– The adventures of a solo round the world cyclist –

Day 660 (India Day 21)

I saw an elephant! Once packed up and ready to go I wheeled my bike down the busy road looking for breakfast options. I chose a place busy with locals and got a plateful of mini chappatis, with curry and tea for 30r (AU$0.60). It was so tasty and cheap that I got a second set. This fuelled me through the morning, including the moment I came across an elephant. Ridden by two men, its face was decoratively painted and it looked in good condition (as far as my untrained eye could tell).

I pushed on until I reached the Ghaghara River. I started riding across the bridge but on looking back to the northern riverside, I decided to turn back and have a look around. A series of grand-looking white arches lined the river and below these were steps leading down to the water’s edge where people were washing clothes and bathing. Set back from the river was a 19m tall statue of Lord Shiva. Lining the street were various food carts. I picked one and had two serves of a samosa/curry dish. The samosa was cut open and squished flat before being drowned in a daal curry and topped with a sprinkling of onion and chilli. Awesome! I have now learned the place is called Mukti-Path.

Elephant!

Once over the other side of the river I stopped again at a samosa stall for a little more food. Just as I was leaving an Indian man with bright blue eyes started talking to me and invited me for a tea. I could understand the odd English word but otherwise had no idea what he was saying. He was telling me something about being trained in using plants as medicine. He collected the tea cups and place them before us, then he asked me to hand him the cup that was placed before me and offer it to him like a gift. I couldn’t help but think of warnings I’d had about accepting tea from strangers. I’d heard twice about foreigners being drugged and all their stuff stolen. I drank the tea and was fine.

I turned southwest towards Azamgarh. Some of the route was nice bitumen, a lot was bad bitumen, and bits of it were dirt. Preliminary work was underway to widen and resurface the road. I finally worked this out after seeing hundreds of tree stumps being attacked with axes both yesterday and today. I realised the first step to widening the road is to cut down all the trees in the way. The trees have been cut and stumps left in the ground. The stumps comprise wood that can be used for fuel, so villagers are out chopping pieces from the stumps bit by bit. The landscape slowly became more rural with village life in easy view, making for a more pleasant ride. Again, everyone was friendly and welcoming.

Mukti-Path

Finding a place to sleep in Azamgarh proved challenging. I asked some locals where I could find a hotel but they either couldn’t speak English or didn’t know. I eventually came across one but they said they had no rooms. I resumed my search and further down the main road I stopped to chat to a guy who’d sparked up a conversation. I’d stopped a few times by this point when someone wanted to talk with me, but this was the first time that someone spoke English. He told me the way to another hotel and after following his directions and finding it, he appeared again. He spoke to the hotel on my behalf, pretending I was a friend of his, but this hotel also had no rooms. We were in an area with a few hotels, but two more we tried were also full. The manager of the last one we visited gave some answers as to why, explaining it was election time so the hotels were filled with people from the surrounding region. He also said this is why police presence was so high. I had noticed a lot of police throughout the day, but hadn’t known what normal levels were. He said he’d call the big hotel in the city and see if they had rooms. This must have been an international-standard hotel because he told me they could give me a discounted room for an astronomical 1,600r (AU$31).

There was only one hotel left that we hadn’t checked out, my new friend saying “it’s too cheap, not good for you”. It’s hard to convince locals that my standards are low and that cheap is a very good thing for me. The hotel was managed by ‘Uncle G’. Uncle G wanted to check my ID before talking about rooms. Other hotels had done the same thing and I got the impression that they want to see what country I am from before deciding whether or not to help me. Luckily I’m Australian and Indians love Australia because of cricket. He still seemed to um and ah about whether or not to let me stay, even asking for an Indian ID. In the end he said yes and I got a room for 350r (AU$6.85). I received a really warm welcome by the group of kids (young teenagers) who help out/work here/live here(?) The room is actually really nice: freshly painted, clean sheets, spotless bathroom, lukewarm water. I faced a barrage of selfies with the kids before I said I really needed to rest and was left alone. After a refreshing shower, I asked if the hotel did food. The kids told  me I could order food and they’d go and get it. I handed over 100r (AU$1.95) and told them to get any vegetarian meal they thought I might like. About 15 minutes later I was delivered an amazing meal: four chappatis, rice, two vegetable curries, daal, spiced egg and an omelette. Plus change! When I said the kids could keep the change, the two older boys encouraged me to give it to the youngest of the trio, who they called the ‘servant boy’. I had to formally accept the chance, then hand it back over to the boy. I ate the meal while watching a western music channel on TV.

I have just been outside to send my family a SPOT message to let them know I am fine. Having attracted the attention of the kids again, I hung out with them for a while. I learned that they are brothers and cousins belonging to two families who own the hotel. The ‘servant boy’ is from a nearby village who they have taken under their wing to ensure he gets two good meals a day and can stay away from bad influences.

Accommodation $ Hotel
Distance ridden today 114.88km
Average cycling speed 15.7kph
Total distance ridden 16,846km
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Day 659 (Nepal Day 85 / India Day 20)

I donned my leg warmers for the very first time and rode with more clothes on than ever before: socks, warmers, shorts, t-shirt, long-sleeve shirt, jacket, gloves and face cloth. Even then I was cold as I rode into the fog. After shooting some leaving Nepal footage, it wasn’t until about 10am that I really got going. Just shy of the border, I stopped to enjoy my last meal in Nepal (a 100r daal baht). This left me with just 103r, which I spent at the border itself. 30r went to six bananas and the rest went to chocolate treats. Getting stamped out of Nepal was super easy, but as I entered India I faced the hassle of border control going through my bags. They only did a half-arsed job though, so it didn’t take too long. Indian immigration was super easy too, only taking about five minutes. Then I was in! It was around noon when I entered and I had 100km to ride to my planned destination. I made it fairly easily, helped a lot by the fact that the road was brand new and in magical condition, but hindered a little by some headwind towards the end of the day. The mist cleared around 1pm and I finally felt warm enough to remove my jacket, socks and leggings. I really enjoyed the ride. Everyone was friendly without being overbearing and the rural scenery was nice. I got looked at but not gawked at and I was left alone whenever I stopped to check my location or have a quick rest.

Eventually, and quite exhausted after pushing myself, I rolled into Gorakhpur and made my way to the train station, around which a heap of hotels can be found. The first one at which I enquired wanted 900r, the second 700r and the third 300r. Easy choice! My 300r place is perfectly fine and the bathroom didn’t ask for any shudders. I got my stuff and bike up the narrow flight of stairs and into my room, then showered in startlingly cold water. My next task was to find an ATM so I could pay for my stay. I received no extra charge on withdrawing money, which was a bonus. Back at the hotel, I paid with the 2000r note I’d received from the ATM and received the change in 100r or smaller notes, which suited me perfectly. I wandered down the street and enjoyed two street-cart dishes – two-piece chapatti and curry (20r) and a fried egg dish (20r) – before sitting down at a little restaurant where I had two chapattis daal curry and vegetable curry for 90r. All up dinner cost AU$2.55. I’m pretty sure I was charged he standard price each time rather than getting ripped off for being a tourist.

I am now sitting on a massive balcony area overlooking the glowing lights of the train station and the busy street below. It’s very noisy and I can expect the noise to continue all night as I believe things are open 24/7. The train station is super busy and the streets are filled with rickshaws rushing people and baggage about. There is even a speaker in the hotel wall next to me which randomly announces train arrival and departure times. I’m definitely going to wish I had ear plugs tonight!

About to enter India!

Accommodation $ Hotel
Distance ridden today 123.58km
Average cycling speed 18.6kph
Total distance ridden 16,731km
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Day 658 (Nepal Day 84)

All of a sudden it’s my last full day in Nepal. Thinking back, I have had such an incredible time here. It is such a wonderfully diverse country, both in terms of the environment and the people. The (nearly) three months I have spent here have given me but a tiny glance at the country. It’s definitely a place I would love to revisit one day. But life moves on, and so must my bicycle journey.

Today felt strange. The world was blanketed in heavy fog that didn’t lift until the afternoon. It was like being stuck in a mystical world in which time runs slower than usual. I pottered around the monastery through the morning, reading about Buddhism and learning about Uttar Pradesh, the Indian state in which I will be spending the next few weeks. In the afternoon I checked out the Chinese temple across the road from my Korean monastery home and that was as far as my adventures took me. I have been getting sick over the last couple of days, so I didn’t mind doing very little. I think part of feeling ill might have a little to do with over-eating while I have been here in Lumbini. It seems that if ‘free’ food is on offer, I no longer know when to stop.

After dinner I joined in a Buddhist prayer session inside the Korean temple. My time in Boudha (Kathmandu) seemed to trigger an intense desire to understand Buddhism, and, even though I have been travelling for months through places where Buddhism is prevalent, I feel as if I have only just embarked on a journey into the religion. I now have a long queue of books about Buddhism on my kindle.

Korean Monastery’s Temple

Accommodation $ Korean Monastery
Distance ridden today 0km
Total distance ridden 16,608km
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Day 657 (Nepal Day 83)

I woke to my alarm at 5.40am and allowed myself a five-minute snooze before emerging from my mosquito-net-protected bed and entering the darkness of pre-dawn to eat the mountain of food that constituted my breakfast. On offer was pretty much the same as dinner and it was just as welcome and appreciated. Face stuffed, I returned to bed and didn’t move again until 9am, by which time I really felt like I was wasting my time. I got up and did a load of hand-washing, then spent a while perusing and photographing a Lonely Planet guide to India. All of a sudden it was time for lunch and another over-the-top portion of food. I let it settle for a while before unlocking my bike, which I spent the afternoon riding around Lumbini. I particularly liked the Sri Lankan temple. The in-progress Cambodian Temple was also fascinating as it is being built and parts have been painted beautifully while other parts remain unpainted, so it was great to get a sense of the work involved. The Korean Temple is in a similar state of build and in fact the decorative painting of the Korean one is the most impressive of any of the temples I have seen in Lumbini thus far. In the late afternoon I visited the Maya Devi Temple, which contains the official location where Gautama Buddha was born. It’s incredible to think how long this place has been venerated as a famous site. On my return home I had a nice hot water bucket shower before gorging myself on another incredible feast. I spoke to a Korean school teacher who has arrived with about 20 students. It turned out they passed me on the road north of Tansen and he told his students, ‘Look at this bicycle tourist’, so he was very happy to bump into me here.

Worshippers at Maya Devi

Accommodation $ Korean Monastery
Distance ridden today 10.48km
Average cycling speed 14.9kph
Total distance ridden 16,608km
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Day 656 (Nepal Day 82)

I stayed up chatting to the lovely family running the hotel, knowing I could sleep in a little, given that it wasn’t too far to Lumbini. In the morning, I panicked a little when I couldn’t find my key to my bike lock, but I eventually found it in the pocket of my jacket, which I’d folded away into my clothes bag. I was given a free breakfast, plus a discount on my already cheap deal – in the end I only paid 600r (AU$7.50) and in return I received a nice room, an amazing veg thupka lunch, an amazing all-you-can-eat veg daal baht dinner, a decent breakfast and two bottles of mineral water.

I took the more challenging route into Lumbini: west then south, which took me along a bouncy dirt road through fields and small settlements. When I hit the northern boundary of the Lumbini rectangle, I rode in through an unmanned gate, which placed me in the northern section of the estate. As I rode in the majestic Peace Pagoda appeared to the right. I couldn’t resist checking it out. I followed some walking tracks through the grass, slowly making my way around the boundary wall to the entrance point. After walking a couple of laps of the pagoda I returned to the bike and continued exploring Lumbini.

I rode through the bus station and past the museum to reach the long canal. After passing by a few nearby monasteries, I checked whether the Korean monastery offers accommodation. Yes they do – 500r for a shared room, three meals, hot shower and WIFI. At this point I was still hoping I would hear from Madan and be told I could stay at his (Sri Lankan) monastery for free, but as late afternoon arrived and I still hadn’t heard, I decided to check into the Korean monastery. I have 625r to my name so I’m not sure what I will do tomorrow. I was given a room all to myself but have since been joined by a Brazilian guy called Lucas. I had a very welcome warm water bucket shower and have just enjoyed the dinner provided, very happy to discover it is self-serve with enough on offer to eat as much as I want.

Peace Pagoda

Accommodation $ Korean Monastery
Distance ridden today 60.11km
Average cycling speed 14.2kph
Total distance ridden 16,597km
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Day 655 (Nepal Day 81)

I entered a misty world and didn’t emerge from it for about one and a half hours. The new world in which I found myself consisted of deeply incised valleys, vertical cliff faces, jungle-dwelling monkeys and gently flowing rivers of bright blue water. An initial descent was followed by a climb to Tansen, then another general descent to Butwal. I was hoping to reach Lumbini and for about five minutes in Butwal I was intent on racing against the sun’s descent, but then I pulled the pin and decided to spend the night in Butwal. This will allow me to cruise leisurely into Lumbini tomorrow and give me time for any filming I want to do. I am staying in a nice hotel for a really good price (350r, AU$4.30), perhaps the best value place in Nepal to date. After a refreshingly icy shower I enjoyed an amazing veg thupka. Right now I’m waiting for my usual veg daal baht dinner, which I will enjoy in the company of the nice family who run the hotel.

Otherworldly

Accommodation $ Hotel
Distance ridden today 94.61km
Average cycling speed 19.8kph
Total distance ridden 16,537km
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Day 654 (Nepal Day 80)

My bags felt tremendously heavy as I carried them downstairs to my bike. I think I was just sluggish from the cold though. I never truly thawed out, so I just felt like I was plodding along slowly all day, which suited me fine. After climbing out of Pokhara, the road undulated as it followed watercourses. I faced a couple of climbs to cross valleys but nothing that felt too hard. I just cruised at a relaxed pace and enjoyed the scenery. I really like the villages I passed and I like the look of Waling, where I am now. I had a tea break when a guy called out to me and I stopped for a chat. He has been living in Brisbane for nine years and was home for a brief visit. I had tea, a ‘donut’ and dried buffalo meat with him and his family. He is helping to finance the building of a new house behind their current one, which is not only earthquake-damaged, but is set to be knocked down when the road is widened.

Tea break

Accommodation $ Guesthouse
Distance ridden today 69.18km
Average cycling speed 15.5kph
Total distance ridden 16,443km
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Day 653 (Nepal Day 79)

To the northwest of Pokhara lies Sarankot, a hilltop village with a viewing platform from where you get a magnificent view of the Anapurnas. It took me a couple of hours to cycle there in the cool mountain air. All the while I was motivated by the clear weather, hoping it wouldn’t turn before I got there. I was lucky. Today is the clearest I have seen the mountain range in the three days it has been within sight. Though a difficult climb (and despite a 50r fee) the views from the top were well worth it. From Sarankot I continued riding west, following the advice on Wikitravel. I decided to climb even further up by visiting a paragliding launch site. I was free to walk around and film people taking off. It’s definitely something I’d love to get into one day!

Further west the dirt road passed through a beautiful area – welcoming villages and friendly people. I rode very slowly so I could take it all in. Eventually, I popped out onto the bituminised main road, from where it was a long descent home to Pokhara. I really liked the look and feel of the valley on the way back.

Just outside Pokhara, I stopped at a little fruit and vegetable shop and was delighted to be charged local prices for my horde of bananas, apples and mandarins – the cheapest price I have been charged for fresh produce during my entire time in Nepal. I then stopped off at Damoda’s place for a final meal and goodbye. It was about 4pm and I hadn’t eaten since 9am so I was starving. Back home I paid my bill and was horrified to learn my homestay were charging for the two glasses of hot water I’d had. It doesn’t change the fact that I’m getting a good deal, but still, to charge for glasses of water!

The climb

Accommodation $ Guesthouse
Distance ridden today 48.8km
Average cycling speed 12.4kph
Total distance ridden 16,373km
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Day 652 (Nepal Day 78)

I slept in until I felt the day warming up. After washing my pile of dirty laundry, I prepared a front pannier of things for a day out, then cycled to the café I was at yesterday evening, where I enjoyed some fresh-made chapatti and curry for breakfast. It was around midday by the time I left. I rode to Gupteshwor Mahadev Cave and paid the 100r entrance fee to access the natural wonder. In what I suspect was an attempt to cheat me out of money (judging by the smirk on the guy’s face), I had to request the correct change when I was given 100r too little. The cave was interesting enough, providing a nice view at the end of Davi’s Falls. I then rode the hard way (dirt track) up to the Peace Pagoda. It was a sweaty, hard climb and I impressed myself when I thought about the fact that I’d ridden similar tracks in eastern Nepal while fully loaded. The Pagoda was very nice, but what makes the place super special is the incredible view over Pokhara and Lake Phewa.

Rather than return the hard way, I made my way back towards town via the bitumen access road. Before heading home, I decided to spend a while exploring back roads. I ended up by the communities that are adjacent to the airport and look like slums. It was here that I finally managed to buy some samosas at a normal price. I’d been stubborn enough to go hungry thus far as I was determined to get them cheaper than the 20r each being offered downtown – it is apparent that tourist prices are well established across all classes of establishment in Pokhara.

After popping into a Tibetan Refugee Settlement, I decided to hang out by the lake as the sun set. I managed to squeeze my bike through a narrow gate and thereby gain access to the lakeside path. Finally, I got to see just how tranquil and picturesque the lake is.

Peace Pagoda

Accommodation $ Guesthouse
Distance ridden today 26.06km
Average cycling speed 10.6kph
Total distance ridden 16,325km
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Day 651 (Nepal Day 77)

Mornings are cold and foggy. Just like yesterday, I donned a long sleeve shirt over a t-shirt, but put up with cold legs in only my bike shorts and sandals. My toes went numb and I probably should start wearing socks. My face is kept warm by my face cloth and I wear gloves. It was nearly two hours before the sun had a warming effect and I could take off my over shirt. The gloves stayed on a while longer but were soon also packed away for the rest of the day.

At one point during my ride I came across a group of men around a buffalo lying in the dirt. The buffalo’s head was tied to a steak in the ground. Its body was several metres away. They had clearly decapitated it moments before I arrived. Blood was still spurting from the severed neck and the body kept convulsing for about five minutes. I didn’t stay around long enough to see how they planned on moving the thing.

Before reaching Pokhara, I detoured to Begnas Lake. By this time the peaks of the Annapurna Range were just visible through the clouds. Such an epic sight! I arrived at Pokhara around 2.30pm and immediately let Sushma know I was there so she could contact her friend who had offered themselves as my host. While waiting to hear from her I explored town before finding a little place making fresh chapatti. The guy running the place is called Damoda and I enjoyed chatting with him. Long story short: at 5pm I rang Sushma’s friend who told me he wasn’t in town (though I got the impression I just wasn’t actually welcome).

Cold, tired and with dark fast approaching, I set off to find a guesthouse. My search took me around the north side of the lake, away from the expensive lakeside area, where I found a private room with a large private bathroom (with hot water) and outdoor balcony area (roof top) for 400r – a good deal. Actually, it’s the best paid deal I have found in Nepal so far. I settled in and fuelled up with daal baht before crashing in a large, comfortable bed.

On my way to Begnas

Accommodation $ Guesthouse
Distance ridden today 65.74km
Average cycling speed 13.6kph
Total distance ridden 16,299km
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