Monthly Archives: April 2013

The Prithvi Highway



I dropped into the hostel owners grocery shop to pay for my room and set off, for the final time, up past the Bullet Basecamp. It was a clear hot day and the snowcapped Annapurna range stood in stark contrast against the crisp blue sky. I said my farewells at my favourite cafe by the Ganesh Mandir and did a little round of the old town. My route took me over the Seti river, down past the Western regional hospital on the Eastern side of Pokhara, and joined Highway 04 heading towards the Nepali capital.
I estimated to take three days to travel the 120 miles to reach Kathmandu. As I cycled East out of Pokhara the road gradually dropped downwards. This worried me as it almost invariably means more of a climb later. I took a diversion at Lekhmath towards lakes Begnas and Rupa. I had been personally recommended to see lake Begnas and is a popular trip for tourists to make from Pokhara. Past a bridge and into a small town square, the road splits and one path leads up a steep hill towards lake Rupa. I took the left fork to lake Begnas. The lake was very beautiful. Local musicians played traditional folk songs to visitors by the shore. There are horses and rowing boats for hire. It is a great recreational spot for people from the city, towns and surrounding countryside.


Ram, the lead musician of three, played me a short ditty and I in turn played him one of my own recorded compositions.


Returning to the Prithvi highway I wound my way around the hills. It was pleasant with pretty painted cottages and paddy fields alongside. I had seen a fair bit, if often unrecognisable, of road kill but for the first time had to steer my bike around a dead snake.




Camping the first night provided a good view of the valley along which I had travelled. A local farming family appeared early in the morning to work the fields. I offered a little money to a chap for ‘camping’ but he politely refused. So I offered it to his young son and he took it without hesitation. We all laughed.
Another hot day cycling. I had two ‘milk teas’ and ring ‘doughnuts’ in the morning to boost my energy reserves. I stopped in Damauli to buy supplies. The road itself was in good condition and ran high alongside a wide river. It provided amazing views. I cycled beyond an hydroelectric station and eventually found a fantastic spot to camp on the bank of the river.










The views were beautiful and the ride itself was not too taxing. I had been warned about excessive traffic but I did not find it too bad. However and increasingly, the roadside became less attractive. Proposed widening to the Prithvi highway has resulted in huge numbers of traditional cottages to be demolished. Some have lost their entire front sections presumably to a set distance from the road. This makes the houses look as if they have been bombed out with beds and furniture intact but the building entirely open at the front to the outside world.


New construction work provided ugly multi storey concrete boxes many with the obvious intention of adding extra floors later. The scenery became less exciting and I passed through several small modern towns which appear to be poor satellite towns of the capital.
I looked to camp by the river again but was pestered by street children several of whom decided it would be fun to throw rocks down at me from a road above. I was not terribly amused and moved on.
I found a ‘motorists’ hotel on the main road which overlooked the river and a field of cabbages to the rear. ‘Highway Heaven’ was, like so many, an incomplete building project. The room was okay though. In a cage on the landing of the stairs to nowhere above my room was a cockerel. I had no problem waking up very early the next morning.



I was now within a short distance from the village of Naubise. To the East of Naubise is the slow climb up to the rim of the Kathmandu valley. To the South another road leads to Birgunj and the border with India.
I had read about this section of the Prithvi Highway. It is avoided. The road is in a poor condition and susceptible to rockfalls. It is steep and twists sharply. Traffic often becomes stuck and for passengers looking down into the abyss below it can be a traumatic experience. Cyclists will wait to load their bikes onto vehicles at Naubise and remount them at the top to ride down into Kathmandu. These are cyclists on lightweight bicycles carrying minimal weight.
I had two glasses of tea and with my fully loaded steel bike, in the heat of the day, began to ride up. Of course only a fool would attempt such a task..





..and this mad fool did it. I bloody did. Quite possibly this was most arduous task that I have undertaken during my cycling ‘career’. I felt on top of the world. I stopped to have tea at the top and gratefully received a salute from the children there. A little further and the Kathmandu valley was spread out before me.






At the Southern end of the lake (Phewa Tal) at Damside there is an island temple. Tai Barahi is a revered female deity and her shrine attracts many Hindu pilgrims. Oddly many guide books tell how the island is situated in the middle of the lake and describe the magical journey there by row boat. The island is actually not too far from the shore in a relatively narrow section of the lake. The shrine is in a small temple surrounded by trees and apparently the concrete around the base of island is badly cracked. Sadly the island is very slowly sinking.

Less visited is the Buddhist stupa and school at Matipari Gumba situated on a hill to the North East. It was a steep ride up but not too far and with good views to the West.
Pictured below on the left with his bike is a lad called Siddartha. His mother ran a small tea shop nearby where I had some lunch. Siddartha cycled some of the way with me before going back to school for the afternoon.
Close to the vegetable market in the old town I saw a wedding party and was invited in to see the ‘happy’ couple. I was surprised at how glum the bride looked. Her mother, however, smiled for the cameras. . I was informed later that, according to tradition, a Nepali bride was supposed to look unhappy. This one was doing a good job and looked as miserable as sin.
Further up the hill past countless jewellery shops and overlooking the Seti river is ‘Nature Park’. It is quite small but is a good resting place with seating facing towards the mountain range to the North.
The Machhapuchhre mountain (trans. Fish-Tail) at just under 7000 m high dominates the skyline. Supposedly unclimbed (prohibited by law) and considered ‘pure’ it creates a powerful sight. Often shrouded in cloud the ‘Fish Tail’ looms large over the city and quite possibly the most compelling feature of any visit to Pokhara.
Further along the Seti River is Pokhara’s Natural History Museum. It is a sad affair with a few comically stuffed animals and information boards. It is the kind of dry dusty museum which classes of schoolchildren might pass through and blissfully ignore. It does however have a superb collection of butterflies. 20130413-134232.jpg20130413-134354.jpg
During the rainy season the Seti River is used for white water rafting. It curves North West and cuts deeply through the city. I followed its course and over a bridge to visit the Tibetan part of the city which I had viewed from Sarangkot. I saw quite a few Western visitors helping at the Buddhist monastery and school. One, who hailed from South London, had recently helped to create a small cafe just inside the entrance. She was sad to have to go back to England and was concerned about what would happen to the cafe. I sat sipping lemon tea and chatted with a Buddhist monk whilst students played football around us. The security guard on the gate took my bike for a little ride in front of the school. He wobbled a lot before finally getting off and walking back.
I could have stayed at the monastery and taken over the running of the cafe. I considered the possibility but decided it wise to stick with my planned itinerary. It was a good thought though.
Within the main monastery building monks were seated in rows reciting texts. The walls of the hall were finely decorated with scenes depicting scenes from the life of the Buddha.20130413-144350.jpg



Altogether I spent nine days in Pokhara. With a good local baker and regular trips into the old town I managed to survive quite well. I breakfasted on fresh Palpa coffee, croissants and boiled eggs. Lunch was often on the hoof and invariably at a favourite local place on Ram Krishna Tole. I took pleasure (and to the surprise of local people) in cooking my own evening meals. I met some great people at Lake Side including trekkers, volunteers and conservationists. The perennial British biker staying at the hostel, having obtained petrol for his machine, finally set off for Himachal Pradesh and before his Nepal visa expired.

There were several heavy downpours during my stay but even in the rain the lake looked beautiful. I would love to return to Pokhara with my family for a ‘proper’ holiday and do a little trekking or even eat in some the fabulous looking restaurants! The paragliding looks great too. The Annapurna range is only 30k away and would provide a real family adventure.

I gave the bike a good clean and service for the next leg of my journey. The biggest climb of my cycling career was ahead and daring me to give it a go…





With a steady flow of visitors at the guest house resting after trekking in and around the Annapurna range I was tempted to do one of the established routes. I considered wether I should follow in Prince Charles footsteps and do the 5 day Annapurna trek. However I decided it was more sensible to get to know Pokhara and visit some of the local highlights. They do not come much higher than the viewpoint at Sarangkot. The village is situated high above the lake at Pokhara and provides the take off point for paragliders. The road up is quite steep and pretty rough in parts. It provided a good challenge on my bike.






In the foreground in the photograph below it is possible to see a red coloured Buddhist school. On good advice I decided to visit this later. Cloud partly obscured the Annapurna range.
The white knuckle ride down on the bike was exciting. The clouds had lifted a little off the peaks and I stopped to take a few pictures. However a clearer day provided a better opportunity to capture the range and ‘Fish Tail’ peak.


The Jewel of Nepal


I looked into staying at the Banana Lodge overlooking the lake and just beyond the glitz of the main strip. However, and as expected (Lonely Planet guide recommended), it was fully booked. Closer to the road but without the view of the lake was the ‘Quiet Place’ hostel. It looked ideal for a cyclist with individual rooms opening onto a small garden area. There was an Enfield motorbike parked in the middle and belonging to an English guy. He had bought it for a song from a friend and was travelling, almost permanently, around India and Nepal.
A room at the hostel was, at just under £3 a night, an absolute bargain. The owner lived with his wife, son and daughter in three of the rooms. He also ran a shop and Enfield motorcycle rental business in the commercial centre of Lake Side.
I was quite relieved to have found somewhere to stay so quickly. The camping ‘chowk’ had a great location but was not ideal. I had the only tent there and did not feel comfortable leaving it unattended for too long in such a busy place.
The hostel was better. Slightly off the beaten track and very close to the lake, It was a lot quieter than the main Lake Side area with its busy roads, hotels, shops, bars and restaurants.

Pokhara is Nepal’s second largest city and a major tourist destination. The idyllic location and proximity to the Annapurna mountain range make it a big magnet for trekkers and holidaymakers. Curiously it was only accessible by foot prior to the late 1960s. With good road and air links it now combines its position as a major trading centre with a playground for tourists enjoying the beautiful scenery and activity sports.
The Lake Side or tourist area is a sight to behold in itself. The shops deliver the kind of alternative ethnic hippy chic that caters for every aspiring counter culture aficionados. Whole food restaurants mingle with Ayurvedic massage centres. Hemp clothing shops rub shoulders with boutiques selling Tibetan singing bowls and prayer beads. There is jewellery galore and dozens of shops selling ethnic crafts of every kind. Something like Camden meets Glastonbury there is something for everybody. Adding in to this a surplus of trekking, sports and adventure shops; Pokhara Lake Side is highly developed to cater for tourism and leisure activities.

My fast decent into Pokhara was not without some cost. A rear brake pad had rubbed into the sidewall of the Schwalbe XR tyre. It had weakened and began to bulge with the tube pressure.

I popped a Park Tools tyre boot inside the tyre and applied some rubber cement to the outside. I do carry a slightly used Schwalbe Supreme folding tyre. If push comes to shove I could move the front XR to the rear wheel and pop the Supreme on the front. As another option I ordered a folding XR from Kingsway cycles in Cambridge and which could be posted out to me. The repair looked okay and although still bulging looks like it will not get any worse. Time will tell.

I took the bike along a route that scouts North West around the lake. The poor surface of the road was quite punishing and tested my tyre repair. It is not easy to go all around the lake. I was keen to see the northern shore which is mostly hidden from the city. it provides interesting views across the lake and has some restaurants and peaceful retreats. There is one large modern hotel for well heeled tourists.
The lake is undoubtedly beautiful. Paragliders circle above but the lake itself has not been spoilt by water sports and has a glassy appearance. On a hill to the South is a white domed ‘Peace’ stupa. Perched high above on the Northern side is the village of Sarangkot with its panoramic view and paragliding clubs.

From the central point of Lake Side and close to where I had camped, the main road heads East uphill towards the city centre. The road climbs past ‘The Bullet Basecamp’ where I could not resist having ‘chunky vegetable broth’and chatting with a few ex. pat regulars out front. I learnt that to get around visa stay restrictions some people have several passports. A little like juggling credit cards it is possible to do the same with passports. The owner of the cafe is an Aussie biker and spent a fair amount of time creating a relaxed bikers club complete with pool table. Hanging from the ceiling inside the cafe is an old Enfield Bullet motorbike that has seen better days. Nice place, cool people.

The road leads past several junctions before finally reaching the main crossroad and centre of the city. The Prithvi Highway (04) continues East towards Kathmandu. To the South is the airport and familiar road to Butwal.
The Northern route climbs a little through the main shopping centre and follows the Seti River towards the Annapurna range conservation area.
The ‘old’ town lies in the North Western area. Following the Simal Chaur road North from the second junction up from the Bullet Base takes one past beautiful shrine after shrine some of which are in the centre of the road. At the same time the wooden buildings alongside are decorated with intricate carvings and fine workmanship.
Ultimately the road leads to the Bindhyabasini Temple with commanding views in every direction. Bearing back towards the river is ‘Nature Park’ with a good view of the Annapurna mountain range. Together with local meat, fruit and vegetable stalls this area represented Pokhara ‘proper’ to me and a world away from the tourist drag along the lake. Most days in Pokhara I visited a place by one small temple on Ram Krishna Tole road for food and drink. They looked after me! Also the open vegetable markets and meat stands provided supplies for my own home made curries. My water buffalo curry was tough to eat..


Tansen to Pokhara.


I left Tansen a little later than I would have liked as I did not know till mid morning that my room was no longer available. I was setting off into the growing heat of the day. Unperturbed I loaded up and took the recommended short cut down through the town until I hit highway No10. The route was a little more difficult than anticipated and had to work hard to wind up and down the hills.


It is approx. 80 miles between Tansen and Pokhara. I reached the relatively large and modern town of Walling and checked into a slightly tacky hotel; one of several on the approach into town. Walking through Walling I was amazed by the number of children and young adults everywhere. No doubt it will soon become a fair sized city. It already boasts of several long high streets crammed full of shops of every description.
Much to the disappointment of the hotel owners son I took my dinner (and breakfast) at a small cafe a few doors down. To be honest by the state of the hotel room and their toilet/washing facilities I think it might have been a big mistake to eat there. The cafe produced excellent food and went out of their way to source and cook some chicken for me. The owner looked like a short version of Leon Trotsky with a similar beard and round glasses.

After an omelette for breakfast I was back on the road and stopped mid morning at a Hindu shrine. It was up a little climb and set back into a rockface. Apparently a god had struck the rock with their staff and miraculously made water flow from the fissure. The devotee at the shrine looked quite wild with a huge bouffant hairdo and lots of face paint. He pointed to the miracle on a large poster. His humble assistant that had been busy within the shrine emerged and presented me with sugar sweets, dried figs and an apple. Once back down on the road I gave the apple to a schoolboy and had tea opposite the entrance to the shrine.




More climbs, one more stop for tea and then a final push up towards Pokhara. The region was marked by a large gateway. Down, down, down I rode dropping in to the south of the city and past a long queue of starving motorcyclists waiting for their petrol rations at a filling station.
Once past the ‘Damside’ of Lake Phewa I worked my way along the tourist strip to find the free camping ‘Chowk’ on the lakeside. I pitched my tent, cooked a meal and went to check out potential lodgings.









I should not have worried. The cycle ride along highway 10 was not too arduous. My fitness was good and I soon arrived at the valley beneath the hill station of Tansen or Palpa as it is better known. The journey itself was magnificent with amazing views of spectacular scenery. The final section of the ride was downhill and took my breath away. It seemed to last forever.


On the outskirts of Tansen I saw men bagging up vast amounts of fresh ginger. I was told it was destined for India. They welcomed me and gave me an inordinate amount of ginger! I gave some back and to a woman at my next tea stop.


Completing the climb to Tansen was quite an achievement. The town stands close to the the crest of a hill overlooking a valley with magnificent views all around. I took one short break for tea about half way otherwise I made it up in good time. Having conquered the hill I was as pleased as punch. I continued further up into the town looking for the fabled ‘homestay’ that travellers rave about. Seeking advice I was directed down what seemed like the steepest road I had ever seen. At the bottom a bookseller said I was heading in the wrong direction and pointed me back up the same steep road!
The town itself is a fair size and consists of lots of small roads and passageways. There are steps leading up and down everywhere. People of all ages appear to take it all in their stride.
The Palpa people are fit. No wonder their army almost conquered Kathmandu.
The homestay I wanted, which also doubles up as the local tourist information office, was fully booked. However Mo Mohan; the charismatic owner teamed me up with a German tourist (Anna) to share a triple room in another homestay nearby. The family were fine with me putting my bike on the first floor balcony and Anna was happy to have her rent halved.
The town boasts of several magnificent temples one of which was extended as a reward and celebration of the defeat of the British army. However this pales in comparison to the Amar Narayan Mandir which has a three tiered roof, is exquisitely carved and possesses some particularly graphic detailing on the lintels. This may possibly be the reason photography is forbidden. I discreetly stole a few shots.










The following day I was able to move into a room on the first floor of Mo Mohan’s oversubscribed Homestay.
It was ideal and I had my own little balcony. The hot shower was superb and the roof garden had fantastic views over the town, valley and of the surrounding mountain range. And it was really very cheap… I decided it was perfect and to stay as long as I could.



I set about walking the town. On the Shreenagar road was a small shrine with a fair crowd of people around it. It transpired that they were making preparations for a festival devoted to Shiva. There was a large cauldron of milk into which was being stirred various spices and ‘substances’. One was a small red fruit that supposedly had a psychoactive content. Another was a large bag of green dried cannabis. I was asked to help stir the ‘shiva cocktail’ and invited to the festival starting in the afternoon. The mixture was decanted into large urns and I was given a beakerful to try. My day then became increasingly interestingly as the potion was quite powerful. In effect I was as high as a very colourful kite!


Wandering the town I admired the Newari architecture, found even more temples and stopped to photograph some chickens. I returned to my room, contemplated the universe and set off to meet up with my festival buddies at the shrine. I heard about a Fair in the lower town which some tourists had visited the evening before. The only people at the Shiva shrine were the elderly organisers and who, apparently, had been drinking the festival potion all day. They gave me another cup of the magic medicine and told me that the big party would be happening in the evening.
I set off for the fun fair met some other tourists I knew on the way and told them of the later festivities.
By the time I arrived at the fair and paid the entrance fee I was feeling a little light headed. The event doubled up as a trade fair and people were funnelled past stall after stall before finally reaching the fun fair.






As dusk fell people lit bonfires in the streets and the glow transformed the town. The party at the shrine was in full swing with music and dancing. Crowds of fashionable youths gathered waiting for each urn of milk to be brought out and shared. The music flowed from the sound system above the shrine, a large fire raged and local people of all ages danced until late. As a party it was a great success by any measures. Once again it was a privilege and a pleasure to be a welcome guest in the local community. It was quite a day.





Apologies for the low light blurred pictures and which are fairly representative of my own slightly inebriated state.

I took an early morning walk to view the ‘white lake’. The mists create a veil over the valley and give the impression of a lake.


Anna phoned me and asked if I would like to accompany her on a ‘trek’ to visit a palace situated to the North of Tansen. Aside from my own exploratory walks this was to be the first recommended tourist ‘trek’ or walk. It was fun to have a companion and we enjoyed excellent views on the way. Anna, who was a qualified ski instructor, made a great guide and practically led the way according to the printed instructions that she had.





The Ranighat Durbar or palace was built in the late C19th in memory of a Nepali politicians wife. He was exiled for an abortive coup against the prime minister and the abandoned palace was soon stripped of its contents and stands empty in beautiful natural surroundings. The building itself has recently been renovated and is in a good condition.










Somewhat misdescribed as the Nepali ‘Taj Mahal’ the story behind the palace adds a little intrigue to the visit. Despite poor access links I feel it would make a wonderful retreat for meditation and yoga.
The return walk took a little more effort but provided good exercise and great views. I am grateful to Anna for an enjoyable days ‘trekking’.



Tansen is a great place to stay with very friendly people. It has a unique flavour of its own and as a tourist destination has, no doubt, a special place in the hearts of those that have visited. My own stay was cut short as I would have liked to stay longer. But my room had been booked and Mo gave me excellent advice with regards to the best route towards Pokhara. In some respects this did me a favour. I needed to keep moving, get my arse into gear on the bike and tackle the hills ahead.