We met early in the morning for a bit of a chat about riding in a group, then set off on the journey to Pokhara, about 200km.
Having had the time to reflect on yesterdays’ ride we decided it wasn’t really that much different to riding in Central London on blue lights; hang back, position early and steady away. We split into two groups of seven and left about 15 minutes apart.
The ride through Kathmandu was similar to yesterdays’, but less manic. One or two hazards you don’t see too often in the UK such as cows wandering around the road and laying down wherever they feel. As they are sacred everyone just ignores them and drives around them. I don’t think any horns are sounded; the cows have bigger ones, anyway.
A few monkeys lurking in the cabling above the streets. I should imagine the onset of rain could be a worrying time…
The thing that struck us most was the dust. It’s absolutely everywhere and coupled with the pollution in Kathmandu from old, un-serviced vehicles the back of my throat and eyes were stinging quite early on. Almost everyone wears a mask and I could see why. The dust is caused mainly by the extensive work on expanding the road network, but whilst roads are ripped up fairly quickly, no-one seems keen to re-build them quite so fast. Most roads are heavily potholed (they make Aberdeenshire ones look pristine). Many of the smaller roads are just dirt tracks, as are some of the main ones.
Within seconds of leaving the tranquil surroundings of our base we are back in the madness of the city traffic. We attract a lot of attention with the high-viz vests we had got the guys to wear; we saw no other rider wearing one. Plenty saw us though, and they reacted to us a little earlier…may be on to something here!
That said, it didn’t stop people overtaking and breaking into our formation. Even bus drivers would pull alongside us then just pull back in amidst the group. They couldn’t go anywhere but the mission here seems to be to overtake whatever vehicle is in front of you. A few hundred yards later we had all overtaken the bus again. If we didn’t immediately overtake the next vehicle, then it would repeat the earlier performance (with the usual horn note as well).
The range of vehicle types here is huge and one of the more unusual ones is a bit like a rotary cultivator with a single wheel, mounted in a wooden wheelbarrow-like chassis. Behind this is mounted a wooden trailer; the driver sits on the trailer and steers his chariot by turning the wheelbarrow. A bit like Tom Good in ‘The Good Life’. No brakes are fitted, though they do have a horn…
We wound our way through some very small streets with quite steep inclines and it dawned on us just how much this training could help. This is the city centre and some of the roads were unmade and about 1 in 3 or worse, so further away in the countryside how bad would things be?
As we left the capital the dust reduced, a little, but the heat built up. On the occasional stretches of good road, we kept up a speed of about 70kph (40mph) and this seemed to be the average speed most people seemed comfortable at.
This road is an important one in Nepal and is very busy; we were constantly overtaking, being overtaken or queueing whilst two vehicle who had met head on (whilst overtaking) sorted themselves out. Communication was by the usual method; horn.
The poverty level here is incredible; it is a whole other conversation but the level is so amazing that I had to mention it. It really does beggar belief.
A couple of things that were immediately apparent were that nobody lifted vision any further than about a coach length. They also follow extremely close; about 3 or 4 feet was the norm. By sitting a little further back and positioning out slightly both Pete and I watched our charges struggle to overtake a vehicle to then be trapped between it and the one ahead. Also being close to it, they had no vision to see when or if it was safe to pull out for a look. By being further back we had the vision to position earlier and confirm before overtaking both vehicles and our ducklings trapped in-between.
After a couple of hours we stopped for a much needed drink then set off once more. At one point we approached a crossing with a man waiting patiently in the middle as cars passed him by. He had his arms straight above his head. As I got closer I realised he was carrying some corrugated plastic roofing sheets and was holding them above his head so the cars could pass beneath him, which they were doing quite successfully. However, him being Nepali (so relatively short) and me being tall and on a trail bike was leading to a rather unpleasant situation. Luckily he saw the impending problem and tilted my end of the sheets up slightly as I went beneath them almost prone on the tank. Sometimes you just have to laugh…I hope there were no taller vehicles approaching.
We stopped at a road side café for lunch. One of the senior staff new the owners so we all sat down to a ‘Thali’, the traditional dish of Nepal. Rice, curried vegetables, some curried chicken, raw vegetables, dried onions and some dried fish. It is served with a thin dahl, like a soup, that is poured over the rice. Not as spicy as Indian food but quite flavoursome.
After lunch we set off once more. There was to have been an afternoon stop but the front couple of riders overshot so we continued on. Fatigue was setting in now, and the group was starting to get strung out. Then the road ended. Just stopped. Ahead was a cloud of dust. I realised this was part of the road under construction. The tarmac stopped and we were riding on the unmade aggregate laid as a base. In the middle of the road was a long line of piles of finer aggregate waiting to be laid prior to the Tarmac. The dust was awful; visibility was so low I couldn’t see enough to overtake the bus ahead as it bumped its way slowly over the poor surface. This went on for over a mile before the tarmac resumed and the dust cleared. A short while later we thankfully arrived at our destination. Again a very short drive from the main road and a small oasis of calm.