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RoadNotes: Bicycle Touring Daily Journal
Nepal May - June, 2011
written by Gretchen Howell


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April 29, 2011 50 km(31 mi), 5km passed Naubise

It took us a few days to get out of Kathmandu. Not the ride itself, but just getting started. Tim had been off the bike for 6 months and I'd been sedentary for at least 4 weeks and I suppose we were both intimidated by the prospect of battling Kathmandu traffic. After a few weeks of hotel life, my gear takes on new dimensions, migrates into all the wrong bags and becomes suddenly impossible to fit into previous arrangements. It took us awhile, and a couple mornings slipped away when we would gaze helplessly at the piles of touring gear and the honking traffic in the streets and agree, “Tomorrow.”

Luckily Tim did get out on the bike one day and scout out the route leaving Kathmandu. That saved us lots of hassle on the road. Our actual departure time was by no means early, probably after 11 am, and traffic was already cooking when we bumped down into the narrow street outside the hotel in Thamel. I set off after Tim, my legs wobbly with anticipation, and cautiously picked down the alley. Immediately we came to the turn that would shoot us out into real city traffic and Tim darted out without stopping. I'm okay, I told myself, trying to ignore my violently shaking knees I've done this a hundred times before. Still, I was more than a little terrified while I wheeled next to a stinking bus and aimed down the dusty hill. I followed Tim slowly down the hill, keeping well to the left of traffic and navigating around pedestrians. At the next turn we pulled up together, breathing a sigh of relief. So far, so good!

Kathmandu would be heaps easier to navigate early in the morning. The Nepalis don't seem to be early risers, and the roads don't start cooking until 9 am or so. The price we paid for a little sleeping in was a hard ride through snarling crowds of buses and trucks, edging along the bank of a profoundly stinky river and breathing clouds of exhaust. I could feel dust and oily bits coating my exposed skin, and the cloth mask I wore over my nose and mouth made me extra hot. After years of riding bikes in Asia, I'm a huge believer in wearing a mask, but I couldn't find one big enough for Tim, so I'm sure he sucked in piles of pollution. I don't think I would have been able to talk him into one anyway.

The road heading out of Kathmandu Valley was clogged with idling trucks, painted like circus trucks. I expected them to be full of elephants and clowns. We rode with the motorcyclists, dodging around the stalled traffic on the muddy edges of the road. Some of the hilly bits were too rough for me to ride so I slipped off and pushed. Tim didn't, of course, but he wasn't much faster than me. We were both coated with a fine layer of grit when we finally pulled up at the lip of the valley. We drank a triumphant orange soda at one of the dusty shops, watching the trucks lining up to pass the police checkpoint. As each truck slowed, a disheveled skinny kid would pop out to run up papers to the officials or buy a snack at the store.

We resumed our voyage over the edge of the ridge and started a long series of switchbacks. For the next few kilometers, we sailed down through villages along the riverside, until we stopped for lunch at a tiny roadside restaurant run by a smiling round-faced woman. I washed off the gray coating of sunscreen and shmeg that covered my skin and we ate big plates of daal bhaat and rice. I haven't yet got the hang of eating with only my fingers without looking like a messy toddler in a high chair so we asked for spoons.

It was early afternoon and having gotten through the escape from Kathmandu it seemed like a good time to start looking for a hotel. Both of us had some bike muscle acclimating to do, having been so long off the road. The gentleman at the hotel in Thamel had said there were lots of hotels on the road, but of course when you're looking for one, they're not so easy to find. I worried that the sign would be in Nepalese script and unreadable to me. At the crossroads of each little village we passed through, I scanned the buildings, looking for clues of a hotel. “Let's ask here,” I called at a pullout with a snack stall. A wide minivan was parked there and as we pulled in a crowd of distinguished Indian men swayed towards us. I let Tim head them off and pulled up to the little store. A Nepali girl, delicate and pretty, waggled her head at me and told me there was a hotel “One in 10 kilometers and one in 5 kilometers.” I thanked her and turned to Tim's crowd of Indian pilgrims, smiling seriously and silent. “They all want to help, but they don't know where the hotels are so they don't say anything.” Tim explained to me later. I took a few photos and we pulled out again. In about 5 km we came to a truck stop restaurant with a sign saying Hotel. The man behind the counter chuckled when I asked about rooms. “No rooms, this is restaurant,” he told me as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. The same thing happened at the next place. Hmmm. So hotel means restaurant here. So what's a hotel? We stopped in the next town and I waited while Tim gallantly leaped across a sea of mud to ask a pharmacist. In all we rode about 12 kilometers looking for a place to stay and there's something really exhausting about all that searching around.

The place we stayed had a sign that said Hotel and Guesthouse so apparently that's the name of an actual hotel. It had a sweet little garden, a waddling line of ducklings and a few small fuzzy rabbits bouncing around, sort of like a Disney movie set except that all the cute little animals would someday be eaten. The room cost 200 rupees(US$2.80)and our chicken and rice dinner was also cheap but took so long to cook over the open fire that we drank four beers while waiting. Beer is a real budget killer in Nepal.


April 30, 2011 22km (13.7 mi), Malekhu

Very peaceful morning until Tim noticed the fourteen year old boy whose mother ran the hotel peeking through the curtains of the window. Cheeky little bugger.

It seems that Tim and I share the habit of laziness in the morning. We both take far too long to get going but I suppose that's better than the speedy partner getting frustrated and the slow person feeling rushed. Neither of us want to ride big mile days anyway, as we have plenty of time to get to Pokhara. Much more sensible to have short days to ease our muscles back into riding mode.

Lunch was at an upscale place where the tourist buses stop and it was fun to watch people gaping over our loaded bikes.

I'm sure there was a really good reason for us to stop in the first biggish town we passed, even though we'd barely ridden 20 kilometers(12.4 mi). It seemed like a nice town, we wanted to take it easy, the hotel was obviously a hotel and not a restaurant. The room was 250 rupees (US$3.50)and tons roomier than our abode from the night before. There were a few tiny spies peeping in the window but they didn't make any attempts at hiding. It's hard to read a book with 5 little kids chirping “You give me one chocolate?” outside the window. We wandered around town scoping out restaurants and one brave young lady came darting out from her shop. “You come please visit my shop.” Unable to escape her determined urgings, we sat down at her aunt's little shop to drink a Fanta. Our hosts were extremely shy, often answering questions with silence and that funny little head bobble motion. I suppose it must mean different things in different circumstances.

The open air restaurants all had displays of little dried river fish curved on a stick. There were shrimp too. Where do the shrimp come from? We asked for vegetarian meals, Tim because he doesn't eat fish, me in solidarity. We got the standard rice and daal. I may get tired of daal bhaat someday but it seems a healthy and safe enough meal for now.


May 1, 2011 33 km (20.5 mi), Cheres

We spent the day following the river down the valley. The road is quite a bit higher than the river and there were a few rope bridges strung across the gorge. I don't know how wide those bridges are, but they barely look wide enough for two people to squeeze by each other. I wonder what happens if you go in the middle and jump up and down? There were a few cable ferries that looked plenty dangerous. The river is shallow and wide and rather lazy looking, although there are a few river rafting companies along the way.

Following rivers downstream should be a downhill journey, but there were a couple of long gradual uphill rides. Tim usually rode behind me. I suspect he was drafting off me and my little wind shadow. I don't have a clue about drafting, and whenever Tim rode ahead of me I usually let the space between us lengthen until I lost sight of him around the curving road.


May 2, 2011 34.6 km(21.5 mi), Bandipur

We stopped for lunch at a truck stop As we parked outside, I could hear the sounds of rowdy boy play inside. I peeked my head in to make sure that it was open. Four ragged boys danced around the tables shouting at each other. They all hushed immediately as a neatly dressed man approached across the parking lot. One stood shyly at our table to take my order, his face dirty and hair shaggy, an orange knotted string around his neck. “Is he your son?” Tim asked the owner. The man shook his head vigorously, as if the idea were a little repulsive. The four boys, it seems, were his employees. Ten years old, goofing around every time the boss ducked out and hard at work serving food to bus passengers. I wanted to whisk them all away into a classroom and make them do lots and lots of schoolwork.

At Dumre we reached the confluence of two rivers and the turn off for Bandipur. “The hill's probably not that bad.” Tim guessed. “Probably not that steep.” Incorrect, it turned out. We rode 8 kilometers (4.9 mi)up, straight up it seemed in places. The disheartening kind of hills that stretch out forever in front of the bike. Each time we came to a likely pass, another long uphill presented itself. Tim cheerfully called out slope gradients while I grumbled and sweated. We shared the road with a few brand new tractors pulling loads of firewood and old jeeps stacked full of people, teenage boys hooting from their perches on the roofs.

Bandipur is a sweet little mountain town and well worth the effort. At the town entrance, a gate blocks cars from entering. The car-free slate streets are lined with old-style wooden buildings. Although tourism has definitely arrived in Bandipur, there are no touts, no tee shirt sellers and that laid back atmosphere that every traveler seeks.

A boy ran out from the hotel, maybe 20 years old. “American yes? You are American? I hear on the news today your army kill Osama bin Laden. Very good day for America,” he told me happily, obviously pleased to discuss American news with an actual American. Tim and I had a similar reaction. “Well, that's ….. good, I guess.” For the first time in a few days we had access to wifi so we could check.... yes, it was true and still didn't know what to think. Does this mean the wars are over? That would be good news.


May 7, 2011 Kurintar 45 km(28 mi)

Spent another lovely morning in our breakfast nook, watching a bank of fog obscure the entire valley floor. It was warm but the air around us turned white with water vapor. We waited long enough to ensure we wouldn't be headed down the long steep hill in a downpour, then loaded up the bikes and said our goodbyes. There was a little traffic jam at the entrance to the village, a few tractors and overloaded jeeps trying to squeeze around each other on the narrow road. A cluster of backpackers sat on top a small bus and shouted down encouragement as we rode by. I thought they were much nervier than me. I would never be brave enough to sit on top one of those crazy buses!

The ride downhill was loads easier than coming up. I recognized all the torture hills from five days before. Bandipur is definitely worth the ride up that hill. I would have been a little furious if it wasn't. We whizzed down, dodging potholes and swerving around hairpin turns. Lovely view, which I hadn't noticed before in my hill-climbing haze.

We got to Dumre and turned back on the main highway. Immediately there was another long uphill, not too steep but steadily climbing. Nice scenery, tomato plants, goats, rows of corn, rice paddies, interesting little houses and the occasional bushy marijuana plant. On the other side of the mountain we pulled into the first city, which had plenty of hotels. Stay or go? We were less than half the remaining distance to Pokhara and stopping too early today would mean a long hard ride tomorrow. On the other hand, there might be another big hill, the next town might not have hotels, blah, blah, blah. We dithered for awhile, neither wanted to be the decider who might be proven wrong.

In the end we kept going. It was a terrific ride, smooth roads and nice views, little on traffic and big on country scenery. Then we got to Kurintar and no obvious hotel. Tim asked around and we were directed to a funny little indoor mall building. No English sign, so it took awhile to locate. For RP300 (US$4.20) we could have a room with a shared bathroom. The room was gross, condom wrappers on the floor and worse in the shared bathroom. No thanks. For just RP100(US$1.40) more, we got a much bigger room with a private bathroom with hot water. Both of us being practiced travelers, we both usually opt for the cheapest rooms. Might need to rethink that strategy.

 

What a strange little town Kurintar was. Sort of gave you that Twilight Zone feeling. We couldn't find anyplace to eat. Finally sat down at a dirty little place with some fried food on display. I thought he would heat them up again, but he served us cold samosas and some sort of spicy tempura veggies. Very greasy. Seemed a good place to pick up the stomach cooties so we left after just a nibble. We bought some chalky bananas and snack food instead, had a little picnic in the hotel room. Not so nutritious but better than getting sick. Sometimes international bicycle touring is all about knowing how to deal with travelers' diarrhea.


May 8, 2011, Pokhara 12km (7.5 mi)

Feeling just a little crabby on the ride yesterday. There was no place to eat breakfast and also a big stupid hill, long gradual uphill that makes my bike feel like it weighs a thousand pounds and I'm running into a headwind. But the traffic was easy, maybe there's another gas shortage. Every petrol station was either closed or had a great big line of cars and motorcycles, even though the pumps were closed. I read in the Kathmandu English newspaper that Nepal gets petrol from India, and there is some problem, they can't afford it, India has cut the shipment, something to that effect. I don't pretend to know the intricacies of petrol distribution. I only use it to heat my coffee water in the morning.

Took us forever to find a place to eat. Finally found a nice little place, with a cute little girl doing her English lessons. After some chow mien, we kept going into Pokhara, streets getting busy, gas lines, wandering buffaloes sniffing their big dumb noses at us from the middle of traffic. It wasn't too hectic and the directions were easy enough, just keep going straight. Pokhara has some round-abouts, not nearly as orderly as the ones in New Zealand. Then we saw ads in English for wifi and trekking and then the lake. Back in Gringolandia! Nice wide streets, walking paths around the lake. Our first hotel pick was full so we tried another, the Wood Pigeon. Four hundred rupees(US$5.59) for a big tidy room, lovely private bathroom. I'm sold on the private bathroom. Especially at that last place. For a mere US$1.40 more, we had a private bathroom with hot water and didn't have to sleep on the nasty sex bed or suffer a bucket shower in the tiny poo-splattered bathroom. I'm afraid I was quite rude to the woman there, complaining about the dirty bathroom. I suppose she hadn't noticed the clump of crap smeared down the back of the squatter.


May 11, 2011 Syanja 38.6 km (24 mi)

Best day possible to leave the city. There were no cars! Not a one! It was like a street party, everyone walking around, four abreast and or just standing around or riding bicycles. We thought it might be only in the tourist section but the rest of Pokhara was equally car-free. Lots of women were dressed in their best red silk saris and some men in suits. Weddings? Maybe an auspicious day, good luck for weddings and bad luck for driving? A couple of the main intersections were manned by groups of soldiers, armed with bamboo sticks and wearing baseball umpire-like padding. A strike? Some political action? Nepal is relatively stable now, but the Maoist Uprising is fresh on everyone's minds. Maybe a really good day to get out of town.

Taking the Siddhartha Highway out of town, we meet a blue amphibious camper van, driven by a Swiss guy and an American woman. We all stopped for a long chat in the middle of the road. They said there were road blockages later on, so they suspected a strike or political action. I would have loved to see the inside of that van and what sort of homemade contraptions were inside. Later, we also met a French motorcycle tourist who rode here from France across Pakistan. Big tough BMW. I'm sure it goes very fast.

Lovely road, good-sized hills, long climbs but not too steep. Met some kids on homemade skateboards riding downhill. The wheels were old ball-bearing sets jammed onto a triangular frame made of sticks. Not a very smooth ride but they had a nice long hill to ride down. A couple of kids starting chasing alongside us as we were climbing up a hill. All boys, so they weren't so interested in running with me, but glommed all over Tim. One of them hopped up onto the back of Tim's panniers, clinging to a strap and hoisting his chest onto the duffel. Tim decided he'd had it and stopped to shoo his little pranksters away. They looked a little terrified. I'm sure they've never been shooed by anyone so big before.

We got into Syanja a little unsure as to whether there would be a hotel. The clouds were massing in worrying black bunches and thunder grumbled in the hills. We needed to beat the downpour. Everyone on the streets laughed and namaste-d when we rode through the streets. “Hotel? Guesthouse? Puhuna Ghar?” we asked. The reply was usually a wave in the direction we were headed. A fellow cyclist rode up, asked Tim a few questions and decided to lead us to the hotel. Thanks to that guy, we got inside before the rain hit us. It was terrific little room. Upstairs, great view of the valley, lots of windows, hot water and cable TV. TV! Skimming through the jumble of Bollywood and guru channels, we found BBC and watched the same four stories about the Middle East over and over.


May 12, Galyanbhanjyan 44km (27.3 mi)

Written on the side of a Toyota Land Cruiser - “GeMSIP: Gender Mainstreaming and Social Inclusion Program”. What the heck is Gender Mainstreaming? I went to Berkeley and I don't even know. We saw the truck parked on the side of the road when we pulled in at the end of the day.

Man, what a road. No wonder they recommend it for motorcyclists in the LP.

A lot of our hotels could probably collapse pretty easily if there was an earthquake or a landslide. Especially this one since it's hanging off the edge of a big steep slope.

We got an early start today, no later than 10 and that's early for both of us. So we stopped earlier too. It's been raining every evening, big wet messes of rain that squirt down half the night.

Animals I saw today:

Monkeys – playing in big bamboo overhanging the road. Only two, and the one I saw was clinging to the bamboo and looking kind of fuzzy and cute, not mean and attacking.

Baby baby goats – probably just born, barely bigger than cats, standing in the grass with their mama goat. One had some funny stick thing on its hindquarters, maybe to tie the umbilical cord. They're so little when they're just born.
Suicidal Lizard – with an orange head. Running so fast it looked like he was on his hind legs, pumping his little scaly fists to make it under my tire in time. I locked up my brakes and just missed him. Tim had to lock up a little too, but at least I didn't squish the lizard.

Guy who showed me the rooms had three fake fingernails painted fuchsia. Wonder if he's involved in the gender mainstreaming. Our room is rp400 (US$5.59), a little steep for no attached bathroom, but the view of the valley and the convenience of the stopping point more than make up for it.

These little towns are better for electricity than the cities. Pokhara had no power for at 24 hours, it finally came on an hour before we left town. That could have been part of the mysterious no-car day event, or it could have been a mechanical problem, who knows. It's certainly less of a hassle to find petrol in the little towns. No lines.


May 13,2011 8.6 km (5.3 mi), some little town

We started riding and nearly got caught in a thunderstorm. Just outside of town the sky got all ominous and gray. When the rain started, we hid under a tree for awhile to wait it out. A few turns down the road, there was a hotel and restaurant. Now I see that riding in the most torrential downpour would have been better than stopping there. But it seemed like a good idea at the time. We had lunch, talked with the family a little and watched the gushing rain. Why not just stop for the day, wait out the rain? We weren't in a hurry. Good idea, right?


May 14, 2011 Tansen (Palpa) 36.2 km(22.5 mi)

I am so itchy.

I can't believe I climbed that big ass hill, over 1000 meters up, while I was so completely covered with bites. Red itchy bites.

We thought they were mosquito bites at first. I woke up on that horrible moldy mattress and I was all covered with red dots. Big swatches across my back, the bottoms of my feet, my toes, all the worst places. The skin on my upper right arm has turned all lizardy and swollen. So after I spent the morning madly scratching myself, digging through my pill pack for antihistamines (apparently I used them all up in Australia when that horrible ant bit my eyelid) and then madly trying not to itch myself, we rode up a big ass mountain. And that at least was enough to distract me from itching.

I should say a little about the ride and not just about my itching.

The road was fantastic. Big views around every bend. A river canyon, water crashing far below, highway clinging to the side and carving up. Long steady climbing, not too steep, a little lacking in shade. I listened to podcasts (good thing I had a couple StarShip Sofas saved up) and Tim listened to music. Every time we stopped to rest, my itchiness came flaring back, so it was better to keep riding.

The last couple klicks were pretty hard. We knew Tansen was at 1387 meters, but our altimeters each showed different altitudes. The last bit into town is up a huge steep hill, endless switchbacks. Finally we pulled up next to the bus stop. There were plenty of signs advertising “Lodging and Fooding” which gave me hope for a nice clean room for the night. A place where I could wash my itchy skin in hot soapy water. I left Tim and the bikes at a little restaurant and went on my quest for lodging. And fooding.

The first place had an attached bathroom but the room was coated with dust and cobwebs. The second was clean but down a set of rickety stairs that would have been impossible with the bikes. The third looked clean-ish and had a balcony, not great but do-able. Hot and itch-crazed, I took it.

Tim mostly carries everything up the stairs now. You know, since I find the hotels. Sooner or later, he'll realize that it's not a very good trade off.

When I tried to take a shower, I found the water was off. Silly me, should have checked. I fell asleep instead. Later we went for dinner at the hotel restaurant, still wearing the sweat and dust of the day. The hotel boys started the water pump for us when we went back up and I managed to sponge off a little before going to bed again. I fell asleep with the lights on, reading a Nick Hornby book.

A few hours later, I got up to turn off the light and saw a moving black speck on the white sheet. I squished it with my thumbnail. Blood. I found another and another, dozens of little bugs, baby bugs and big bugs, all full of blood. “Tim! There are bugs everywhere! Bed bugs! Bwarrrgh!” I squished them frantically, till the sheet was speckled with blood. A tiny crime scene. “They're my little buddies.” Tim mumbled, still asleep. I think I laughed a little, but really it wasn't very funny. The bed was swarming with families of bedbugs. How would we sleep?

Tim saved the day by pitching his tent on the bed. It hung off the bed a little at the end but besides that it was good enough fit. “It's made of latex,” he told me. Perfect, since what I really wanted was a body-sized condom to protect me from the army of little vampires in the room.

The next morning I found a pharmacist and bought antihistamines and a bottle of the magic pink lotion. Calamine lotion reminds me a million poison oak rashes when I was a kid. As usual, I put on too much so everywhere I go I leave a smudge of pink dust.

Obviously, I didn't really notice the town much, being in the depths of itch misery and crawly bug paranoia and all. But walking around later on, I decided that Tansen is a cool little town. It's on a hillside so there are some really steep little paths you can walk up, and narrow alleyways full of interesting shops. Every morning a platoon of uniformed soldiers goes for a stompy run passed our hotel.

I bought a copy of The Himalayan Times, an English newspaper, and finally learned more about the car-free day. The headline of the editorial section is “The bandhs are back again.” A bandh is a general strike, called for by one of Nepal's many new political parties. This one “was called on by Nepal Federation of Indigenous Nationalities (NEFIN) to 'generate pressure' to finalise the constitution and to press for inclusion of their rights.” The article also complains that the other parties failed to oppose NEFIN's call for a bandh, proving “how unreliable they can be and that promises are only made to be broken.”

During the bandh, vehicles must stay off the street and shops close “due to threats of violence.” I wonder where the threats come from? The owner of a previous hotel said you can drive “if you are a brave man.” The rare cars that are on the streets carry a banner, a red cross for medical necessity or red hearts for wedding necessity. There were an awful lot of weddings that day by my count. Possibly they weren't all weddings, just people who really had to get somewhere. The bandh doesn't seem to apply to self-propelled tourists. We travelled without hassle that day, as did the couple in the van and the French dude on the motorcycle. But I think tourists who need to take the public bus can end up stranded and that would really suck if you had a plane to catch. I've seen some minivans with big signs saying “Tourist Only.” Maybe you could hire one of those, but I bet they get dear with the public buses out of action. It must put a real strain on businesses, but I suppose that's the point of a strike. There might be a “threat of violence” but as far as I can see there was no violence. And it's easy to understand that Nepalis might be feeling frustrated by the political process. The same newspaper also carries an interview with the Prime Minister Jhala Nath Khanal explaining why the Constitutional Assembly needs an extra year to finish up the peace process and the new constitution. All that was meant to be finished by the end of May.

Man, my skin is itchy. You know you're really itchy when rubbing your skin off with a cheese grater sounds like kind of a good idea.

This bit of Nepal we're in is home to the Magar people. One lady at our lunch stop proudly pointed at a movie poster on her wall and said this one was “Bahasa Magar “and the other was “Bahasa Nepal.” Bahasa means language in Indonesian, and here too, I guess. I saw a big sign in one town proclaiming we were entering the Magar Autonomous Region. There was also a hammer and sickle and pictures of Marx and Engal, Lenin and Mao. The Lonely Planet says Magars are excellent soldiers and make up the largest number of Gurkhas.

The school kids here wear little neckties, boys and girls. I watched a tiny brother and sister, holding hands while walking to school with their little backpacks and pigtails and neck ties. So cute.

I've got to do some serious research on bed bugs. Are they nesting in my hair? Laying eggs under my skin? Am I going to explode like that guy in Alien? How hard would it be to heat enough water on my camp stove to wash all my clothes in hot water? Do bedbugs carry any diseases? How come I have ten million bites and Tim has two, which might be mosquito bites? Would it be rude of me to capture a little jarful of bedbugs and then throw them on the hotel owner? Where can I buy some DDT?


May 17, 2011 Butwal 38.7 km (24 mi)

I imagine Nepali people must get tired of eating the same meal day in, day out. As much as I agree that daal bhaat is a tasty and healthy meal, I'm quite ready to mix up the menu. Maybe we just missed the restaurant in Tansen that served something else. I did find a sweet shop that sold little doughy goodies. One is called barfi. Delicious, despite the name.

Our ride out of Tansen was glorious, all downhill. Hopped up on antihistamines and Calamine lotion, I ignored my various itches and made the most of the ride. We floated down for most of the day, got some spectacular views of the valley. It really is a splendid road to ride on, bicycle or motorbike.

Our stop for the evening was Butwal. We renamed it Butt Wall. No offense if you are from there. It's a funny joke if you've been riding in the sun all day. Butwal is dusty and sprawly and the Lonely Planet has nothing kind to say about it. We settled for a hotel on the expensive side (RP$600 or US$8.39) since the room was on the ground floor. Cyclers know: ground floor rooms are golden as you don't have to carry the bags upstairs, you can just wheel the bike straight into the room. Mornings are so much faster when you leave everything attached to the bike.


May 18, 2011 Poo Hill 48.4 km (30 mi)

It's funny how a map can trick you into thinking about your ride. If you see all one color, you assume that means zero elevation change, that the road will be absolutely perfectly laser flat. If I had been more attentive, I might have noted the multitude of tiny blue lines crossing our path. Blue lines that mean streams, streams that are not spanned by large level freeway bridges, but rather cause you to turn uphill as the road heads towards a shallower crossing point. Each rise in altitude feels like a personal insult when you are expecting a flat day, each hill a confounding surprise. “Where did this come from?” I asked myself a thousand times. “This is supposed to be FLAT.” We'd made plans to pedal much further today, but all these darn hills kept getting in the way.

For lunch we ate daal bhaat. At least it's cheap.

Our map showed one climb for the day. A long light green finger crossed the highway, pointing south to the border. It was a grizzly little climb, hot and jungley. At the line of roadside restaurants at the top, we collapsed into plastic chairs and guzzled sodas, both feeling a little queasy and out-of-sorts. We tried getting back on the road but the sky was clouding up and we soon decided to call it a day. Tim asked a well-dressed man at a banana stand where a hotel might be and in sparkling clear English he gave us directions to a tiny roadside restaurant. The very startled waiter showed me a tiny little room downstairs. As we entered the hallway, a women came out of another room buttoning her blouse. She blushed when she saw me and scurried into the bathroom as a man followed her out of the room. Aha. The room we got was mostly taken up by the bed but the window looked out onto a wall of jungle.

The waiter had to make a phone call in order to serve us dinner. In a few minutes, the owner showed up. His English was great, and he sat with us while we ate. Besides owning this hotel, he also runs a small contracting company. He said the petrol shortages were killing his contracting business, as he frequently had to run his equipment on expensive black-market petrol. He also told us that the new government had already extended the constitution writing process by two years beyond the original two year deadline. No wonder people are pissed!


May 19, 2011 Friendship Resturent & Ludge
 32.2 km (20 mi)

Rough, rough night. Evidently we ate something bad, both of us are in bad shape, me much worse. What a night. The thought of food was totally gross so I ate nothing today. We rode off the little hill and down to the flats, moving slow and taking lots of breaks. It was pretty awful. Bedbug attacks and now my guts in revolt. We gave it a good shot but after just 30km (18.6 mi) I was done for. We stopped at a funny little place in a cornfield. The rooms all had corny airbrushed posters of naked white babies and fictional beautiful nature scenes. One had a fancy white mansion sitting in a field of blooming tulips next to a majestic waterfall that spouted out of a grove of green trees. They all had inspirational thoughts in bad English like “Wishing you to good blessings and good supply.” There were a bunch of young men there, fellow guests or residents I'm not sure. They all slept together under one big mosquito net like a pile of puppies. We set up the tent on top of the bed again. After the power went off in the middle of the night, killing our fan, we spent the rest of the night sweating. Tim's tent is now pink on the inside from my Calamine lotion.


May 20, 2011 Saurara 65 km (40.4 mi)

Another Car-free Day! I mean, a strike, I know it's a strike now, but still, I can't help but enjoy the day for the pure bicycling bliss of a nice country road with no cars. And loads of bikes! The first thing you notice is the quiet. Before we'd even left the hotel, while we ate breakfast, we noticed the non-presence of truck sounds. Only one car passed, bearing a flotilla of flags. We pulled out onto a road full of bikes. The bikes were mostly Hero and Atlas brand from India, one gear and clunky, with a fat rack on the back suitable for carrying crates of vegetables or a few small siblings. And it's a very friendly atmosphere, everyone says Namaste and smiles. At the edge of a town, we came to the first roadblock and Tim told me to stay a little behind. A few big rocks blocked the road and a crowd of men and boys milled about importantly. But no worries, everyone just wanted to ask where we were from and gawp at the bicycles. “We like no cars.” Tim told them and got a round of happy cheers. We passed through and rejoined the bicycle parade on the other side. Lots of old men, dressed spotlessly for the day, tootled around on brand new Heroes, bits of bubble wrap still wrapped around the frames. Along the edge of road sat long distance trucks, parked with doors open and feet thrust out open windows, all caught unawares in the sudden strike. One truck carried a load of water buffaloes, and the beasts were staked out in the sun near a farmer's haystack. On their way to slaughter and extremely miserable looking. At the center of town, a crowd of people gathered under a shady tree. Music and laughter beckoned. “Come on.” Tim headed towards a small shelter full of old men who were waving us over but I dragged him back towards the family section under the tree. “Welcome please. You want cold drink?” A young man ran off to fetch us some sodas and I found myself engulfed by a tide of small girls, all big eyes and dirty faces. “Hello! Namaste!” They giggled behind fingers, the braver ones edging closer, some pulling a small brother or sister with no pants. The young man who brought me a cold Fanta explained that the strike was not meant to stop tourists from traveling, that we and any other tourists were welcome in Nepal. The men pounded hand drums, the women sang songs and the children danced. The songs were protest songs, our new friend explained. The people are tired of waiting for the new constitution. So on these days, the trucks will stop, the businesses will stay closed, the schools are empty.

 
Tim getting a shave with a straight razor and Gretchen getting mobbed by kids.

Continuing on, I can't help but notice that not all the stores are closed. Not by a long shot. And the ambulance zips back and forth much more often than can be medically necessary. So while the storms of change brewed in the countryside of Nepal, we enjoyed a perfect cycling day on a road transformed by patriotic fervor. On one little hill, we were joined by four Nepali teenage boys. They were out riding bikes to local Hindu temples and offered to give us a tour. Being a boy himself, Tim had to have a few races with them. To the boys' immense delight, they managed to beat him up a hill. After that, they rode around us in a little herd, jostling and joking and having a great time. We went with them to the Hanamunan Temple and between the four of them they managed to convey that this statue of the monkey god was carrying a mountain to help his friend cross a river. “Very strong monkey!”

Soon after parting ways with our little entourage, we came to the town of Bharatpur, the turn off for the road back to Kathmandu. We came over bridge and saw.... cars. Cars and trucks and a haze of pollution in the air. Evidently, the strike only affected that small region. We passed a roadblock and long line of busses full of lingering passengers and suddenly we were vaulted back into the world of traffic and horns and dodging collisions and burning exhaust fumes. Bummer.

By this time we'd had a fairly long ride in the sun and the return to real traffic made us both extra tired. We missed the turn off for Chitwan, understandable as the only sign in English read “Everest”. After retracing our steps, we found the turn off and headed out towards the National Park. Each intersection was marked with a jumble of hotel signs, arrows pointing in all directions. In a somewhat hazy state, I believe we managed to find the most roundabout way possible of reaching Sauraha. But we did find what I really wanted. A nice clean room with a clean tiled bathroom. Emphasis on the clean. Emphasis also on the working bathtub with steaming hot water. I may find time to go on a jungle walk and look at rhinos and elephants. Or I may spend a few days taking long luxurious baths.


Tim truing my rear wheel and inspecting his crank and bottom bracket for the source of a strange noise that turned out to be loose chain ring bolt.


May 24, 2011 Hetauda Hotel Avocado 71.5 km (44.4 mi)

After a few days of relaxing at our fancy hotel with its lovely bathtub, we finally had to roll out. Tim has a week left on his Nepal Visa, which means we have a week of flat-out, run-for-the-border type days. Should be a blast.

A little breakfast in town, a few last minute purchases and we headed back up to the main highway. Once there, it was obviously another car-free day. A waiter at the Chitwan restaurant where we frequently ate had said there would be continuous strikes till the deadline for the new Constitution passed at the end of the month. I saw something online about big demonstrations in Kathmandu, but my connection was too slow to read the complete story. Even though there is some tension, I don't think there is the slightest risk to tourists beyond being inconvenienced. Really the reception we get is very positive, and there's no denying how fun it is to ride down a highway filled with people-powered transport.

The road we're on is the Mahendra highway. Super flat in these parts, it borders a wildlife buffer zone. The forests lining the road are well-used by locals for firewood and fodder. At the end of the day, we reached the intersection with the Tribhuvan Highway, which runs north/south between Kathmandu and the Indian border. Hetauda is a largish town with busy tree-lined streets. We considered a few downtown hotels (too many stairs) and finally headed out to the Lonely Planet recommended Hotel Avocado. Even though said avocados were sadly out of season, it was a great room. First floor with no stairs, decently clean and eager room service. The grounds were garden-y and green, and some strange animal romped in the grass. Sort of a big slinky white ferret. I've no idea what it was.


May 25, 2011 Chandranigahapur 69 km (42.9 mi)

This morning we took off south on the Tribhuvan Highway. Right away it was obvious that today was not a car-free day, or maybe just not this stretch from Kathmandu to India. Farting big trucks rattled and honked by constantly. The road surface was rutted and potholed in places. We had a big climb immediately after leaving town, climbing around 400 meters. It was a nice little climb, especially knowing that this would be the last significant climb in Nepal. On the map, it looks like we've got half the country to go till the border, but it's completely flat.

Near the top of the hill, we found the destination of the Nepali Oil Corporation (NOC) trucks that were swarming passed us. At the gates to the NOC there was a clusterfuck of smelly trucks gunning impatiently in nothing resembling an orderly line. Feeling like a couple of mice in the elephant yard, we zipped around the parking lot of hulking beaters and emerged on the other side. Possibly the strikes have affected the Nepali petrol supply, and all these truck drivers are making up for lost time. The petrol must come up from India and get distributed from this point.

A short downhill later and we were back on the plain, flat for the next 400 km (249 mi).

The villages here are a glimpse of primitive life: oxen pulling carts, huts made of hardened smooth red mud, women carrying loads of fodder in cone shaped baskets on forehead straps. It's not unusual to see a shriveled little old man wearing a sarong, leaning heavily on a staff and hobbling along behind a muddy water buffalo. There were also plenty of Armed Police Force (APF) bases and machine gun nests along our route. The soldier/police always waved us on with a friendly enough smile, but the presence of so many guns was a little scary. Especially when we passed a sandbag fortress with a 50 caliber machine gun (this according to Tim, it just looked like a BFG to me) mounted on two ropes and pointed directly at anyone and everyone passing by on the street.

We found a hotel surrounded by corn fields. It's funny seeing corn and rice growing side by side. The kid at the hotel that spoke the most English had a sweet face, shaved head and sported a sideways hip hop red baseball cap. In his quest to make sure we were comfortable, he knocked on the door nearly constantly to present us with room deodorizer, bug spray, water, sodas, a tablecloth and our dinner.


May 26, 2011 Bardibas, 70.3 km (43.7 mi)

Tim has invented a new way to make coffee. His instant coffee cooked and congealed in its ziplock bag and turned into a big coffee jawbreaker. He saws off hunks of it with a knife every morning. It makes a huge mess. Then he left the coffee lump in a cup with his Leatherman tool, and now they're all molded together. We both fairly obsessive about our morning coffee. My system is no less weird. I used to carry around coffee gadgets until I went to Indonesia. There I saw people making cowboy coffee and decided that was the simplest way to go. Together we carry far too much coffee makings, but at least we're properly caffeinated.

We stopped at a super sweet shop today. Little cakes made out of some kind of nut fudge stuff, saturated with honey. A little too sweet actually, but sometimes that sugar burst is just what you need. There was also some kind of fruit samosa thing that tasted a lot like a Hostess Fruit Pie.

This area seems dryer, with less agriculture and more animal farming. Herds of little bleating goats and cows and water buffalo. A couple donkeys today, along with some little baby donkeys that I would love to take home. There are hay stacks outside every hut. Ladies and girls trudge beside the road, carrying baskets of fodder or water jugs made out of hammered brass. Cattle teams pull simple carts with wooden wheels. I don't know that I've ever actually seen a wooden plow behind a team of oxen.

We passed through one village full of loitering truck drivers and soldiers, the roads blocked with rocks and branches. Just outside of town, we took a break in the forest and watched a convoy of trucks pass by, led by a jeep full of armed soldiers.

Occasionally we crossed over bridges spanning great wide stretches of sand or rocks. I suppose they fill with water during downpours but at the moment they're all dry. Small trucks and tractors pulling trailers were out in the dry river bed, people struggling to fill the trailers with sand or rocks. All the bridges had neat art deco signs announcing that they were built in 1972 by the USSR. Commie bridges!

We rolled into Bardibas just as it was getting dark. There were two hotels: one okay and the other completely out of the question. I found myself sharing the shower with an extremely large cockroach. I managed to ignore it until a huge gecko came along and snapped at the cockroach, causing it to start flying back and forth in a blind panic. Tim heard me scream (just a little one), then I came rushing back into our room wearing only my skirt, my shirt clutched to my chest. A few minutes later I returned to find a happy gecko and a smattering of cockroach wings and nasty little legs on the floor. Go Gecko! Dinner was the standard. We were joined by some little smarty pants school kids that brought their English General Knowledge book to read with us. I was pretty impressed by this book. Published in Kathmandu, it contains a pile of information about Nepal: history, geography, famous people – all written in spotless English. The kids seemed to have memorized most of the facts and figures and spoke outstanding English.


May 27, 2011 Lohan 60.6 km (37.7 mi)

Man, we battled headwinds all day long. We had plans of making it about 10 km further but in the early afternoon Tim started feeling really sick. We pulled into a stinky town and found a hotel, not my usual choice as out front there were a few nasty boars eating piles of garbage. We got dinner in the room (why have a menu when you only have one thing available?) and watched some HBO. Some invisible bug nibbled on my arm all night. Not mosquitos, not bedbugs. I'm going to say it was no-see-ums.

The only bright spot of the whole day was lunchtime. We passed through a dingy little town, each restaurant looking dirtier than the last. Finally we found a tiny place, run by a stunningly gorgeous lady. The other customer was a woman in military officer uniform. A couple kids came out, one 13 year old boy with decent English and his shy sisters. I handed my notebook to a teenage girl and she hunkered down with her pencil to draw me some awesome pictures. I wish I could draw that well.


May 28, 2011 Inarawu 87.2km (54.2 mi)

We woke up to rain and thundershowers and a crippled old donkey heehawing in the street. Both of us were tired and rundown but got going anyway. The showers took care of the heat but we were still riding into gusty headwinds. After a few kilometers we pulled into a very muddy little shack restaurant and drank some soda. While we waited, the sky cleared and the headwinds thankfully died down. The rest of the day was quite lovely, especially as it was another no-car day. The wide flat streets were bike avenues. We had a good giggle over all the boys riding along together holding hands. You never see men and women being affectionate, nor pairs of women. But Nepali men are all over each other in an eyebrow-raising sort of way. Tim had a little race with some boys on rattley old bikes with brass water jugs strapped to the sides. The asphalt would occasionally disintegrate into rubble, causing our whole bike parade to line up single file to bump over the path of least resistance.

We wanted to make today our long day, as Tim only had a few days left on his visa. Lucky us, during the afternoon a glorious little tailwind sprang up. We sailed east, then jogged south where the highway fish-hooks around the Koshi Tappu Wildlife Reserve. We rode over the top of a dam, wide still water stretching out to the horizon. Lovely to see that much water. I do miss the ocean.

I had hoped we might make it 100 km to Itahari today but we ran out of daylight. We were directed to a hotel that bore no sign, English or otherwise. The owner wanted 500 rupees since the fan was connected to battery system that would keep it turning all night, but Tim talked him down to 400. One of the beds had a mosquito net, good quality, and I hung mine over the other bed when I saw that there were wasp nests plastered to the ceiling. We were both exhausted by the long ride and a few nights of bad sleep, so we conked out early.


May 29, 2011 Damak 63.1 km (39.2 mi)

I've finally figured out that the red splotches on the hotel walls are not evidence of a crime. Nepali men chew tobacco like crazy and I've been noticing some beetle nut stands. When I lived in Taiwan, beetle nut was sold in little baggies by sexy underwear girls. Here, it's sold at the ubiquitous gum, cigarettes, candy, shampoo sachet stalls. It's made to order and there seem to be different flavors. I wonder what the flavors could be? Mint? Chili? Sour cream and onion?

This region is more crowded. There seem to be more people walking along the road, more herds of cattle and goats. The towns seem more prosperous, less dust and more pavement, trash in bins rather than piles to be nibbled on by strays. The houses are more modern, less red mud and thatch, the occasional patch of green lawn.

We came upon a little traveling amusement park, packed shoulder-to-shoulder with people. The Ferris Wheel was completely crazy. Each car held at least 4 people, with a few brave lads clinging to the outside of the cars or climbing in between! I guess if you're used to clinging on the roof of a bus, unsafe use of fun park rides wouldn't be a big deal.

When we pulled into our goal town of Damak, it took a little while to find a hotel. The first was fake-full. They said they were full but we suspected that they just didn't want to deal with weird sweaty foreigners with humongous bikes. The second place was deserted. As I wandered around looking for someone, Tim got into a conversation with a Dutch NGO worker outside. He was there to help Nepali refugees from Bhutan resettle into first world countries. We finally found a decent hotel with a restaurant downstairs and fruit carts out front. This place had an attached bathroom with hot water, cable TV, a broken telephone and fancy hole-filled mosquito nets. The electricity was temperamental and the hotel boys knocked on the door several times with lame excuses to take another peek at us. After a couple of awkward situations, we've learned to keep the door locked all the time, as people tend to just walk in without knocking whenever they feel like it!

I saw something interesting on TV. One of the channels had subtitles and commercials in Indonesian. Why would Nepal get Indonesian cable when India is just a day's bike ride away?


5/30 Indian border town 51.3 km (31.9 mi)

We got out early (for Tim and me) and without the usual headwind made it to the border in decent time. Changing money was a bit frustrating, as the banks and money changers all have different rates and commissions. I ended up doing half at a bank and half with a dude on the street. And which do you think gave me a better deal? The slightly sleazy dude on the street who asked if I might know of any jobs for him in the US.

As far as border crossings go, this one was very chill. The Nepali immigration official was relaxing on the front step when we arrived. He was very friendly and cheerful, curious about the bikes. After we checked out of Nepal, we crossed the border area along with hundreds of cycle rickshaws. Judging by the cargo and shops we saw, Indians come to Nepal to buy produce. Nepalis cross to India to buy consumer electronics and bicycles. We got to the Indian side and searched out the immigration official. Now, I don't want to start any rumors about Indian immigration officials, but that guy seemed drunk to me. And he had a tedious amount of paperwork for us.

Once we entered India, we were off the map and out of the guidebook. I made a random left and finally found a “Hotel Cum Restaurant.” (Any other totally immature people think that's funny too?) Tim and I were both feeling a little celebratory and had a couple of Kingfisher beers with our lunch, then tried to check into the hotel in our buzzy state. That poor waiter kid. He told us the price, then said they were full, then showed me all the empty rooms in the place. I think his boss, smoking and watching ear-splitting Bollywood in one of the backrooms, was probably changing his mind over and over, and this poor kid didn't have the English to explain that his boss was crazy. There was also a stage in the back, full of enough musical instruments for two bands. That should have clued me in to what was coming next. Around 8pm, the drum machine started booming away. I walked out to check out the band and found a bunch of oldsters on stage banging away at the instruments and taking turns on the microphones. It was extremely loud and hysterical, but it did stop at a decent hour. The room cost 500 Indian rupees, about US$12 and twice as much as any Nepali hotel. Hope they're not all like this.


May 31, 2011 Siliguri 30.5 km (19 mi)

Weary as we were from the week of running for the border, we set out the next morning to get to Siliguri. We both wanted a few days off but we also wanted stores, internet and a hotel that didn't host a nightly sing along for retired people. So, off we went.

Okay, let me say this about cycling in Indian traffic. It is insane. It is not for beginners. People speed like crazy and play chicken when they pass and it was a little terrifying. Tim is really good in traffic, and I realize now that I am not. I may have been cycling in crazy Asian traffic for years now, but I haven't ever been to India and this is a whole nother ball game. And I'm pretty sure that I'll never get used to seeing great big lazy cows just laying about in the midst of traffic.

Siliguri is a hefty sized town with hotels everywhere. We had a bit of a time picking one. I won't go into detail. Let's just say there was some drama. After a week of hard hot riding, it was bound to happen.


June 4, 2011 Some little village 33.2 km (20.6 mi)

It may be hard to believe, but we left pretty early today and rode till it was nearly dark and still barely made it 33 km. Plenty of stops, of course, as the road is near vertical! The route we are using to Darjeeling comes courtesy of this awesome book Tim's been carrying around: Himalaya by Bike by Laura Stone. The routes she describes are enough to put any cyclist into dreamland, that is, until you actually try to tackle the roads! She describes today's route as “short but all the more brutal for it with gradients of up to 16%.” Even though her suggested first day was a mere 47 km to Mirik, Tim and I knew full well we probably wouldn't make it that far. I'm sure there's been a day in the past when I climbed 1500 meters in one day, but neither of us was feeling up to it.

It was a giant relief to cross the highway outside of Siliguri and suddenly find ourselves away from traffic. India sure is noisy! We twaddled along some foresty roads, passing through a big army camp. Nearly all the signs were written in English. I am getting spoiled with all the proper English in India. There did seem to be another road leading to Darjeeling; one passing through Mirik and the other going through Keosung. We decided to assume that Laura Stone was directing us towards the better route and stayed on the road to Mirik. We stopped for lunch in Dudia, passed over a bridge by an army shooting range and began the hours of never-ending heinous climbing.

It is all rather beautiful: tea plantations and big trees and moss and fog. And lots of switchbacks. The roads are so narrow that there are no buses. Everyone gets around in taxis, mostly 4x4 trucks with personalized decorations and awful exhaust. There was a bit of rain, not the slightest bit cooling since riding in raingear makes me instantly covered with sweat. We took a lot of breaks in some nice little shelters that seemed especially made for exhausted cyclists. Tim is having a lot of stomach problems. I think it must be some kind of amoeba infection.

We crept along a ridge top, getting occasional glimpses through the clouds of Siliguri far below. Towards dusk we came upon a two-store village and I inquired about a place to sleep. Tim was leaning towards pitching the tent in a bus stop but I was fairly certain we could find something nicer. The old woman at the store called for her son/nephew/cousin to come translate for us and this very polite young man offered us a room at his house. I offered to pay far too much money (RP300 or US$6.67), which made his eyes get all round. I don't know what I was thinking, but I think they all assumed that included food so someone immediately ran out to get a freshly plucked chicken for our dinner. We locked our bikes in a little shed and had a splashdown in the shower shed. Our young host, Abhisek, took us to the kitchen platform which had a lovely view of the valley. I was really intrigued by the stove his mother/aunt cooked on: a handmade earthen hearth. She said her mother had made it the year before. The balcony of the kitchen was lined with big stones. Abisek said they were for tossing at monkeys, which liked to come and steal laundry. He also told us that he goes away to boarding school where he studies math, lots of science and learns his excellent English. When dinner was ready, he invited us into the dining room but none of the family ate with us. That part was a little uncomfortable but okay. We slept in a skinny little bed with piles of warm blankets and a good mosquito net.


June 5, 2011 Mirik 14.3 km (8 mi)

Who knew 8 little miles could be so brutal?

We had eggs and roti for breakfast and said thank you to our lovely hosts. Then began our long slow painful ascent. The road was broken in some parts, plenty of little school children walking along at about the same speed as we rode. There were more than a few Indian families in private cars, on vacation from Kolkota, stopping to pose for photos in the tea fields. We stopped for noodles at a little lookout point (view was completely obscured by clouds) and met a couple of magazine reporters. They seemed really eager to interview us for an article in the travel section. We goofed around for a couple of photos and that was pretty fun. After that the road wasn't quite as steep and we got into very cool cedar forests that smelled fantastic. Tim was feeling pretty low but it wasn't long before we rolled into Mirik. I left Tim guarding the bikes and ran around checking out hotels. Laura Stone's recommended hotel has upgraded considerably since publication, completely out of our price range, but I did finally manage to find a super room at a nice discount. Quiet, roomy and piping hot water, it was just what we needed. Mirik is a pleasant little town, full of Indian tourists. There is a grungy little lake with nice walking paths and plenty of interesting little food stalls. A pharmacist sold me some antibiotics for Tim's mysterious stomach ailment so he's now on the mend.

 


June 8, 2011 Sukhia 27 km (16.8 mi)

A few days of rest and Tim is feeling better. Now I have it, whatever 'it' is. And man, do I ever feel like crap. Light-headed, headachey with hot and cold chills. Visions of malaria dancing through my head. Sure wish I could enjoy this beautiful ride but my body and the weather refuse to cooperate. We wound up plenty of switchbacks and stopped at a tiny store to wait out the worst of the rain. Tim played chess with some locals while I guzzled coffee. Actually we are very close to Nepal right now and if it weren't so cloudy we would be able to see into Bangladesh from some of the viewpoints. The mountains and forest are pretty spectacular. This is a popular tourist route, evidenced by the mounds of plastic garbage on the sides of the road.

We stopped for momos and some lovely hot soup at a little town called Simana. On a clear day you can see Kanchenjunga, third highest mountain in the world, but it was all gray mist today. We asked about a guesthouse and were told to continue on 5km to Sukhia. What a relief to find this bustling little market town. The guesthouse was overpriced and the owner was a little grumpy but still a relief. Directly across the street from a colorful monastery and the food wasn't half bad.


June 9, 2011 Darjeeling 20.6 km (12.8 mi)

I wanted to take a shower but I skipped it because I didn't want to get my hair wet. After last night's chill, I may never wash my hair again. The woman at the hotel insists that Tim knocked a chunk of plaster out of the wall while he was carrying the bikes upstairs. He says there was nothing on the floor when she first told him, no plaster dust. We were woken up by some little mischief makers knocking on the door and running away with a trail of giggles.

I felt a lot better riding today, probably because this is the last day of riding for a long time. With monsoon breathing down our necks, bicycle touring will soon be out of the picture. We'll have to find a longterm room and store the bikes for the season. So, enjoy it while you can. We got to Ghooma and had some momos at a cliffside restaurant. Why build a city dangling off a mountain like this? The little toy steam train tooted by, its tracks criss-crossing the road. Let's see these crazy drivers play chicken with a train!

Laura Stone mentions a left turn to a fun shortcut to Darjeeling. We completely missed it. (Possibly it's meant to be a right turn.) The road we took followed the train tracks, cutting across the hill face, mostly heading downhill. After a few majestic monasteries, we entered Darjeeling proper and pulled up at a gas station. A glance at the Lonely Planet map told me that it was completely useless. This town is three dimensional and a 2D map means absolutely nothing to me until I've walked around for a few days. We decided the most logical thing was to go uphill, since that's undoubtedly what we would end up doing anyway. A few ridiculously steep zig-zags later, we finally came (the long way, of course) to Tenzing Norgay Road, where the budget hotels live.


The rest of June

After a week or so of looking and asking, we moved into a long-term hotel for the monsoon season. It's called the Revolver and it's full of Beatles memorabilia. Besides being clean and cool, it has hot water and wifi. Monsoon started suddenly at 4am one night, a giant gush of rain that lets up occasionally for an hour or so at a time. Tim and I have been using this time to work on the website. Well, he does the work. I mostly read through our hotel's massive collection of old Agatha Christie and Sherlock Holmes. Tim goes hiking, I go running, our bikes are getting moldy locked in a shed downstairs. We've made some friends, locals and travelers. I found a good doctor and dealt with my gut full of little buddies. Pretty soon we will take a trip down to Kolkata to get visas for Bangladesh. It's nice to take a break, but we'll both be glad when the rain stops and we can get back on the road.


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