12/8 The night in Mahendranagar was oppressively hot and humid, but made comfortable by a noisy air cooler. I spend the day resting and in the afternoon it rains briefly, which makes the temperature very comfy. The next morning is overcast and very grey and just as I get ready to leave it starts to rain lightly. I leave anyway and the rain stops again. I meet a bicycle traveller coming the other way, but we just wave at each other in passing. In no time at all the heavens open up and it more or less pours for the next hour. I am relieved to be traveling on an excellent highway, almost straight with bridges over all the creeks and rivers. After an army checkpoint at the entrance to Bardia National Park - no more bridges! The first ford is horrendous and in full flood, the bike lurches in the swift current, one wheel disappears in an invisible hole and the engine stalls. Luckily, no problem getting it started again and getting out. That seemed close. A few km further the trip is finished. The ford is so big, not even trucks and buses dare cross it. I wait for an hour or so, watch the water rise, then fall 20 cm, but the rain never stops, so I turn around. On the way back I investigate a few "lodges". They are dirty holes, the bed is a wooden platform with little more than a blanket on it. I don't mind roughing it for a night, but I'm afraid of having to spend days here waiting for the rain to stop, so I return all the 135 km to the hotel in Mahendranagar. As my wet weather gear is worn out and my boots haven't been waterproof for a long time I am soaked from head to toe, but as it is warm it doesn't matter much. In the evening to my great surprise Joshua and Loreen turn up at my hotel for dinner and we spend a pleasant evening together.
13/8 Another enforced rest day and it rains non-stop till the afternoon. I manage to buy new wet weather gear, but it's made in China for Asians, so is too wide and the pants too short.
14/8 Towards midday the weather starts to clear and there is even blue sky, but I can't find out whether the road is passable, so I play it safe and stay. There are a few breakdowns to fix: the GPS has sprung a leak and since I opened it in an attempt to get the water out the display doesn't work any more. In a computer shop the owner and I finally manage to remove the glued-in display and dry it out, but it doesn't work any more. Since there is a crack in the case I think it will be a write-off. People again turn out to be lovely, the owner refuses all payment. In another shop I test my earphones and luckily it is them that are broken and not my PC. They give me a new set as a present and again refuse all money.
15/8 This time I make it across both fords, although I get my feet wet. It's a relatively smooth ride across the Terai. The countryside is waterlogged and wherever the water is flowing, often in the fields, women with nets are trying to catch fish. I didn't see one getting caught... I reach Tansen (Palpa) after a marathon 500 km ride. Tansen is in the hills and this time I do not stay in the hotel where Lars stayed, as it is literally in the clouds.
The same ford 3 days later
16/8 I decide to stay a day here, as there are a few things to see, plus it's wet again. The first sight, a former palace, is in ruins, destroyed by Maoists during an attack a year earlier. But there are a few interesting looking temples dotted around the town.
17/8 I make the short trip to Pokhara, where I meet up again with Gilles and meet his wife Josephine, who hails originally from Perth, Australia.
20/8 As my father is ill and there are almost 6 weeks until our departure for Tibet and I'm in need of some bits and pieces that are lost or broken I decide to fly to Germany for 3 weeks. The three of us walk along the Northern shore of Lake Pokhara along a road that didn't exist at my last visit.
21/8 I bid farewell to Josephine and Gilles, then have an uneventful ride to Kathmandu.
22/8 A fine hot day. I haven't slept well as I have got an ear infection that is now painful and I decide to see a doc. There are no taxis today, as an ethnic group feeling wronged or left out by government has called for a bandh (strike). I walk to the International Clinic through streets eerily devoid of motorised traffic. There are plenty of people about on foot and on bicycle and a few on motorbikes, but almost no cars. After the visit to the clinic I decide to walk to Durbar Square, the main centre for ancient monuments. On one cross road there are many men standing around, there is some shouting. A man starts his bike and somebody tries to hold onto the bike to stop him from taking off amid more shouting. I think it's wise not to stay too close to agitated crowds and so walk away. People on motorbikes get stopped and forced to push their bikes. I'm afraid something here doesn't agree with me: people want the right to strike and protest, but at the same time think it's proper to deprive other people of their rights. Returning to the hotel from Durbar Square the smaller shops are mostly open, whereas most bigger places and businesses are shuttered up. Walking down the street suddenly all the shutters start coming down: a strike patrol is near. They harass (and threaten?) shop owners, rickshaw drivers and motorcyclists. There is a strange atmosphere, but the locals seem to take the whole thing lightly. The cops stand by and watch.
23/8 Packing day. In the paper I read about a motorcyclist who almost had his bike burnt by strikers. There is more of the same planned for next month. During my flight to Frankfurt I have to change planes in Doha, Qatar. On approaching I pass almost directly over Stephan's place in Sharjah. I wave, but he doesn't see me... I spend 3 weeks with my parents and visiting friends. It's nice to see them again, although I miss seeing a few people. I manage to buy a few things that I can't get in Asia, particularly tyres. All too quickly my time in Germany is over again and I return to Kathmandu, passing over Stephan's place again. At first the lady at the check in in Frankfurt doesn't want to let me board the plane, because I don't have a return ticket. She then finds my Nepali visa in my passport and everything is fine. The visa is no longer valid... In Kathmandu nobody cares. I spend a few pleasant days in Kathmandu until finally the others arrive back, too.
... and souvenir sellers ...
The climb gets progressively steeper until, near the top foreigners have to pay a hefty entrance fee, then ...
... a panorama of Kathmandu
To my great surprise I discover Arantza and Joseba's van almost next door to my hotel, but it takes me three days to actually catch up with them. When visiting the temple of Swayambhunath I bump into them again and they introduce me to some French people, also travelling in a van, who I have already seen in Leh. We spend a pleasant afternoon together.
A nice square with stupas I stumbled across in town
The arrival from Beijing of Mr "Fixit", who is supposed to organise our visas and smooth the paperwork, has been delayed. It turns out he travels on an expired passport, which initially made the Nepalis refuse his visa.
... reason no. 1 why in Asia I prefer vegetarian food. These chickens are (still) alive, even the one next to the exhaust header pipe.
28/9 It takes longer than planned to get the visa. We have to come back at 14:30 to pay, but the bank people don't arrive until 15h. The visa has to be paid for in US$. Every bill gets examined and any found not to be like new are rejected. Then they record the serial numbers of all the bills. We leave rather late and it is clear that we won't make it to the border in daylight, as the going is really slow. The further we get away from Kathmandu the less traffic there is, but the very light rain is getting heavier and we have to ride very slowly on the slippery surface. We end up riding in the dark and about 30 km before the border the road seriously deteriorates. There are fords and mud sections, which makes riding in the dark very interesting. Last stop in Nepal for us is in Tatopani.
Waiting in front of Fortress China ...
The Nepali formalities the next day are done with rather quickly and we finally ride over the famous "Friendship Bridge", but only just.
... and in front of the Nepali border gate. This is the main highway.