Today is the final day of the course; the ladies have had all the training so today it’s a case of watching them deal with a variety of hazards and roads, seeing how they use their skills and judgement for themselves. They are a lot happier this morning, a good night of rest and they’re raring to get going. There is a mix of tarmac roads to start with and they are all much more confident with the bike. They may only be 150cc machines, but they are very tall for them. Most bikes in Nepal are scooters, which these three are all used to riding, and they have an automatic gearbox. Manual bikes are predominantly 150cc with a couple of 200cc models, and the ubiquitous Royal Enfield Bullet 350. They have all struggled with fine clutch control, tending to use it more as a switch, but they do very well in the villages and the very slow uphill stretches behind very heavily laden trucks. At the start of the course dropped machines were quite common as they struggled with the clutch and height of the machines. No such problems now.
We head out into the hills and the rough, unmade roads and rock trails that these machines were bought to deal with. From the start we have introduced the phrase ‘risk assessment’ to them which is, when you think about things, what we all do when driving or riding anyway. Only now, they are more aware of the risks. They have had enough to cope with using the clutch and the size of the bike anyway, but now they have to figure in planned routes, and planned stops, so if they need to stop they can put a foot down. With their diminutive size this needs a lot of thought and they do well. Two of them are considerably taller than the third so they have, in general, more route options available and they all have different levels of skill in various techniques but they all play to their strengths and take the best choices for them. They all get to the destination with very few issues and the smallest one has none at all. She had the biggest hurdle of all to overcome but has done so very well indeed. Both myself and Pete are very impressed with the progress she has made. No complaining, no excuses, just questions and downright determination.
At the top of the hill we find the highest, longest, suspension bridge in Nepal. It is 347m long and 166m high, access and exit via some stone steps, and it is a road in constant use by both bikes and pedestrians in both directions. Nepalese don’t often look 347 metres ahead when driving or riding so you have to pass as well. This is done by leaning into the side mesh. All good fun. We were here last year and I regretted not riding over it, so this year I ticked an item off my bucket list and rode across it. Click below
to see the video if you want. When I got there, two of the girls had walked and wanted a lift back, so the return route was with a pillion.
The third lady wanted to ride across it, so she did so. These bridges are a common sight in Nepal and an essential part of the road network. This one turned a commute between Kusma and Balewa from a 2 hour walk to a 5 minute one and the girls will have to deal with them, or seek an alternative. It’s great to see them riding in acknowledgement of their own abilities and confidence rather than being a passenger on the bike which they were at times on day 1.
The return route is on similar roads, only downhill now, so another set of problems have to be overcome as well as confident use of the front brake. In common with many scooter riders across the world they were afraid of using it in the belief they would crash. Again, they dealt with all routes and hazards with great skill and competence.
To see these three grow in confidence the way they have this week has been a great source of pleasure for Pete and I, they are the first ladies trained in Nepal in motorcycling techniques and in the 50th Anniversary year of the Gurkha Welfare Trust, and our own Women in Action month, there is a lot to be proud of both for them, and us.
Hopefully more female motorcyclists can be trained but there is a current backlog of tests in Nepal to acquire a driving licence. The GWT are desperate to overcome this but so far there seems to be no shortcut available.
This has been another memorable visit to Nepal for us both, and to see first-hand the level of care these people deliver to retired Gurkhas and their families is truly humbling.
As well as delivering welfare, the GWT have built 30 schools in the last 3 years and are doing water management projects across Nepal; there is much more to the organisation than we both thought…