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The Magical Mystery Tour (aka Roads from Hell) Many of you will have been like me looking forward to reading about Lorraine’s amazing most recent trip. Here is the first instalment ….. April 15th 2012 dawned with much excitement and trepidation. This was the day that I was leaving on my own for the much planned motorcycling trip of a lifetime to and across Tibet. HOWEVER, the night before, the phone was red hot with the news from our tour leader in Kathmandu that the Chinese government had just refused our visas to travel in Tibet! Too many nationalities in our group was their excuse. They were demanding exactly two people of each Nationality with a minder and back up vehicle for each two persons! There was talk of cancelling the trip but, unfortunately everyone but myself and a couple of others were already on their way. My reply was “Stuff it I don’t care where we go I just want an adventure!” So I hopped on the plane for Auckland going via Singapore to Kathmandu little realising that I was about to embark on one of the biggest, most exciting adventures of my motorcycling life. Kathmandu airport was the usual chaos and disorganisation with no signs for where to go and what to do. I finally found my way through to find a noticeable armed police presence outside beating back the crowds of touts from the tourists with their very long battens. I quickly realised that this country was not all peace and tranquillity that I thought it was. The city was full of truckloads of riot police and every major intersection had at least 20 of them standing there. We later realised that a major election was to take place in a few weeks and there was a lot of unrest and dissatisfaction with the Mao led government. The 27 minor ethnic groups wanted their voices heard and weren’t getting it at present. Nepal is a country that is full of a lot of displaced people, mainly from Tibet and the hill tribes. At the moment they are not recognised in any way. At our team meeting that night our tour leader described the new tour he had planned for us. This started with riding up to Mustang (a restricted area of Nepal really close to the Tibetan border), then down to the Southern river plains and jungles, cross into India and ride like mad across West Bengal to Assam, then cross through a new border just opened into Bhutan, go across Bhutan then back to Nepal and do two more restricted areas of Nepal. We had 2 days wait in Kathmandu as the guys coming in from the USA had been held up. Most of this time we spent at the Indian Embassy processing our visas. Just as well, because three of us went down with the dreaded lurgey. I spent a whole day spewing, Mick was going at the other end, and Mike from Canada had both ends going. Whew we were a sorry looking lot for a while. Cheap for the hotel to feed us! The ones that could, went out that day to test ride the bikes. The bikes looked like old army bikes but were brand new. (only 500 kms on the clocks) Royal Enfield Desert Storms, Fuel injected 500cc and with the gears on the side we understood. As we went through our trip which was mainly off road we came to really respect these bikes. They were awesome. They took a helluva beating and never let us down. Powerful, and reliable. No breakdowns but bits did fall off! Mainly side stands and crash bars as we hit thousands of rocks through all the landslides and horrendous tracks we had to negotiate. Thankfully, we were all on our feet , albeit a little fragile the morning we hit the road. Kathmandu must be on quite a high plateau because for a good half of that first day we spent riding downhill into a beautiful fertile valley. Everywhere you looked it was terraced and farmed. The temperatures were quite challenging at 30+ degrees as most of us weren’t used to them and we had a long way to ride. We rode beside a river for the rest of the day until just on dusk we arrived at the beautiful lakeside town of Pokhara. ( South west of Kathmandu). Sorting out a troublesome side stand. Our accommodation that night was 5* plus – awesome for weary, dusty motorcyclists to arrive in the very plush reception area (taking it over with all our gear spread everywhere) and being frowned upon by snooty French and German travellers/trekkers. Our rooms were luxury plus, with the most exquisite swimming pool just outside and the massage spa right beside it, which most of us took advantage of. After lots of drinks at the poolside bar, some walked down to a lakeside restaurant (I got a pillion ride from the tour leader in my jandals, short trousers, t - Shirt, and no helmet.) The ultimate freedom on a warm night after you get over your ingrained fears of what we should be doing on a motorcycle, where we ate exquisite food surrounded by fireflys in the lakeside garden. Magic! The next day we headed out for the more challenging roads and beautiful scenery of northern Nepal. Little did we know what we were in for! Because we arrived the night before in the dark we weren’t prepared for the beautiful sight of Mt Annapurna that was beside us for the first part of the day. We followed another river valley that got narrower and narrower and the heat was unbearable at 38 degrees. Finally the ‘good ‘ road ran out and we were on dusty, rocky, and sometimes muddy tracks with huge potholes that you couldn’t avoid as there were so many of them. The road fast became single lane clinging to cliff edges, and as we climbed it became scarier and scarier with thousands of feet drops to the river. Amazingly there were still trucks and buses coming the other way which we had to find niches in the rockface to stop so they could pass. After our lunch stop at Beni (this is where the buses can’t go any further and where their passengers get off and walk, including the trekkers - all French and German and extremely unfriendly) the road basically turned to shit big time. It got seriously rough and challenging. This is where the Enfields really proved their worth and I seriously don’t think my DR Suzuki could have coped as well, and I was thanking my lucky stars that my very helpful and patient NZ Ulysses mates had taught me so well how to cope with off-road conditions. It wasn’t long before 2 riders gave up and sat in the backup vehicle and there were a few “offs”. Not me though! The heavy bike in the dust and rocks worked well but I struggled with the strength it needed to keep it going straight on the terrain, so my shoulders got really sore and tired. We soon got strung out for miles because of the dust and our different riding abilities. The river gorge that we were following got so narrow that the sun was not reaching in and we were still climbing. This gorge has the reputation of being the deepest gorge in the world. I am not surprised. The drops beside us were now thousands of feet and the sides were the same. Our back up vehicle broke a drive shaft unbeknownst to us, and we were all struggling with rocks taking out our side stands. Unbelievably, there were still little villages clinging to the mountainside right beside the roads and occasionally we would meet a small passenger bus with people clinging to it everywhere. Even animals tied on to the top! These were rocking around precariously and making really hard work of it. Soon we struck massive lightning flashes and loud thunder rolls then the rain came down! They forgot to tell us that we were just coming into monsoon season. (this became the norm for most of our trip every late afternoon). You can imagine what the deep dust turned into on the track we were following! I have never seen rain like it. It came down in sheets and made such a noise on our helmets. We were soon covered in mud up to seat level. The bikes were so new, that they had not had time to put knobbly tyres on. Lots of slipping and sliding going on from all of us and some more “offs” (not me yet!!) We soon came to a little village tucked into the now narrow deep river canyon that we were clinging to the edge of. Tatopani was where we were to stay the night in a trekkers lodge. (we are now well off the tourist route). After our initial reaction at the very basic rooms, those of us that had arrived, hit the bar where we drank heaps of local beer and apple brandy as we waited for the backup jeep to arrive 2 hours later so we could get showered and changed (They had all our bags). The highlight of Tantopani (apart from the locally made apple brandy) is that they have natural hot pools down by the river. Once our togs arrived we staggered our way down steep rock steps (still huge Jomsom to Tantopani thunder claps and lightening and raining in buckets) in our togs and umbrellas! Goodness knows why we had these. I think our lodge hosts insisted. The pools were fantastically hot and slimy and we met lot’s of very interesting trekkers that were staying in various lodges around the area. What a wonderful feeling walking back up to our lodge in just your togs and the monsoon rain beating down on you. Just like a massage. After a shower and warm clothes we were fed piles of yummy food and apple brandy and all let our hair down with lots of jokes and laughing flying round the table. This is where we all got to know each other better and what a great bunch of guys they were. I have never laughed so much for years. There were 2 from USA, 1 from Canada, 2 from Aussie, 3 of us from NZ, 1 from Britain, and our backup team of 5 who also joined us every night. We all became a great supportive team from there on in. The rain finally stopped and it was wonderful sitting on my upstairs deck watching the fireflies in the big tree outside before we crashed for the night. TO BE CONTINUED…….
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