Monday 16 February 2009

100km horizontal, 4km vertical! Beni to Muktinath

Wow ok, so the full post is available over at: Horizons Unlimited

Here is just some pictures and totally in the wrong order, I will sort them tomorrow but have been over an hour on the internet today and that is too much!

but one quick piece of advice for y'all: Drum practice with sticks on the legs is not the same as practicing with your hands! One hurts much more than the other. Equally, drumming with sticks on your legs while only wearing boxers is on the same level as looking down the barrel of a gun after it missfired! I can see the headline: "Drummer turns himself into a eunuch in a One and Two and Three and FouuuARRRRRRRRRRRGGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHH"

(ps, click the images for the full sized versions)

Wednesday 11 February 2009

Nepal: Where the money equation doesn't work.

Time to ponder on another of the great injustices of the world and it essentially comes down to the equation of time = money. I have realised recently that the equation has no bearing outside of the western world where I am pretty certain that you substitute leisure time for money (or working time) in the constant struggle of earning enough money to be able to have more leisure time. Outside of the commercially developed countries this isn't true. In fact, when faced with a country which has an unemployment level of almost 50%, time and money are completely unrelated which has caused something very unusual in Nepal.

To compare India and Nepal is an easy thing to do. In India unemployment and the lack of of any prospect of work has left many working age people stupid. Unwilling to learn or do anything. If I said this in England it would be considered racist but it is undeniable fact that many, but by no means all, Indians living in poverty care for nothing. They await the next day with the same boredom that they lived the current. It is disheartening to experience and it also explains the gormless expressions, the constant same questions (Name, Age, location, how many CC, how many litres, how many Kilometres per litre... etc etc etc) that get repeated by nearly every Indian I met. This feeling runs through the traveller community and is the only reason I am willing to express it. Basically they await the passing of time with “knowledge” that they have no control and that drives me mad, it is as near to soullessness I have ever experienced.

Nepal is the polar opposite. I see people with absolutely nothing to do all day and with no reason to do anything as their future is as bleak as any Indians yet they do things. They become great musicians and they study even knowing the study is probably pointless. I know a guitarist here, Bishnu, who is considered Nepals greatest guitarist. He works in a local bar for 300Rs a day (less than $4) and he teaches for a small bonus yet when he decided to try and make a career from this he had to buy his own guitar. A western one because the Chinese and Indian copies are shite. He has to pay the price of the guitar we pay + crazy import taxes, it could never be bought outright so he will spend years paying for it. For maybe 3 hours a day, 6 days a week he plays at the local bar earning his keep and he probably practises every day for at least an hour or two. Bishnu is an excellent musician who you can't help but love to watch play. Every note he plays registers on his face and in his body movements, he loves every second of it.

Next is the drummer, Bimal. He earns the same per day but every session, or two if he is lucky, he breaks a pair of drum sticks. A “new” pair of Indian drumsticks costs 150Rs ($2) or a good western brand costs 600Rs ($8) but last longer. A huge chunk of his wages goes on new sticks and then he has to buy a drum kit too because he isn't allowed to practise at the bar. 25,000Rs for a drumkit which he bought almost 2 years ago and has paid off about 10k. (over $300 and $100 respectively) Besides learning a trade everyone studies up to at least the equivalent of high school. Bimal is studying commerce between practising his art and earning a living. Then to top it off he is giving large amounts of his earnings to his family who lives in a small, 2 room building which also has to house the drum kit. I can't imagine the sacrifice Bimal's family had to make to get this drum kit but they must have weighed it up and figured that the huge wage their son is bringing in (and, in Nepal, it is huge) will eventually be worth sacrificing a bit of food each day.

I've asked if Bimal could teach me the drums, two reasons really. Firstly, like I said in my previous post, watching them play made me want to be a part of it and I regret not putting in the effort when I first failed to learn. Secondly it gives the chance to really find out about a community, and to make friendships within it, which is something I haven't really allowed myself to do on this trip. Bimal is a great teacher and I already feel, after just 5 lessons, that I will be able to play at least one live session with the band before my 2 months in Nepal are up. I will keep you updated on the band and my progress, maybe even some videos/pictures.

Off for a ride upto Muktinath. As far as local knowledge goes we will be the 2nd and 3rd westerners to go on motorbikes. No petrol stations the whole way......

Wednesday 4 February 2009

Nepal - The Bikers Playground

This post starts with the ride from the Nepal/India border to Pokhara:

The ride starts as standard as any ride in India ever did, big town, lots of people and the wary eye of a rider who does alot of commuting. It took about an hour to get out of town and for that hour it was one straight road with the odd roundabout. After the dull throbbing of a V-Twin near idle had started to make my brain cry, big hills start towering above the rooftops and 5 minutes later the town is gone, all that is left is the mountains and the curve of the road ahead. I was instantly reminded of Pakistan and the KKH, noting the landslides, the potholes and realising this “easy” 180km wasn't going to be so easy. And then as suddenly as the hills appeared the road turned to perfect tarmac.

A stretch of road near my hotel passing around the lake

My pace increased and I was soon slicing through corner after corner of the most intense road ever built. There is no rest up, no breather or moment to comprehend. It is fear inducing, heart pumping cornering goodness in all its simple glory. Corner after corner after corner, head down, jump on the brakes, tyres screaming! A push on the bars forces the bike over, head inches from mountain walls and oblivion but you see nothing just the black of the road. Midway through the corner you eye up the next one, pick your line and accelerate out. Within an instant your flipping the bike to upright and even before you're vertical you're on the brakes again. Pushing harder into each corner, scrapping pegs Left! Right! Tighter! Faster! Each time on the gas earlier and the brakes later begging the bike into upright and then pushing it to the ground. Every heartbeat is slowed, every hour a hundred and nothing at all. With your soul flying and tears streaming down your face you scream soundlessly into the wind. A scream of hysteria, blood-lust and chase.

It slowly creeps up on you and it is too late by the time it happens. You're no longer in control, from inside your head you watch as your hands act as if someone else is pulling the strings and the road slips by without you. It goes on until your body screams for rest until every muscle aches from your arms to your face, stuck with a perpetual grin. You know you can't keep up the pace. You're numb; completely body and soul numb as you collapse onto the bike and you roll off the gas. How long was it since you started? One hour? Two? Your body feels like it has done a thousand miles but in the split of 20-60mph corners you have done only 30.

Calmed now, the blood-letting over and pulse returning to normal, pace slowed just enough to be able to appreciate the country. 60 becomes 50 and the streaking blurs of blue, green and orange start to form shapes and objects. Head turning every moment to see a new sight, to feel it and know it. Sometimes it is good to slow down, the thrill of the corners still there but without the fear which focuses our mind solely on the road so now the beauty of the surroundings leaks in.

A bridge over the Valley North of Pokhara. I wouldn't try crossing it if I were you.

A view of the mountains, anywhere you look you see snowcapped peaks

Look both ways before crossing the road and smile for the camera!

I find a hotel and move in, get the panniers off and look at the bike lovingly. It's my birthday and I need to celebrate somehow, somewhere. I head into town, into a tour office and onto the phone. I call home to speak to my mum and to hear at least once someone I love wish me happy birthday and then as I hang up the phone the tour guide wishes me happy birthday too then asks me what I am doing for it. I explain that I am here alone and I just arrived so he points me towards a good restaurant for dinner and tells me to head down to the Busy Bee for the evening.

I flood my senses with beef and beer. The Carlsberg tasting better than anything I have drunk in over 5 months so I sit back next to an open fire sipping beer and watching this new world tick over. I can't help it, I'm grinning again back on the bike and reliving it moment for moment. I can't contain myself any more I need to talk to someone so I pay my bill and head to the Busy Bee near enough running. I'm in the car park and there in front of me is an R6, mint condition blue and white with Nepali plates. Confused I walk into the bar, order a beer and ask who's bike it is. I am soon pointed towards Rick, a RTW biker who reached Nepal and stopped. He set-up his own business building custom bikes, teaching beginners and experts alike and taking guided tours around the country.

We hit it off straight away talking about the bikes and I am trying to contain my enthusiasm. It's too much, he talks about the road I rode being one of the worst in Nepal, of tracks going nowhere into the mountains and endless miles of tarmac stretched out like a gift to anyone with the balls to claim it. And it is here that I know it. Within this moment in the bar as the live music starts up and Rick tells me that it is every night live rock n roll. The guitarist is Nepal's number one and so is the basest. “Sweet child of mine” bounces off the walls and into my heart as the beer in my stomach starts to mount. It is this moment when I realise that I am home.

As the night carries on we move from bar to bar listening to Jazz and Rock and whatever the band feels like at the moment. Each song feels right to me as I watch the band and wish I was up there with them. Before too long Rick heads home and I'm left with a beer in one hand attempting to play foosball with the other. The bar is shutting down but I'm not ready for it to stop so we grab a couple of beers and head back to some guys hotel where we drink and smoke and I find myself with two people I don't know, debating all too serious topics and laughing all the while. It's too much, my head is spinning now along with ideas of global warming, terrorism and the possibility that I imagined everything. The day is a whirlwind of sensory overload with the drugs and alcohol stirring it into something uncomprehendable. Modern art of the mind spinning, sliding, slipping. I get up, I have to leave and get fresh air. I make my excuses, at least I think I did. I could have just mumbled and stumbled through the door. I walk into the corridor and before I can decide to go left or right 3 walls have bumped into me. I go left but I forgot which door I came from so maybe I went right. The spinning is slowing now as I gulp fresh, clean air and the sounds of the real world make their way back in.

I wake up the next morning, heads banging and the previous night a blur. I'm out of the door by 8am and staring up at the peaks surrounding the lake, more drugs this morning but this time legal, the pain is already subsiding. There is still a hint of orange in the sky, the day is fresh and full of promise. I'm down the busy bee before 10am... They don't open till 12 but they fry me up an omelette anyway. Rick's there working on the bikes and I ask him to name a route. He tells me just to carry on, to ride straight and go around the lake.

Within two minutes of leaving the bar I am on the open road again. Schoolkids are waving to me and old men sitting in chairs nodding to me. The girls giggle when I wave back and the boys chase the bike. I pull a wheelie. I can't help it, it wasn't me the bike did it by itself and then without notice the schoolkids are gone, the old men a distant memory and I'm on a dirt track, pretty smooth nothing challenging but I keep the pace down. A junction sneaks up on my left and I am intrigued. It seems to lead no-where and then that is exactly where I am. The road runs through a river and so do I. The sound of water hissing on my exhaust and the wave spreading in front of me. Dirt, grit sand and stone. It had all been waiting for me on the other side and it was upset that I took so long. So I set free, time to test the knobblies and really find out what kind of bike I'm riding. Moving around the edge of the lake now and it changes constantly from sand to red mud, rocks and pebbles, steps and logs. Each a new challenge and each overcome. The back wheel is sliding out on every corner and the grin is back again. I have dust in my eyes and mouth. My nose is blocked with mud but I carry on regardless. Each corner has me twisting the throttle too hard, too far. Dust flys and the bike lurches sideways then the rubber bites and launches me forward the front barely staying on the ground. On the pegs the whole way with legs and knees aching, my screams ringing through the dense forest and over the empty lake. The track ends and I turn back exhausted. Along the way I pass small villages which I hardly noticed first time passed. I stop, exchange greetings and smiles, no-one is surprised to see me. They look on with the eyes of people who have seen it all before and they just shake their heads with a little wry smile when I try to cross directly over the marshes. I pass woodsmen and women chopping just for themselves and maybe a bit to sell. They all smile and wave, I wave back and before too soon I am back at the river crossing. The hiss of boiling water marks the end of the thrill and the return to serenity. The ride back along the road is calm, I pass paragliders and 4*4s, rafters and kyakers all preparing for a days training getting ready for the tourist season. A paraglider swoops above me and follows along the road before turning back over the lake, we wave and carry on in our own worlds.

More mountains and a dirt track leading no-where

The end of the road, I had been further the day before but this tree had fallen down since

A track through one of the small villages

It's not long before I am back home ripping the bike to pieces. Time for an oil change, air filter needs cleaning too. Hmm, OK clean the chain and oil it, tighten it a little, loosen it OK perfect. The rear brake is sticking a little so I make a note to buy some dot 4 and some cleaning fluid. I'll do the front too. All the plastic is off and lying on the floor in my room, everything clean and sparkly. New horn fitted, I have two now both make a different sound and it's loud. I love it. Next note, new bolts and screws for the fairings, the rubber is wearing out and they are rattling when off-roading. Everything checked, everything ready? Not quite, shit I'm down at Ricks asking about spares and mechanics expecting pain and translation problems but nothing of the sort. Rick is smiling at me as I worry. Clutch pads? Sure! Springs? No problem! He'll set me up with his mechanic. 2 days maybe 3 and the bike will be pre June 16th condition and then all there will be to do is ride. Ride and sing and shout and cry.

A pretty picture I took while drinking a cola beside the lake.