Wednesday 22nd November
Pokhara to Bagal Thok
Distance Cycled: 47.06 km
Total Distance: 17157.72 km
In the end we spent 4 nights in Pokhara getting some admin and planning completed. We’ve been arranging trips for India as well as trying to decide our future schedule.
We’ve also been trying to find a ‘sailing gig’ for Sri Lanka and the Maldives. Plus we have a TV frenzy; Masterchef, The Apprentice and First Dates – thanks to Carl’s special site. On Wednesday it’s time to return to our trikes and say ‘farewell’ to Cynthia. After pushing ourselves too hard on the Kathmandu to Pokhara leg we decide ‘slowly, slowly ‘ is the best policy and I’ve decided Granny is best (so I spend all day in Granny ring!).
It’s a tough start though, 16km uphill, but the scenery over Pokhara would have been lovely except there’s a widespread haze over the entire valley. We take plenty of breaks and stop for lunch at a local, roadside restaurant. Sadly their English is very poor but the food is tasty and plentiful.
We push on in the afternoon and stop for water and some provisions. Now the task to find a camping spot. It’s not so easy because we’re on the side of a hill with steep banks above and below. Finally we spot a temple with hardstanding.
It’s right next to the road (so it’ll probably be noisy) but the locals say we’re fine to camp here. Tent up and time to cook dinner.
Thursday 23rd November
Bagal Thok to Pokharathok
Distance Cycled: 54.39 km
Total Distance: 17212.11 km
Last night we had a few visitors but happily no one objected to us camping by their temple; they were just curious and wanted to say ‘hello’. We both have an incredibly good and long sleep, almost 13 hours. When we wake we can hear water drip, dripping off the trees. It sounds like rain but actually it’s just the moisture from the really thick fog shrouding our hillside venue.
Unfortunately this also means the tent gets packed soaking wet. After breakfast (and a few more visitors) we head off into the fog. It’s several hours before it lifts completely but we’re fortunate that as we descend it clears sufficiently for other road users to see us. We have numerous spectators during the day.
We’re blessed with a predominant downhill and by lunchtime we’ve already clocked up 35km. Another local roadside eatery and an opportunity to dry our tent. We’ve been handrailing a stunning river gorge and follow it downhill to cross it at the valley head.
We’ve definitely had it easy today but that ends when a local tells us there’s a 12km climb in front of us. We know a tough climb could feasibly take us 3 to 4 hours and camp spots will be hard to find but we press on. But after about an hour we realise our road follows the River Ramdi uphill, crosses the river and then climbs steeply the other side. We can see trucks that passed us about 10 minutes ago, opposite but on the other side of the river valley, on a very long climb. Problem; it’s already 3.30pm and we’ll never make the climb in the daylight left. Time to attempt hitching a lift. We wait 20 minutes and not a single truck passes. Then we spot a pickup truck. He stops but initially refuses and starts to drive off. Then he has a change of heart and reverses. We pile our kit and trikes into the back of his truck, on top of sacks full of potatoes. And we’re off.
It’s a long, long climb but our kind hearted truck driver takes us to the top, stopping once to drop off a bag of onions. We get water and food and head off to find the elusive camp site. The sun is low in the sky as we cycle along. On these steep valley roads there aren’t many options but we finally spot a bit of flat ground next to a restaurant. We set up, closely monitored by about 6 bystanders, and then decide the restaurant is too good an opportunity to miss.
Momos and fried chicken. It’s not a bad camping site but there’s absolutely no way of finding privacy for our bucket wash. Stinky Daz is chuffed though; he’s always happy when he evades the cold water bucket wash.
Friday 24th November
Pokharathok to Mainahiya
Distance Cycled: 62.07 km
Total Distance: 17274.18 km
It’s a pretty relaxed day today. There’s barely any traffic on the roads and eventually we discover it’s a pre-election holiday; the actual election is in 2 weeks. It’s mostly downhill to Butwal, once again following the stunning river valley of the Tinau River. Finding a lunch stop proved unusually hard with many places closed for the holiday but we finally found somewhere and dried our dripping tent. Cycling through all the villages is fabulous;people waving and shouting greetings.
The roads here are either very good tarmac or stretches of ginormous potholes and stones. It’s quite tough trying to find a decent line, avoiding the worst of the craters. After Butwal we find our back road to Lumbini and it’s a road through the southern Nepali plains with numerous villages.
Initially we think it’s going to be easy to find a camping spot now we’re now longer on the side of a valley but then we realise there are people and houses everywhere and every bit of land has crops growing. It takes us over an hour to spot a possible site, a brickworks.
Unfortunately that’s heavily populated too but there’s a small orchard nearby that suits our purpose (well actually it’s not the ‘crown bowling green’ surface Daz usually insists on but today his OCD is prepared to compromise).
Saturday 25th November
Mainahiya to Lumbini
Distance Cycled: 23.24 km
Total Distance: 17297.42 km
A lovely quiet night and no visitors. Once again the tent is soaking wet. We head off towards Lumbini. Our backroad is a causeway cutting through arable land with a steep drops into ditches either side. The sky is hazy again and we assume it’s pollution.
The traffic is heavy today with convoys of trucks raising clouds of dust and we have a job dodging the trucks and the potholes. There are many factories in the area and we identify a flour mill and a cement works but as the others – a Google search required (sugar, biscuit, cement, brick, Tata, shoe).
We hit the main road into Lumbini and whilst we’re heartened by the good road surface we can’t help but be depressed by our surroundings. It’s a mass of humanity mixed with houses and / or animal shacks. Even with close scrutiny it’s impossible to tell a human dwelling from animal with all outdoor space occupied by buffalo, cows, goats, chickens and dogs. There’s patches of cultivated land and piles of rice drying or hayricks everywhere. Any local water point is being used for laundry or a daily wash and despite the dust and traffic fumes laundry is hung by the road to dry.
Amongst this mass of people and animals and their waste products there are piles of litter everywhere. We’ve seen poverty, subsistence farming and simple living conditions in Tajikistan and other places but here the combination of high population density, heavy traffic, poor roads and animals sets a very dismal scene. You’d think this would deter us from a roadside stop for deep fried samosa and masala tea and the volume of flies does make me hesitate but what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger. Lol. The ongoing drone of the election vehicle loudspeakers accompanies our stop, as well as a TV at full volume and voices raised in conversation; the noise is unbearable.
In Lumbini we detour into the Lumbini Monastic zone before heading to our hotel.
It’s a pilgrimage site, a UNESCO World Heritage site — and a building site! Lumbini in southern Nepal, less than 10 km from the Indian border, should be a name as familiar as Jerusalem, Bethlehem or Mecca, the holy places of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. It’s where, in 563 B.C., the Buddha-to-be, Prince Siddhartha Gautama, was born.
UNESCO only listed the site in 1997, but U.N. involvement with Lumbini began in 1967. A U.N.-sponsored international development committee was founded in 1970, and this body commissioned Japanese architect Kenzo Tange to come up with a vision for the site. Tange labored on his design for six years before his Master Plan was formally adopted in 1978.
“The Master Plan is a very emotional design, a work of philosophy,” explains Basanta Bidari, the chief archaeologist of Lumbini. Tange’s plan divides Lumbini’s 4-km-by-2.5-km site into successive zones: the New Lumbini Village Zone, where the Hotel Kasai and other lodgings are situated, as well as the Lumbini Museum and a planned archive; then there’s the Monastic Zone, where Buddhist sects from around the world can construct temples and monasteries; and finally comes the Sacred Garden Zone, the culmination of a pilgrim’s visit, which includes the Maya Devi Temple, where the Buddha’s mother gave birth, and the pool in which she bathed.
In the park there are hordes people either walking, riding bikes or mopeds or in tuk tuks or even boating up the central canal. We visit the Myanmar Golden Temple, the Buddhist Golden Temple and the Thailand Monastery. Then we find ourselves by the canal with a statue of the baby Buddha.
The view down the canal to a temple in the distance is marred by the hazy air. The canal area is pedestrian only and we’re loathe to leave our fully laden trikes for too long and soon head to our hotel, The Everest Lodge.
After lunch Daz has a trike maintenance session whilst I catch up on emails and admin.
We had hoped to see Alex and Vivi here (remember the other volunteers at the dog rescue?). Well they’ve been here for 2 months and are staying in this hotel. However work keeps them busy until 8pm by which time we’re fed and watered and already in bed. Tomorrow they’re going to show us the sights.
Sunday 26th November
We’re up early and go off for breakfast. Veg curry on puri. For breakfast! Yes, we know, delicious! Then Vivi and Alex join us and off we go to the Monastic Zone. First we walk around the peace gardens before moving to the centre and the birthplace of Buddha.
There’s some old 2nd Century BC ruins of stupas and the reflection pool which stands on the spot where Buddha was born. There’s also a huge Boudi tree with a multitude of prayer flags. It’s a lovely spot and we sit in the gardens and listen to some chanting from a visiting tourist group.
We then walk up to the central canal to get a boat up towards the peace Pagoda but there aren’t any, so instead we take a rickshaw to some of the temples that have been built by different countries.
We see the French one, nice but a little dull, then the German one. The German temple is an amazing artistic representation of Buddha’s life cycle. It’s quite beautiful. Not your normal everyday German functionality! After this feast of art we pop around a pond to the Nepalese temple, this is the direct opposite of the German one. Very austere but strikingly beautiful in its simplicity.
Finally all templed out we decide to call it a day. We’ll pick up the peace Pagoda on the way out of Lumbini tomorrow. We catch the motorboat back down to the other end of the park and walk back out. We get a few more requests for selfies whilst on the boat, apparently this will be a common occurrence in India as people want to have their picture taken with the white foreigner.
Let’s see how long that takes before it isn’t so amusing!! Then we head off for food.
First the cake shop and then one of Alex’s favourite local Nepali restaurant. Alex and Vivi are pretty inspirational. They’re only 18 and have never travelled without their parents before and here they are in Nepal coping with everyday Nepali life. This is no mean feat and they’ve coped admirably and now just take it for granted. They’ve just spent 2 days on a health camp helping a group of volunteer doctors. Vivi can now switch from Nepali to German to English. Very impressive!
Monday 27th November
Lumbini to Chawnnapur
Distance Cycled: 50.9 km
Total Distance: 17348.32 km
Today after packing up we have our last breakfast with Vivi and Alex. It’s emotional saying goodbye to them, it’s been great getting to know them.
After breakfast we head into the Monastic Zone and visit the Thai Temple and the Peace Pagoda.
One of the local guys who chatted to us at breakfast suggested a different route to the one we had planned so we’re taking a backroad short cut to the Highway 01. We soon arrive in a village where alot of buffalos are being driven here and there, it seems there’s a buffalo market on today. We’re a bit intimidated by herds of water buffalo. We’re not sure whether they’re all friendly. One gave me the evil eye but instead of attacking ran in the opposite direction through someone’s garden; the herder was not impressed! The road is actually good tarmac but there’s so much traffic and people walking everywhere and the road is too narrow for 2 way traffic. There’s also a nasty lip almost a foot high on either side so it’s a bit hairy with oncoming trucks as to whether there’s sufficient space. Actually even worse are the over-taking trucks and buses who initially swing out giving us plenty of clearance but happily cut us up to avoid oncoming motorbikes. The result; I’m feeling a bit vulnerable and don’t enjoy the first 20km.
Then the road widens up and the traffic lightens. The scenery is rather pretty too. But bizarrely no-one seems at all friendly. We stop for a tea break and soon find our trikes surrounded by a large crowd of locals but no-one speaks to us or responds to our greetings of ‘Namaste’. We continue on our way but soon find the sullen faces and lack of response rather oppressive. Daz chats to a local who suggests the darker skinned locals are Hindu and ‘Namaste’ is the wrong greeting and we should say ‘kaiser ho’ (actually we need to Google this) but even using our new greeting the response is tepid at most.
Finally we hit the Highway and find the small town of Imiliya. We stop and try and look lost and a local asks if he can help. Yes, definitely we’re looking for somewhere to eat. Fortuituously this guy has a restaurant and leads the way. We don’t actually get what we ordered (Dal bhat) but instead chilli paneer, spicy beans, fried rice, deep fried paneer and a sponge for pudding. The food is delicious and filling especially since I haven’t eaten since breakfast. But it’s much more than we usually spend! Especially as we thought the pudding, which we didn’t ask for, was a gift, we even let them take selfies with us without charging them!! Right outside the restaurant is a huge market. It’s held once a week and it’s entertaining to listen to the stall holders outdo each other.
Back on the road and through the crowded streets with lots of people going home on bicycles. We spot a track going off behind a school with lots of open forest land behind so we take it. Having found an out of the way spot we start setting up and have soon drawn a crowd of children and whilst I write the blog Daz gets on with doing some bike maintenance on his trike.
After a few minutes I hear him say “oh bugger”… a broken spoke no less, our first on the trikes. As he sets to replacing it a man cycles up and says hello. He then goes on to say it’s a problem us being here. “Why’s that?” we ask. “Tiger come in the night” he says. “Really?”, “Yes”, “oh bugger!” But he then goes on to say we can move over to the school where there’s some hard standing and with it being closer to civilisation we will be safe. Wow!! Better safe than sorry, Daz quickly finishes replacing the spoke as I take down the tent and pack everything away. We then wheel our trikes over to the school about 100 meters away and set up again.
All the time being followed by the noisy and inquisitive gang of kids. Camp set-up we thank the kids and wish them a good night. Thankfully they take the hint and leave us in the gloom to wash and brew a final cuppa before nervously retiring. Can anyone hear a tiger coming in the night? Not sure I will sleep well tonight!
Tuesday 28th November
Chawnnapur to Bhalubang
Distance Cycled: 48.25 km
Total Distance: 17396.57 km
So no tigers in the night, we survived to tell the tale! But another wet, condensation covered fly in the morning. We are also up early as we are in the school grounds and the pupils start arriving about 6am! We manage to stay in bed until 7 then it’s up and out with a quick pack. The head teacher says hello and when we mention tigers he laughs and explains there are none here. We’ve been had!! We’ve decided to forgo our usual morning routine and get breakfast on the road. Fortunately there’s a very small place just over the road and whilst the usual crowd gathers we enjoy another chapati and curry breakfast. Some of the children from last night are here again and one particular lad acts as the interpreter. He finds it particularly entertaining telling everyone we moved because of ‘fictitious’ tigers! Ha bloody ha. We’re only doing 50 km today so we take it easy. When we reach Chandrauta we stop for a cup of tea and another crowd and another conversation. The crowd disperse after some time but not before one participant shows us a baby barn owl he’s found.
We enjoy a second cup of chai masala. We know that our destination today is over a ‘small’ hill range as Daz describes it.
Yet another of his failed descriptions that leaves us in a bit of a predicament, when we discover his ‘small’ hill takes over 3 hours to the top with no villages or restaurants en route. We’ve got water but we haven’t eaten since early this morning. By 2:30pm we are still climbing and we are tired and still hungry even after eating our emergency chocolate bars and pissed off. Even when the downhill arrives with 10km to go it still has a few climbs in it to kick us in the teeth! Finally we cross the bridge over the River Rapti and enter Bhalubang. First stop, restaurant for food, chowmein for Daz and fried Momo for me. We shop for snacks and get water then head out of town. It’s nearly 4pm and we still need to dry our tent. About 3km out of town we spot an asphalt road going off through some rapeseed fields and investigate. It’s a dead end, but far enough away from the road to be quiet enough, so we decide to camp at the end.
After a few visitors who warn us it will be cold tonight it settles down. We manage to get almost everything dry and enjoy a cuppa!
Wednesday 29th November
Bhalubang to Asani
Distance Cycled: 38.02 km
Total Distance: 17434.59 km
Our camping spot proved to be a bit of a gem. We definitely had some foot traffic around 5am and even some locals doing their exercises ; I’m convinced one guy was doing his star jumps next to our tent and having seen the Nepalis exercising on Happy Hill nothing would surprise me! We have a late start and a very leisurely breakfast whilst we allow the tent to dry in situ. This is the first morning we’ve had sufficient sun (normally it’s foggy) to dry our tent before heading off. We’ve realised that our planned route schedule means we have 4 spare days; Daz’s special contingency fund. However given the flat terrain we think we’re unlikely to need the extra days and since we definitely don’t want to have extra days in Delhi (we’ve heard the smog is horrendous) we’ve decided to adjust our daily mileage downwards to waste some days. So only 35km (ish) planned for today. To be fair it’s a pretty uneventful day. The terrain is flat with cultivated fields everywhere.
The villages and towns tend to be just a dirty sprawl along the Highway but a source of çay or khana (a posher version of Dal Baht) or our new favourite Dhakari (vegetable curry) with chapati. We often stop only to discover the restaurant only has momos or we try and order one thing and get something else. But since these stops cost less than 5$ – that’s for 2 meals with 2nd and 3rd helpings and a çay each, we’re not too bothered. It’s only 4pm and we’ve found a rather nice field to camp in. Daz’s exped sleeping mattress has had further delamination explosions and as a result his mattress is no longer a series of inflated rows but one huge sausage section in the middle with air able to move freely throughout the whole bed. So it’s like a really cheap air mattress and he’s not sleeping so well. His 13hrs golden duvet sessions have slipped to a mere 10hrs. Just kidding. He does sleep but he’s uncomfortable and his back is hurting. Did we mention that these exped mats come with a 5 year warranty and delamination is covered by the warranty? After a small issue (but time consuming) with the UK branch and having to dig out proof of purchase from 2014 (thank God we paid with credit card and not cash) we do have 2 new mattresses and they’ll be brought from England by our friend Vikki. So Daz really only has about 14 nights of discomfort to manage and heroically I’ve offered to try his mattress tonight.
By 5pm the sun has set and there’s a low lying mist creeping towards us. The tent is already wet from the condensing moisture. A few herdsmen and their buffalo wander over for a look then take their herd further down the valley.
By 6pm it’s dark and it’s safe to have our bucket wash shrouded from prying eyes in the darkness.
Thursday 30th November
Asani to Kusan
Distance Cycled: 39.26 km
Total Distance: 17473.85 km
Today it’s another foggy start. There’s no point waiting for this to burn off, it’ll take hours, so we pack our wet tent and head off. Our route today is undulating with a scarcity of civilisation. We cycle through Danke National Park; there’s plenty of tiger billboards – should we be worried?
Finally we find a road side eatery, it’s nothing more than a shack with an outdoor oven but the Dal Bhat is tasty. At 2pm I’m concerned about the tent so we stop by the roadside in a nice sunny spot to dry it.
Then it’s a couple more kilometers and we reach Kusan. It’s been on the signposts for the last 2 days but it’s just a village but admittedly the largest village we’ve seen today. Time for a snack – pakoda and samosa with masala tea (I’m aquiring quite a taste for this sweet, milky, spicy tea!) and then we’re off to find a camp spot for the night.
Our campspot doesn’t attract that much attention although a group of young lads decide to bring us a gift. A dead animal. I guess it’s the thought that counts! We don’t know what it is – it’s much bigger than a squirrel but has a ratty face. is it an Indian grey Mongoose?
Note: We’re now using our Sawyer water filter that Tommy brought over. We fill our water reservoir with water from local sources and Daz then either boils it (for tea or porridge) or filters it into our drinking bottles. A simple task. The rest we don’t both with as we just use it for washing.
Friday 1st December
Kusan to Samshergung
Distance Cycled: 39.54 km
Total Distance: 17513.39 km
There’s sun this morning so we sit around drinking coffee and reading until the tent dries. Today we cycle through Banke National Park. We see a couple of troops of monkeys but nothing else of note. I’m keeping my eyes peeled for tigers or any interesting wildlife but I don’t see anything.
Not sure what I’d do if I did see a tiger or rampaging elephant – cycle quicker than Daz I suppose!! We stop a couple of times for food or çay and then find a campspot just outside the last village, within the forest treeline but only 100m from the Highway. We’re chuffed with our camp spot. No visitors and a chance to have a good wash in privacy. But oh dear I spoke too soon. We suddenly find ourselves surrounded by a contingent of 6 armed police.
Initially we think they’ve just popped over from their camp in the village to say ‘Hi’ but actually they want us to move on either to the next village or back to the last. “There’s tigers in them there hills…………and elephants”. Actually they’re in the jungle we’re camping in and it’s not safe for us to remain here. They also mention possible political terrorists due to the election campaigning going on (there’s been quite a few bombings in Nepal recently) We’re loathe to move especially after the last ‘alleged’ tiger scare but they’re pretty insistent and tell us they take no responsibility for us if we remain where we are!!! So we pack up and head back to the village and camp on their training area.
This is particularly funny because I’ve spent 2 days pestering Daz about our safety since we’re wild camping in National Parks which imply a tiger population with their numerous tiger billboards. And we’re also approaching Bardia National Park, which definitely has a tiger population, and where we plan a safari to see them. With Daz in charge of camping site selection perhaps we’ll get to see our tiger up front and personal without paying the safari fee! Lol. He has constantly dissed my concerns, saying we’ll be fine!!
Saturday 2nd December
Samshergung to Bangauri
Distance Cycled: 40.05 km
Total Distance: 17553.44 km
We’re glad to report another tiger/elephant free night. Another morning with a very wet tent though – will this be the pattern in India too? We dry everything before leaving and head to Kohalpur.
It’s the largest town for about 200km and we need more alcohol for our cooking stove. We find numerous pharmacies, including one at the college hospital, but no alcohol.
It’s so frustrating because when we ask where we will find it the locals just wave vaguely in random directions. Finally we find a cross roads with about 7 pharmacies in close proximity and one has 90% ethanol. Result! Then a spot of shopping and a lunch stop. Daz has khana and I have Dhakari in chapatis. Delicious.
Another 15km and it’s time to find a camping spot.
Today we camp in the grounds of a water tower. There’s a wall around the enclosure and we’re told the other side of the wall are tigers and elephants.
The chap says ‘people – no problem; elepants and tigers problem’ as are the 3 huge bee nests hanging from the water tower!
Sunday 3rd December
Bangauri to Bardia National Park
Distance Cycled: 50.46 km
Total Distance: 17603.9 km
Last night we had many visitors who watched us making tea and eating our dinner.
But this morning we are rudely awaken at about 7 am by some of the neighbourhood kids yelling “good morning!!!” at the top of their voices just outside our tent. We shush them and shoo them away but they’re persistent fxxkers and they’ve clearly decided we should be up and about so they can study us. Finally we admit defeat. As soon as we leave the tent the word quickly spreads and we are inundated with visitors wanting to watch our morning routine. At one point the count was 38 children and adults watching Daz brew coffee, cook fried bread and eggs. It’s amazing to watch them all craning their heads as he opens the coffee to see what it is. A running commentary in Nepali, “ohh loook, what’s that brown stuff? Ahhh he’s putting in milk powder now… wow look at him frying those eggs!!”
So as we wait for our tent to dry in the weak early morning sun we endure their friendly stares. Daz occasionally plays to the crowd; crossing his eyes, speaking gobbledegook, or staring out the kids until they fall about giggling. I get a few selfies in and let the old ladies sit on my trike. Finally tent dry we pack and wave goodbye, it’s been fun, if a little tiresome.
Our plan today is again another leasurely 35 km as we are still trying to get rid of Darren’s ‘contingency days’. This will leave us with about 13 km tomorrow to Bardia National Park. We’re going to spend a couple of nights there and hopefully see some wildlife. We cross a big river with a dam on it and stop to admire the scenery. There are some big fish down below and then… OMG, look at those crocodiles!
Just as I had been thinking it might be nice to camp by the riverside we spot about 8 crocs lounging on a sandbar midstream!! Oh well forget that idea. By lunchtime we haven’t found a foodstop or any sign of life so we crack on. Finally after about 32km we reach the small town of Bhuregaun and enjoy some chapati and curry for lunch. Another 5 km takes us to Ambassa where we think we will camp. It’s right on the park border and as it’s only 2pm we decide that we might as well push on to the village on the edge of the National Park and a safari lodge that was recommended. As we cycle down the road it turns to a dirt track then we brave a river ford, fortunately quite shallow, to cross.
Just after the river a motorcyclist pulls up along side Daz and starts chatting. It’s a guy, Ian, from the UK who has been living in Nepal for the last few years. As we cycle the rough dirt road they continue talking and the upshot is he recommends a place for us to stay and also knows a local guide, Ram, who might be able to do us a good deal on a walking safari in the park. Bonus! Once we reach the village he escorts us to the hotel, and we are pleasantly surprised, this’ll do nicely.
We chat with Ian and Ram the guide and sort out a walking safari for the next day.
Bardia National Park is one of Nepal’s best kept secrets. Located in the Terai region it is Nepal’s largest national park and wilderness area, protecting 968 km² of sal forest, grassland, savannah and riverine forest. On the west side it’s bordered by the Karnali River and it’s bisected by the Babai River in the Bardiya District. The foot of the Siwalik Hills marks the northern boundary of the park.
It’s not overrun by tourists and there are excellent opportunities to spot endangered species of wildlife. The king of Bardia is the Bengal tiger. The tiger population is slowly increasing and counts around 60 animals. But Bardia is also the habitat for the wild Asian elephant and the greater one-horned rhinoceros.
Monday 4th December
Bardia National Park
Our alarm goes off at 6.20am for breakfast at 6.30am and safari at 7am. Packed lunches sorted, we are each issued a stout stick and we are off. Us two, Ram and another guide. After a short walk and some bureaucracy we enter the park and Ram briefs us.
- If we get attacked by a Rhino… climb a tree quickly, at least 2 meters and one that can hold your weight. Obviously everyone knows it’s no good if the spindly tree you have shot up suddenly bends over to the ground in front of the charging Rhino with you hanging upside down.
- If we get attacked by an elephant run fast in a zigzag motion or if it’s not possible to run we should group together and bang our sticks and make lots of noise to scare it off. If it’s not scared off we are out of luck.
- He doesn’t mention what to do with a tiger attack, but fortunately Daz did some research on the internet, apparently the immediate action drill is not to blink (this is when tigers attack) and climb a tree sharpish!!
Suitably worried we walk on. ‘Jungle Jones’ is my new nickname. We immediately spot a huge dinosaur… oops no, a small lizard, but he’s cute! Some startled deer in the undergrowth give us a raised heartbeat as our heads swivel around looking for Tigers and wondering which of these huge trees we might be able to climb if required to do so (see briefing note 1 and 3). The day progresses and we occasionally sit and scope out an area of interest for some time in the hope of spotting more wildlife, or at least the ‘big three’ of tiger, ellie and rhino.
We see plenty of tiger prints (big, big prints!) in the soft soil, quite a bit of tiger poo and scratching and still no trees I think I could climb quickly. By lunchtime the nervous twitches have abated, even when we are walking through head high grass with no visibility and no trees to climb. We eat lunch sat atop a watch tower. This gives us a great view of the surrounding area, but still no big three. After lunch we walk along another river tributary and spot a croc lounging on the far bank.
We see a family of otters and lots of beautiful colourful kingfishers. Storks and more deer also get sighted. We are sat on a steep sided riverbank for sometime when we hear crashing in the undergrowth on the otherside. Excited whispering ensues, Ellie, rhino or just more monkeys? Yey a rhino!! But he doesn’t stop for long and is soon lost from sight again as he continues feeding on the other bank. The day draws on and finally we have to call it a day. It’s 5pm and we are knackered. We manage to get a lift off a jeep safari that we bump into. The 2 French girls on the jeep have seen even less than us but at least they haven’t been walking all day!
Back at the lodge we enjoy a quick beer and dinner then we are both straight to bed… “night all”, I’ll be seeing tigers in my dreams tonight!!
Tuesday 5th December
Bardia National Park
We had considered another safari today but eventually decided against it. It’s cloudy and overcast again today, as yesterday, and we believe this cool weather is the reason none of the big 3 bothered with their usual watering hole habits. Instead we have a day off but as usual this means ‘admin’!! At the moment we’re researching flights from India to Japan and the best carrier to deal with the trikes. We’re also ordering bits and pieces from the UK because Jac can bring everything over when she comes to visit us in Delhi. Finally chores done and we manage a few episodes of First Dates and The Apprentice. I’m sure many of you readers can’t believe we watch such ‘trash’ but actually it’s a real touch of England and such corney British entertainment for us after months of immersion in these foreign lands.
Wednesday 6th December
Bardia National Park to Muda
Distance Cycled: 56.58 km
Total Distance: 17660.48 km
It’s a leisurely start today and there’s barely any traffic on the road. This week is election week holiday and tomorrow the election, hence the lack of traffic.
We follow the Highway out of Bardia National Park and try and stay quiet in the hope of seeing something. Daz sees 2 wild boar and we see some monkeys and deer but that’s it.
We make good progress today and hope to cross the Nepali / Indian border Friday afternoon or Saturday morning. The border is closed for the election but we’ve been led to believe it reopens tomorrow night.
Today we met a Slovenian touring cyclist, our first in many months. He thinks we’ll struggle with wildcamping in India, apparently there isn’t any free space to pitch a tent.
Thursday 7th December
Muda to Gularaya
Distance Cycled: 58.10 km
Total Distance: 17718.58 km
Last night’s camping spot was a bit noisy. There was loud music playing in the nearest village, it went on until midnight and started again at 6am. It may have been one of the political party canvassing vehicles which often drive around with a sound system and tannoy on the roof playing very loud music. Whatever it was, it was bloody annoying.
Today is a rather peculiar day. It’s election day and another holiday but because of the elections there’s no traffic of note. No buses, no lorries, no tractors and no tourist jeeps. Even the usual motorbike and bicycle traffic is cut dramatically because no-one’s going to work or the local villages. However we do see more people walking to and around the villages; I guess they’re going to vote. We later discovered that travel on election day is actually banned for security reasons hence the lack of motor vehicles. We see one election centre where there are large queues waiting to vote and there’s a large police presence there to ensure there’s no trouble.
We’ve also seen many police jeeps patrolling the district. We struggle to find a camping spot tonight because it seems as if one village joins the next but finally we spot a nice flat area of agricultural land with a small banana plantation and camp next to it.
As we cycled in we only saw a couple of kids but within 30 minutes we’ve attracted quite a crowd – where do they all come from?
Friday 8th December
Gularaya to 5km before Khatima
Distance Cycled: 57.83 km
Total Distance: 17776.41 km
Daz’s plan today is to cycle to the border and camp as close as possible before crossing tomorrow. Best laid plans of Daz rarely survive first contact with me!
We reach the border town about 1pm and stop for lunch. By 2pm we are twiddling our thumbs and decide sod it, let’s cross today.
So off we pedal, goodbye Nepal, it’s been an amazing 3 months. We cycle past the Nepali border checkpoint getting waved on by the police and customs, OK this is easy. We then cross a small canal and cycle through no man’s land towards the Indian checkpoint.
It’s very busy with tuk tuks, rickshaws, local cyclists with bikes laden with goods and cows (the cows are walking, not on bicycles!) Again we get waved on, passed a couple of shacks. Then there’s a traffic jam. Whilst we wait in the jam we suddenly get someone run up and gesticulate that we should go back to the last shack… easier said than done in this jam, but he clears a path for us and we reverse up. Ahh we missed the passport stamp shack. OK not a problem… well actually there is, because they also tell us we haven’t got an exit stamp from Nepal. We explain that they waved us through… nope we need a stamp or we can’t come in. Bugger. Back we go, across no man’s land and back into Nepal. A friendly local points out the Immigration Office hidden in between some shops. We go in, and the guy is confused, we only have two days left on our Nepal visa, where will we renew it? Kathmandu or Pokhara? No, No, we are trying to leave we say. But you just came from India? Yes they wouldn’t let us in because you didn’t stamp our passport. Ahhhh light bulb is switched on and he understands.
There’s some more palava because Daz has got an old and a new passport but we finally get the exit stamps. Back to India. OK, you can come in now. Can we have a stamp, we ask? No, go to the Immigration Office down the road!! Another office, more paperwork and a handwritten entry in a book (no computers here!) and at last we have our entry stamp. Yes!!
We cross a huge river on a single lane bridge/dam and we finally say hello to India. Cor, there’s a lot of people here!!
We get mobbed when we stop for an ATM… none of which are working, try the next town we are told. Daz sees a few possible camp spots but I think they’re too public. Then we see a path into the jungle but no sooner have we erected the tent and sorted our gear than an entourage comes along and tells us we can’t camp here in the forest… tigers and elephants.
Groan!! They tell us there’s a temple 1 km down the road. We pack up and get back on the road. There’s a wedding on at the temple. We get mobbed again when we stop to check it out and the noise is horrendous so we push on. Finally just through another village with the last of twilight disappearing Daz spots a small plot of land and we decide to camp. We get some visitors immediately, but we ignore them as we set up our tent and they wander off into the dark.
Phew, now it’s dark we hope nobody else comes to visit. Hello India.
Saturday 9th December
India 5km before Khatima to Baree
Distance Cycled: 44.57 km
Total Distance: 17820.98 km
We survived our first night wildcamping in India – no problems at all. We have a small group of visitors as we pack up. In Khatima we find an ATM that gives us cash – that’s a relief. The traffic, the noise, the chaos, the people and the rubbish are horrendous but we manage to weave around the cows, dogs, tuk-tuks and huge potholes and still avoid the buses and trucks which stop for no man! We spot a restaurant and stop for breakfast. This is our first Indian meal. We struggle with the language and menu initially but then order chhola puri (chickpea curry with flatbread) and masala dosa (stuffed flatbread with masala gravy). It’s delicious and we get refills.
It’s a little pricey at $4 but it’s a rather smart restaurant not a roadside shack! We fail to find a SIM card shop here but instead meet a German touring cyclist. He’s heading to Nepal.
He tells us the noise, the traffic and the invasive behaviour of the Indians has driven him crazy – well that’s not the positive message we hoped for!
We push on and in the next town attempt to buy a SIM card but they want proof of Indian residency. Luckily a restaurant owner, Kamal, realises our plight and sells us his spare SIM card.
From here we cycle along Nanak Sagar Reservoir which is pretty although the far shore is obscured by mist. We cycle through several villages or perhaps they’re towns – whatever they are they’re united by terrible roads, heavy traffic and an excruciating noise level (blimey they love to sound their horns here).
Once out of town peace is restored. We stop at a truckers’ cafe for food and have a delicious meal.
It wasn’t what we asked for despite a customer making us speak to his friend by phone, taking our order in English and then translating. We stop early today and find a nice spot by a chicken farm.
There’s a pump for water so we’re able to have a really thorough wash and rinse.
Sunday 10th December
Baree to Bilaspur
Distance Cycled: 48.39 km
Total Distance: 17869.37 km
Our campsite was clearly in a Muslim area so we enjoyed numerous ‘calls to prayer’ between 6pm and 6am. Packing up we had an audience of 30.
For breakfast we stopped at a roadside shack, not even a kilometer from where we camped. We had lovely and plentiful food but once again we were shafted price wise. They initially asked for 500INR ($7) but eventually took 300INR (about 5$) but we think the locals pay only 80INR for this meal.
We’ve been overcharged a couple of times so we need to work out how to deal with this problem. We cycle through Kichha, a fairly large town, and it’s complete mayhem. Daz visits a couple of ATMs and each time he leaves me I’m soon surrounded by a large crowd of men. They don’t even care if they’re blocking the main Highway but I soon learn to park with sufficient space for a large crowd which won’t encroach on the main road. Yes we used an ATM several days ago but we have a ‘tour’ bill to pay for Jac and Vikki’s visit. Unfortunately any payment other than cash invites a surcharge. Unfortunately not one single ATM pays out! This was one of the infuriating experiences in Nepal; trying a dozen ATMs to get a payment.
We cycle on taking a back road from Kichha to Bilaspur; the road is very narrow, and at times it is just rock, rubble and dust. But it’s much quieter. Unfortunately this is only for about 20 km and we return to the main road. As we join the main Highway we see a very young puppy in the middle of the road with trucks and buses weaving around him. It looks like he is licking up some roadkill but he’ll soon be roadkill. I take pity on him and walk into the middle of the road,and manage to pick him up. He’s very thin and trembling.
I bring him back to the bikes and tell Daz we are adopting him so we can feed him up!! He rides in my lap for a while then we pull into a roadside cafe. We ask what there is to eat?
Chowmein and burgers is all we can work out. How much? Fortunately at this point a young farmer and his mate who both speak excellent English overhear and realise the cashier is doubling the prices. He tells us and also berates the cashier. They stay and chat with while we eat and get us some food for the puppy. The bill is 160 INR (2.5$) for 2 cokes and 2 plates of chowmein. That’s more reasonable. They also tell us the average costs for the meals we have had so far, so we are prepared to argue next time we get a ridiculously expensive bill. We pass through Bilaspur.
The traffic is a nightmare yet again and we weave between lanes of trucks and cars, buses and motorbikes. Finally we are out and on reaching the outskirts duck onto a forest track and find a camp site. Our ducking wasn’t quick enough as we immediately get followed by two youths on a motorbike. Selfie time! We camp next to a small brick building. An old man turns up on a bike. No English, maybe he lives in the brick building? He sits around for a while then an elder Sikh man and his son arrive and they tell us it’s OK to stay the night.
We don’t even know how they found us! We don’t have that many visitors but one pair of guys want to interview us. That done we retire to bed. The pup initially starts off in the porch but then crawls under the tent. He’s already turning into a ‘cry -baby’. Our evening routine ( yup reading our Kindles) is rudely interrupted by a group of lads that insist we come out of our tent for a ‘selfie’. They’re very insistent but say they’ll be back in the morning to chat – well that sounds like a treat.
Monday 11th December
Bilaspur to Mundha Pande
Distance Cycled: 44.53 km
Total Distance: 17913.9 km
Yup they’re back and it’s only 0630hrs. They’re shouting for us to get up and even throw something at our tent so we’re both really pissed off. The pup had snurgled under the tent by a foot and was a little lump lying between our pillows. I made sure he had a good share of my sleeping bag. We’re calling him Mace from Mace Tyrell in GoT. Speaking of which I’ve just finished GoT but thought I had one more book so I feel particularly cheated. So by 0730hrs we’re on the road and shortly after stop for breakfast. We get a stuffed flatbread each and a small dish of vegetable curry. And 2 cups of tea. Time for the bill – they ask for 200INR. I laugh and say ‘too much’. They don’t offer a lower price so I give them 30INR. They then ask for 100, I refuse expecting them to suggest 50 or 80 but they just accept the 30INR. Result! On the road Mace just sits in a bag on my lap.
He’s really inactive but he’s also woefully undernourished. The town challenge today was Rampur and we were only on the ring road. The traffic was horrendous made worse by everyone slowing to take photos of us or asking for selfies. Beside the main Highway there was a huge stinking, fetid rubbish tip that went on for miles, with occasional islands of humanity in tents or crappy shacks.
Feasting on the stinking garbage and carrion were dogs and cows and large birds of prey (possibly eagles!). It was beyond revolting and turned my stomach. Being on the outskirts of Rampur we also try several ATMs and again fail. Out of town we’re stopped by a couple of journalists and we have a road lay-by interview!
We stop at a truckers’ cafe and have really tasty food and a reasonable bill. We started so early this morning that we take a couple of hours over lunch and Mace eats a couple of raw eggs and bread. He’s got a good appetite but after every meal he looks as if he’s eaten a small pony – he’s like a barrel on legs! After lunch we do another leisurely 10km, well leisurely but sweaty with Mace sitting on my lap, and then have the good fortune to find a restaurant with camping space at the back. And they agree to let us camp!
We’ve been sitting here for just over 90 minutes and we haven’t attracted a crowd or been asked for a ‘selfie’, but I was nearly attacked by a scary monkey,
This is a record for us. It’s nice to have some attention but it’s quite tiring too especially as Indians have no concept of personal space.
Tuesday 12th December
Mundha Pande to Joya
Distance Cycled: 43.63 km
Total Distance: 17957.53 km
It rained in the night… fortunately we were under cover and the tent was dry when we woke up – actually completely dry, that’s a first since we started cycling from Kathmandu . However the local village tannoy annoyingly played ‘hari Krishna ‘ songs until midnight and started again at 6am! In addition Mace cried most of the night. Possibly because we were on a concrete pad and even snurgling under the tent was too cold for him. By 1am I couldn’t take the guilt anymore so he slept the last half of the night in the tent with us. But fair play to him, once he’d settled on the area I’d given him, he was soon fast asleep and didn’t make a nuisance of himself. Today’s challenging town was Moradabad and from it we got all the joys we’ve come to expect from an Indian town: noise, traffic, smells, filth, useless ATMs and masses of curious people – well curious men, where all the Indian women are remains a mystery.
Mace only spent half the day in my lap, the other half he sat/slept in our collapsible water bucket hanging off the side of my trike.
We stopped several times for food or just a tea break and happily not a single outrageous bill. All in all a good day but 2 incidents of note. In Moradabad we stopped at the train station for another ATM visit. I was soon surrounded by a large crowd and then suddenly they started to disperse rapidly.
There was a ‘security’ guard armed with a big stick threatening to wallop them. I assumed his stick was just for show until I saw him viciously and repeatedly prodding a tuktuk driver who’d parked in the wrong place. Later on the Highway we witnessed our first crash when a tuktuk rear-ended another tuktuk. Definitely a case of staring at 2 trike riders and not watching the road. In the past we’ve frequently heard the squeal of panic braking but never yet an actual collision.
At the end of the day we find a quiet field to wild camp and after an hour not a single visitor, long may it continue.
Wednesday 13th December
Joya to Singhawali
Distance Cycled 51.21 km
Total Distance 18008.74 km
Amazing, we weren’t discovered in our camping spot! A first in India and it really makes for a very relaxing evening/night. This morning we awake to thick fog – well it’s really going to be fun on the highway in this peasouper.
And yes it proves to be a rather shitty, cold day, not improved by Mace (puppy) who decides he hates trike riding and cries and whines incessantly. Initially we assume it’s a toilet stop he wants but he cries for hours and tries desperately to escape our clutches to explore the world by foot. This makes cycling on the busy Highway in fog even more fraught. On the bright side we have a couple of excellent food stops today and even though the fog never completely clears there’s just enough wind to dry out our tent.
We’ve been on the Highway 9 for a few days now but only in the last 2 days has it been a well surfaced, smooth dual carriageway with a substantial hard shoulder and a central reservation. It’s like a British dual carriageway but differs with several key, life-endangering features. All road users are permitted on this road: pedestrians, cyclists, mopeds, motorcyclists, agricultural vehicles, horse/oxen/cow/water-buffalo drawn carts, tuk-tuks, cars, buses and trucks. There’s no overtaking lane, well actually I stand corrected, every lane or gap is considered fair game for overtaking. The hard shoulder which we’d like to consider our personal domain is occupied by traffic coming in the opposite direction. Yes, I know I said it’s a dual carriageway so each side of the central reservation should be dedicated to traffic going in one direction but because the central reservation stretches for such great distances without an opening (and no there aren’t any slip-roads, roundabouts or fly-overs) local traffic just use the side that suits them most and if that means going against the flow of traffic, then so be it. And finally for the final touch of spice to add to this ‘dull’ experience, if any roaduser, regardless of their lane, wishes to slow to snail’s pace or even stop to talk to / video / photograph 2 trike riders and create one almighty bottle neck, then that’s OK too. Oh I nearly forgot – mirror, indicate, manoeuvre – definitely not part of a driving test here and in fact most vehicles don’t have mirrors so for the sake of solidarity those that do, don’t bother to use them. Imagine this hellish scenario and add thick fog – what fun we have!
At the end of the day I spot a disused barn set back off the road and we duck down a side road to get to it. Another night without visitors, yes!
Thursday 14th December
Singhawali to Delhi east
Distance Cycled 79.07 km
Total Distance 18087.81 km
Another quiet, uninterrupted night. This morning we are woken by some kids shouting hello outside the tent. They live just over the fields with their parents. As we are packing up the whole family comes over. First they bring tea and then a bundle of small branches and proceed to light a fire for us. Then comes the sugarcane.
If you’ve never had this delight it’s like chewing on a sweet tasting stick. You end up chewing on the sweet sugar and spitting all the fibre out! Back on the road and it’s another foggy day but not quite as bad as yesterday. By the time we have done 35 km and stopped for lunch it’s burning off.
Now we need to decide what we are going to do. Camping is going to be difficult as we are already in the Delhi suburbs and we haven’t seen an available patch of ground for hours – or at least not one that isn’t covered in rubbish. So we push on. The traffic increases and still everyone wants their selfie moments, it’s crazy. We see a huge amount of birds of prey, literally several hundred, swirling in the air above a huge hill.
But it’s not a hill, it’s a huge pile of debris and rubbish. It looks as big as Ayers Rock. Finally we see a park on our left and eventually find the entrance. They allow us into the park and after a committee meeting they say we can camp here. Thank goodness because it’s already 5pm and it’ll be dark in another hour. We find a spot we like and start setting up, then a chap comes along and says it’s not safe here, best to camp near the security. Back on the bikes and around to a lawn area near the security guard. We’re just setting up again and we’ve already attracted a small crowd when one chap tells us we can’t camp here. He insists we talk to a guy on the phone who turns out to be the manager of the park. Sadly we’re told camping isn’t possible apparently it’s too dangerous. Tent down and packed and off we go. Someone suggests the park next door – it’s only 1km to the entrance. Off we go but they also say no. From here the next suggestion is the Akshardham Temple. By now it’s dark and the traffic is pretty heavy and we’re relying on our bike lights to prevent a nasty accident. We cycle on and have to get over a flyover but we can’t find any road crossing over so we finally resort to cycling up a slip road the wrong way.
We can see the temple. It’s huge and illuminated by hundreds of spotlights. But the guards say no, tourist visit only. We later discover this is one of the top sightseeing locations of Delhi so no wonder they wouldn’t let us camp. From here we’re sent to the metro car park. After much deliberation and consultation up the management chain it’s another no. We’re cold and fed up and realise a hotel is our only option. The closest is along a busy road, over a pedestrian footbridge being used by motorbikes, rickshaws and barrowboys and us! We get to the hotel and they initially want $50. We finally negotiate a more reasonable price but when we see the room it’s enough to make us puke, the price we’ve just paid for this shithole.
Fortunately we’re saved the chore because Mace does it for us – puking repeatedly throughout the night – not to mention the poos!
Friday 15th December
Delhi east to Delhi Mahipalpur
Distance Cycled 25.28 km
Total Distance 18112.99 km
From a distance (and in the dark) last night’s hotel was OK but on closer inspection the sheets were stained and revolting, the bins haven’t been emptied and breakfast is also crap and made so much worse because they actually phone us at 0830hrs to check we want their breakfast. Obviously they don’t want their customers having a lie-in. We make a hasty exit and embark on our intrepid cycle across the notorious city of Delhi.
Notorious for the congestion, killer smog, noise, cows and much much more. But to be honest, it wasn’t all that bad. We must have had a good day as there was no smog. Traffic, although heavy at times, was manageable. We cycle around the India Gate roundabout and down lush tree lined avenues. We’re heading to PAWS, an animal rescue shelter in southern Delhi, near Indira Gandhi airport. As we leave central Delhi the traffic becomes more congested and less forgiving. We find the shelter: it’s time to say goodbye to ‘Mace’. We’ve cycled with him for 5 days. He’s so cute and adorable and it’s been great fun but we need to let him go.
The staff think he will have a very good chance of adoption. Good luck Mace! Our hotel for tonight is only another 3 km down the road. We’re staying here until our friend Vikki arrives on Sunday and then we’re off, without trikes, on an Amritsar / Shimla trip.