Monday, December 19, 2011

Will it really come down to Bribary?

I always seem to be writing from Kathmandu, it must be at a junction of happenings during the last few weeks. This time I am staying in the Kathmandu Guest House, which is one of the original hotels in the city, designed for foreigners. I am mainly here because it is very close to the shippers who are boxing up Batty tomorrow to ship onto Chang Mai in Thailand. Would I stay again…probably not. Although a little more comfy than the general abode I choose, it is large and unfriendly, which for triple the amount knocks it right down the scale of value as far I am concerned.

It is funny how the memory of pain goes. Although no physical pain resulted in the 2 weeks getting a new engine for Batty, but mental pain of frustration, uncertainties and feelings of helpless in a game being played that I had no clue of the rules.

The engine arrived in Kathmandu 4 days after leaving Henry's work shop near Bristol…all very efficient. Raju had taken the old engine out and was ready to go, so all we needed was UPS to deliver the last leg to Pokhara. Various conversations between Raju and the UPS guy indicated a problem with the importation of a whole  new engine and his business not being registered. This prompted a decision to fly to Kathmandu, show my carnet (a passport for vehicles) and pay some duty. That was done and I left being told it would be there the next day…all good, a bit of hassle, but only 3 days lost.

Next day no engine. The chief customs man had said that he wanted proof that the bike was in the country and in Raju's workshop. This involved going to the police station and getting a chief to sign a document to that effect and sending via UPS to the office in KTM. This took 3 days for some inexplicable reason to get to the customs chief…then he wanted the carnet again. You can imagine that by this stage I was seething until suddenly I realised he must be after a bung/bribe/sweetener. For some funny reason I was more relaxed having worked that out. Although the whole idea is abhorrent to me, if it was the only way, it was going to have to be. And in person I was going to deliver those poison notes, lest other sticky fingers wanted part of the action, so another trip to KTM. One more early morning but delayed flight, had me in a UPS van heading to the customs building near the airport by lunchtime. I had stopped off at an ATM and got out about £100 thinking that it would take somewhere between £50-£100 to wrest the engine out of their clasp.

Armed with the carnet and a few practiced phrases like ' there a special service I can buy to help speed up the process....' or '...I am sorry this engine is causing you all this extra work, could I make a contribution to your office party as a thank you?..." for the Customs chief, we went to see him. He took the carnet and then his huge book of rules and regs and started quoting things, written in Nepali, like a new replacement engine imported for a vehicle on a carnet had to have the old engine shipped out of the country. That was plain ridiculous, who would require such a stupid thing when the engine was completely useless. What to do I asked, waiting for the cue…he said just write and sign on the carnet that you will send the old engine out of Nepal…so I did, 'OK, now you can take your engine' he said. In disbelief I slowly took my hand out of the pocket, leaving the bung where it was and shook his hand. It all took no more than 20 minutes.

I still don't really know how it took so much to do so little, but I am sure that had I not gone back again and seen him myself, it could have dragged on yet further.

It was too late to get back by flight so I booked into a cheap hostel and got a ticket on the 7am bus back to Pokhara the next morning. The bus was actually much better than I had feared. 7 hours of catching up on the latest Dessert Island Disk, and From our own Correspondent etc podcasts and chatting to Laila.

Laila half lives in California and half lives in Pokhara. She has a bar/restaurant in both places, both called 'Laila'. I had seen it along the street, but not visited it. She was a great bus neighbour and we covered all sorts of conversational ground. The hours and miles fell away and ended with a promise to come and sample her hospitality the next day.

The engine beat me back to Raju and he was all set to work on it the next day. Henry had sent me detailed notes on how to best fit it in, which I had to read to Raju very slowly…I was suspicious before but it confirmed that Raju was illiterate, not that it took away from his mechanical skills.

Raju working late with candle light and torch...power cuts abound here
3 days later he had it all fixed up, a diesel mechanic pal had helped and they did a great job tuning it and seeing me back on the road. I think Raju probably managed to extract from me about double or maybe quadruple what a local would have been charged, and it irked me a little, but in the end he had run around like crazy, had useful connections in the police and worked long hours to see me right...I was happy that he had the option of not needing to work again for a month or so.

The new engine is more powerful and feels great. I am still running her in so it will be 1000 miles before normal use resumes, but it feels great to be back on board. 3 weeks had passed since she went into Raju's place with a suspect noise.

So what does one do hanging around in a fine town like Pokhara with lots of shops, bars, and new friends abundant for 2 weeks? Well in my case I was blessed by a few things, not least the friendship of Jess and Al. Regular lunches and suppers with introductions to some of their friends. An invitation to a Fancy Dress party at Maya Devi that was as high octane a party I have been to in a long time, ending for me at about 1am and a lovely stumbling moonlit, hour long walk home.

It was Jess's birthday, and what a cake, that Daisy was greatly taken were we all
Jess and Harry. I had employed a tailor to try and create a Hawaii meets the Sub Continent type shirt...a near miss

Rachel Baker with her winning costume...These are also her photos that she kindly donated.

Devi's Falls, a plunging cascade an hours walk outside Pokhara
Otherwise I took walks to nearby sites, evenings at the Bullet Basecamp meeting fellow travellers, supping with my landlord Ganesh and his charming philandering pal, of the "…it's alright if you always let your wife know, then she gets use to it and knows that it is not serious…" school of reason. A couple of early drinks with Laila in her bar and promise to come by her Californian place when I am passing next year. I also managed to trouble the office a fair amount with various web developments and financal stuff…just when they were all revving up for the Christmas party that I was very sorry to miss.

Batty's Back...sporting a Chrismassy new flywheel casing
Ganesh on the left, my landlord for 3 weeks and his naughty pal
Home for those 3 weeks
Outside the Hotel Lotus Inn, not a bad spot for my circumstances.
Raju and Ginette at the Sewa home for orphans that Ginette founded. She is also the co owner with Nathan of the Bullet Basecamp. 30 kids have a home that would otherwise be in peril.
One of the projects Sewa does is grow loads of mushrooms that they sell which helps towards their goal of self sustainability.
My favourite street food, Pani Puri. A potato curry popped into crisp balls and then lased with a little honey mix and then a lemon based liquor (non alcholic) poured on top. A very good snack, first introduced to me by Sophie.

A interview for Octane Magazine. An Entrepreneurs Organisation publication. Photo: S.Dutton
An edited text, but a welcome and flattering inclusion

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year

Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year. Love from Harry and Batty. xx


 I had hoped to pose Batty with a Himalayan backdrop, alas the clouds were very low.

The good news is that the new engine is in and running well. Have made it back to Kathmandu and will be going to Chang Mai on Tuesday, all things being equal. 

Will be updating the blog in a few days with the last 3 weeks of fun and games....

On the off chance, if anyone is coming out to Thailand over the next few weeks, or knows someone doing so, I have a new phone and a few other bits and pieces that I would like, and by hand is so much easier than the risk of courier and customs vagaries. Many thanks

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Email notification resumed....3 or 4 posts have not been emailed out....aaaaaaaargh

If you have been receiving the blog up dates via email, I am afraid that very annoyingly the email thingy that lets you know of a new blog post, has not worked for about 5 weeks apparently. I have been playing around with it for a few days and it appears to be on again. Apologies on behalf of Google and if you want to see what's been going on for the last few weeks, please go onto

In the meantime this odd picture is in fact a soon to be total eclipse of the Moon that I am witnessing here in Pokhara, Nepal

Friday, December 9, 2011

4 day trek in around Panchase. Making alcohol, tug of wars, and party

I write from the Kathmandu domestic airport. What was meant to be a quick in and out day trip 2 days ago, has become a 3 day exercise. In order to get the new engine cleared of customs, because of an unexpected and tiresome nonsense as a result of me giving Raju's, the mechanics, address for delivery, and because his business does not have a registered number, it prevents delivery. All the flights were cancelled due to fog, so the next day I got away to sort it out. That was not too much trouble but alas the return flight was cancelled, so I was booked on to one at 8am the next day. It is now foggy, so a few hours sitting on hard airport benches whilst the sun breaks through, gives the perfect opportunity to catch up on the blog.
I would add that with the benefit of that cheeky thing called hindsight, it would have been quicker to have got the day long coach ride there and then a day back the following day, but the enticing 25 minute flight option won over my green-ish flying concerns. The views from the plane of the Himalayas were fabulous.
The trek up to Panchase (5 peaks just south east of Pokhara) was a great break from the cities. My guide Yam was a jolly chap who spoke goodish English, was about my age and went at a pace that this saddle bound exerciser could manage (I have put his details at the bottom in case anyone wants a guide here). We were blessed with stunning weather on the first 2 days and had on our right a spectacular view of practically the whole Annapurna mountain range. It was just like the best poster shot you could wish for. The range is centered by the sacred mountain called Machhapuchchhre which no one is allowed to climb. It is beautiful.
A Pokhara street with Machhapuchchhre (otherwise known as fish tail) in the background
The Peace Pagoda over looking Pokhara, and our 1st stop on the trek.
Pokhara by the lake
Some needed a stick

Typical homestead and paddy fields
We tended to do 5 or 6 hours each day,  it felt mostly up hill but of course there were steep downs as well. Every turn brought new delights and any aches were soon forgotten as jungle switched to and fro with gorgeous paddy fielded scapes.

The first night was in a happy but tired guest house. The second and third in a completely charming, clean and stunningly situated place called Happy Heart. Run by 3 sister from 55 to 40 yrs old. One hears of the hard working women folk here, and these 3 really exposed me to it. Up at 5 and not stopping till 10. When they are not cooking delicious food on the open wood fires for their guests or sorting out the immaculate but simple rooms, they are collecting and chopping wood, tending to the veg garden, working with their 6 buffaloes in the paddy, or walking down the hill for 2 hours to get supplies... And then back up again.  This all done with great humour and efficiency.
The stove from which wonders are produced

Happy Heart on a cloudier morning
The only married one is the eldest ( I am afraid their names escaped me) and her husband is Larry. He is a Canadian who spent 40 years in an ashram in India, before moving to Nepal a few years ago. He is doing a lot of work on the spirituality and lost meanings and teachings in the area. All interesting to hear but I am afraid that his repeated insistence that we were the same age confounded my vanity. It had already taken a bashing the week before in the East when a chap wanted to play 'guess my age' and he thought i was in my sixties, the brute. So when Larry started, who is 20 years my senior, the repeated hints that I was on a MID career sabbatical, or I was BORN in the mid Sixties had no effect on what I put down to the on set of senility. He was a nice guy really and we made Raksi the next day at 5 the next morning together....well I just watched this great art which has not changed for thousands of years. They make about 3 litres a day. Raksi is a locally distilled millet liquor that, when good, is very like sake, which is a fav of mine. After 2 good glasses of warm Raksi a good night is guaranteed. I would go so far as to say that those nights were some of the most contented and the best sleeps I have had on the trip.

The youngest sister and I called each other darling, after Yam suggested that we got married. I wish I had taken photos. I have this knack of forgetting to when I am having fun sometimes.

Al and Jess Howard had suggested that I try and get to what they call the Highland Games in a village called Galam. Yam was very happy that we should do it. It was a 3 hour down hill walk from the guest house, which rather filled me with dread for the return. There were about 12 non villagers who had come along with Al. It was the 7th year that they had come along, having happened upon what is really like a village fete whilst paragliding. 
Al, as guest of honour, gives prizes to villagers. In this case the oldest man (80ish)

He was then asked to make a speach

The Ladies Tug-of-War
The men getting beaten after a very hard fought pull. It was great fun, and although we beat their 'B' team, their 'A' team were like Oxen. It restored diplomatic relations as the last 6 years had been Won by the team fielded by Frontiers Paragliding (who provide the winners goat).

A waterfall bust by the village
 Much to my surprise the feared walk back up to the guest house took the same time as going down, and the last half hour was by moonlight, which was great to do and I think it being dark made the uphill stretches seem flatter.
On returning to Pokhara, and a welcome shower, an email from Annie was waiting for me. I had not met her, but her mother is a friend of my step mother's and contact details were exchanged. She was on her last night in town before heading off to SE Asia, and she kindly asked me join her and some friends for supper that night. It was rather fun being surrounded by 6 lovely girls aged between 21 and 31. They had or still are all doing voluntary work in orphanages here. Slightly frustrating for some of them, as they have a 9.30 curfew, so left Annie, Zoe and I to a few more drinks at the bar.
The following night there was a birthday party at the Bullet Basecamp Bar, which was great fun. A melting pot of other biker travelers, expats, and locals.

Yam's guide Contact and know how in Pokhara, Nepal.
In case the number is not clear, it is 9805863365

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Mount Everest and Pokhara. New Engine

Moments after first seeing Mt. Everest (in the background, if you strain)

It was rather a shock going around a corner and suddenly coming face to face with Everest. The time 11.32am, 22nd November 2011. I had not expected a clear view, having often heard that it was frequently cloud covered, so there was a moment of almost disbelief at this so familiar shape dominating the distant skyline. So much so that I had to ask a local if it really was what I thought.
Charles Point

Fun road leading upto Charles Point from Durdan
I had read that Charles' Point (Prince Charles had been there to view Everest, and a 20 metre viewing tower had been built) was a possible place to see Everest and true enough it was.

I had headed there from Durdan, where I had come to rest after a long day driving east on the road. I had enjoyed that motorcycle delight of passing a massive traffic jam on the way, albeit fearing that at the front I would find a horrible crash, not that infrequent here, however it was some sort if protest. Of course I could understand nothing of the reason from the shouts and banners, but I was very clear that the youngish guy holding my hand closed over the clutch (a very effective way of stopping a motorcyclist) was very hit up about something. After a few minutes he was persuaded by his pals to let me through. I subsequently found out that 8 locals had been killed on the road in an accident a week or so prior and they were trying to get some sort of compensation for the families.
Full of a sort of an Everestian glow I headed on from Charles Point to get to the end of the road at Terhathum, hoping to see more 70 kms closer. It was more driving than I could do that day, and found a hotel in Sindsuwa. It was the humblest of places I had stayed in, for creature comforts, but gave me probably one of the most interesting evenings on this trip, in terms of meeting locals unused to foreigners and spending an evening in their company, eating (having my table manners corrected whilst eating rice with one's hand) and drinking the evening away in a most convivial manner.
A room of great subtleties (£1.80, not including breakfast)
Evening view from the room
Dinner prep
Morning view
The bar was open fronted and it did get flipping cold, they just put more jackets on, which I followed suit, using up my whole wardrobe including a yak hat that I had bought in Minali and had carried around for 3 months, intending to send home. In fact I went to bed wearing that oh so warm hat as the bedroom was as good as outside.

Some of the afternoon party animals
Earlier a group of late teen lads came and joined me, all full of the excitement of life and determined that I should enjoy some of their home grown combustibles. Which I did but only to quickly realise that it was pretty powerful stuff and turned down their kind offer of more.
I was the first foreign motorcyclist that had stopped to stay there, and probably aided by their offerings, we somehow managed to build bridges between our lives and laughed as we built them.

It is funny how the least exclusive a place is, the more included one is.

I came on to Terhathum over a stunning road, I suppose I was expecting a place all set up for trekking and mountaineering, but this smallish town was just happily sitting there serving those around, almost isolated from the world and minding it's own business. Not a trekking company or even a tourist post to be seen. I was frustrated initially as I had wanted to try and do a small trek from there, but quickly softened and enjoyed a largely unaffected place near the top of the world. I suppose had there been a view of Everest it would have been different.
I took myself off into the hills for a 3 hr walk and loved watching a seemingly gently way of life being agelessly conducted on the small holdings dotted over the area. 

Looking down on Terhathum
A small holding I fancied
With Everest in the back ground, on my way back
Batty and Everest posing away
 I had an email from Deepen, who I had met in Kathmandu at the Enfielders and he was suggesting that I head back and come to a vintage car and bike show, and that there were some journalists interested in what Vegibike was all about. This gave me a day to get back from Durdan, which was quite a journey, but I left at dawn and thought I was on the same road that I had taken...which I was until about 1/2 way, when the Garmin discovered this new road not on the paper map. It was the HO2 and took me through just amasing non stop beautiful twisting climbs and valleys.

Riding the HO2, any bikers delight.

As it happened the show was cancelled, as I found out in Kathmandu, so I set of for Pokhara the next day. A 6 hour journey and it was half way along that I became increasingly aware of a new sound from the engine...I put it down to tappets initially, but it got louder and louder.

I got into the town and found my hotel, the Lotus Inn which had large rooms, a comfortable bed for a change, wifi and at a £8 a night felt like a bargain.

Pokhara is a pretty cool place, although very much a tourist orientated in various parts, there is no heavy touting. It is set beside a lake and flanked by 8000m snowy peaks to the North. The clever thing is that it is only 700m above the sea, making for a pretty gentle year round climate  All a bit of a playground for the adventurous and the less so inclined.

I met up with Jessica and Al Howard. They suggested joining them for a BBQ at some place called the Maya Deya, an establishment that some pals of theirs runs and Sunday Lunch de facto meeting place for many of the ex pats here. It was great fun and very good to see Jessica and meet Al.
Maya Deya turns out to be where a good friend, Jeremy Minchin, fell out of the sky at the beginning of the year, whilst on a  paragliding trip. Thankfully he is much on the mend now, but a very close call had he, breaking more bones than can be counted and arteries loosened from his heart etc. The event  is talked about with slight hushed tones here, I guess accidents are not great for the sport's success.

The day moved into evening and I was asked if I would join them for dinner in the Ghurkas officer's mess. Al is an ex Ghurka, and now works closely with them running the Nepali arm of the Kadori families charitable trust (one of Asia's richest families).
Al, Jessica, Daisy with newly arrived Bella.
 My lack of tie was deemed 'OK' on a Sunday evening

The next day I had to face the noisy facts and took Batty to see Raju at the Bullet Surgery. It did not take long to rule out the tappets and the suspicion rested with the big-end bearing making the noise. Off came the primary chain case and the engine side-casing and yes the bearing was bu**ered, along with almost every other moving part in the engine.
Raju with the empty engine case confronting him.
I had been running the same oil since London, on the hope that it would be as robust in my engine as it is in generator motors. I will revert to a change every 1000-ish miles going forward.
The good news is plentiful.  Henry is shipping a brand new engine over from the UK, it is 30% more powerful than the old one making Batty modestly more competitive on the road, and it all happened in a great town with friends abundant it seems. Raju's workshop is bang next door to the Bullet Basecamp bar which is great fun and I have spent a few happy evenings there so far.
Tomorrow, to break the city mold, I am off on a 4 day trek up into the hills, whilst the engine flies in.