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March/April-Report to Nepal

Hi Folks,

This is your foreign correspondent on the spot in the latest trouble zone of Nepal. I am alive and well and reporting from Lakeside, Pokhara which is a tranquil tourist area with comfortable hotels and restaurants overlooked by the beautiful snow capped Annapurna range.. Jacaranda trees are blooming and birds singing with the only interruption to the peaceful setting is the afternoon thunderstorms. In the meantime, at the end of the road there are police in riot gear and local people demonstrating, burning tyres and effigies of the king and loudly protesting against the terrible injustice of the Royal regime. With the strikes running now for 18 days food and other commodities are running low and people are beginning to suffer but they need to change things so have to hold fast against the government forces. It is a country on the verge of civil war and tension is high.

There is a small group of Overlanders here and at present we are birds in a gilded cage which is rapidly turning to a rusty rat trap. The true situation is a follows:

Up until a few days ago a tourist could still go to Katmandu, approx 200kms distant, However, with the strict curfews in the city no one could walk the streets and shops and offices were closed. The airport was functioning for personal flights but the customs and packing for bike transport was not. We awaited a break in the strike to overcome this problem and make our escape. Thoughts were that if we were unable to fly we could return to India by road and arrange shipping from there. The catch is that our Indian visas have expired and can only be renewed in Katmandu.

The very latest situation is that the despotic king has made a statement which has hoodwinked the International community but not fooled the Nepalese who are now demonstrating even more violently against him and now it is difficult to enter Katmandu as the city is cordoned off. So here we are. At least here we can walk in the immediate area and I can make this report for you.

As I have been unable to write for some time I will proceed in instalments.

I last wrote from Bangalore in March before leaving by train for Delhi. Sanju kindly helped me get the bike organised at the station. It had to be "packed" ie 2 guys stuck some cardboard over the headlight and tank (drained) and the paperwork was completed. Luckily the clerk put it down as a 150cc so I wouldn't have to pay so much. Then, after watching the loading ,I tucked myself and the luggage into my carriage and spent 2 days and nights reading and watching my fellow passengers plying cards. The scenery en route was not inspiring so I was content to sit back and relax.

Arriving in hot Delhi on Saturday midday I got the bike unloaded and immediately phoned my 60kph contacts who informed me that Gaurav (the filmmaker) was also in town and they were having a meeting at a certain hotel that was not too difficult to find. I spent a jovial night with a few club members and 2 Dutch guys who had just finished a Himalayan trip on hired Enfields. We all swapped stories and enjoyed the beer. Good news was that Gauravs film was being bought by the Asian Discovery channel, so it may yet be accepted by the European one.

Hirak, who had contacted me previously, kindly offered to show me around the Delhi sights on the pillion of his Enfield, so this meant a very enjoyable tour on Sunday and you will find fotos of this in the gallery. Delhi is an impressive city and I was lucky to have an informative guide. It was also a treat to meet his girlfriend, Sangeeta, and share a meal with them both at an upmarket restaurant where we ate some form of brains!

Hirak escorted me out of the city the next morning for my ride north and, on our exit, I saw an elephant and his driver jump the red lights! No ticket for them though.

I was on my way to Rishikesh to see Steve and Trupti again and see how their guest house project was progressing but  it transpired that they were held up in Delhi so I stayed a couple of nights in Hardiwar (another pilgrim city) with Manas and Sweety, more kind 60kph members.

On arrival in Rishikesh I caught up with Emily, the canadian Bullet rider, who was there on a yoga course so I joined in some lessons too.

I finally remit Steve and Trupti and checked out the building site. Staying a couple of days I also managed to get the bike cleaned and the crash bars reinforced in preparation for my next falls! Unfortunately when I came to leave I discovered that my camera was missing and despite retracing my footsteps over the past 3 days it didn't reappear so after making a police report I headed north with just a disposable camera hoping it would suffice until I could get a replacement digital in Nepal. Needless to say I was extremely pissed off with myself again for losing it.

The scenery in Uttar Anchal is enchanting. In the foothills of the Himalayas it is green with pine scented air, gurgling streams and bright birds in the lush vegetation. The weather is much cooler than the hot Delhi plains and I found a great hostel to stay in while I attempted to do some trekking. However, the weather deteriorated and I found myself having to turn back from the mountain because of rain and snow (no boots or waterproofs) and, on the 2nd day only just managed to ride back to my shelter before the next big snow storm blocked the road.

Ready for the off the next morning I found the rear tyre flat but was soon helped by the local puncture wallah. Not bad, I thought, only the 2nd puncture of the whole trip and now I should be safe again for a while.

The next night at Kausani I had a magnificent view of the Himalayan range but actually felt a bit unwell the next morning so made a late start. Enjoying the pretty ride I suddenly felt the back end go and Lo! another puncture. This time I had to leave the bike outside a shop and take the wheel into town by bus.

On return, just as I was reassembling with local help who should stop by but Ingo, a German biker who I last saw in November at my birthday party. He helped me finish the job and we related our interim experiences over a cup of tea. He gave me tips on the situation in Nepal, from whence he had just come, and advised me to ride slowly though the road blocks and not to try removing any road obstacles as they were usually booby trapped. We then made our farewells and he rode west and I east.

That night I arrived in another hill station, Nainital, and the YHA was at first reluctant to accommodate me as they had a large school group coming but in the end I gave a talk top the 70 odd girls, recorded their singing and everyone was happy so I spent an extra day walking the hills around this pretty town.

My route the next day toward Nepal took me away from the hill s and down to the edge of the hot plains. This was to be may last day in India so I decided to spend the afternoon visiting a pilgrimage temple on top of a hill. Thinking it was just a 3km walk I set out in the heat but was then told it was 7km. What to do- I had parked the bike and paid for it and the luggage to be guarded, quite a performance, and I wanted to be back before dark. So best foot forward, loins girded, teeth gritted and a forced march upward. There were many pilgrims and beggars on the track and loud jangly music from PA systems blaring out from the trees along which should have been a peaceful route. Higher up many tourist shops for religious goods lined the steps of the last km to the top. With my goal finally in sight I sprinted up to the temple, made my donation and flew back down again to arrive at the bike at sundown to wend my weary way back to a hostel in the border town. I had managed the 14kms arduous walk in 4 and a half hours, Phew! I was glad I had done it , though, a typical Indian outing. There were more pilgrims walking up in the cool of the evening as I was descending. They were singing to encourage one another and carrying their overnight gear to sleep in the many shelters provided near the top. Lights were glittering along the way and a silver slither of an Indian new moon was lying on its back in the darkening sky.

To top it off, at the hostel, though I asked for the cheapest dormitory accommodation, the manager gave me the best room in the place for the same price so I had a hot shower and became human again. A great ending to my final day in India. As I walked the dusty streets to have a stomach settling 7 up for tea I realised that I had been on the road almost one year and the last 5 months had been in this beautiful, dirty, tranquil, manic, crazy and utterly fascinating country called India. I had met so many different people and travelled approx 12,000km in diverse land and road conditions (luckily without being killed!) I could write reams but will leave the details for the book and just briefly say a heartfelt "thank you" to all the wonderful people I have met in this amazing sub continent.

And so on to Nepal - next instalment very soon

Love Linda

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