So, Nepal it was! I arrived in Kathmandu on the 26th of September and spend the first 1,5 months doing what you do when you go to Nepal.
The thing most worth mentioning was the bike trip I went on with 2 of my friends, to the sacred Hindu and Buddhist place called Muktinath, at 3800m altitude in the Nepali Himalayas. This story is worth a blog by itself, but I’ll try to keep it short since I’m working my way to the point of the trip where I am now
As a reader, you should know that I’m not a 100% familiar with the technical dictionary for everything bike-related. Also, my mechanic-teacher taught me most phrases and part names, commonly used in bike-world, and he wasn’t a native English speaker, to say the least. My apologies upfront for any mistakes I make in naming bike parts or mechanical aspects of it
I didn’t know Bram and Stein before I left on this trip. By chance, one of my friends received an email from Bram, a couple of months before I left, in which he was asking for people to join him on a two week holiday trip through Nepal, into the Himalayas, on a bike.
I got the email forwarded to me and soon enough after we got in touch we found that they were planning on arriving in Nepal only two days later than me. So it worked out perfectly! I welcomed the company on the unknown roads for the first two weeks of my trip and Bram & Stein’s plan was about as good as it gets if you’re into bike-riding!
We met in Kathmandu, where Bram en Stein ran into me, without having met before, by coincidence somewhere in town on their taxi drive from the airport to our guesthouse. That was weird. But Cool. We hit it off straight away.
Luckily, they were both just as much idiots as I was. We started having beers together soon after meeting and that settled it: we got along pretty well.
The result of our first day together:
The day after these necessary getting-to-know-each other beers, we rented our first Royal Enfield Bullets from Ram’s rental shop in Kathmandu. (Don’t take this as a recommendation, at the end of the story we ended up pissing on his shop. You’ll find out why later.)
We knew nothing about the legacy of the Royal Enfield bikes in Nepal and India at that time, let alone that we knew what it was like to drive one yourselves. Little did we know at that time that it would be one of the coolest things we’d driven, ever.
All ready to take off to Pokhara our new Bullets!
We used the first day on our bikes to drive around Kathmandu, running errands and to sort out everything we needed in order to pack our stuff on the bike and head for Pokhara the next day. And it was awesome. Traffic in Kathmandu was crazy, riding Bullets was amazing and we all felt pretty damn satisfied doing what we did.
The trip from Kathmandu to Pokhara is about 200 km and takes, on average, about 6 hours to drive. It’s one of the best highways in Nepal, swerving through the hills, following rivers, contains steep climbs and drops and is amazing to drive, except for the occasional unexpected potholes underway.
Due to our slow start-up the first day, our inexperience with Nepali roads and Stein his fuse problems underway, the trip took us 2 days. Steins bike broke down about 15 km outside of Kathmandu and we had no clue about how to find out what was wrong. We did the usual; checking the spark plug, battery power, etc, but although the picture does not show it, we were too inexperienced to get any further than that.
We knew our way around fixing a bike.
So after a 2 hour wait, one of the rental shops employees came by, swapped the fuse and off we went! Oops. Well, at least we learned something that day.
We ended up making just about halfway to Pokhara when it started to get dark. And driving at night in Nepal is NOT a good idea. There was so much dust, cars without headlights or only with high beams, cows on the road and even people, children, playing on the road, that we decided to find the closest highway guesthouse and crash for the night.
The next day we got up early and continued on our way. I noticed my engine making a weird ‘metal’ rattling noise and I wasn’t sure if it was there before or not. It also seemed to get worse, but still I wasn’t sure if that was really the case or that my mind was playing tricks on me now that I was focussing on the sound. Anyway, screw it, this is Nepal, if it runs it runs and if it breaks it breaks, I remember myself thinking.
About 10 minutes later, just before hitting a bend, I hear a loud BANG and a lot of stuff happened. I immediately knew it was the result of the sound I heard before, but had no idea how bad it was; the engine seized, the bottom had cracked open, I was spilling all my oil on the road, the rear wheel blocked and I slipped over my own oil spill in a matter of seconds and in front of a bus coming the other way. Luckely, I wasn’t going too fast because of the upcoming bend and the bus could stop just in time!
I got up without a scratch on me, but with a very broken bike. I spend the next 1,5 hours cleaning up my own oil spill on the road while Bram and Stein stopped incoming traffic and helped out with keeping the locals entertained. They thought it was pretty funny, a couple of white guys getting in trouble on their roads and had no intention what so ever to help out. (I won’t mention the 2 Nepali bikes who also slipped on my spill and fell in the chaos just after the accident.) I didn’t tell my parents about this by the way, so I guess they’ll find out about it here: Sorry mom, I didn’t want you to get worried! I’m fine!
Me, humbly ‘cleaning’ up my own oil spill…
We ended up leaving the bike, with a split piston, a cracked connecting rod and a torn bottom engine end, with a mechanic just a 1 km downhill roll away. The owner would arrange for a truck to pick the bike up and we could move on with the 3 of us on 2 bikes. Luckily, we made arrangements with the owner that all bike problems, caused by the engine, were his responsibility.
Once arrived in Pokhara, we found our way to Raju’s Bullet Surgery, a one manned local Royal Enfield workshop, ran by a mutual friend of Bram and Raju himself.
This was a very valuable find, Raju’s a very nice guy who speaks english reasonably well and has more than 20 years experience in working on Bullets.
He checked our remaining 2 bikes and concluded soon after that we rented the worst maintained bikes ever. It matched our experience on the bikes so far. So the reason why things went more downhill with the rental company when we would return the bikes at the end of the trip was that the proud owner tried to charge us for everything without taking responsibility for how bad things could’ve ended due to their bad maintenance work and the deal we made regarding liability… He didn’t succeed though, but we’d still not recommend the place
Anyway, back to the story. Raju was also familiar with the area we were headed for in the Himalayas, having been there multiple times with tour groups as a supporting mechanic. Over several cups of chai, we ended up receiving very useful tips about fuel management, where to stop and what to avoid. The road up to Muktinath would be very challenging!
I also told Raju about my plans to get a bike of my own and drive it around Nepal and India, also mentioning that I’m interested to learn how to work on the bikes somewhere along the way. He immediately proposed to stay in Pokhara and to teach me how to be a Bullet mechanic. I had to think it over, since I would invest a couple of months of my trip in this, but it seemed like the right thing to do straight away!
Later that day, Pokhara also proved to be a good party-place. Going out for a beer soon turned into getting wasted and rooftops and toilet seats and hula hoops and very bad hangovers. It was great!
The best way of starting the trip is with a hangover.
We were fortunate to find that the first leg of the trip up the mountain, the next day, started with an easy cruise to Beni. We started around 8:30 with about 80 km of good roads outside of Pokhara. After Beni, the somewhere-in-the-top-5-most-dangerous-roads-road would start with a 20 km climb up to Tatopani, which would be our stop for the night.
We hit Beni for lunch and to top of fuel, as Raju had told us, and continued on our way around 13:00. After Beni we found out that the road up the mountain was not a road. It was a dirt track consisting mostly out of mud puddles, rocks, little streams, loose sand and upcoming busses of which you’d think that there was NO WAY they could drive up there, but did anyway. It was crazy driving and we couldn’t believe that the bikes were up for the challenge after only a couple of kilometers.
The road after Beni!
After 3 hours of getting beat up by the roads, driving on a very slow pace in first and, not very frequently, second gear, we hit Tatopani. Staying there was great; Tatopani provided us with hot tubs filled with heated Himalayan melting water and beers! We couldn’t think of anything better after a long day of driving!
We spent the rest of the day in the hot tubs, in the company of many trekking tourists, alongside of the roaring melting water river and with a view of the Himalayan peaks. Awesome.
This article is provided by Classic Life Cycles, guest bloggers for CRU. Classic Life Cycles is a Dutch online Café Racer/Custom bike magazine. We interview Dutch custom bike builders, take some photos and share their story with you!