The Route

The Route
It is a very long way.....

Saturday, 30 April 2011

29th April - Chilled Day in Thamal Kathmandu (planning next leg of trip)

We had a relaxed long breakfast at the Mandcap cafe and then a wander round Thamal. I spent a while going to a few different tour companies to find out how much it would cost to go trekking for a few days, white water rafting and paragliding. I needed all this information to plan the next leg of my trip. I was not sure how much it would cost in comparison to biking to Tibet and then on to China. 4 days of trekking and 1 day White Water rafting with all transport, a guide and accommodation is £165. Not bad. This is around the Pokhara region. However, I later found out that I do not need a guide and I could do it much cheaper independently. :-)

It was raining again today and so we were quite happy just to have a relaxed day. I am finally feeling like I have caught up on sleep. So much so that I am now craving getting on my bike again or running up some mountains. When I met Johnnie in Agra I was very happy to have a couple of weeks just sight seeing and chilling.

At lunch time we all checked in at the Northfield hotel and checked out at Madcap Hotel. The Northfield is a third of the cost of the Mandcap for the same type of room. I did not have much sleep last night as the bed was like concrete and it was really noisy. Therefore, I had a 3 hour siesta when we checked into the Northfield hotel while Johnnie went off and sat in a restaurant.

In the afternoon we had a wander around town and a shop for a hippy clothes and some Gorka knives for Johnie. I bought a fake Northface Fleece :-)

We then went to the Northface cafe and stayed there until 11.30pm. We were planning on meeting up with Angela and Emma but did not manage to be at the same place at the same time. I drank so many coffee refills that I was absolutely wired. I was trying to catch up on my diary (which I am about 2 weeks behind on) and also to plan the next leg of my trip on the internet. The internet connection kept on going down (which was very frustrating) and so it took ages to book flights and look at the different options.

So the decision has now been made: I am not going to bike from Kathmandu to Lhasa this trip. I am going to have to come back and do this with a big group at some point in the future. The larger the group the lower the cost. Instead I will use the money I have saved to explore Nepal and the Himalayas on this side of the boarder for the next few weeks and then fly to Hong Kong to meet one of my bestest friends in the world (Jacob Clarke). We will have an long weekend there before I then bike to Beijing to meet my Dad in July.

So booked flights for Hong Kong. Yippeeeee!!!! I'm going to meet up with M'Jakey!

28th April - Jungle to Thamal

We had a final wander round the hotel grounds. It was a real shame that it was hazy this morning and so I did not get a chance to take photos of mountains. There are massive mountains which can be seen from the forest and the golf course but not on the day I wanted to photograph them....

It was lovely and sunny though first thing in the morning again but the all clouded over in the afternoon again. We had a three and a half hour breakfast again - it is becoming routine.

We got a taxi to Thamel and checked in at Mandcap Hotel about 1. I took my bike to Everest Mountain Bikes so that it could have a full service. It has been used and a abused around India. Needs some love and care and attention.

We had a wander round and explore Thamal. There are loads of outdoor equipment shops but they mainly sell knock off equipment. It was fun to have a look though. We also went to sort out Johnnies camera as he has broken the screen.

I went for a swim in pool at the hotel Variaha (not sure what it is actually called). Gokarna hotel had paid for the use the other day but we did not end up using it. It was very cold and I did not stay in very long.

Checked out a few other hotels to see if I could get a room that is better value for money than the place we are currently staying. I found a place that has the same quality of room for 1/3 of the price. The place we are staying in tonight was just chosen because it was easy to get too and we were feed up of spending ages organising and looking at places and just wanted somewhere to go without having to worry about it.

We met Angela and Emma at the Madcap cafe at 6 and had a couple of glasses of wine and some half price pastries (50% after 8pm).

We all went out for a lovely Thai meal. It was a late meal as it was 10pm by the time we had all showered and tarted up. I am enjoying being off my bike and getting dressed up every now and again.

The staff at the Thai Restaurant were not happy to have such late guests and would not smile. We also bought our own wine bottle as well as ordering on at the restaurant....

27th April - Kathmandu Jungle Day

Another breakfast for several hours. The buffet is awesome and having many courses and about 10 cups of coffee over several hours seems very decadent after getting up every morning and getting on my bike pretty much straight away for the last couple of months. I am enjoying relaxing and being in one place.

The weather was lovely first thing with sunshine and blue skies but then turned to thunderstorms again in the afternoon. It is lovely to be staying out of central Kathmandu in a relaxed jungle area for a few days. I wanted to go and explore the area and so set off for a run on the forest trails. Unfortunately just as I was leaving I was told by the hotel staff that it was not safe to go running on my own in the jungle (now that I am writing this entry after being trekking in the jungle in the Himalayas, I know that this is rubbish - the animals are not a problem but I could have got lost). The hotel says that to go walking on the trails guests have to go with a guide for 350RS (about £2.50) and that the guide would not be able to run with me. Therefore I had to chose another route. `

I decided to run along an off road track to another other hotel a few km down the road and then back up the hill. I still had too much energy when I got back and so did some hill sprints up and down to the golf course and back up to the hotel. The views with the mountains behind were beautiful. It was a lovely way to explore the grounds and push other muscles than my biking ones. The grounds really make this hotel. The setting is great and the hotel is very lovely. I really was such a shame that the inside pool was shut for the visit.

After the run I still needed some exercise and so walked with Johnnie down to another hotel to use their huge pool (arranged by our hotel as ours was shut). It is outside and was absolutely freezing. I only managed 12 lengths before my leg muscles started to cramp with the cold. It is very much colder in Kathmandu than in India. I can still walk around in shorts and a t-shirt though.

It was a lovely sunset but as I was running and swimming when it happened I did not get any photos. We had a meal at the hotel for dinner.

26th April - Kathmandu Explore Day

We had another very leisurely breakfast. Having been on the go non stop for the last month and a half it is really lovely to spend some time just relaxing. I can natter with Johnnie for hours. We managed to go through 2 big pots of filter coffee over breakfast. We had a short wander round the grounds and then arranged with the hotel staff to get a lift to an alternative hotel where we could use the pool facilities (as the pool was shut at our hotel).

There are 2 pools that the Hotel staff said we could use, one 5 mins down the road at a cheap hotel and the other at a high end hotel in Thamal (the main tourist/downtown area of Kathmandu). As we wanted to go into Thamal anyway to explore and also to check out our options for the next few weeks, we chose to go to the Thamel pool.

The taxi picked us up at 3ish. We popped into see the other pool 5 mins down the road just so we knew what it is like for the next few days. It was huge and will be lovely to use instead of our hotel pool and so reduced my disappointment at the lack of facilities where we were staying.

It was 4ish by the time we arrived in Thamal. It is actually quite a long way. The driver dropped us off at the Hotel in the Thamal and paid for us to have access to their pool for the afternoon. We did not want to go swimming straight away and went for a wander. I was not sure about what I am doing for the next part of my journey and so spent some time going to different tour companies and bike shops finding out about the cost of biking from Kathmandu to Lhasa, getting a bus or a jeep and any other alternatives. If I am going to bike on my own then it will be a ridiculous amount of money (>£2500) and I still might have to then leave Tibet and get into China from somewhere else due to visa issues. Getting a jeep/bus is cheaper but still crazy money (>£1000) and again I might have visa issues and have to leave Lhasa and go back to Kathmandu in order to then fly into main land China rather than just continuing my journey by bike. Arrggg! I really wanted to do this leg by bike and do not want to have to take another flight. I have always wanted to bike in the Himalayas. I thought that this probably meant that I will have to leave biking between Kathmandu and Lhasa to another trip but decided to sleep on it..... :-(

We went for a coffee at the Madcap cafe and looked at the rooms in their hotel. We decided to book a room for a couple of days later and move to Thamel and spend some time in a cheaper place and to be in the center of the city.

We met with Miranda and a couple of her Nepalese friends for Nepalese food at the Thakali Kitchen. It was a fun and late night. I was not in the mood for drinking but the others made there way though a couple of bottles of local rum. The food took ages to arrive and so everyone was drinking on an empty stomach. I ordered some "buckwheat stuff" other than rice with my Thali. Apparently, in Nepal you can either have rice or this buckwheat stodge! Actually it was very nice.

It was very late when we arrived back at our hotel on the outskirts of Kathmandu. We had spent 1 hour in a taxi driving round as the taxi driver did not know where the place was. We had given him the phone number for the place and a map of how to get there.... it seemed that he just preferred driving round instead of using either of these pieces of information. It was very frustrating! Oh well....

25th April - Kathmandu Chill Day

It was raining really heavily and there was a thunder storm first thing in the morning. It was impressive with lightening and thunder. We had a great breakfast buffet and sat and chatted for hours over coffee. The buffet had loads of different options and having been very well-behaved over the last few months with food it was great to have a 5 course breakfast: fruit, cereal, cheese and ham, bacon and eggs, toast..... I was not hungry again until 9pm.

It has actually been an intense week and we have fitted in loads. Even before I met Johnnie in Agra I was ready for a few days just relaxing and then we had a crazy few days of travel and sight seeing and I had no sleep on the train ride from Agra to Varanasi. We were hoping to just relax for a few days. It was a real shame that the pool and jacuzzi were closed for maintenance as they were really beautiful and all we wanted to do was just relax in one place for a few days.
I complained to the hotel management about a few problem with the room and the pool not being available. In fairness to them they then did sort out the problems with the room straight away and give us a free fruit selection and bath robes etc. They also said that they would see if we could use another pool at a hotel down the road or in Kathmandu itself.

After a nap I went for a lovely chill in the sauna and steam room in the afternoon for several hours and read my book.

Miranda (a friend I met in India who has come to Kathmandu to met up with us) traveled to the hotel to join us for dinner. She had already had a few drinks when she had arrived and was very much in the mood for carrying on.....

We had a lovely evening. Starters delivered to the room. Main course in the restaurant once we where all nicely merry. We all had rare fillet steak and drank a free bottle of very lovely red wine with the meal because of the problems that we had with the room and the pool not being available.

Finished off with some spirits in the room and a good old giggle before Miranda headed back to her hotel. She is great fun to be with.

24th April - Nepalise Boarder to Kathmandu

Woke up early to get a jeep to Kathmandu at 7. I was a bit late because I did not realise that Nepal is 15 minutes ahead of India! Oops....

What a difference in the traveling experience in comparison to yesterday. The car was not as good as yesterday's car but the journey far more enjoyable. The driver did not appear to be on any mind altering drugs, did not beep the horn constantly, did not use the brake/gas as stop start buttons and would instead just ease off the gas when he wanted to slow down. The first 50km was pretty much flat but then after that we climbed into the mountains. I am really glad that we did not push on last night and do this journey in the dark from the boarder. The views were fantastic and if we had carried on last night we would have missed it all and not really got a feel for the countryside before arriving in Kathmandu.

I love the mountains. I have always wanted to visit the Himalayers and here I am. :-) I would have loved to be biking this road to Kathmandu but was very happy to have a bit off time off the bike (I was a bit jealous when I saw another cycle tourist going in the opposite direction). There will be loads of time for biking at a later point. I was very excited to be in a new country again. I feel like I am happy to leave India now and see other places. :-)

Johnnie is great company. We became good friends when I stayed with him in the Jungle in Tamil Nadu. He has been wanting to do some more traveling and to experience budget traveling. I wanted to have a rest from my bike for a week or so and we decided to met up and see Agra, Varanesi and Kathmandu together. I would have traveled in a different way if I was on my own. Sharing the cost of a car (rather than traveling by train or bus) has really kept the costs down and reduced the faff time of train or bus travel.

Nepal feels totally different to India. I was not expecting it to be so different just across the boarder. The people are far more friendly than the Northern Indians (in cities that is). Some of the younger women dress in western clothing and are quite happy to show their legs and shoulders. Many of the people speak really good English. Some of the population are of Indian origin (from when a large group migrated North several hundreds of years ago to avoid the Muslim invasion in North India) but many have more Chinese features and lighter skin. Their mannerisms are also very different.

Traveling through the countryside, we could see hundreds of villagers carrying wood and crops in baskets on their backs with a head strap. This way of carrying goods is even different to India. There is very little rubbish on the side of the road (as there is in India) and the mountains are covered in trees. The whole place just feels cleaner and not so stressful. However, maybe this is just my perception as I relax in the mountains :-)

We stopped off for a late breakfast at a little roadside restaurant. It was very different to the kind of restaurant you get on the side of the road in India. At first I thought that our driver had just chosen a place that westerners would like but as I am now writing this entry several days later I know that it is just that Nepalese restaurants are different. The restaurant was really clean with lovely views over the river. The people all spoke very good English. As we walked in we could smell chicken being roasted with lovely spices on a wood burning fire in the middle of the restaurant. We ordered some chicken and a mixture of other dishes that come with a Nepalese Thalis. It was all very tasty.

It was strange to see so many Nepalese men there drinking Signature Whiskey at 10am (particularly as they then road off on their motorbikes). Drink is very accessible at any time of day in Nepal. Although the women are dressed less conservatively than India, it was still interesting to note that there were very few women dining in the restaurant. It was mainly groups of men in their 20's. This photo is a picture of just one of the trucks we saw on the road that had been in an accident.... Maybe too much whiskey then driving!?

The road to Kathmandu from the Indian boarder runs parallel to a large river for much of the journey though the mountains. The river is fast following and we saw many people white water rafting and kayaking. Adventure sports are not really very popular in India (except in Goa) and I did not see anyone doing this sort of activity on my travels through the country. It got me very excited about participating at some point during my stay in Nepal.

There are many rope bridges across the river for pedestrian transport to the other side but I only noticed one road bridge. Nepal really does not have a very extensive road network! One of the more interesting ways of getting across the river is a cage/box structure where the passengers pull themselves across to the other side (like a manual gondola but with out any solid sides). It looked very precarious from a distance.....

I enjoyed the mountain scenery and the new sites very much for the first few hours but after a while I was just looking forward to getting to a hotel and stopping. It was supposed to take 6 hours but we where still climbing the passes to Kathmandu after 7 hours in the car. There were many buses and trucks on the road as this is the main road which traverses the country (in fact one of the very few roads in the country at all). The quality of the road is manly good though - with only a few stretches where it deteriorated to an unsealed section (maybe for 10m).

Kathmandu itself is a large city which sprawls for a long way and has engulfed many smaller towns and villages that used to be separate places. There is a stretch of about 20km which is built up along the side of the main road on the way into Kathmandu itself. The buildings are different in architecture to India. Many of them are multi-story and look almost like a mixture between a Chinese style dwelling and a chalet in the Alps (not the best description - I never said I could write, only pedal long distances). One thing that Johnnie noticed straight away was that there are no auto-rickshaws! There are many small white taxi's and cycle rickshaws though. Although the roads are busy and there is lots of traffic, the traffic is more ordered and not as noisey as they dont beep their horns like Indians do every other second. There is not as much rubbish on the side of the road as India.

Another thing that we noticed was the huge queues for petrol. There where literally hundreds of motor bikes queuing on one side and tens of cars on the other side of all of the petrol stations we past. Apparently the government subsidises petrol, which they mainly import from India. India has increased the price recently and the government has responded by reducing the supply rather than increasing the price. Some people that I spoke to seem to think that this is a ploy by the government to get people to accept the inevitable price rise when it arrives as it is a better option than the queues. The energy shortage does not just effect the petrol either. There are regular, planned power outages across different areas of the country each day to reduce the demand for power from the grid. There is a schedule so that each area knows the time when the electricity will be available. The more expensive hotels and restaurants have generators to get round this problem but the majority of places and domestic residencies just work round it and don't use electricity when it is not available.

I do not seem to be having the best of luck traveling with Johnnie right now. When we finally got into Kathmandu center and we were looking forward to checking into the hotel in the early afternoon and just relax we had to stop as our jeep was over heating. We got out of the car to find that engine coolant leaking all over the road. Another 40mins of faffing and we were transferred to small taxi and on the way again. The driver then took us to the wrong hotel on the other side of the city. It was about 5 or 6 by the time we arrived, thoroughly knackered, at the Gokarna Forest Resort.

The hotel is lovely but we were very disappointed to find that the hotel pool was not working. I had wanted a few days just relaxing by the pool in one place and not to go anywhere for a while. This was to be a treat off budget for a few days.

We had a short wander round the grounds. They have done a lovely job of the architecture. The property has been built recently but has employed Nepalese influence.

It was funny to see a security guard with catapult which he was using to fire at the monkeys and stop them coming into the garden/restaurant area. There are some really huge trees in the grounds and the monkeys easily jump from these trees on to the roof of the hotel.

I really enjoyed relaxing in a huge bath. We had a good meal that the hotel restaurant. Rare steak with pepper sauce - happy girl! :-)

23rd April - Varanesi To Nepalise Boarder

Bye Bye India! Not the best way to say goodbye....

Up at 6 to pack and then to meet our driver at 7. Hiring a car is the fastest and easiest way to get to the Nepalese boarder from Varanasi. I would not have traveled this way on my own but Johnnie does "not do public transport". I was happy to grab a lift with him as he would be traveling this way on his own anyway :-)

After a very uncomfortable and bumpy few hours getting out of Varanasi (where I tried and failed to have a nap), we stopped for breakfast at an Indian road side cafe. Dal fry and veg curry with chapati. My last meal in India. I am happy to leave India now and explore a new country....

I then checked the GPS on my phone to see how far we had traveled. I wished that I had been more awake first thing in the morning as I realised that we had traveled a different direction out of Varanasi than I than I thought we would and it became clear that the driver was going to the boarder straight North of Varanasi rather than North-East of the city as I had originally agreed with the company. The route to the boarder North-East of Varanasi takes a major 2 lane national highway for a significant proportion of the journey where as the road straight North is on state highways and much slower (although no significant difference in the distance and as we were paying per km it should not have mattered to the company). No wonder the quality of the roads had been so bad for the first few hours. To add to this our drivers seemed to be on something. He was muttering to himself all the time, his pupils were all dilated, he constantly beeped his horn and used the break/accelerator as on/off switches. We had actually been looking forward to the idea of a road trip through the Indian countryside to the boarder. However, with these roads and the quality of the driving it was not fun. The countryside was also really flat and boring.

I said we wanted to go to a National Highway and the driver said we would get to one in about 1 hour. From this point on I checked the route that he was taking on the GPS. Unfortunately, just as we were about to get on the highway we had to turn back as there was a huge traffic jam after an accident. It took the driver another couple of hours to then get us on to the National Highway. It turned out that this particular National Highway (to the Norther boarder crossing) was not actually very much better than the State Highways, however, it was mainly the horrendous driving that made the journey quite so uncomfortable rather than the roads themselves. I was actually very glad to finish the journey without a traffic accident....

We did not get to the boarder until 4 (we should have been there by about 1) - by which time we were both knackered and car sick. It then took about an hour or so to cross the boarder. I already had a visa (that I had obtained in New Zealand) but it would have been very easy for me just to get one at the boarder). Neither of us really felt like pushing on to Kathmandu at this point and so we phoned our hotel in Kathmandu to ask if we could check in tomorrow instead of today. It was fine and so the pressure was off. This picture is of the boarder (rather busy).

The day then improved significantly after crossing the boarder. I was all excited about being in a new country. I find the idea of putting bike and panniers on a cycle rickshaw very ironic and funny and I had wanted to do it for ages. However, I had not had the guts to do this on my own in India (especially as I don't think that the Indians would get the irony of it). With a friend there to support me I felt comfortable to be my normal silly self..... We hired 2 cycle rickshaws to go from the border 2km to the next town to check into a hotel. I put my bike on the back of one of the rickshaws with all of my panniers and then had a ride as a passenger for a bit, giggling all the way. I then swapped with the driver and he sat as the passenger while I rode the cycle rickshaw with the driver, my bike and all of my bags in the back. The rickshaw was really difficult to handle in comparison to my bike.

The Nepalese people we passed did seem to get the joke and were laughing on the side of the road. I think that the bicycle rickshaw drivers just thought we were a bit odd though. I had sooooo much fun!

It took us a while to drive round town with all of our stuff before we found a suitable lodge. The main nice hotel in town (that was also extremely reasonable) was fully booked and many of the other places wanted silly money for really shitty accommodation. We ended up checking into the Everest Hotel which was the best of a bad bunch. We had a wander round town to explore and also to arrange transport to Kathmandu tomorrow. We got a good deal to go in a big jeep for the same price as a little taxi would have been.

It was very strange to notice how the people and the feel of the place changed as soon as we crossed the boarder. The women where wearing shorts and t-shirts. Some women were wearing Indian clothing but there was a definite mixture. The street food was also totally different to the Indian street food. We did not really feel like a big meal and so sat and had noodles and beer at a little street stall. It was really tasty.

A rubbish day but a fun evening. India TICK.... I'm in Nepal now :-)