Saturday 28 April 2012

Attempts to get to Jomsom

I'd heard about this road to Jomsom, and that it was quite a challenge. I'd seen a blog that showed photos of sections and it didn't look too bad, so I thought I'd give it a go. It means I could beat my altitude record of 2600m in Thailand, and possibly get to 3800m at Muktinath on this road...

The mountains from Pokhara
Attempt 1!

I'd met this guy via the Horizons Unlimited forums in Pokhara. He's travelling from Adelaide to London on a Vespa... Which is crazy! On the morning I was going to head up to Jomsom we met up for breakfast to copy movies/tv shows. Unfortunately the copy went on for a bit too long and ended up going past lunch time (I was in no rush to move anyway). I left about 1:30pm and changed hoped to make Tatopani by 6pm instead of Jomsom. I now know that would have been impossible too.

I headed out of Pokhara and followed the road north through the valley. Once it started to climb up the hills on one side I felt a few raindrops and saw some dark grey clouds in the north. I thought that would have been ok, there's a large loop in a south westerly direction before it heads north again, it looks like the rain should have passed that area.

However... Once I got to the top of the hills the wind really picked up. I was in a small village at the top when I noticed ahead of me there was a lot of wind and dust and leaves being blown across the road between a small gap in the hill. I looked up to one of the buildings and noticed a bit of roof leaving its house. I found shelter and waited the wind, then the hail, and rain out. That took about an hour, and since I was so close to Pokhara, and a distance away from Tatopani along unknown roads I decided to head back down to Pokhara and attempt again the next morning.

Storm cleared slightly so I could get my bike in the way of a photo.

Attempt 2!

I got away at 8am this morning, but I struggled to finish my breakfast, possibly getting sick again... I pushed on through the valleys towards Beni.

The road was fine today, weather was great (as it is every morning here). There's the one climb over the mountains at the end of the valley to 2000m, and then it drops back down to 800m again like in Pokhara. It stays much the same until you get to Beni.

The road from Pokhara is not bad. A couple of spots where you could get caught out if going too quick. And as always buses everywhere.

Views along the way to Beni

More views.
About 20km out of Beni I stopped to get fuel and there was a scottish guy called Ash. He had hired a scooter for 400r a day and was attempting to get to Jomsom. I told him from what I heard it was actually quite rocky and in bad condition, but he was going to give it a go. He said he'd already been up to Beni on the scooter, but they didn't have fuel so he had to come back out. Lucky I stopped here.

I set off and hit the horrible gravel roadwork section on the way to Beni which is just after a bridge over the river. Now on the maps there seems to be a road on the other side of the river, but I decided to trust the GPS advice and stay on this side (which is where other maps said to go). But I wasn't actually sure if this was the road to Beni or if I'd be getting to the end of the road to find beni on the other side of the river and no bridge. I persisted, I only had about 10km to cover before I had to back track (if needed). I went through some mud, some rocky sections, a lot of gravley dusty road, all the time wondering if this was infact the correct way to go. Got to a very muddy section, It looked very slippery but actually wasn't, but then I wondered about Ash on his scooter, how did he make it through? Eventually I caught up with him and passed, so now I was releaved that I was on the right path.

At Beni I stopped for a drink. I saw Ash ride passed still persisting on the rented scooter.

After Beni the road gets worse, lots of sandy dusty crap covering the road. The front on my bike would slip a bit, but it seems if I keep the power up it's ok. But you can't use too much power because you don't want the rear to slip out (had that happen before...).

I caught up to Ash again he made it quite a way on his scooter! I stopped and remarked at how bad the road was to here, I told him if he can handle that he can get to Jomsom no worries! But I was wrong.

At Tatopani it starts to get muddy, rocky, and a lot tougher. It's very slow going. And then once you get to Ghasa it starts to get steeper and rockier and even harder...

Views north of Tatopani (closer to Ghasa I think)

Looking up the valley.

I was getting quite tired after I did the last little climb up to Lete, and by the time I arrived I noticed some drops of rain. Then the very cold winds came in. It had taken 6 hours to get to this point, and 5 hours of that was covering the 50km from where the road starts to get bad. I decided to stop there for the night rather than push on to Jomsom because the rocks became very slippery with the few drops of rain that hit them.

I found a guest house and unpacked all my gear. Once I got inside I started to get a really bad headache. Later in the afternoon the headache got a lot worse. I checked my blood pressure a few times and it was WAY up. between 140/90 and 160/110 each time I tested, heart rate seemed to stay above 100. So just lying down was exhausting...

This was nearby...

Behind the guesthouse.

The road up to Kalopani and Jomsom.

More Mountains.

My room was in the top left. I felt very cold at night, mostly from being sick.

Closeup of that shiny section. 

Sunset happening outside this valley.

Getting redder...

Almost gone...

Post sunset Lete.

The night was horrible, lots of waking up. I checked my blood pressure a few times and it was still up, still had a bad headache and intestines still hurt a bit.

The next morning I felt better, blood pressure was down to 130/80, heart rate had finally dipped below 100. I ate breakfast of toast and jam, and boiled eggs. Little did I know that the Jam had far more fructose in it than I thought. Jam is supposed to be realativly safe for fructose intollerant people, but this one listed pectin as an ingredient. Sugar was still first however so I thought it would be ok. But it was not. About lunch time the intestine pain got much much worse and it felt like my intestines wanted to rip out of my body briefly. And the headaches got worse. I could hardly move. 

Morning time in Lete.

North along the road. I think this one is 8000m. The bottom of the photo would be  around 3000m

Wider view looking north.

Some of them UFO clouds above the tallest mountain.

Some light cloud rolling over the top of this one.

I spent the afternoon in pain and watching movies (air america) but my combined diseases did manage to ease up a bit. That is until the evening and then the altitude sickness got much worse. 

That night I attempted to eat something, but could only eat half a plate of chowmein. I went back to my room and pre-packed everything ready to go tomorrow. In the morning I got up and still felt horrible, blood pressure and heart rate still in the region of someone who should be running and not lying down I figured it was best to get out of here.

Here's a bit of video of riding down the rocky road out of Lete. This was one of the harder sections, it was made even worse because I wasn't feeling so well and couldn't concentrate properly.

Once I got to Ghasa I started to feel a lot better, it was only 400m down, but that helped a lot. The village of ghasa has a path through it which runs parallel to the road. However on the road was an overturned bus. Everyone started waving at me so I turned around and then went down the path through the village. My bike handles steps well! I have the video from riding through it but I'm having trouble uploading things.

South of Ghasa there's a broken bridge with a deeper water crossing next to it.
The waterfall, bridge, and goats.


Stay away from my bike goats!

This is the old broken bridge with some rocks stacked at one end, and the deep water crossing.
Being awesome, I decided to take the bridge back across instead of the water. My left pelican case still has a broken hinge so it's waterproofiness is unknown, and I wasn't sure of the depth of the water. Here's how I went across:

The mud had mostly dried up from two days ago. Still some slippery sections though. I've got more video of it to upload. I stopped near Tatopani to get a drink.

The river heading down the valley.

Napping Nepali Guy.

I saw motorbikes take this across the valley.

Closer towards Beni.

But this is a tough road. Now I know what it's like it would probably be best to take it was a week long trip. 4 days up to Jomsom, a day at Muktinath, and 2 days down. I failed at beating my altitude record, looks like I'll have to do that elsewhere.

Todays trip is to Tansen or Lumbini. I'm packed and I just have to put everything on the bike and go. But I've been near Pokhara for so long now. I'm not sure how possible it is to leave!

Thursday 19 April 2012

Some Pokhara Sights

Yesterday I felt well enough that I could get one the bike and have a look around some of the sights around Pokhara.

This is the view from the guesthouse. On he left is Annapurna II I think, the middle mountain in the foreground is Sangrakot and on the left is the Fish tail.
On the left of the above Photo is Annapurna II (I think) about 8000m high. The middle mountain has a town called Sangrakot and is a lot closer is 1595m high. And the one of the right is the fish tail, which is again around 8000m high. It's amazing that they're 20-30km away and so tall that I still have to look up to see them from here!

So seeing it was find weather this morning I decided to heat up to Sangrakot to get a better view of the mountains. However, by the time I had got up there...
The clouds had rolled in...
There's been clouds every day, they seem to appear about 10am. Maybe I should try get up there earlier. Sunrise is the time to be there, but that sounds hard.

Panorama looking south from the top. Pokhara and the lake are on the left, up the valley is the campground I was at.

Para-gliders overhead.

Next I headed back down the mountain to Devi Falls...

And this is them.

The disappear into the ground here.

The falls disappear, and then you have to go across the road to the cave entrance, which goes down some steps under the road and almost back to this point!

The caves are very wet of course, and very smelly. During the monsoon seasons it's not possible to go in because it fills up with water. There's a small temple at the start of the cave where you are not allowed to take photos, after this point you are allowed to though.

Rock stacks!

The falls entering the cave!
I'm not sure where the water goes from here, I think it keeps going underneath this cave somewhere.

More lit up.

Another view.
It was very difficult to get a photo in there. It was dark of course so I sat my camera on my bag and tried to get a longer exposure. But there were lots of big family groups walking past, I have heaps of 10 second exposures with someone looking back into the camera for half of it, or just walking past. A lot were ruined by other peoples flashes going off too. I think I spent about half and hour there just waiting for a gap between all the people moving through so I could get some photos.

The walkway back out.

All the little bugs and moss collecting around the light.

And then that was all I looked at, time to go back to the hotel and find my toilet again (it's not disease anymore, but it's still rather uncomfortable...).

Pokhara lakeside just after sunset.
I'm contemplating heading up to Jomsom tomorrow. It's 160km of bumpy rocky roads cut into the side of mountains... 

Wednesday 18 April 2012

A few more Nepal Stories

Some more left over stories that don't fit anywhere else.


Here is the worst section of things coming from every direction in Kathmandu. I've got video of riding through Kathmandu twice which I'll edit down a bit later.

So far here is what I can figure out about Nepali Traffic:

  • Trucks are usually the best drivers. Small tourist vans and motorcycles are the worst
  • Indicators mean "Pass on that side", not "I'm turning this direction, so don't pass"... Very confusing.
  • Three toots of the horn means I'm about to pass. One toot means look out for me.
  • Flash of the headlights means I'm going to keep doing what I'm doing, if you get in the way that's your fault. This is usually the follow up of using the horn.
  • A few flashes of the headlights means... I'm not sure, but I saw one person doing it in oncoming traffic and they stopped, but also the person in front of me stopped because of it.. No pulling off to the side of the road either, just stop on the road.
  • Most people leave you enough room on the road (except for tourist vans) even when two trucks are overtaking. On the mountain roads I've seen one bus trying over overtake a truck, they saw me then the bus pulled in behind the truck. I do not expect that to happen in India.
  • Buses will stop anywhere to pick up people. Mid corner, middle of the road, it doesn't matter.
  • People don't look when they merge. I think it's up to the moving traffic to use the horn to let them know they're about to hit you.
  • Don't wait for a gap, just nudge forward until someone gives in.
  • Watch for people throwing chickens/goats/kids in your way. This hasn't happened to me, but I've heard it happening. Same thing happens in Laos.
  • Headlights in extremely bad visibility (ie: a storm or night time) are optional.
  • Overtaking a bus in the right lane, while going around a left corner is acceptable and not risky, as long as you use your horn.
  • Cows have right of way, but also get killed on the road (how much negative karma does killing nandi get you?). Be ready to avoid dead cows.
  • Ambulance sirens are quieter than car horns.
  • Anyone who says the roads are bad in Nepal hasn't been to Laos.

Gas Bottles

Gas bottles are delivered to businesses by tractors towing a trailer. In Sauraha I watched them unload the bottles by throwing them over the side of the trailer onto the rocks or previously thrown out bottles. This of course dented them all, some of them around the valve. I remembered the gas bottle I saw which was rusting in the shower and wondered just how weak all these bottles are now.

The stupidest part of watching this was that after he was done unloading-by-throwing, he then moved the remaining bottles from the back of the trailer to the front... Why not just unload from the back?


There is SO much spitting in Thamel. Constant spitting, everywhere. Sometimes you have to dodge people spitting out doorways who didn't see you walking past (maybe they did). I followed one guy who was spitting at least every 5 seconds, surely he must be dehydrated. In other towns it's not such a constant rain of spit. Pokhara for example is much better, but it's still there.


Garbage just gets thrown on the street in towns. I watched a shop owner just throw his rubbish out the front of the shop onto the street. The rivers in Kathmandu are just garbage dumps because after rain this is where it ends up. The river in the north west of the city was just mountains of trash with some water running through it. I'm actually not sure that the people realise this is why the rivers are full of crap. Australians do this to of course but there's an army of people to clean up after the messy ones there. I've seen people cleaning out all the garbage from the drains on the side of the road but I think the task was "clean the drain" and not "clean up the rubbish".


In Pame Bazar I had two kids watch me while I was at a shop, there was a short discussion between them and then they came up to me and said "give me 1000!". I laughed and asked how often that actually works. I was met by blank stares as I quickly learnt the extent of their English skills, just enough to ask for money and nothing more. And also 1000? That's a huge amount! It's like someone asking for $50 in Australia (1000Rs gets you about the same as what $50 in Australia would). In Thamel there's a lot of it, hasn't happened to me in Pokhara yet but I've seen a lot of other tourists giving money to them. I was told by someone that people buy/rent kids to beg from tourists because they can make so much money that way. This person also told me that they purposely injure the kids by cutting of an arm because it gets more money, but I'm not sure I believe that. But it all works of course (not on me! I'm on to your scams!).

Touching Game

I'm not sure what this is. I've seen kids run up to tourists and try to touch them with one finger. I assume it's a game and I'm not sure of the rules. It happened to me in Tatopani where two kids were racing to try and touch me first (I think). I've seen it happen here in Pokhara but mostly to female tourists.

Bonus one line story: The 'Hero Honda' is a type of motorbike here, 'Hero' is the brand, 'Honda' is the model (it's not a Honda, in case that's confusing). I was told a lie!

Sunday 15 April 2012

Chitwan to Pame Bazar

After having most of my fuel stolen from the guesthouse in Chitwan, I headed off to Pokhara. My plan was to find a shop somewhere to buy food, and then go out to the overlander campground just near Pokhara.

Sunset on my last day in Chitwan/Sauraha.

I headed back out through the valley north to the Mid Hills highway which goes to Pokhara. This section of road was quite busy with traffic, lots of trucks and busses, but once I got onto the Mid Hill highway it was rather quiet.

This is what I was riding through for half the day...

50000km! That would mean something if it was accurate.
And just after that I got stung in the neck by a wasp I think. It hurt a lot whatever it was...

After that it was mostly boring road until I got to Pokhara where the traffic picked up again. I missed any form of shops that look like they sold anything decent (I've since found cans of beans in Pokhara!). I followed the road west along the edge of the lake to Pame Bazar where the campground is.

Welcome to Pame Bazar.

Pame Bazar...

The Overlander camp ground.

All my camping gear still works!

The view north of the campground.
The camping was cheap, 60Rs/night for me to set up my tent. Motorhomes/caravans have to pay 100Rs plus 50Rs per person. There's a few sites that mention how rough the road is here, but really it's not that bad. It's a bit rocky in places but no worse than anywhere else in Nepal. There's also a bridge that looks like it has broken or never been completed so you have to ride over a dry rocky riverbed to get to the actual campsite, took me a while to figure out how to get over there from the road with the sign on it (you have to go just past that road!).

At the campground were mostly French and Germans (because this is about as far as you can drive from Europe without problems). There was a French family in their van, another French 4wd camper thing, a German couple in their more than off-road capable camper, another French couple in a small van who'd been traveling for 2 years, and then yet another French couple in a big van that had been parked there for a couple of years.

There is power and filtered water available, and there's a toilet and a gas hot water shower you can use which is next to the house. Pretty well set up campground.

I set up my tent far to close to the house though. The family gets up about 6am and from then until 10pm there's loud talking and arguments, with short breaks as they hit the daughter quite hard for some reason so she runs off crying.

They have wifi now which costs 100Rs/day to use but they put a stupid level of security on it. On the check-in form there's a section to put in the MAC address of the wireless device you want to use (so they only allow devices they want to connect), so I gave them my phone MAC address. And then on top of that they use WPA2 which is really not worth the time to break here but it's still perfectly fine for the rest of the world. And then on top of that they don't use DHCP so you have to set up everything manually (now that's just dumb). Ridiculous amounts of security for a place where there are no other houses close enough to be able to steal the wifi. It took the guy about 30 minutes to set up my phone because he had to do it his way. When I asked what he was doing he told me that was just the way it worked, I just kept quiet and recalled everything that makes it so easy to connect to a wireless network everywhere else.

You have to bring your own food too, but in Pame Bazar there are a few places to eat at. I had Dhal Baht at one place and they charged me the "stupid foreigner" price of 300Rs. At another place I had small fried fish and one beer, again at the "stupid foreigner" price of 450Rs. It's cheaper to eat western food in the touristy areas! There was one shop where I bought biscuits and things at nepali prices though, which meant they actually charged the MSRP written on most items rather than inflating it. But one of these places gave me food poisoning AGAIN.

Being sick again I decided I didn't want to hang around and listen to the family argue all day and decided to head into Pokhara and find a room with a toilet to be close to. I packed up all my gear very slowly as everything hurt and I also had to take frequent breaks to rest because I was very fatigued this time.

I was all packed up then I went to pay my bill of 320Rs for two nights so I handed them a 500Rs note, which of course they didn't have change for so they had to run into Pame Bazar to get some. What kind of business will charge you an amount like that but doesn't have change for the closest value note? The answer is every Nepali business, I notice it's very common for them to never have change for anything. It's very difficult to get rid of the 1000Rs notes that the ATMs give you.

Once I got on the bike I felt ok though, for a while. I went to the Butterfly Lodge as that sounded like the best place. Once I asked if they had any rooms he then took me over to look at them, showing me a 1500Rs/room which was rather nice and clean, but well over my budget. He said they had the same sort of room on the ground floor for 1200Rs/night but on the ground floor, and again I said that was too much. I told him my budget was 800Rs/night and then he went on a big long rant about how the room he would show me may not be to my liking for that amount, and that by adding the 10% service charge then it might be worth just paying an extra few hundred Rs to get a better room. I said that was fine but let's actually go look at the cheaper rooms rather than standing round in this 1500Rs/night room. And the cheaper 800Rs/night room is perfectly fine, it's actually quite clean and it's just an old room. On the door of the cheaper room is a sign that said that the 10% service charge will be added to all bills, and I queried this, but he assured me that this room will be 800Rs including service charge.... We'll see how that works out later.

Once I unpacked though the sickness finally hit me and I just collapsed in pain and tried to sleep the rest of the day away. Thankfully sleep worked even better with the dodgy cheap codeine tablets you can buy here.

Here's a timelapse I made of the clouds over the campground: