Thursday, November 24, 2011


Kathmandu has almost the ring of Timbuktu to it and here I am.
Have spent 4 days so far here, mostly on bike stuff. After a couple of tries to find the right mechanic, I was pointed to Faruck at Himalayan Enfielders. One of the very best mechanics I have come across, not only a perfectionist, but also with a completely 'can do' attitude. His team of 4-5 other guys support him and he is clearly so well regarded by them and all the customers who came in non stop...and interrupting his work on Batty.
Batty needed her front forks and rear suspension renewed, and then being brave we took the cylinder head off. I was surprised at how relatively clean the piston was. Only a thin coat of carbon. The shock came with the valves. Both were pretty wobbly in their seats and the build up of gunge around the inlet valve was dramatic. The penalty for using veg oil in the way that I am. Hopefully the new 2 fuel system will aleviate some of this trouble.
Not a pretty sight, the gunge inside the left hole amounted to about 2 tablespoons full and beginning to slow me down.
Farouk and Ravi, his very enthusiastic and nice natured apprentice

Cylinder head off and I am sure I was more worried than the pic suggests
My immediate thought was that this would ground me till we could get some spares from UK. Without even a moments thought from Faruck, he was off to a local shop where he found some exact same size valves, that were a bit to long. These were lathed to size, the seats and guides renewed and all done in about 5 hours.
There are always many hours of hanging around on these occasions. Mostly one is frustratingly in the dark with the occasional translation, but the good thing is that there are often others hanging around waiting for their bikes to be sorted as well. Now I may be a bit biased but the Royal Enfield rider is, by and large, a pretty bright and interesting man (only one lady rider that I have seen so far), so these are pretty good opportunities to get some low down. In particular Kirian, who also has a diesel Enfield, was a convivial fellow 'waiter'. He is mainly involved in running some properties, but he is fascinated by sustainable energy and has built some wind turbines from plans he found on the internet. Also his father and he have put electrical solar panels on a village school to run the computers. Their latest scheme is to set up some water micro turbines, that are powering 20 houses in a village. It is good to see this sort of thing happening and really making life easier for many, and points to ways we will all have to adopt before we kill this planet of ours.
Apart from a great service, they washed Batty to a near new like condition

Guest houses are also great places to meet interesting people, from time to time. In the Rose Bud in Kathmandu I bumped into Miles, who is spending 2 months on mountain treks. He is my age and a BBC radio producer, when he is not on a 3 month sabbatical. We have had a couple of beers and suppers here I found myself shaking him by the hand, thanking him for coming up with and producing the radio series 'Great Lives' on Radio 4. One of the podcasts I love and always download to listen to on long straight roads, or of an evening. A comforting way of being at home in a foreign land.
He had had a fascinating day visiting an orphanage that he brought some clothes out for. He ended up joining the lady who ran it on a jail visit. Most of the kids dad's were there. He described pretty torrid conditions and a system that had people waiting for trial for between 3&5 years.
This collaborated an idea I was getting from taxi drivers and Royal Enfielders that behind all the amazing smiles and the friendliest of peoples, there are lots of tensions and injustices in a new democracy that is falling short of what we would consider a fair and just system.

Coincidence is a funny phenomenon. I met Simon Gill and his pal Alex for a dinner the other night who were doing one of these extraordinary running 6 Marathons in 6 days events, they mentioned they were bringing a baby car seat for some friends in Pokara. It did not take long to learn that it was for Jessica and Al, who I am due to meet up with in a week or so's time. A lovely connection of 2 of my great friend's siblings linked half way around the world on a particular few days.

Here are a few snaps of Durbar Square in Kathmandu, which was the palace of old.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Back in Delhi and on to Nepal, 2 tank system and increasing veg oil use.

6th Nov
Went to pick up bike from the train parcel office. I had sent it with an agent, rather than direct with the railway service. I had not intended that, but was hijacked at the Secunderabad, Hyderabad parcel office. Anyway it seemed ok so I went with it. It is a good way to travel with your bike in India. You have to be prepared to have a knock or two on the bike. Batty had a few scratches on the panniers and the headlight has a crack. It saved so much time and was such a relaxed way of traveling that it was worth it.
It was good to be back fleetingly in Delhi, and I recognise my way around a bit now. I was to have another go at getting the larger fuel tank with a small compartment for diesel to start/stop and the larger side for veg oil once the engine is hot. Ashish of had the tank and he and his colleague Bundy, have been very helpful. I needed a 'T' connector for the 2 tanks to join into the 1 fuel pump. This they found along with the extra length of tube that I have looped around into an outer engine casing that will get quite hot, but hopefully not too hot to melt the rubber. I have this cunning plan, having read about it on various sites, to try and preheat the veg oil before it goes into the pump and then ignition system, in doing so making for a better/cleaner ignition. We will see.

This is the loop of tube running into an outer engine casing that should heat the oil to help combustion.

It was a good opportunity to get a new back tyre and a new leather cover for my seat which will hopefully last a bit better. (I have been asked about the sheepskin cover a lot, and i appreciate the concern for my back side. Alas we parted company in Goa, as the wiff had got to much. I don't think the rains helped all that much.) This has meant staying here an extra day as the Ede holiday. I want to leave on Tuesday for Nepal after getting the tyre and seat sorted.
I met Prem Kumar at Ashish's office. I knew Prem although without realising it, as I have been a reader of his website which seemed to come up on web searches about routes in India. In particular I had read it when trying to find the highest pass in the world, which I learnt is a place that foreigners cannot go as it is on the Chinese border, but it was Prim who discovered it, rode it and wrote it up for the site. Charming chap and very enthusiastic about all matters about long rides and bike adventure.
8th Nov
Make a plan in India and then double or triple the time. What was supposed to be a couple of hours changing the tyre, seat, battery, and a few other odd and sods, ran deep into the afternoon. I had given up with trying to put the seat back on, so fiddly. My guardian angel came along in the form of Vivienne, who's colleague does this all the time and she suggested that he should help. So kind, particularly when it held her back from getting all the supplies she needed from Ashish, for her custom Enfield business.
Talking of tyres, my last continental rear tyre has done the best part of 10,000 miles which I thought was pretty good. This new one is made by MRF and is the one new Enfields are fitted with here. The chap who put it on said I would get 30,000 Kms from it, 2 x the last one. If that is so it will see me home almost...
I needed to leave and at least get out of Delhi that night. When I got on the road it was 4.30pm and the simple route out of the city turned into a complete nonsense as major roads were blocked with Ede festival processions.
It took 3 hrs and I write from a squalid hotel on the outskirts. The upside is that the mutton curry they made me was v delicious.
Hopefully I will make the border at Mahendranagar today.
Well it is 9.30 and I have moved 200 yards from the hotel start at 7.45. Batty would not start. Various kind folk tried to help me bump start her but to no avail. A kind man by name of Rajnish Chopna, has taken charge and got an Enfield mechanic to come and have a look. He, in turn, thinks it is a diesel engine issue, so a mechanic skilled in such matters has been called, we will see.
I have had starting problems of late, which I put down to the new battery I put in when the original gave up the ghost a couple of weeks back in Tamil Nadu. It was a 9 amp battery instead of 14. So when I replaced that yesterday I thought it would fix it. Truth is that the new battery will not have charged properly, which combined with a clutch that has been rather shagged by the exit from Delhi yesterday has meant that the kick start is slipping a bit and not getting the turn I need to start it properly.
A chap, who has an original diesel Enfield, turns up and puts the kick start at a higher angle, which gives a bigger swing. This gets her going, the battery starts charging and off I go. Leaving probably about 50 cheering on lookers and a few saviors, who put everything aside to help, so kind. After a long run she now easily starts off the battery. Oh sweet joy. Batty is a wonderful being, but her complexities and moods just occasionally confound me.
My brunch just before getting to Nepal
And my chef and his kitchen

Leaving India was a breeze at the boarder, and a joy. The immigration chaps all smiles and jokes and the customs chief the same. All about how his colleague, who was sorting my paperwork,  was a tremendous fxxker, with 2 wives in India and a girlfriend in Nepal. Very amusing made all the more so because the man in question seemed so placid, serious and just unlikely. He was wearing a cardi for goodness sake. Or was there a twinkle in his eye that hinted at a Lothario, dark horse and all that.
I took this pic of the bike and lady driver to show how to really pack a bike, least anyone thought Batty was over loaded. Just after I took she fell over with the bike. It took 3 of us chaps near by to help her back on 2 wheels.

Nearly 6000 miles in India over 3 months and I wish I could say that I could give an quick summary of it. No, it is far too much of a heady cocktail, so many ingredients that have you loving it and then loathing it in the same minute. I suppose I am bit tired of non stop juxtapositions that just confuse this simple mind. How can extraordinary natural beauty, some of the kindest of people, with such a sophisticated 6000 year old religious and social culture, intensely strong family structures, say nothing of the delicious food, be so off balanced by such endemic corruption, some shocking child and women abuse, horrific poverty, little sense of civic pride and that occasional whiff of poo. India is galloping into a poll position on the world stage, there are huge fortunes being made and the quest for material wealth is fueling an environmental carelessness that I am afraid will compromise us all if not arrested soon. Not that we can talk of course.

Would I say visit India, a thousand times yes.
I had a good feeling from day 1 in Nepal, and for lunch on the first day I had a delicious fish, battered in a spicy way and then fried.  This was in a small town called Karnali.
I had to stop and snap this small holding. It was so idyllic. The houses are mud plastered over elephant grass, supported by timber struts

The plan to make for Tilawakot was changed when on a quick stop at a mechanic to get the chain guard fixed, it has started making an annoying rattle, I was greeted by an other customer who asked me where I was going. It turned out that he was a guide in the Bardia National Park and his very nice manner easily persuaded me to spend a couple of nights at his 'resort' on the edge of the park.
The rooms/bungalows (£4pn) at the Tharu resort are delightfully simple, clean and comfortable. Good food and a great day trekking in the Park.

Alas we did not see a tiger, but Sitaran and his trainee Daman did get us incredibly close to a pair or rhinos by getting me to climb up a tree. It was very exciting.

A working Elephant after a days work logging etc in the Park

No Zoom required. Taken from up a tree.

Daman, spotting up a tree

Onwards to Lumbini. This is where Buddha was born circa 565 BC and is one of 4 most sacred places for Buddhists. An area of many hundreds of acres have been walled around the actual birth place and about 20 other contemporary temples have or are being built by many of the nations with a  Buddhist population. Funnily enough Germany and France have one, but the UK and US did not, which interested me. I thought there would have been as many Buddhists in UK as France or Germany, maybe they are still being planned. Anyway the styles all differ, and in 50 or 100 years time when the new build look has weathered away, they will all be much more fantastic. For now they did not do much for me but it was good to see the scale of the devotion etc.

No Cameras were allowed in this white building, which marks the spot of his birth sadly.
The pool in front is where his mother was bathing (I imagine it was just a natural pond then...) when she went into labour

 I think this is either the Chinese or Nepalese Temple, you can see the newness.