10 Questions: Cycling In Nepal
Since October 2008, Rob Halkett has been making his way around the world on his Koga touring bike – a 3 year, 50,000km journey that’s so far taken him across Europe, the Middle East and Asia.
In late 2009, Rob went to Nepal and here he anwers 10 Questions about where he biked in Nepal, the toughest days and how they led to some of the most special moments of his trip.
1. Can you describe your route through Nepal and the main highlights for us?
I crossed the border from India into Nepal at Sonauli a grotty frontier town with very little to offer other than a couple of places to change money and the odd hotel, not that you would want to spend the night in any of the accommodation. Things begin to look up as you ride further into Nepal. I made my way to Butawal a small town about 25 kilometers north of the border and found it to be a much cleaner town with a better selection of hotels. My route then took me to Katmandu via Bharatpur. It’s the National highway so it’s a very busy road and it’s tough on the legs as it climbs to over 1000 meters, however the views are spectacular and as an introduction to the mountain scenery that Nepal has to offer there is no better road. Lush green mountains all around you with the Himalayas in the distance. There are some pretty hair raising bends plus the heavy traffic that will keep you on your toes. No listening to your iPod on this route.
2. Tell us what a typical day in Nepal was like for you?
I’m an early riser, I like to get up and get myself on the road as soon as it’s light. In a town it means I can be on the outskirts before the traffic madness starts. In the countryside I enjoy the morning light, the mountain views and the quietness around me. I have breakfast after I have been on the road for about an hour, I rarely feel like eating anything in the morning but I force a litre of water into my stomach before I get on the bike. Parts of Nepal were remote so I carried snacks in the panniers. I find bananas are the best kind of energy food. I’ve tried everything from chocolate to nuts to biscuits but bananas are perfect for that boost of energy. I munch on something every hour. If there are shops then I buy fruit and water and usually end up sitting with the owner for a while, not always talking if there is a language barrier but there’s always that shared experience that needs no words.
3. How does cycling in Nepal compare to its neighbour India?
Nepal was not as intense as India. I found Nepal to be much quieter than India but that’s also because the towns and cities are much smaller here. There wasn’t that constant noise to deal with whether from traffic or just the amount of people in every Indian city or town. I had my first good nights sleep in Nepal after months of lying awake in hotels in India. However most of my time was spent in the quiet of the mountains or the Katmandu valley so it was a very different experience. Katmandu is a very busy built up tourist center. Clubs, hotels, restaurants and shops selling North Fake compete with each other for your money. On the other hand Katmandu is also a real cultural center with some interesting temples and sites to visit in the heart of the city. The Nepalese are very proud of their country, knowing that they live in one of the most beautiful countries on the planet. The Katmandu valley is very fertile with fields of rice, wheat and vegetables. The people in the villages are very shy but also curious and you will be knocked out by their friendliness.
4. What was your favorite part of the ride?
My favorite part of the ride was leaving Katmandu and heading south to the border. I actually took the wrong road and ended pushing the bike uphill for three days on a track with only the odd motor bike passing every couple of hours. The views of the mountains around me, the beauty of the countryside and the fact that I spent a day in a school with Nepalese children made that three day push to the top of the valley the highlight of Nepal. I now realise that we are never on the wrong road. If I had been on what I thought was the right road I would have missed experiencing a day with those children
5. What was the most challenging moment?
I think the most challenging moment was the three days on that track. It was badly potholed and full of loose stones. Impossible to ride the bike downhill, as when I picked up a bit of speed the bike became tough to control. Difficult to ride uphill as the road was too steep and nothing but potholes and large stones. It was a real test of my stamina and patience moving the bike uphill and I seemed to be getting nowhere. There was nothing for it but to just keep going, I realised that even if I turned round to go home I would still have to deal with the track.
6. What are the roads like generally in Nepal?
Not all the roads in Nepal are in such bad condition. The problem is that the good roads are incredibly busy and dangerous. Large trucks, buses and cars use the main routes and there is this constant stream of traffic. Very few main roads have a shoulder and when there is one its used by speeding motorcycles. There is very little in the way of shops once you are outside the Katmandu valley so you need to bring everything you need for the day with you, water, food etc.
7. How far did you go on an average day?
The quality of the road coupled with the steep climb out of the Katmandu valley meant that I averaged about 30 to 40 kilometers each day.
8. Is it easy to get around only speaking English?
I found no problem with only speaking English. Katmandu is such a tourist hub that everyone spoke English. In the valley and on the route south to the border I still managed to find English speakers. After a year and a half on the road I’ve invented a sort of international speak, incorporating sign language and the odd word from about 10 different languages and can always make myself understood.
9. What is a good budget for Nepal?
I spent about $15.00 a day in Katmandu and that went down to about $10.00 and less in the valley. This included food and accommodation. Remember once you get out of Katmandu and into the valley there is very little to spend your money on even if it’s burning a hole in your pocket
10. What advice do you have for other cyclists?
Nepal was a dream for me after India. I loved the people, food, mountain scenery, the peace and quiet (outside Katmandu). Everything about the country appealed to me. It certainly isn’t the easiest country in which to ride a bicycle but if you do then the experience will stay with you forever. My advice to other cyclists would be ride until the chain breaks.
Thanks to Rob Halkett for answering 10 Questions and supplying the photos of his bicycle tour through Nepal.