Unknown to us, we were entering Nepal at a significant moment in history. The promulgation of the Constitution of Nepal was five years overdue and it was to be brought into effect any moment. Protests had been ongoing over the previous month with at least 45 people killed, including 8 security personnel. Although there were demonstrations throughout Nepal, the violence was restricted to the Terai, which is the lowland belt adjacent to the Indian border. The main source of tension was over the federal delineation of new states in the constitution. The new constitution fails to satisfy the Madheshis and Tharus who constitute 70% of the Terai population and regard the formation of seven federal provinces as grossly unfair to them. Their districts are to be joined with the hill districts, which will convert their people into a minority. There is prevailing distrust toward the Madheshis and Tharus among the mainstream political parties.
Let’s not forget that all this is happening while the country is in the early stages of recovery from the April earthquake. Hundreds of thousands are displaced in an already impoverished country. Nepal’s rough trot seems to have no end.
The Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal was initially the Gorkha Kingdom, a unification of smaller kingdoms established in 1768… the place was then ruled more or less as a monarchy by the Shah dynasty of kings. In 1996 the Maoist Communist Party of Nepal (CPN-M) kicked off the Nepali Civil War, which was to last a decade before a 12-point agreement was signed in November 2005. An Interim Constitution was knocked out in 2007 and elections for the 1st Nepali Constituent Assembly were held in May 2008. There was a clear majority to abolish the monarchy and establish a democratic republic… the King had 15 days to get out before his palace got turned into a museum. The new government failed and the 2nd Nepali Constituent Assembly was elected in 2013 in an effort to create a new constitution. The Constitution of Nepal was FINALLY brought into effect by President Ram Baran Yadav on 20 September 2015… five years overdue and a week after our entry.
Population is 28 million. Although Buddhism is historically linked with Nepal (Buddha was born in Lumbini) only 9% practice it. Hinduism is practiced by 81%. A big portion of Nepalese, especially in the hills, identify with both religions.
A KID CALLED GENIUS
We were extremely fortunate to be in contact with Genius from the town of Inaruwa before we crossed into Nepal. Genius is a 15-year-old kid with a keen interest in the motorbikin overlanding community. He’s connected with everyone… I mean everyone. He deadset knows you’re coming to Nepal before you do. I asked Genius, “What motorbike do you plan to overland on one day?” Genius replied, “Not interested. All sounds too stressful. I want to be a pilot.”
Genius let us know that we were safe to ride to his town, which is on the eastern side of the Koshi River… we would not be safe on the low lands west of the Koshi. Genius couldn’t have been more convenient. I’m not sure Genius’s parents had been consulted when he said that we were welcome to stay in his home. Regardless, his Mum and Dad couldn’t have been more welcoming. Genius’s Dad runs a veterinarian supplies business on the ground floor with the family home above.
Genius is a special kid. Not only is he bright and charismatic, he’s very keen to make a difference in his community. He is currently persevering toward a goal to open a library in Inaruwa. He requests the provision of ANY reading material, new or old. I’ve explained that freight costs will make it difficult to get books on a small scale from the international community. Maybe he could connect with a distributor in Kathmandu and people donate money for books rather than pay to freight books? If you have any humanitarian contacts in Nepal who might be interested in Genius then please message our Facebook Page. Connected with resources from the international community, Genius (and his Dad) will genuinely be the source of something very positive. These are their details:
Unique Rural Development Program (URALDEP)
President: Bishnu Kr Niraula
Best thing about the strikes is that vehicle mobility is severed… streets become deserted… and conditions become perfect for street cricket. Hours each day are spent playing street cricket and it’s awesome. In backyard cricket we often had a rule “6 is out”… Inaruwa street cricket needs a “sewer is out” rule. You become not enthusiastic about bowling pretty quick.
We stayed with Genius’s family for a few nights before local leaders confirmed that our road ahead was safe. Riding west of the Koshi it was crystal clear that things had been tense. Remnants of barricading was at most bridges… rocks, bricks, broken glass and other debris was strewn about the place… and nobody was smiling. Poor buggers. There was a calm about the place so we never felt unsafe. Something to appreciate about Nepal is that there is a deep respect for the tourist… the Nepalese population appreciate that their number one source of foreign income is tourism. The only people to worry about were alcohol / drug fuelled Indians. We were told of stories where people had incendiary devices forced into their bike’s fuel tank at barricades… not very nice.
People not smiling ended up being the least of our worries this day. We’d ridden not more than 100km when our nightmare tyre day kicked off. Our not preferred rear tyre had been swapped out the day before… and tubes had been compromised. The bead on these wretched things could not be broken with 1m levers let alone our tyre levers. The only joy we had was with bead breakers at truck stops. All our rear tubes were wrecked and we had no choice but to make the local Pulsar tubes work… only problem with these is that they’re too thin and wouldn’t seat the beat. So ride we did with unseated tyres… bouncey, bouncey, bouncey the whole way to Kathmandu. Funniest not funny thing for the day… sun had gone down and we had pulled up 50km short of Kathmandu… Laws was having a leak, I was pondering the day’s rubbish and then pssssshhhhh… Laws’s parked rear tube lets go again… dammit. Our tyre saga continued well into the night.
To top off the rubbish day, Laws’s bike nearly ended up under a school bus. The bus had committed to a bridge crossing but a truck coming from the other side didn’t care about that… so the bus quickly shifted into reverse and hooked in back up the slope from the bridge. Laws was behind the bus with nowhere to go… as the bus bit into his front wheel he was a second away from letting the bike go under… but fortunately some kids up the back of the bus got the driver’s attention. You don’t get to see Laws crack the snits often.
KATHMANDU MOTORCYCLE SERVICING WORKSHOP
Best thing about Kathmandu is the Narayan Brothers at Kathmandu Motorcycle Servicing Workshop. They are meticulous! It was like watching surgeons troubleshoot niggles on the bikes. They even had Recoil from Oz to fix my stripped bolt holes where the tank mounts to the chassis. The Narayan Brothers have worked on everything from Nortons to BMWs to BSAs growing up with their father… and they’ve worked on many more big bikes since. Their father, Hari, was the Prime Minister’s mechanic from 1942. In 1951 the government of Nepal changed and Hari was presented with three motorcycles as a tribute to his faithful service – no small gift as only the very rich could afford a motorcycle then. Point is: the Narayan family live and breathe in the art of motorcycle maintenance.
Good big-bike mechanics in Asia aren’t common and in many regions, such as Bangkok to Kathmandu, not even a thing. There’s a bloke in every village who can fix scooters with a paperclip and he’ll confidently have a go at your bike… but you risk irreversible damage to your machine… wheels being dropped to the ground brake rotor side and oil filter o-rings disappearing are perfect examples of what to expect. If you know a biker enroute via Nepal then do them a favour and pass on:
We enthusiastically got the heck out of Kathmandu with the blinkers on for Pokhara, the gateway to limitless outdoor adventure. Many visitors get Pokharaed by the magic lifestyle and it takes a family emergency to get them home again. For the outdoor enthusiast there are Alpine pursuits and trekking with the Gandaki River being basin to 3 of the 10 highest mountains in the world. Pokhara Lake also happens to be one of the best paragliding sites in the world. There’s white-water kayaking nearby. There’s whatever you want. For the more mellow oriented there’s quality hash from the guys in the hills and a pretty lake with perfect weather… not to mention a heap of other mellow oriented residents and visitors to buddy up with.
The highlight for us was riding to Muktinath, which is the northern point of the famous Annapurna Circuit, regarded as one of the best long-distance treks in the world. The rough track follows the western section of the circuit through some of the prettiest scenery we’ve ever seen.
2015 NEPAL BLOCKADE / FUEL CRISIS
Nepal is a landlocked country making it completely reliant on India for supplies. The 2015 Nepal Blockade began on 23 September and would last FOUR MONTHS. Fuel trucks (petrol, diesel, gas, etc) were unable to cross from India into Nepal. Understand that Nepal was also blocked from trade with China because of the struggle with ongoing landslides from the devastating April earthquake. The only international airport in Nepal was forced to deny foreign carriers fuel, which further isolated Nepal from the outside world.
The Madhesis were at the front of the blockade… in question is just how passive the Indian government were really being. Reports from within India said that the day the blockade began, New Delhi had communicated to Kathmandu their required amendments to the new constitution. There were also reports that suggest Indians had been sent across the border to Nepal to help destabilize the show in lead up to the announcement of the new constitution. Whatever the case, Nepal was paralyzed.
INDIA – NEPAL – CHINA RELATIONS
India have been meddling in Nepalese affairs since the invasion of Tibet by China in the 1950s. India perceived that invasion as a significant military threat so asserted themselves in Nepal… and have been exerting their influence ever since. However, India have played their cards very poorly in recent events surrounding Nepal’s new constitution.
While India jabbered on about what constitutes a blockade and what doesn’t, China sent a clear message that they will do everything possible to help Nepal pull through the humanitarian crisis. For the first time ever, Nepal will sign a trade and transit treaty on importing fuel from China. Agreements will also be signed for the construction of an international airport in Pokhara and a bridge over the Simikot-Hilsa road section that will connect Humla district to Tibet. Ultimately the communist alliance that rules Nepal is moving closer to China against India. India’s stranglehold on Nepal has significantly weakened.
RETURN FROM MUKTINATH
We returned to Pokhara from Muktinath with 3L each and unaware of a fuel crisis. It was late September and we were keen to get to the Upper Himalayas in Kashmir, where the riding window usually closes around mid-October. We spent the next week fronting up to the military base begging for fuel. There was talk of a rationing system coming into effect: 3L per bike per week. We needed 10 times that! Black market fuel was going for a cool AU$7 / L so not really an option. Fortunately we had got quite friendly with the officers at the military fuel point… or maybe they just got sick of us… whatever the case, we got our tanks filled. There were nearly no vehicles on the road EXCEPT us with filled translucent safari tanks… we felt a bit sheepish and locked our bikes away that night.
In a fit of excitement we got going the next morning… and then I crashed. It was an amateur moment as I dabbed brakes in a sand trap on a tightening bend… laid the bike down and went for a tumble. My hands and wrists had only just got better since a truck took me out in Sumatra and here I was aggravating them once more. Back to not even being able to open a Nalgene bottle… I was angry with myself. Luckily the bike laid down for a nice slide so damage was only cosmetic. The upsetting news was that the InReach antenna (satellite communications device) was smashed rendering the device unserviceable. Our sponsor, Pivotel, kindly replaced the device… we are very, very lucky.
BARDIA NATIONAL PARK
Our final stop was Bardia National Park, the largest and most undisturbed national park in Nepal’s Terai. The place is home to rhino, elephant and tiger… we were very keen for a look. I can’t believe we even considered trekking there without a guide. For one: it’s not permitted… and two: no one wants a dead tourist. Our guide had lived in and around the park his whole life… he knows where and when the animals are likely to be… and therefore where and when we should be, except one time. Trekking through the park involves looking for tracks and other signs while on the move… and stopping to quietly listen from vantage points. When we encountered a tiger track mark we asked our guide what his 100m foot race time was. This is the most important thing to be sure of before jungle safari by foot… DO NOT be the slowest in your group.
We encountered a wild male rhino at 10m! We were walking along a track next to super long grass and then we felt the earth move… the rhino came to a pause staring straight at me over the top of the grass… we must have surprised him. A second passed before I whispered to our guide, “Definitely a rhino.” Before I got to the ‘h’ in rhino our guide was moving with a sense of urgency and whispershouted, “Go go go! Choose a tree!” We didn’t ask any questions. Our guide apologised later and explained that the rhino isn’t usually in that area. Can’t say we’ve ever had a wildlife experience like that before… I suppose the only way to up that one is to actually get chased!