Thursday, 5 April 2012

The Arniko Highway

I've finally been able to upload my photos from my first venture out of Kathmandu. I've been sick (again) for the past few days with food poisoning but the phone coverage where I was staying was dodgy so I still couldn't upload them even though I had plenty of time to do it.

So, my story of the Arniko Highway:

After I obtained my Indian visa I looked at all my belongs on the floor of my room and wondered how all of that crap will fit on my bike again. The bike has been luggage free for almost a month now while it was waiting for shipping in Bangkok and when it was waiting for me to be not-sick in Kathmandu. I wasted an extra day before I set off from Kathmandu hoping to get a decent nights sleep before heading out into that traffic again. Sleep failed of course. At 11pm everything is slient, but between 2am and 5am all the stray dogs start howling, and then at 5am the bells for the holy hindu tree infront of the guesthouse start ringing. Then the horns. THE HORNS.

My first trip out of Kathmandu was to head to the China/Tibet boarder just to have a look and I had hoped to stand on the friendship bridge between the two countries. I decided to head to Tatopani which had a moderate writeup in the Lonely Planet guide, it was the next town down from the border (but they kind of all blur together out that way).

As usual I hit a delay when trying to leave.

From the rooftop of the guesthouse some mornings you could hear lots of shouting/chants going on. I found out later that these were the almost daily protests in Kathmandu. I had only seen one and it was a long line of people holding signs and dressed in orange walking single file along one of the major roads. No idea what that one was about. Todays protest was about fuel prices which had gone from 116r/L to 120r/L that day. Welcome to the rest of the world Nepal (except Malaysia). I'm not sure if it's true or not but one of the Nepali people had told me that the protesters were mainly students and were paid to create some unrest (but I won't mention who paid them). This was a delay of a couple of hours while they blocked the road somewhere, it was very surreal to have daylight outside and no constant horn noise. This delayed me by delaying the driver of the car who had parked my bike in that morning.

After the driver arrived it was time to pack up everything and head out. Only a couple of hours lost.

Back in Kathmandu traffic again. Bikes, cars and buses are everywhere but strangely once you're part of it it doesn't seem as crazy when watching it as a pedestrian. I did have a lot of training in South East Asia but it's still an order of magnitude crazier here. The thing I noticed most is the absense of horns in moving traffic, they're still there, but far less frequent then you would imagine. I got lost a few times because I missed the turn the GPS was warning me about, but thankfully they threw in a triangular roundabout with a traffic policeman at each corner to direct traffic which made it much easier to head in the right direction. It was very slow going on some of the roads, and people just wandering through traffic everywhere, sometimes even a cow. People don't take a gap to merge or cross traffic either, they just nudge forward into the lane of moving traffic until someone is to chicken to pass (often the person right behind me, pansies).

Once you're out of the Kathmandu ring road traffic seems to drop off a lot. There were lots of police about on the main highway east, mostly infront of large groups of young people on bikes holding some sort of flag at some petrol stations. I guess the protest was possibly still ongoing. When the road starts to climb the hills there's less traffic again but you have to watch for high speed busses taking up the whole road. Not that I had much of a problem because the roads are wide and traffic is light, I didn't have too much of an issue anywhere all the way up to the border. My only problems were waiting for a gap when overtaking a slow bus, but then I'd be trapped beside a line of people making a gap to pass by honking their horn and making the traffic from the other direction get out of the way. Oh and coming round a corner and finding an overturned bus, luckily nothing was coming the other way.

My bike in the way.

The dusty view over the edge.

Once I passed over the bridge at Dhulikhel the scenery changed again. There's a short climb and then down the other side of the mountain the road starts to run along the Bhote Koshi river all the way to the border. I was finally riding through the valleys that were like the pictures I had been looking at two years ago when planning this trip!

After the turnoff to Jiri (which is the start of the trek to Everest) the road starts to show signs of past landslides. Busses seem to crawl over the rocks, I had no problems tackling it at high speed. A lot of the time the road is at the level of the river. It starts to climb a lot higher closer to Tatopani and then drops down again.

One of the little flats next to the river. Play spot the bike!

Looking downstream from the same spot. Those mountains are a lot taller than they look here.

This is where this picture goes. It's my favourite.

Along the way you pass the Borderlands Resort and The Last Resort, two adventure holiday places in Nepal. The Last Resort has bunjee jumping from it's bridge 400m above the river. I skipped both those places of course!

That's the bridge you jump off...

Once I got to Tatopani I looked around for somewhere to stay. The lonely planet mentioned a few spots but had a writeup on a place called "My Family Guesthouse". I picked that one but paid extra over the cheaper options along the road. I ended up paying 800r for the night and had views over the river and Tibet on the other side. And then later that night excellent views of the lightning hitting the hills and a good spot to hear the thunder echoing up the valley. Totally worth it. The problem was that everything in the bathroom leaked. Half of the toilet flush ended up on the floor because it wasn't sealed to the bowl properly, and the sink leaked from the tap, and from the drain. All asian bathrooms must be designed to be constantly wet it seems.

View out my window

Boarding school below.

Some of the new buildings up river.

Tatopani. I'm standing on a landslide!

The landslide! You can see where it came from... I'm sure it wiped out a few houses.

Trucks everywhere, waiting to cross the border.




ooooh lightning!

The river was much louder than I thought it would be during the night, it was still much better than being woken up to bells or horns, or even the airport train in Bangkok. Finally a decent sleep!

Morning time.

In the morning I packed up and headed the extra 4km up to the Tibet border to have a look, still thinking I could stand on the friendship bridge. I was stopped right outside the immigration office where there were a lot of poeple standing around saying I could not go further. I had to park my bike just a little bit down the hill. I had another discussion with another group of people and they said it would be ok to go up to the customs gate, but no further, and NO PHOTOS. I could take one from where I parked my bike, but nothing of the Chinese side. Not so friendship bridge it seems. I wandered up to the gate, had a look over the edge but all I could see was the road climbing the hill on the Chinese side and various immigration and customs sheds they had. Nowhere could I see any bridge. I noticed some steps leading up to a temple, I walked up them a way but still it was the same view, just some buildings and a bit of Tibet.

On my way back down the steps however I noticed that there was a bit of commotion at the customs gate. Some lady had started shouting at the armed guards. I think she had a kid with her. There was a bit of shuffling and the lady kept pushing the guards. They eventually took her to the side of the road and there was more shoving. At this point at the bottom of the steps I saw someone who was watching this, and then looking up at me. I figured I should probably move away from staring at what's going on and head back down to my bike. Once I got to the bottom of the steps the guy I had noticed said hello and then walked by me all the way back to the immigration office where he said "ok you can go now". Ah, I see. I was being watched. Probably to make sure I didn't take any photos of China, and especially not of what was going on at the customs gate.

While I had walked up to the gate, someone had parked behind my bike so I couldn't get out... This seems to happen a lot. After getting all my gear on and trying not to look too closely at the guy who had followed me I asked someone to help move it out of the way. A lot of shuffling of bikes later I was free! And not arrested!

Closer to Tatopani I got my camera out again and took some photos.

That's as close as I'm taking a photo of the crossing... You can still see China/Tibet on the left.

Looking up towards the crossing...

A Tibetan waterfall.

Looking down towards Tatopani.

I also started the GoPro recording too, I wasn't going to stop a lot while it was going. This of course lead to the previous post about recovering video. It was very important to get it back becuase I wasn't taking photos so often.

Further down the road.

More bike in the way.

Notice all the stuff growing on the underside of the rocks on the cliff? I didn't while I was there, only when looking athe photo again.

I was also running pretty low on petrol. On the way up I noticed a lot of places were shut and I knew there was a shortage (but, Nepal seems to be in a permanant state of shortage). Eventually, after running into reserve I stopped in a town that I thought might have petrol but I couldn't see a pump anywhere. I stopped and asked one of the police where to get petrol, and they pointed down the road. So off I set looking for petrol, but ended up crossing the bridge to the other side without seeing any. I stopped at another place on the other side of the river and asked again, they pointed back over the river. Right, so it was somewhere between the police and the end of the bridge. On my way back through I still notice no pumps, but then I saw it! It was all in 1L plastic water bottles that were on the road in front of most of the shops on this side of the river! This is why I have an extra fuel filter!

I stopped at one shop randomly and asked how much they were, 140r was the reply. Ok, I see they have a lot, and I'm not sure how much I'll see on the road back to Kathmandu so I said I'll take 10. She starts emptying them into my tank and I note that they're not quite filled all the way, probably 900mL rather than 1L. After the 10th one is emptied in I ask how much was the total, and the reply this time was 1500r... But 10 x 140 is not 1500! And neither is 0.9 x 140. I pay anyway. Again the Nepali people ripping me off every chance they get. I've just been told this is worse in India, excellent. Also the fuel was very bad quality too. And apparently they mix it with something else, not sure what but I ran through a lot of it much quicker than I should have.

Then it was off to Dhulikhel. I rode through the town and didn't see the place I was looking for, so I headed for the more expensive place up a dirt road to the top of a hill. My bike is jetted all wrong for this alitiude (only 1700m so far) and with the bad fuel it kept stalling every time there was no throttle and the clutch was in. About 15 starts up this 1km stretch I managed to make it to the Panorama View Hotel. They tried to give me a room for 1200r with breakfast, but we got it down to 800r with no breakfast, not like I was going to spend 400r on breakfast anyway. I did make up for it with other meals though. It was still dusty and not much visibility there until later in the afternoon when a big thunderstorm came through. This blew away all the dust and I could see the Himalayas! Not quite down to Everest, but close! There were a couple of hours until sunset where the mountains were visible and I think that entire time I was just looking out at them or watching lightning starting fires on the nearby hills.

It was quite peaceful up there so I stayed an extra night, but I didn't see any more mountains.

Mountains! It was very dark at this point, but you could make out the snow with your eyes, not in the photo though.

Some of the hills heading west. I say hills now, even though all of them would be close to the height of Mt. Kosciuszko. 

When I get some free wireless I'll upload videos of riding in Kathmandu, and though the valleys, and up other mountains.

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