every possible occasion, have been replaced by lean mean (sweaty!) cycling machines, surviving on rice, dahl, vege curry and pickles. Though we did have a delicious brekky of Banana and warm roti bread. Oh, and the gallons of Fanta, Sprite and Coke (and water – about 5L each a day) we are still consuming.

STATS:

Day 12 Arunkhola to Gorusinge dist: 112. Avg 19km/hr time 5 hrs 52 mins

Day 13 Gorusinge to Lamahi Dist: 78km avg 17.9km/hr time 4 hrs 19 mins

Posted by: sarahandphil | July 25, 2010

Kathmandu and beyond

We ended up leaving the Last Resort late (even for us) having felt seriously reluctant to abandon the shady veranda where we had breakfast, watching the gardeners tend the lawn.

After another plunge in the pool, we eventually made it out onto the road, going past a load of bungy jumpers on the bridge preparing to hurl themselves out into the 160m gorge. We managed to slightly unnerve them as they were getting ready and all standing in a crowd at the centre of the narrow cable bridge, squeezing past them with our overloaded bikes and panniers, pressing them up against the mesh fence, which didn’t feel particularly safe.
Down more of the downhill (and in fact up) of the “world’s longest downhill”. Whoever said that has clearly never cycled it as there have, ever since the top, been repeated sections of steep, grinding up. We were in a steep, beautiful gorge, alongside the bouncing Sun Khosi river. It was weird to think we had been camping at its headwaters in Tibet 2 days ago, and here we were next to the same river but in a different country and entirely different landscape.
We were passing through little villages every 10km or so. They are usually overrun with children and chickens. Outside the villages we pass lots of goats grazing by the sides of the road, usually tended by an old man or a child. Out in the fields, the women are re-planting the rice seedlings, wading around in shin-deep mud, all wearing stunning brightly coloured saris. Again, as in Tibet, it seems to be the women who do most of the work – planting rice, lugging huge piles of wood or grass on their backs, herding animals, washing clothes, cooking. The men seem to sit around talking, scoot around on motorbikes a lot, or just stare at Sarah. Maybe there is some other invisible job all the men do, but it does seem to us like a pretty unequal division of labour.
As we descended, it started getting hotter and hotter. Our road also continued its ups and downs and, eventually, as we reached Dalalghat (a town that seemed to pride itself on its fish restaurants and stank of old fish), finished its down entirely and headed up. A couple of times I had a bit of a head spin, black and white, stars in my eyes moment and had to sit down on the side of the road. We think it must be the heat and humidity. For 3 weeks, we have been over 3,500m and in dry—ish weather and even on hot days, not too hot. Now, it must be 35 degrees in the strong sun and very humid. A bit of a shock for our bodies – or mine at least: Sarah seems to be coping alright and the humidity is doing wonders for her hacking Tibet cough, which has pretty much disappeared.
It is a bit weird being in a new country as well as we have to start all over again our discovery of how things work, where to eat, what a restaurant looks like, where to stay, where to buy drinks etc. We have found out that China definitely offered more in the way of cooked food stops. Pretty much anywhere in China proper (not Tibet), you can stop, even in the most run-down dump, and there will be someone able to whip up an amazing, clean, fresh, tasty meal. That is definitely not the case in Nepal, where we have already been rebuffed a couple of times when we’ve walked up to what definitely looks like a restaurant and asked for basic food (dhal bhat, usually) and have been looked at like we’re mad.
The plus side is that pretty much everywhere there are little stores with fridges selling cold drinks. Our coke/fanta/sprite intake on this trip is definitely heading stratospheric.
So, lunch that day ended up being us sitting in a drink stop, having bought some drinks and a pack of crisps and eating some left-over Chinese buns and a jar of Chinese fruit we had been carrying since Tibet. Plus the crowd of children and men who came to stare – oh and the cockerel, tethered by a piece of string tied to its foot and to the wooden railings, which wouldn’t stop crowing very loudly.
On from there up a steep, long (1 ½ hr) climb in the pouring afternoon monsoon rain to Dhulikel, a scruffy hill resort just East of Kathmandu. The climb was tough, with our bikes loaded once again with all our kit after having had 8 days “off” in Tibet proper with the van carrying most of them. But it was brightened up by the occasional shouts, whoops and thumbs up of the trucks passing by and, bizarrely, the weird urge lots of guys sitting on the roof of the buses had to give us “the finger” (i.e. American “F… Off”). Not sure if it means something different in Nepal from the rest of the world (we doubt it!), but since it mostly comes from teenagers, being cool on the roof of the swerving buses, we suspect it’s just them showing off to their mates. Quite amusing.
Dhulikel was the lip of the Kathmandu rim, so it was a gentle down from there in towards Kathmandu.

The road, pretty good so far, then crumbled into muddy roadworks, and we eventually began heading into the main city at 6ish. Being 2 ¼ hours behind China, it gets darker much earlier here, so we are not going to be able to cycle late as we occasionally did in China. But we would have been OK, weaving through the choking, black-exhaust belching, heavy rush-hour traffic if only….
…we hadn’t had our worst moment of the trip so far. We came to a busy junction and it wasn’t clear which way to go to our hotel. I swerved across the traffic to ask a policeman who was standing in the middle of the junction directing traffic. The last thing I said was “I’m going right” (meaning to the policeman). I had thought Sarah would stop and wait for me, seeing me check with the policeman, but unfortunately, a minibus blocked off her view of me, so all she had seen was me shoot off to the right and heard me say I was going right. She hadn’t seen me stop immediately and start talking to the copper. So, she cycled hard off to the right and kept going harder as she couldn’t see me ahead and thought I must be hidden in front of some bus or other.
I meanwhile had found that my asking directions of the policeman was a total waste of time. He didn’t understand my “Durbar Marg?” question (Durbar Marg is the equivalent of Trafalgar Square, i.e. the very centre of town) and eventually pointed me back in the direction we had come from (totally the opposite, it later turned out, from the correct way). A bit confused, I therefore crossed back over to the edge of the road…. and found Sarah was nowhere to be seen.
Now, you might not think this sounds particularly worrying. Both Sarah and I have been in plenty of foreign cities alone before etc etc, but… I knew the address of our hotel, Sarah didn’t; Sarah had both our phones, so I had no comms; Sarah had all the Nepali money, I only had Chinese; it was getting dark quickly; Kathmandu isn’t small; there could have been loads of places called the same name as our hotel; we couldn’t just jump in a cab and ask for our hotel as we had our big, bulky bikes and all our kit. Add to that that we hadn’t been apart at any point (apart from our brief time off in Chengdu) for 7 weeks. And I suddenly felt very lost and worried. Where had she gone? What was she doing? What had happened to her?
My instinct was to stay put and hope she came back. So I did, standing where I had last seen Sarah. After 20 minutes or so, I asked someone walking past if they could help me call the hotel we were booked into – thankfully a decent place (Hotel de l’Annapurna for those who know Kathmandu… very nice) which was able to cope with a situation like this, sort of – and ask them if Sarah had somehow arrived. She hadn’t. I knew she had stayed there on her last trip, so hoped she might find it, but feared she might have gone off elsewhere. Silly ideas started going through my head as well that she might have been knocked off her bike etc.
It was by now getting very dark and so I asked some other people for help – two guys who were just standing by the junction. I assumed they were waiting for someone, but it turns out they had simply come out to watch the evening junction – quite common “entertainment” (and how right it proved to be for them this evening). Seeing as Sarah wouldn’t be able to see me even if I did come back, there was no point staying where I was, so I asked them to help me find a phone kiosk to be able to call my phone (which Sarah had) using a card. Of course, I would have called her phone, but in a world where all numbers are pre-programmed, I don’t know hers – a lesson to learn! But, no kiosks around. So, then I asked if I could use one of their phones to call my phone. Very kindly, they agreed to let me make the international call. No connection. So we called the hotel again. 40 minutes had gone by and Sarah had still not arrived. I was getting pretty worried now.
Meanwhile…. Sarah (as I later found out) had cycled hard up the street looking for me. She reached a junction, still no sign of me, so she stopped. Realising I wouldn’t have crossed a junction without her, she did just what I had done and came back to where she had last seen me, the busy junction. So, our instincts were both the same at least (good sign for marriage!). But, due to a few badly-placed flagpoles, we were both standing there unable to see each other. After 15 minutes with no sign of me (I was over by the cow chewing cardboard on the other side of the road), Sarah set off to try and find the hotel. Sobbing to herself, she weaved her way through the Kathmandu traffic, occasionally tearfully asking policemen the way. She got to the hotel and arrived in tears asking the concierge if I had arrived. I hadn’t, of course. But I had by this time called the reception desk. Unfortunately, however, comms between concierge and reception did not exist, so while I was calling the reception to ask if Sarah (“A girl with a big bicycle”) had arrived, they were saying no, while she was waiting with the concierge outside, in tears, wondering what to do.
So, back to the junction, where it was now pitch black and I was standing with Ashish and Yamlal, my two new friends who were finding the increasingly frantic Brit with a huge bike quite an interesting event. We called the hotel again to let them know where we and were then trying to work out how to get a tuk tuk to load my bike to get us to the hotel. At that point, a shriek across the throbbing Kathmandu traffic: “Phil!!!!!”. “Sarah!!!!” It was like a Bollywood (or as they have here – “Kallywood”) movie… a run, skip and a tearful hug in the busy traffic. It turned out that eventually reception and concierge had spoken and, after an hour, had put two and two together, a hotel cab had been hailed and they had all, Sarah, hotel driver and concierge, driven to find me. Lots of tears and hugs. Then, Sarah, hotel driver, concierge and Ashish and Yamlal (who we invited back for a beer as thanks) all piled into the cab, and I stuck close to their tail all the way back. Beers in the bar and then exhausted to bed.
We had a busy day the next day buying brake pads (old ones worn after the Tibetan downhills and our spares didn’t fit), me getting my beard trimmed, washing our clothes in the bath, having a massage, eating endlessly, having a swim in the pool and, most satisfyingly, managing to get some Nepali-style number plates made for our bikes which say “Beijing to Delhi” on them.

We found the helpful man who made them by Sarah pointing at a rickshaw’s number plate and asking where he had it made and then being led off down an alley by someone else to a number plate maker/artist. They look very smart and we now get lots of comments from people as they drive past – either about how we are from Beijing, or thumbs up for going to Delhi.
We left Kathmandu the next morning and headed up over the rim of the Kathmandu basin before dropping sharply into the Trisuli River valley.

 A spectacular ride, which we both really enjoyed, but we definitely are finding the heat is sapping our energy. Lunch was dhal bhat and momos (dumplings) and then it was on and on down the valley (but with lots of little ups) until we got to just before the Hogwarts-sounding Mugling. There, as planned, we found the River Side Resort, a slightly run down version of the Last Resort where we had stayed before Kathmandu. They had some big company do going on, so there was no accommodation, but we were allowed to use their showers and restaurant and camp in their car park. All fine except that we have discovered we cannot camp in these temperatures and humidity – or certainly not in the tent we have. We both lay there with sweat pouring off us, me unable to sleep. With no air moving and with the heat building up inside the tent – but unable to open it up due to the horde of mossies waiting outside to sink into our veins – it was a pretty horrific night.
The next day we headed down (and up and down etc) to Naryangath, where the road comes out onto the plains. For the first time since Chengdu we are out of the Himalayan mountains and side ranges. And, for the first time since we started the trip, we are truly out of hills completely. From here to Delhi we are on the edge of the wide Ganges plain, with a couple of small ridges to cross, but basically pancake flat. Very weird after 2 months of up down.
Finding a lunch spot was (and is generally, we are discovering) a bit difficult. Again, blank stares when we ask in villages for food. The only option seems to be coach stop restaurants which appear every 25km or so along the road at best and which are often closed, under repair or only offering one unappetising dish. Our first attempt (after lots of village rebuffs) at a “restaurant” ticked almost all these boxes – looked like a building site, had a load of guys sitting around doing nothing and when we asked what we could eat, one sweaty man looked down at the ground and pointed at a mangy hen pecking at some mud and said “That”. Hmmm. We rode on and eventually found an OK place further down the road.
Given our sweaty tent experience, we have decided to stay in villages, however bad. That night (Sat 24th July) we stayed in Arunkhola, just short of a ridge we had to climb the next day. Bed was OK, though the blood-spattered walls were unnerving, as was the hand-sized spider watching us.

Today, we have headed out of Arunkhola, up over the ridge – a hard climb (though made much nicer by us finding a water spout and washing area by a Hindu temple, where we doused ourselves, with a couple of locals looking on bemused) – and out on across the plains. We are heading through a mix of beautiful forest, with signs warning against poaching Rhinos and Tigers – though to be honest there aren’t that many in the parks, let alone outside them – and intermittent houses (they love to paint them lollipop pink or bright green) and paddy fields, with all kinds of life going on on the road. The road itself is very good quality, no potholes or mud at all really (…yet!).
Now having lunch in Butwal. Aloo jeera is the new favourite, so it’s that and paratha for both of us. Yum. Weather very hot, definitely sapping our energy, so a good break here, 65km done, before heading on for Gorusinge (47km) where we plan to sleep. General plan is to reach Mahendranagar on Friday 30th before crossing into India and then, in theory, arriving Delhi evening of 1st August or earlyish on 2nd. Flight on 3rd.
STATS
Day 9 To Kathmandu. Dist: 101km Avg 15.0 Time 6hr 41 mins
Day 10 Kathmandu to Riverside resort. Dist: 102km Avg 19.9km/hr Time 5 hr 6 mins
Day 11 Riverside resort to Arunkhola. Dist 93km Avg 19.2km/hr time 4hr 50 mins

Posted by: sarahandphil | July 22, 2010

Note to readers: some updates to the Tibet section are below!

Posted by: sarahandphil | July 22, 2010

What a Difference a Day Makes – take II

Day 8 – near Yaleb to The Last Resort (100km from Kathmandu and 35km from the China/Nepal Border)

Casting our minds back to yesterday morning when we woke up in the tent in our camp spot near Yaleb, only a couple of hundred metres lower than the 5050m pass we had cycled over the night before (where we had officially crossed the Himalaya range). The wind was still blowing and icy cold, the landscape barren and brown, the sky grey and cloudy and we scrambled out of the tent to relieve ourselves behind a mound of gravel, piling on layers of thermals, beanies and jackets to keep warm.  Phil put the billy on for a cuppa and we climbed into the back of the van to eat our breakfast of Madeira buns (again), a jar of fruit and some stale bread we had bought the morning before, made edible by slathering it in honey. I was groggy from sleeping badly (again) altitude making breathing difficult combined with hacking cough, probably also a symptom of the thin dry air and we were both generally feeling a bit knackered from the climbs, the headwind and the cold. We pulled on yesterdays grubby cycling kit (though Phil had slept in his under layers of warm clothes) and jackets, gloves and for me, a balaclava to keep my ears warm, before setting off on our bikes. Fast forward to this morning and things could not have been more different!

We woke up (with me alert and refreshed at 7.15am after a sound nights sleep!!) in a luxury ‘safari’ tent, with proper beds and large enough we could easily stand up and move about, looking out to the pale blue sky above and the jungle of trees and exotic foliage around us. We dressed in T shirts and jandals and wandered up the stone path, through the jungly greenery, passing small waterfalls and with the sound of the raging river far below, to the breakfast area – a long table and bench seats loaded with cushions and looking out over the tranquil gardens. Coffee and tea were waiting for us to help ourselves and we ordered muesli with fruit and yoghurt followed by scrambled eggs and toast. All this was delicious and served by friendly and helpful staff. After brekky and morning ablutions on a proper sit down loo we had a hot shower, Phil having already had a dip in the plunge pool, and set off over the cable bridge strung high across the gorge with the raging river far below.

So how on earth did we get here?! Having left our high altitude, barren camp stop we started on what we had thought (or were led to believe by various maps/intel) was a long, long downhill all the way past the Nepal border. Our first few ks were on a slight downhill, though almost flat, into a strong, cold headwind. After a short downhill we then had a 40km section of undulating up and down with some solid pulls uphill and we must have only dropped a couple of hundred meters in total.  Thankfully, we eventually hit the proper downhill ad went plunging in the misty gorge down steep switch backs all the way to the border town of Zhangmu. We had our last Chinese lunch, loaded up the bikes with all our luggage, which the van had been carrying for us for the past 8 days, and headed through the border. There is always some anxiety going through Chinese checkpoints as they can be quite bureaucratic. We had heard stories that the border officials check for maps of China (to ensure the maps you are carrying only show the Chinese borders as they see them – not always the way the rest of the world would see the borders!!), books (apparently the recent Tibet Lonely Planet has a intro section all about the Dalai Lama and his signature and this is prohibited to even be taken out of China) so were prepared for a thorough inspection. We had little trouble. They were quite interested in where we had come from and how far we had travelled by bike. I think Phil impressed them with his Chinese and the fact that he had a road atlas in Chinese.

Leaving the checkpoint you then cross over a bridge into Nepal. At the start of the bridge i.e. on the China side, there is a large stone monument with some information and history about the bridge – called the Friendship Bridge. It is written in Chinese and had a full English translation and we stopped to read about the bridge. That is until a Chinese border patrolman charges over to us and tells us we cannot stop there, we are not allowed to read the sign and must continue on. This was the last straw for Phil who was already at the end of his tether with regard to Chinese paranoia, bureaucracy and military control. He stormed off to halfway across the bridge, just over the line into Nepal territory and gave a vigorous finger up to the Chinese guard and shouted a few expletives! Meanwhile I had started to hop on my bike to ride across the bridge and was order by the same guard to get off and walk, biking on the road across the bridge clearly also not allowed. Despite all the things we loved about China and Tibet, the political and military ‘overkill’ is not something we will miss.

Nepal. What an instantly different place. The villages we passed were all a little shabbier but colourful and lively. It was warm, wet and green. Shops here stock proper chocolate!! We spied Kit-Kats, Mars bars and even Toblerone! The road was a bit rubbish for much of the way with stretches of thick mud (where Phil came a cropper and toppled over, to the delight and laughter of the locals watching! When he got up, he took a bow, to applause and whoops), fords streaming with water and rocky, rubble patches. Having noticed on the way down the 30km steep downhill to Zhangmu that my brake pads were shot to pieces and hence my brakes were pretty ineffective (good work by the trip mechanic obviously!)  We were heading to a place called Barabise in order to get some distance under our belts and give us a reasonable chance of getting to Kathmandu the following day. That was until my instinct for spotting a bit of luxury kicked in!  We saw a sign ahead in English – “The Last Resort, Bungy. Inspired adventures and complete relaxation” and bungy apparatus set up on a huge cable bridge above the gorge. Being familiar with Chinese signs badly translated into English I thought this was quite funny – a relaxing bungy jump! After a few whirs of the brain cogs I managed to put 2 and 2 together and my suspicion that there might be an actual Resort here took hold. You need to keep in mind that we were in the middle of nowhere, on a shitty road, passing by a little strip of buildings. It didn’t look like there was any resort nearby.  We asked the guard in front of the gates to the cable bridge and he confirmed there was accommodation on the other side so Phil went off to investigate. What he found on the other side of the river was a luxury retreat set in amongst the trees on the hillside above the river with safari style tents, a restaurant, sauna, plunge pool, massage and all sorts of adventure activities from canyoning to Bungy jumping and abseiling down waterfalls. Needless to say I secured Tour Champion for the day for sniffing out this idyllic spot. It must be something in the blood as it turns out the resort was designed by a Kiwi adventurer (the man who had introduced rafting to Nepal apparently, David Allardise?) and it had a real Kiwi feel about the place, bearing similarities to Awaroa Lodge in the Able Tasmen. A far cry from our previous nights accommodation and also from what we had expected of accommodation in Barabise (likely a run down and slightly grubby guesthouse). We settled in, had a sauna and plunge followed by an unbelievable Nepali dinner. Bliss!!

STATS: distance 95km. Avg. 18.4. Time 5hrs 9 mins

Posted by: sarahandphil | July 20, 2010

Offline for a while

Update, lunchtime 20th July: we are now at the Nepal border having done 70km of this supposedly “longest downhill”. The first 40km were in fact a nightmare of ups and hard cycling on the downs into the continuing horrible headwind.

After that, though, the land dropped away and we plunged down switchbacks into a misty gorge, with massive cliffs rising up and waterfalls pouring off the faces over and next to us. Really spectacular. Smells and sounds and colours after all the barren wastes of Tibet. We are having a last pile of Chinese food before crossing the border. Crossing into Nepal also means our China-registered internet dongle won’t work, so you may not hear from us so regularly. As we write this, our food is arriving. My god! Long-grain rice…. excitement. And also we have spied Toblerone and Cadbury’s in the shops. At last, decent chocolate!!!

Hoping to get 40km or so under our belts after the border – roads and monsoon rains permitting. And hope to arrive Kathmandu tomorrow night, 21st July.

So, after more than 7 weeks, it’s adieu to China. We’ll miss the great kindness and friendliness of so many of the people we have met, the food, the ice creams, the road quality and infrastructure generally (mobile phone reception pretty much everywhere, even the most remote places) and the natural environment, which is stunning. We won’t miss the noise and general lack of manners of the Chinese in crowds, the built environment (with a few exceptions, modern Chinese building is pretty uninspiring), the inability of people to think for themselves (minimal initiative), the lack of freedom and the altitude! We have had an amazing time in an amazing country.

Nepal beckons (about 50yards away)…

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