I've written "... words to come ..." onto my laptop & thence USB but can no longer access the f**** thing on other computers so ... you'll just have to wait for these pearls. I'm now at the border between India & Nepal & likely to head into India tomorrow... probably cycling straight to Delhi rather than an earlier suggestion of possibly heading north to Almora etc. I don't actually have a map of India or much of a clue how far it is but I don't suppose this should be a problem ... I'm fit & well, although a bit worn, as I feel a tad over-cycled ...
Day 10 cycling: Lamahi to KOHALPUR
DST = 111.12km; RTM = 6hrs 24 min; AVS = 17.3km/hr; MAX = 45.6km/hr
ODO (i.e overall odometer reading) = 748km
The Mahendra highway is pretty good but in parts is a quite stony bitumen with high resistance making the cycling seem much harder at times than it should. Sometimes you even have to pedal hard downhill, as the bike won't easily roll on this stuff. In fact, it sometimes seems I'm in one of those anomalous gravitational areas you hear of, where cars allegedly roll uphill. Here, some roads seem to be going uphill, but you find yourself rolling along without need for pedalling; others seem downhill but stop pedalling and you rapidly come to a halt. Spooky!
I'm not sure about the Nelles map of Nepal that I'm using, given the almost consistent discrepancy in the English names given to towns. On the map, so-called Bhaluwang is written everywhere on roads signs and in the town itself as Bhalubang. So with Kusum which is written as Kusuri on the map. It's as if a bespectacled German cartographer has whizzed through towns on a bus with dirty windows quickly scribbling down the English name as the bus hurtles along.
The road here mostly passes through rural & forested areas - not much traffic, but plenty of cattle, goats, sheep, and even monkeys. I ended up cycling the 111km to Kohalpur but would've preferred not to. I had thought of doing this stretch in 2 stages, stopping at Kusum, but I could see nothing there other than a few huts - it hardly deserves its dot on the map, compared to many other obviously bigger places that don't feature at all (I later discovered that staying at Kusum was possible .... ). A Dutch motorcyclist stopped for a chat when he saw I was "European" - he was travelling overland from Holland to Bhutan in 5 weeks & seemed quite keen to talk. He explained that he'd been escorted through Pakistan for 15 hours by the police who were concerned he might be kidnapped.
I stopped at pretty much the first guest house you come across as you enter Kohalpur - the DHAULAGIRI Hotel & Lodge - after the owner, seeing me hesitate out the front, offered me a room - basic & a bit smelly but cheap at 200NRP. I figured that I'd probably light a mossie coil - not so much for the mossies as for the pong. However this would rate as one of the worst places I've ever stayed at. The room he showed me was very dark, and when I commented on this he changed the light globe for me by swapping it with the one in the restaurant, and then kindly gave me the towel from the restaurant when I asked if he had one. It appeared later that it was some sort of an all-night bar & truck stop. My room was out the back, right opposite the toilet, which was in use ALL night by patrons & family members, & you could hear everything. A rat scuttled by as I was waiting for my food, and there were cockroaches in my room (as well as a million mossies, but that's par for the course - I give profound thanks to the makers of RID). The family's young kids also seemed to be up all night, making the sorts of racket that young kids make. At 4am, a truck-driver out the front of the place began either testing or showing off his horn - blaring & trumpeting out some ghastly mobile-phone-like tune, over & over & over again.Get me out of here! However, they did make surprisingly good coffee. I did give the owner some feedback in the morning but I suspect it was pointless really. .
Day 11 cycling: KOHALPUR to Thakurdwara (Bardia National Park)
DST = 74.59km; RTM = 4hrs 38 min; AVS = 16.0km/hr; MAX = 31.8km/hr
ODO (i.e overall odometer reading) = 822km
My plan today was to cycle into the (Royal) Bardia National Park - I'm assuming that none of its estimated "22 Royal Bengal tigers & 100 one-horned rhinos" frequent the road in ... The ride out of Kohalpur was pleasant - good flat road surface, little traffic - and I hit a nice steady 20km/hr pace. The road went across numerous bridges over streams & rivers, most of which were largely dry and also passed a number of both military & armed police checkpoints & bases. It was a bone-jarring, buttock-battering 13 km ride on the rocky dirt road from Ambassa, on the main highway, into the town of Thakurdwara, where the actual entry to Bardia & most of the accommodation is. For the first 8km or so, it was all part of the charm of the place - for the last 6km, it was "why don't they fix the fuckin' road".... I chose to stay at the Bardia Jungle Cottage (although they did have more than one.) Again, pretty basic accommodation, but in the local Tharu style - grass-rooved huts with mud-coated walls. While there, I went on a day-long jungle walk with guide (cheap at 650 NPR, plus 500 NPR admission to the park)- we saw deer, monkeys, 2 adult rhino & one baby, dolphin (in the river) and plenty of wild elephant & tiger tracks. The next day, before leaving, I went on an elephant ride into the park. This was relatively expensive (1100 NPR for the ride plus 500 NPR admission to the park) & actually not all that interesting after the initial delight of getting so close to such a behemoth & watching the 2 baby elephants that followed along, especially because it largely retraced some of where I'd walked the day before.
I do wonder if some of the folk you come across here are at times overly literal or perhaps obtusely aggressive in reponse to westerners. I asked the owner if I could get some of my clothes washed before I headed off the next day. He assured me this could be done .... the next morning when I retrieved them they were still wet, and the day had been perfect clothes-drying weather - should I have also requested that they be dried? And today (in Mahendranagar), I was sitting in my room doing stuff on the laptop when one of the hotel workers flung the unlocked room door open & marched in to write down some numbers from the back of the TV set. He apologised profusely when I expostulated, but I'm not sure he grasped what my issue was ...
Day 12 cycling: Thakurdwara (Bardia National Park) to LAMKI
DST = 44.24km; RTM = 3hrs 3 min; AVS = 14.5km/hr; MAX = 33.7km/hr
ODO (i.e overall odometer reading) = 866km
I was advised that accommodation was to be found at Lamki (not on my Nelles map), about 45 km away, which seemed a nice distance to cycle after a few days rest from cycling. I again endured the 13km ride back to Ambassa, and from there headed to Lamki. On the right hand side and at times directly ahead was a mountain range (the Churia Range, according to the map) but it was shrouded in smoke/mist so the mountains could barely be seen. Deer & monkeys were seen alongside the road (they often hang out together, apparently) but would bolt when seen, and yet another Army checkpoint was encountered just before Chisopani. Overall, an easy & pleasant ride to Lamki, and apprently it's a further 73km to Ataria where there's also accommodation.
There's some sort of organised demonstration heading into town as I arrive - hundreds & hundreds of people filing in, two abreast; first a contingent of women, then women wheeling bicycles, then men, then men wheeling bicycles ... I cycled past with no trouble. I assume it's about unhappiness at the new Marxist government & its inaction on certain matters.
I check into a guest house - the owner wants 150 NPR for the room, the cheapest yet. When I see the room, it's apparent why so cheap. A dingy, squalid room - what I imagine a Mexican police cell might look like (no offence meant to Mexicans here, it's just that I've been reading Greene's The Power & the Glory). The bed felt like sleeping on a pool table or a door, and the loo & washing area defy my description. However, due to my late start today (elephant ride), it seemed sensible to stop here. BUT the daal baht was excellent here: I had it hot off the stove; piping hot rice, lentils, spinach, veg, a papadam, with a cup of delicious hot sweet black tea - very tasty, and plenty of refills. After this, I watched an 1967 episode of "The Champions" on the laptop. What a treat (quite amusing also: it was set in Australia, but the actor playing the outback aussie used an American accent throughout). After the sun went down, the whole town became quiet - hardly any dogs or vehicles, and I had an OK night's sleep.
Day 13 cycling: Lamki to MAHENDRANAGAR
DST = 106.9km; RTM = 6hrs 24 min; AVS = 16.6km/hr; MAX = 29.0km/hr
ODO (i.e overall odometer reading) = 973km
For some time now, there have been no road signs in English & even the towns remain nameless to me. All I really have to guide me is my Nelles map & what people tell me. My plan was to head for Ataria & spend the night there before pressing on to Mahendranagar & thence the border - a further 16km away. People's estimates in & around Lamki ranged from 45 to 73km to Ataria, although it did seem further on my Nelles map. Road signs were little help but gradually I figured out that something's seriously wrong with the map, which indicates that it's 202km between Chisopani & Mahendranagar. As it turns out, the actual distance is about 122km (!) & so I arrive at Mahendranagar after quite a long day's ride (107km) but without needing to stop at Ataria. Mahendranagar, although being quite near to the border, is a surprisingly pleasant & relaxed place and not at all like the dusty & chaotic border town I'd expected (well, that's partly true - there're a hell of a lot trucks & buses & associated horn-tooting going on). I've gone to the bank & changed all my NPR to INR at no cost (it's a direct 1.6 swap), done some internetting now that the power is back on (yesterday after I arrived a power line was being repaired, resulting in no electricity for some time - people were up ladders & trees trying to sort the problem out) & then had lunch - delicious veg fried rice, a Pepsi & a coffee - at the "Vegetarian Restaurant & Sweet House" at the Hotel Gangotri Plaza while watching half a dozen blokes remove an electricity pole by hand, using a few ropes & a crowbar. There seemed to be worryingly few safety precautions, but the job got done after a time. Back here where I'm staying - at the Hotel Sweet Dream, which isn't particularly - they're painting the outside of the building. It's 3 stories high, so the painter is standing on a wooden ladder that's almost vertical, and which is in turn standing on a large wooden cabinet.