Jungle life in Nepal
“No, you cannot cycle on this road” said the Nepalese guard at the national park checkpoint. One of his hands gripped his assault rifle as if we were about to turn into Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee, roundhouse kick him, judo chop the other guards and cycle on with a trail of devastation behind us. Of course the guard wasn’t to know that the closest Matt can get to a roundhouse kick is going over his handlebars.
In South Asia the bureaucracy has felt like a jungle in itself which we have relentlessly hacked through. Hearing another ‘no’ from the guard, we roll our weary eyes and prepare to hack through more needless bureaucracy. We started by asking “why?”; we have cycled from Scotland and a bit of Nepalese bureaucracy wasn’t going to stop us enjoying the national park. The guard told us that on average tigers maul to death one person every month.
Tigers even attack people on motorcycles which now need to be escorted through the national park. Two tasty tourists on peddle bikes wouldn’t stand a chance. That’s when we realised the assault rifle wasn’t for us, it was for tigers.
The blood drained from our faces. Maybe this was one bit of bureaucracy we wouldn’t try to hack through. So we were bundled into the next empty truck with our bikes and driven 40km through the national park as dusk fell. No special fried cyclists for the tigers tonight. While we were disappointed to miss the scenic cycling, Matt is thankful that his last words won’t be “What’s that rustle in the bushes?”.
The bureaucracy had actually started at the Nepalese border. We had read online that the Nepalese Immigration Office only accepted CRISP, CLEAN and NOT FOLDED dollars for visas. So in India we obtained a $100 bill so crisp you could see the tiny freckles on Benjamin Franklin’s face. The Nepalese Immigration Office was a small hut with a large ceiling fan, very different from the imposing border controls we were used to. On being told the fee, we smugly presented our $100 bill to the immigration officer and wondered if it might be the cleanest and crispest note he had ever seen. The officer frowned, slowly pulled the note centimetres from his face and scanned every millimetre. After what seemed like an eternity he declared that there was a microscopic hole and the note was not acceptable for payment; we would have to return to India to obtain a new note which, this time, should be CRISP and CLEAN. We couldn’t quite believe it, but tried to stay composed. From our time in India, we knew ‘no’ was not the final answer and negotiation was possible. After trying a number of different solutions we found one; we would be escorted to an ATM, take out Nepalese rupees and pay the officer extra to settle the payment in local currency. The immigration officer was pleased. So after four hours at the border, we were legally in Nepal; the land of tigers, elephants, rhinos and, now, a couple of wild cyclists.
Having made it through dramas at the border and national parks, we were ready for a break. So we headed up to Pokhara in the foothills of the Himalayas for a couple of days camping beside the picturesque Lake Begnas. We shared our Scottish culture with the locals by passing around a bowl of crisps and they reciprocated by sharing fresh jackfruit and tea.
Our planned route from west to east Nepal has been curtailed because the border into India at the east of Nepal is not open to foreigners and we didn’t fancy trying to negotiate our way through another border. So having cycled across three quarters of Nepal we backtracked slightly to cross back into India. The UK Government advises against all but essential travel into Myanmar (and we’re not sure our trip falls into that category) so we will fly to Chiang Mai in Thailand and head south towards Malaysia.
This week's highlights:
Swimming in Lake Begnas in the Nepalese hills; such a quiet, peaceful spot.
MANGOS. Instructions: (1) order one kilo for around £1 from a wooden cart. (2) Savage mangos in no more than 10 minutes which should leave two sticky, bright orange, happy cyclists lolling on the pavement. (3) Repeat several times a day.
Cycling past small herds of buffalo having a cooling bath in a watering hole. They look so content; sadly there often isn’t room for two cyclists to slide in too.
This week’s lowlights:
As dark was falling and we were being driven through the national park a shape emerged through the trees coming towards us. We squinted through the windscreen and it morphed into two men pushing a broken down moped along the road. Our drivers raised their eyebrows and exchanged a few words but kept driving. The walkers were soon swallowed up by the darkness behind us. We can only hope that they met humans and not tigers ahead!
The humidity coupled with dust and mud from the monsoon mudslide roads covers us in dirt and created probably one of our best looks to date: the dirt monobrow. Matt is very good at subtly telling Harriet to wipe her face so she looks a little more presentable while engaging with civilians.
Cycling along the Prithvi Highway, as featured on dangerousroads.org. We passed a few too many toppled trucks for our liking.
Thanks for reading. Haste la vista, baby!