Day 10 – Tuesday 15 April 2008 – Hattiban to Daman
The day was a very long day in terms of the time spent in the saddle. The scenery was quite spectacular, but the riding was tough with the usual poor roads and steep ascents and descents. I felt quite good on the climbs and rode with the front group for most of the day.
The tummy bug had struck again and Keith-S, The Williams and Emily did not ride at all, while Steve, Bobby and Paul all took turns in the backup vehicle.
Our backup vehicle had a few problems during the morning and we only had lunch at 2:00pm. We were passing a large lake around this time, but no-one stopped to take photos as we were expecting to stop for lunch. By the time the vehicle caught up with us, the lake was no longer in sight. The 14 kilometre climb after lunch was particularly testing and we had to gain 800 metres in altitude to reach the Daman Holiday Resort – but started with a significant initial descent! I followed Keith-G in, with the rest of the group quite a way back.
The Daman Holiday Resort had few facilities, and for the third consecutive day we were not able to shower and had to bathe as best we could in a basin of warm water. Not the best way to clean up after a long day of cycling.
Day 11 – Wednesday 16 April 2008 – Daman to Chitwan
This was the longest day in terms of the distance covered and also the first day that we were entirely on tarred roads. We started out late, as was now quite usual, with a short uphill and then a 35 kilometre downhill, during which we lost 1700 metres in altitude. The downhill was quite extraordinary as the road snaked back and forth with one hairpin bend following another. Traffic on the descent was quite hair-raising as each vehicle wanted all the available road around the bends. The tempo on this descent was quite high and I spent a good part of it near the back of the group.
Chris and Emily skipped the day of cycling, and Steve took a ride in the support vehicle after lunch. I think that it was only Keith-G, Pat, Dot and I who had cycled the whole distance since day one.
We had lunch under a bridge at the bottom of the long downhill and then had about 100 kilometres of flat and fairly fast cycling to the end. The group moved quickly and with very little splitting up, although some of the folk were getting very tired towards the end and a lengthy “coke stop” was called with about 30 kilometres to go.
Keith-S and I took a hard fall at a deviation in the road and he cut his knee quite badly on a rock. He was patched up and soldiered on, well able to stay with the group.
We reached Chitwan quite late, about 6:00pm, and were startled to find elephants at the entrance to the hotel!
Day 12 – Thursday 17 April 2008 – Rest day in Chitwan
This was a wonderful day! And the first day without cycling since we arrived in Nepal.
We started the day off early, with breakfast at 6:00am and immediately left for a canoe ride on the Rapti River. The canoes were wooden, similar to what are called “mokoros” in Botswana, and were poled along rather than paddled. Five to a canoe, it was a very peaceful experience. We saw quite a few birds and two alligators, but very little other wildlife, except for domesticated elephants and water buffalo.
The canoe ride over, we took a fifteen minute walk through the forest to an elephant breeding centre; the second biggest of its kind in the world. During the walk we were asked to “keep quiet” so that the guides could listen out for tigers and bears and rhino. Yeah, right.
The elephant breeding colony was a rather sad sight as all but the smallest of the 30-odd elephants are hobbled on very short chains.
A short drive back to the hotel and a break before lunch, then it was on to the Royal Chitwan National Park for an elephant-back safari. Fantastic! Not overly long, just about two-and-a-half hours, with four passengers per elephant. Shortly after entering Chitwan we saw rhino, wild boar, a mongoose and several deer. They were unconcerned by the presence of the elephants and equally unconcerned with the presence of the passengers. It was an amazing experience and one that Jane would have loved.
After the elephant ride we went for a sundowner on the banks of the Rapti River, watched the elephants being washed, and after supper we went to a short cultural presentation in the town. An exhausting rest day, but one that was filled with new experiences and one couldn’t wish for more than that.
A gallery of some of the animals encountered during this rest day can be seen here.
Day 13 – Friday 18 April 2008 – Chitwan to Pokhara
Back on the bicycles! An early start for what was expected to be a 100 mile day. We had breakfast at 6:00am and departed by 7:30, a half hour later than planned, but still early enough.
Quite a good day, all on tar, which gave me an opportunity to break away from the group a few times and ride at a comfortable if slightly faster pace in my own little world. The rest of the time I rode in the group, which was almost back to full strength, with just Chris and Emily missing. But the ride took its toll and Steve, Keith-S, Bobby and The Williams all sat out after lunch. Bobby had problems with the disc brakes on his bike and went ahead to Pokhara with Suresh and a few others to try and get them fixed. The Managal led the group for the afternoon and set a pace that suited everyone (or at least the most vocal of the group). We arrived in Pokhara at about 5:30pm with most of the group pleased to be able to get off their bikes after such a long day.
Day 14 – Saturday 19 April 2008 – Pokhara to Jomsom / Jomson to Kagbeni
We flew from Pokhara to Jomsom. Really flew, I mean, by plane. The planes are quite small and the disassembled bikes went on several earlier flights, with the whole group flying together a little later.
On arrival in Jomsom we collected the bikes and after a short walk to the hotel we re-assembled them, which for most of us just meant putting the wheels back on. Then we took a short ride to Kagbeni. This was only about 16 kilometres, but gave us a taste of what was to come in this very different part of Nepal, with loose sharp stones and ascents that were all but unrideable as a result.
Because of the flight to Jomsom we had to leave most of our kit in Pokhara, which was a bit of a problem for me as I didn’t have enough separate kitbags. In the end I left my big kitbag in Pokhara (with some of Ivan’s gear in it as well) and took my small one on the plane. In Jomsom I repacked most of this gear into an old detergent bag, which I sent with the porters, so that I could take the kitbag on the bike.
Day 15 – Sunday 20 April 2008 – Kagbeni to Jomsom.
From Kagbeni we rode to Muktinath, which was to be the highest point on the tour, a rather disappointing 3800 metres above sea level. The Lhasa to Kathmandu route would have taken us over 5000 metres, and although I have trekked above 5000 metres, I have never cycled at that altitude and had looked forward to the experience.
We visited the temple at Muktinath with its famous 108 taps and I did the ritual walk, anointing myself at each tap and thus guaranteeing myself a place in heaven.
It was interesting to see some of the pilgrims collecting small amounts of water from each of the taps into a normal water bottle to take away with them. To folk from the West it was all a little strange. As was the fact that if you donated 50 000 rupees to the temple the monks would pray for your wellbeing every day for a year.
The ride up to the temple was tough as we were climbing the whole way and at 3500+ metres above sea level the lack of oxygen was beginning to kick in quite seriously. None of the group suffered too badly, although Chris and Emily both felt a little queasy.
The ride back to Jomsom was easier as we were losing altitude, but the condition of the track made up for this, as it was really poor. So poor, in fact, that Bobby, Paul and Ivan all got punctures within the space of 500 metres. Also, for the first time we really experienced the wind howling across the treeless plains (a la Tibet), which made just staying on the bikes a challenge at times. Coming around the protected side of the mountain into the wind was like riding into a wall. The dust and grit was very tough on the eyes and sunglasses offered very little protection.
When we reached the tea house that we were staying in in Jomsom there was no hot water and the grit and grime of the day had to be removed under a shower that felt very close to freezing.