1,249 km of cycling - as part of a bicycle world trip - from the Indian border to Lumbini, to Chitwan National Park, eastwards along the Terai and northwards crossing the mountains with a view to Mount Everest, then to the capital Kathmandu, to Patna and Bhaktapur, back westwards via Bandipur to Pokhara with a view to Dhaulagiri and Annapurna, back to the lowland areas and westwards to the Indian border.
24 April - 21 May 2007 / 28 days
11,043 metres in altitude
Highest cycled point: 2,488 m
Without any hassle I got my 30 dollar visa and when I turned on the sideroad towards Lumbini, I truly found some silence. Silence which I had rarely experienced in India. Unfortunately I had missed Douglas, who had taken a flight from Kathmandu to Delhi the day before.
As Buddha's historical birthplace, Lumbini was one of the world's most important religious sites. It was a peaceful and tranquil spot with dozens of monasteries and gardens partly in lush forests, surrounding the stone on which Buddha supposedly had been born.
Two days later I had experienced enough tranquility, I got started heading east. Of course there was no snowcapped 8,000 m peak to see yet. South of Nepal's first and smallest Himalaya range I cycled the more or less flat Terai to reach Royal Chitwan National Park, one of the last refuges of the endangered One-Horned Indian Rhinoceros, and there were surprisingly sizeable populations of tigers, leopards and elephants. Of course I was extremely keen on spotting one of the rhinos. Though chances to get a view of one of the tigers were pretty poor.
Together with my local guides Anil and Hemant I went deeper into the park, armed against possible rhino or tiger attacks just with two bamboo sticks. For hours we walked in the heat through dense forest and bush with tall grasses. I was close to give up hope to see one of them, when suddenly just about 200 m in front of us a huge rhino appeared. Supposedly it's advised to climb a tree in case of a rhino attack. Therefore we stayed close to three, let's say rather plants then trees, but there was no other option. When the rhino moved, we left our "shelter" and followed him to a waterhole, avoiding any noise and keeping a more or less safe distance. And at this waterhole there in fact was waiting a second one. But to get really close to them, we would had to approach them on the back of an elephant, and so I did.
In a different part of the park we could then in fact see four, one of them a baby rhino. And as I appreciated the elephant's work, which allowed me to experience the wildlife that close, the next day I went with him for a bath in the river. I swam with him, scrubbed and washed him, sat on his back when dropping with him underwater and got rewarded with countless trunk-full showers of water. Greatest fun! I could have done this for ages, not just because of the terrible heat, and obviously so the elephant, but its mahout at one point unfortunately put an end to it.
I went a bit further east in the Terai, before taking the old road to Kathmandu at Hetauda. Because of a newly built and faster road further west, this road was rarely used. For hours I climbed endless hairpin bends up to an altitude of almost 2,500 m. I spent the night at nearby Daman, which was famous for its supposedly most spectacular Himalaya views in the whole of Nepal. Depending on the weather the entire range from Dhaulagiri to Mount Everest would be on view. But as said, just when the weather permitted. Already in India I had been aware of the fact that I would visit Nepal shortly before the monsoon and therefore would probably experience rather poor views. Peaks were usually kept in clouds, it was dusty and occasionally raining. Therefore unsurprisingly I saw the first rain since I had been to Buenos Aires in Argentina when a serious thunderstorm took place the night before and when some showers occured while cycling to Daman. Unsurprisingly there was virtually nothing on view when I arrived there.
Because of the weather I had decided to skip trekking, though "real" Nepal is far from any roads and just accessible by walking, and I said goodbye to my plan to climb a 7,000 m peak because of the weather and the hefty charges for climbing permits. But as I wanted to see Mount Everest at least once, next day I climbed the viewing tower in Daman at 5:00 a.m. before sunrise. The chances would be very little at this time of the year, everybody had said the day before.
But it was just magic! I stood on that tower and got rewarded with a crystal-clear sky, not the slightest cloud anywhere up to the horizon. And then the first sunbeams touched the sky behind Mount Everest, turned the horizon in an amazingly yellow light and drew the silhouette of the world's most highest peaks. It was simply breathtaking! I looked at it, it was pretty far away, but I didn't mind. You won't get closer to the sky anywhere else on earth and, who knew, possibly one day...
For hours I descended on countless hairpin bends down to the heavily trafficked main road leading to Kathmandu, which brought me to Kathmandu Valley after a tough climb. I lodged myself in famous Freak Street, dating from the overland travel days of the 60s and 70s in the heart of old town. I spent four days just with organizing things and work on internet, without seeing anything of Kathmandu's sights. I changed my front tyre rim after more than 31,000 km to avoid a breakdown somewhere in the middle of nowhere.
Eventually I got time to explore Durbar Square in Kathmandu and time to visit impressive Swayambhunath Stupa. I took a bus to reach the huge Bodhnath Stupa, which was one of the world's largest, and circumambulated it together with heaps of Tibetan pilgrims, in a clockwise direction of course. I went to Patan and to Bhaktapur, but as the sky was mostly cloudy and as it usually started to rain from early afternoon, sightseeing was not the greatest fun. Moreover my telephoto zoom lens decided to refuse work nearly totally. I would probably send all the SLR camera stuff back home from India.
But one thing happened, that made me very happy: I would meet up with Hugo from Belgium in Manali in Indian Himalaya end of May. I had met him before in southern India and now we planned to cycle together the road with the two most highest passes in the world. Therefore it wasn´t just the weather that pushed me out of Kathmandu.
In light rainfall I cycled the only road which connected Kathmandu Valley with the rest of the world (apart from Friendship Highway leading to Tibet) back westwards. In an exhausting ascend I climbed more than 70 pretty steep hairpin bends on a small road to idyllic and peaceful Bandipur, which had managed to keep its traditional and laid-back ambiance. I stayed two days, talked with the kids and, in case it wasn't raining, strolled around the village, mostly accompanied by a couple of them.
100 km further west in Pokhara I tried to imagine how the snowy peaks of the Annapurna Range could perfectly reflect in Pokhara's idyllic calm lake, if they wouldn't continuously be kept in clouds or if heavy rainfall wouldn't stop all activities. I cancelled rafting, paragliding and trekking and left Pokhara, taking the dramatic 160 km road, which wound southwards across the mountains back into the flat Terai. After 40 km my recently in Ushuaia in the very south of South America in Patagonia newly bought rear wheel rim broke. Although it would have been mostly downhill, I wasn't in the mood to turn back, so I decided to skip the visit to Tanzen and hoped that the rim would make it all the way across the mountains down to the Terai. It did.
And so I took a 10 hour bus ride next day back to Kathmandu, just with my backpack and the rear wheel. Again I went to Sonam's bike shop, which was long-since a well known stop for all long distance cyclists coming from the south or from Tibet. Having spent one night in Kathmandu I went back ten hours by bus to Butwal, where my bicycle was waiting for me. With a blue and a red rim I went on cycling in the more or less flat Terai towards the western border at Mahendranagar on the only road crossing the country from the west to the east.
Reaching the border, I had cycled nearly all of Nepal's main roads. The vast majority of Nepal was far from any roads and I hadn´t got to know anything of this part. To get truly close to the world's most highest peaks one needed to go for trekking for at least two to four weeks, and given this bad weather it simply wouldn't have been worth the effort. So therefore I had a reason to come back and I guess I will, quite sure!