Saturday, November 15, 2008
why I prefer cycling to travelling by bus!
Day 7 cycling: LUMBINI to Bhairawa to Lumbini to Jeetpur
DST = 96.7km; RTM = 6hrs 8 min; AVS = 15.7km/hr; MAX = 37.0km/hr
ODO (i.e overall odometer reading) = 543 km
Not the greatest of days. As I prepared to leave Lumbini, my arithmetic suggested maybe I didn't have enough rupees to make it all the way into India & then head north, as apparently the only money changing at the border & beyond is between NPR and INR. So I started the day by cycling the round trip to Bhairawa & back, and only later thought it might have been smarter to have caught the bus. I then decided it might be nice to cycle via Taulihawa & Tilaurakot - the latter being the historical site of Kapilavastu where Guatama Siddharta reputedly spent the first 29 years of his life. The site is meant to "sit in a peaceful meadow" but unfortunately this was not the case today. Cycling toward the site, I found the road was packed with people, bicycles, motorbikes, cars and the occasional bus - the whole damn town & surrounding villages it seemed - all heading toward the same place. The peaceful meadow had become seething maelstrom of Nepalese, as well as stalls selling food, sideshows, various amusements ... all the fun of the fair. Except it wasn't fun for me & the bike - pressed in from all sides, I soon lost track of what had once been a road, and indeed of just where the hell I was - I had no idea of which way to head, and could see no obvious way out. I confess to becoming a little freaked out at this point - it was worse than Moomba! Eventually, after what seemed forever, I found an area where the crowd began to thin out & a possible escape route ... back to Taulihawa & then taking the road to Jitpur (as per my map) or Jeetpur (as per local signs). Yet another trial lay ahead - the nice bitumen I'd set out on transformed into a dusty, stony, bumpy carriageway for the next 10 km, until agreeably returning to a bitumen road, although not in the best condition. After a neverendingly bumpy, dusty ride I eventually reached Jeetpur having cycled (& walked a little) 97km & feeling exhausted. Initially it apeared there was no accommodation in town, but then I discovered a hotel/restaurant down a laneway. I had a room next to the kitchen & dining area but by this stage I wasn't complaining - at least there was somewhere to wash ... [power failure ... computer crash... fuck!]
Back at Jeetpur: I think I've ordered some fried rice & chai ... Jesus! ... there are frogs hopping around on the restaurant floor - & we're on the first floor!
Day 8 cycling: Jeetpur to Bhalubang
DST = 68.65km; RTM = 4hrs 26 min; AVS = 15.4km/hr; MAX = 46.9km/hr
ODO (i.e overall odometer reading) = 611 km
Flashing, coloured lights surrounding the Hotel's neon sign just outside my room led to a disturbed sleep last night, as did the hammering on the door at 7am .."uh oh ...what's happening....". It was an unrequested wake up call, with a cup of chai. The whole stay, with room, food, chai, water was only 495 NPR. I again breakfasted on a banana & some coconut biscuits & headed off towards .....!? On the way, a Mr Bharat Kumar Shrestha stopped on his motorbike to introduce himself - a Civil Engineer trained in KTM, he explained, and he requested that we meet down the road later in the day for a cup of tea. I met up with him about 30 minutes later as he whizzed past, this time in the opposite direction. He explained that he no longer had time to stop for tea, but gave me 4 juices in cartons as a gift - what a kind fellow, and I can tell you, they were a very welcome drink later in the day. The road suprised me by being quite hilly, making it a little harder going than expected - I'd thought it would be flat, but inspection of the map showed that I was crossing the Dundwa Range. Some hours later ... Hallelujah - the Hamro Hotel at Bhalubang greeted me on the left as I rode into town. The room was on the 3rd floor, and cleanish. Strike activity was happening in town, blocking traffic right outside the Hamro, naturally - hard to know quite what it was about, but vehicles were banked up in both directions, and tooted exuberantly when they were finally allowed to move on.
Hotel sounds, from 5am onwards, as my foggy brain was woken from sleep: water running, doors crashing, talking, shouting, the growling & hawking & gobbing that sounds so much like people are being strangled to death somewhere in the building (but are in fact folk cleaning out their throat & other passageways), music, TV, heavy footsteps up & down the stairs ... and from outside, roosters crowing, the crash of metal roller doors as shops open for the day's business, and of course, the noise of trucks & buses. Throughout the night, in addition to the howling of dogs, the trucks & buses were trumpeting their horns, grinding their gears & noisily braking. At around 7am, various strains of Hindi music can be heard from the street, but within the hotel, things begin to quieten down ...... It had seemed like such a quiet hotel when I first checked in. At 8am, all is relatively quiet again.
After a number of days of hearing no English spoken, you find yourself going a little batty & 'hear' snippets of conversation in English ... eg "I've just spent nine days in Thailand..." one man said to another in the grungy cafe below the hotel (I'm sure he said no such thing) and "I'm having a dinner party" said another. And after many hours of cycling, visual illusions start to occur ... as you near a village, you're sure that's a fine looking guest house ahead, and wait, is that some other western cyclists I see coming towards me?! No, unfortunately. In fact, on a trip like this, on your own, you become acutely aware of how much the mind projects eg.. "omigod, what if that thing thundering in the undergrowth is a tiger ...."; "this looks too steep ..." "I don't think I can go on .." " that food's bound to make me ill..." etc etc ... and how utterly useless it all is. And the associated emotions generated ... Can't stop it, but it pays to just let it go, not buy into it. I like the email analogy: largely, you can't stop what emails arrive in your Inbox but after looking at the headers you have the choice whether to read them or not. Much of our thinking (well, mine anyway) is like junk mail.
Day 9 cycling: Bhalubang to Lamahi
DST = 25.1km; RTM = 1hrs 26min; AVS = 17.2km/hr; MAX = 33.6km/hr
ODO (i.e overall odometer reading) = 637 km
The scenery here is pleasant - you can just see the nearby hills through the smoky haze. It's a rural area, and there are few buses & trucks on the road. As noted, the Nepalese don't tend to have breakfast and so I've had to make do with a cup of tea or chai, supplemented by a banana and a Parle-G milkwheat biscuit - "Worlds Largest Selling Biscuit". They're sold in India so its probably true.
As I'm cycling along, I see a dozen or more European cars, some vintage or veteran, with earnest-looking Europeans at the wheel, boring ahead on the other side of the road. No eye contact is made - they're all too intent on driving - the "Himalaya Trial" I think it was. It highlights my impression of how people in cars & buses tootle along, enclosed in metal bubbles, largely insulated against the outside world. After a short haul today I elected to stop at Lamahi, with the intention of reaching Kohalpur tomorrow. I stayed at the Bhusal Guest House. The owner indicated he had hot water, to which I thought "yeah... sure" - but indeed there was, and so I washed some clothes, myself, my hair and had a shave, and eventually ran out of things I could think to do with hot water. It seemed like well over a week since I encountered hot water anywhere (well, it was warm water really, but I wasn't complaining & it sure was a delight). I was even able to use the internet briefly - until a power cut turned the computer off & I lost much of what I'd written... see above). How pleasant it was to have a lazy day however, off the bike, just sitting around, in some utterly obscure town ...
The electricity supply throughout Nepal is fairly unreliable, although reliable in that it seems to go off most evenings between about 6:30 & 8:30, and intermittently throughout the day. I was watching a ?Fantastic Four movie in one of the few places I've stayed in that had TV - I'll now never know how they sorted it all out with that rogue planet determined to do Earth in.