Kathmandu Kaos

We were taken by Pim to meet the chief staff at the GWT Area Welfare Centre (AWC) in the city centre. These are the regional base of operations throughout Nepal. Dependants (including widows and children) come here to socialise, get medical assistance, help filling in forms; a wide range of services is available. the GWT has huge outreach program and engages with villages for projects such as new water supplies, bridges etc. It costs about £60m per year to run. There is a government contribution of £2.4m, the shortfall is made up from private donations and public donations in the UK.

We were made very welcome, had lunch with the staff and were told we would be taken to ride around the city for about 20 minutes that afternoon. We had already seen something of the madness in the taxi from the airport, and were quietly concerned for our safety.

We went out with two guys sandwiching Pete and I. We had already agreed we were going to stick like glue and not get separated. That lasted about 200 yards…

It appeared a totally lawless, chaotic situation. On the upside, Nepal is the same as the UK and traffic drives on the left. Allegedly. But it became apparent there is some order to the whole process. We were advised to beware of a right indicator as it could mean one of two things; either the vehicle is turning right or they want you to overtake. Overtaking seems to be the national sport and the whole nation practises at every opportunity.

If you want to overtake, sound your horn. As you are overtaking, sound your horn. As you complete the move, sound your horn. If you are being overtaking, sound your horn. If someone drives towards you, sound your horn.

The technique deployed in overtaking is simple. Just do it. A return gap is always there; you just pull in and create it. If you meet another vehicle, just brake and they will move or stop. Overtaking can be carried out to either the nearside or the offside. But even if you overtake on the nearside you have to watch out for oncoming traffic. Think about that one and let it sink in…

To turn right onto a main road is as awkward as in the UK. You need a gap to your right before you pull out. Nepal simplifies it a bit by not actually needing a gap in the traffic from your left. Just turn right into oncoming traffic then – you guessed it – sound your horn. Create your gap and drop into the traffic line that is (mostly) heading your way. This technique is used by every vehicle from scooters up to the huge, heavy TATA trucks that are plentiful.

Pedestrian crossings actually do have a rule…you drive over them slowly if someone is on it; don’t stop, just slow down. It was obvious we were concerned about this but it was pointed out if you do stop, you will get rammed from behind. Oh, and sound your horn.

There are many Police officers who will be engaged in a display of hand movements that could be construed as directing traffic. Of course, they don’t have horns; that would be silly. They have whistles.

After a while, though, it sort of made sense; all of this madness contains no malice; people will always make room for you…

They even sound their horn to let you know…

Namaste Nepal

Our flights had been booked and we were to download our tickets to our phones at the airport. A visa is needed for Nepal and we had filled the form out, had two passport photos each and the $25 visa fee. This allowed us to get our Visa once we’d landed. According to that font of all knowledge (the internet) you can only take US$ into Nepal.

Pete and I were all set for a meeting on Friday afternoon to go over the course layout and theory presentation. That would give us time to get to Heathrow and book into our hotel with a couple of hours to spare that evening then up for a leisurely morning before a long flight. A well needed rest

All was going well until Pete rang me. To download the e-tickets he had to enter the visa numbers, which we didn’t have. Potentially, no visa meant no flight. That could be a slight problem…

Back into panic mode, then. An early departure to Heathrow was called for to get to the airline help desk and try and sort everything out rather than leaving it until the next day. I’m sure many of you have flown with an impending issue and in general the airline staff are pretty good at helping you.

Not this one. There is a bridge, somewhere, missing its’ troll. What a woman! She had a level of tact and diplomacy that puts a particular western world leader to shame. In the end we walked off and approached the next available member of staff who couldn’t have been more helpful, got us checked in and everything was fixed in no time.

We had a brief stop-over in Doha which is an amazing airport. It is absolutely huge with stores from every major high street brands, even car showrooms. It seemed bigger than any out-of-town shopping centre I’ve ever been to.

When we arrived at Kathmandu we were met by a helpful guy called Pim. He is an ex-Gurkha, as most of the Trust are, and he guided us over to the automated visa machines that scanned the passports and printed everything off so you could join another queue and pay. In any currency.

Pim looked after us very well, almost to diplomatic levels, by getting us where we needed to be at the right time seemingly without queueing. When you leave the arrivals area you are subjected to another search which seems odd to us but I guess they have their reasons. It has a certain quaint elegance around the whole process, dipped into a healthy portion of madness

Outside the heat was already starting to stifle at about 9:00am. We had a taxi from the airport through Kathmandu to the Bagrati Welfare Centre. What was striking was that the chaos of the city stops as soon as you turn into a side road. We sat in the grounds drinking a cup of tea and couldn’t hear a note of the cacophony we had left just 100 yards behind. An amazing place that does absolutely defy description.

We are going out for a ride in the city traffic after lunch. Should be a hoot…

In the beginning…

My phone rang. The screen told me it was Pete Doherty; a good friend for many years now. We worked together as instructors for about 10 years on the Motorcycle wing at Hendon; the Metropolitan Police Driving School. We have both been IAM members and examiners for years and are now full time employees as area managers. It is not unknown for us to have a little bit of banter and the occasional wind-up. We have learnt the signs from each other to know when a wind-up is coming. Our lips move.

Today was no exception.

“Do you fancy a trip to Nepal”? he said, “Bugger off” I hinted.

“Off Road Motorcycling” he replied “Seriously”!

“I can’t afford it”

“It’s for work”!

“Yeah, OK”

“SERIOUSLY seriously”! he gushed, which was the age-old code that a wind up was not in the air.

He went on to explain we were to deliver motorcycle training to the Gurkha Welfare Trust on behalf of IAM RoadSmart.

The Gurkha Welfare Trust is a charity that does exactly what it says on the tin. They take care of retired Gurkhas throughout the country. To work for them, you have to have served as a Gurkha. They supply aid ranging from Medical and Financial assistance all the way to Welfare visits. Some of the main roads in Nepal are metalled, most would appear to be tracks and many aren’t wide enough for 4 wheeled vehicles. Hence the reign of the Donkey. See what I did there? Never mind…

We have both delivered off-road training to students in the Police. A 1-day course for most students and a more technically intensive 4-day course for officers patrolling off road

Now, don’t get me wrong, this isn’t competition level stuff but an introduction on how to get from point A to point B off road on a bike fitted with indicators and mirrors and actually arrive in one bit, able to carry out a job. Exactly what was needed in Nepal. That’s the hook. That’s the point we need to get across; if the doctor crashes en route and doesn’t arrive at the outlying village, what happens to the patient?

I started to get together a list of essential things I needed to buy for the trip. A small helmet-mounted camera, a new lens for my camera; I quite like photography and have a couple of nice lenses, but space is at a premium on a bike and there may not be room / time to change lenses. Then there is the possibility (OK, absolute certainty) that I’ll come off at some point. A quick visit to eBay sourced a reasonably priced second-hand 18 – 200 super zoom that will stay on for the whole trip.

Of course, with the potential number of images and videos each day I needed somewhere to store them. Back to the internet for a USB hub, card reader and portable hard drive. And a case. For the benefit of the missus who will be reading this it all cost less than £50. Ish. Honest. I’ll bring you some perfume back darling…Eau de Yak?

When it comes to planning we had a pretty vague brief. Teach on-road and off-road riding to them. Riding, roads and road safety in Nepal are far different than we are used to in the UK. Google it and you’ll see what I mean.

The first day on the road we ride from Kathmandu to Pokhara. 200km or about 125 miles, even in the Highlands of Scotland this would take a maximum of about 3 hrs. I’m told this trip could take 8 hrs or even 10. I think that may be a wind-up, but no-one has said “SERIOUSLY seriously” yet…

We were wondering about which bikes we’d have. We imagined it would be something made in the region such as Hero or Royal Enfield. The latest ‘Himalaya’ model, even. We then discovered they would be Honda XR150L’s. I’m 6 foot plus and the wrong side of 14 stone. Pete is the wrong side of both. I think we’ll need two each; one per bum cheek!

As time moves forward we find we have total of 12 students, which is a challenge but manageable. We will be teaching them over 7 days and will be aiming to teach them a method of riding to a system, colloquially known as IPSGA, which those readers who have done some advanced training will (hopefully) recognise. For those that haven’t done any post-test training (and you really should, you owe it to yourself to safely get the most out of your hobby) it is an acronym for

Information

Position

Speed

Gear

Acceleration

It works. I’m not going to go into depth about it here. Google or www.iamroadsmart.com will answer your questions It also works off-road in our context so we’re only teaching one system and applying it to a variety of hazards with a few extra techniques to help ride over rough ground.

A large unknown is the base level of the riders and we won’t know that until we see for ourselves but, again, the standard required to pass the driving test in Nepal is greatly different to our usual expectations. We have been told many of our students are experienced cross-country motorcyclists so we could have anything up to a budding Dougie Lamkin in the group.

The idea is to ensure they are getting it right by skill rather than luck so we will have a theory session then it’s a case of putting into practice which is the key to any effective training.

They are, rightfully, a proud nation and proud of their Country. We need to engage with care and not be condescending or disrespectful to them or their nation; it’s a nation and a culture I have long held an interest in; mainly due to a large hill they have there…

We can’t wait…time to pack; I set off tomorrow!

 

Scott Tulip