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.

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.