Project 88. Motorbike trip in Nepal. Day 13. Muktinath-Tatopani

Today was a very long day, and the main task was to get as far as possible. The problem was the height that we climbed up, now we need to go down from 3800 m to 1200 m. There are two most difficult parts of the road: first is between Muktinath and Kagbeni and from Kalopani all the way down to Tatopani.
That was not an easy task to get down with 300 kg bike and two people, plus luggage. Such steep road down can be very hard to drive with a heavy weight, taking into account that every 10 m it can be a pit hole, a rock or an opposite traffic. In some very steep parts of the road, Kate as a passenger had to go on foot, sometime holding a bike from behind, to make sure that the back wheel goes down lightly. We noticed that we got a couple of dents on the bike exhaust and were trying to safe as much of it as possible. We had to admit that for Royal Enfield classic bike this road is quite rough and its exhaust is located very low and gets all the rocks and obstacles on the way. Passenger and luggage are not making things easier. So, our descent was quite slow, but the weather was fine and we kept riding all the way to Tatopani.
We’ve stopped for a coffee in Jomsom, there is a lovely coffee shop next to Om Hotel, where delicious cappuccino is served. Barista showed us where the post office is located and we’ve sent some lovely postcards to our parents and friends.
After 6 hours of driving we made a stop for a lunch in Kalopani and dried up our bags and shoes after passing another river.
Another 4 hours of driving and we’ve finally made it to Tatopani, very tired and hoping only for the hot springs and beer. Lucky for us hot springs are open till 9 pm. We got a room in Dhualgiri view guest house, made order for a dinner, and soaked ourselves into the hot bath…. Amazing… This was worth all the dust, pain and struggle we had that day. The was only one final hard part of the road left – Tatopani to Beni. After Beni only things that you should mind are traffic and crazy Susuki Marruti drivers.

Project 88. Motorbike trip in Nepal. Day 12. Kagbeni-Muktinath

Day X. Still not knowing where we will get today, we’ve started early in the morning to avoid the strong wind from Kali Gandaki river and pilgrim traffic.
Muktinath is an ancient temple which is sacred for both Hindu and Buddhists, located on the altitude od 3800 m above sea level and surrounded with gorgeous Annapurna range and Dhaulagiri. Muktinath bazar, or Old Ranipauwa, is also the first big settlement after Tholong La pass of popular Annapurna circuit trek.
We’ve been in this area 10 years ago, when we did this trek ourselves. The road that we’ve ridden this time on a bike was under construction and Muktinath was reachable only by foot or by horse. At that time we’ve seen only one motorbike, some Chinese brand cross bike, and we were surprised how he got there.
10 years ago Muktinath was a paradise for us, after the coldest nigh in a base camp, early wake up and 8 hours of harsh accent and descent with snow and 1 m visibility on the pass. Last time we’ve stopped in Bob Marley guest house, as it was one of the two “OK looking” places and the name was quite attractive. We were not disappointed for sure. We were very
excited about its restaurant, bar, decoration and the whole atmosphere and friendly staff. This time we had no second thought on a place to stay, we’ve even promised ourselves that the first yak steak meal in Nepal we will get in Bob Marley restaurant in Muktinath, so it was another good motivation.
Surprisingly after a steep accent from Kagbeni, the second part of the road was quite in a good condition with just couple of wet and muddy places. We’ve arrived in one piece after 2.5 hours of driving and were very excited to reach the first goal of the journey. The second one will be getting back down to Beni.
Ten years ago Ranipauwa was a one street village with just a couple of places to sleep and eat. Now it is quite a large settlement with souvenirs stalls, new hotels, restaurant and lots of construction around.
Bob Marley is still where it was. Upon our arrival we’ve got a good cup of coffee and a nice room.
We’ve spent the day visiting the temple. Following the Tibetian tradition we’ve hang Tibetian prayer flags on top of the hill above the temple, and, following Hindu tradition we’ve touched the water from 108 sacred streams and lighted the incense sticks for the Hindu gods.
There are couple of pleasant walks around Muktinath bazar to some small villages. There is also a Lukla valley which can be visited on a day hike or on the way back to Jomsom by foot.
Sunny day gave us some great views towards Annapurna range and Dhaulagiri, including Thorong La pass. But when the sun is gone, the temperature drops down to minus 11 at night. Brrr, freezing…

Project 88. Motorbike trip in Nepal. Day 11. Marpha-Kagbeni

It is only 30 km From Marpha to our final destination – Muktinath. But we’ve decided to split them in two days, hoping that it will be warmer in Muktinath the next day. So we’ve ridden to Kagbeni – a Tibetan village, the entrance to the Upper Mustang region.
Mustang is an ancient “Forbidden Kingdom”, the Land of Lo and Lost Tibetan Kingdom. Forbidden for foreigners till 1992, it’s quite difficult to reach now days as well. Upper Mustang occupies a huge territory in Nepal and border with Tibetan region in China. Untill 2008 Mustang was a dependent Kingdom of the Kingdom of Nepal. Since democracy arrival to Nepal the last king of Mustang Jigme Dorje Palbar Bista retired in Kathmandu and Mustang became just a district.
Upper Mustang lies on the altitude of 3,500 m and up, sheltered by some of the worlds highest peaks, Annapurna and Dhaualagiri. Kagbeni is an entrance to the Upper Mustang and to travel beyond you would require a guide and quite expensive permit ($500). 
Kagbeni is a big Tibetan settlement with 15th century monastery which you can visit for a fee of $2.
At the edge of Kagbeni there is a confluence of two rivers and for Hindus this is quite a religious site. There is a footbridge across the river nearby which marks the start of the road to Tiri – Mustang village that can be visited without a permit.
In Tiri we’ve observed the competition in archery, inside a special rectangular plot with quite high walls made of stones and mud. Each end of the plot has a stand with a target and archers shoots from one stands on another every game. It’s worth to mention that bows are made from bamboo, and arrows are mostly modern one, made from light alloy.
 

Project 88. Motorbike trip in Nepal. Day 10. Kalopani-Marpha.

At night the rain was not that heavy as it was on the night before and again we truly hoped that road is passable. Checking weather forecasts was quite unpleasant activity, as they all showed snow and low temperature in Marpha, Jomsom and Muktinath, as low as +1C at the day time and -11C at night.
We’ve left Kalopani around 7:30 am and by 9 am we arrived to Marpha. The weather was sunny and quite warm, but strong cold wind made a cool afternoon.
On the way to Marpha we’ve passed a lovely village of Tukuche, an old important stop for traders and goods from Tibet to India. There is an old distillery in the town and we’ve tried to find it. It was amazing experience: riding along tiny streets, passing tiny houses, chortens (tibetian postament with stupas and engraved stones with mantra Om Mane Padme Khum) and prayers wheels.
Marpha is another lovely tiny village famous for its apples. Apple trees started from Tukuche and at this time of the year the first flowers started to bloom. When we’ve been here 10 years ago in October, apples were everywhere, and if you are desperate enough, you can shamelessly steel from gardens, as much as your backpack can fit.
After delicious breakfast with aloo paratha with local salsa and muesli with curd and apple, we took a day hike to Old Marpha settlement, which is located high on the ridge. The hike was good, with some lovely mountain views and through tibetan chortens, but strong cold wind made it less pleasant.
After the hike the local apple cider with apple pie was a great treat. Oh, I love this apple country.

Project 88. Motorbike trip in Nepal. Day 9. Side walks around Kalopani.

The morning sunshine gave us a hope for a good day, and as we planned before we went for a circuit trek through neighborhood villages. Even with sunshine the temperature was still quite cold and we started fully dressed, but had to take off all the warm cloth after the first accent as the air temperature started to get warmer as well.
The views towards mountains were magnificent, and thanks to yesterdays rain, there was snow on the top of the hills, all surrounded mountains were covered in white.
The trail was easy to follow. We went through the pine forest – our favorite type of trekking. The villages were quite small and neat. The day was beautiful. We were the only trekkers on this trail, looks like most of the trekkers still prefer to walk along the road, which is a pity as this trail towards Titi lake and Taglung village is a very nice walk.
We’ve spent around 6 hours walking with lunch stop in Taglung village. Shortly after we came back to Kalopani, the weather changed and the rain started

Project 88. Motorbike trip in Nepal. Day 6. Lazy day in Pokhara

It was raining for many days in Pokhara and couple of times it was a storm with hailstone size of pigeon egg. Not a great weather for a mountain ride, but we still hoped for the best. We have done all our preparations for Muktinath trip so far, but the weather was the main concern. We’ve decided to spent one more day in Pokhara to give it a chance to get better.
As some noisy construction has begun in our guest house, we’ve also decided to change the place we stay. This time we’ve chosen the place in South Lakeside called Blue Planet Lodge where we got quite a good deal for a lovely place with garden, comfy mattresses and crispy bedsheets. 

Project 88. Motorbike trip in Nepal. Day 5. Around Pokhara, road to Panchance.

Last night it was raining and weather forecast for mountains shows minus temperatures. So we had to entertain ourselves with some riding around Pokhara.

The weather was foggy early in the morning, but get better by 8 am and after breakfast we’ve driven the road, that continues from Lakeside to the East, guessing what we would find there.

The ride was great, despite the road conditions (another off road test drive). We’ve enjoyed riding along rice fields, small villages, water buffalos and, my favorite, goats. We found there were few lovely villages with little traffic full of authentic and natural life. People were working in fields, taking care of corn, tomatoes, cabbages. Men were sitting in local tea houses discussing some very important business (my guess), women were taking care of the houses and kids were running to school and playing on the streets. Kind of Idyll. Plus amazing scenic views towards the lake, fields and mountains. Beautiful ride. While our backs were quite stressed after couple hours of off road driving, but all the emotions that we’ve got covered it tons of times.

Project 88. Motorbike trip in Nepal. Day 3. Bandipur – Pokhara

In the morning the weather was better, so we walked once again to the view point. The sky was still foggy, but Dhaulagiri (8167), Machhapuchhare (6997), Langtang Lirung (7246) Manaslu (8162) and Ganesh Himal (7406) were out there.

After a quick lunch, around 8 am, we got on our bike and drove back down to the main highway, from where there was around 60 km left to Pokhara.

The road did not improved much, trucks, busses, jeeps were still there. Closer to Pokhara the traffic became hazardous, but we did not care much, because we get amazing views toward Annapurna range during the ride.

Pokhara is a paradise for tourists, but even more for trekkers who arrive here after treks. It is never a question where to stay in Pokhara, there are hundreds, if not thousands of places to stay, sleep, eat, dine, shop etc in the Lakeside area. Getting the guest house with parking is not a big deal, but can be an issue if the guest house is located up on the hill on steep and narrow road.

We have chosen a little family run guest house with 6 room, just on the lake and got a nice in suite room with lake view for 8 dollars. There are a lot of things to enjoy and do in Pokhara. We were planning to stay there for a couple of days, waiting for the good weather, before heading up to mountains.

Pokhara changed a lot since we’ve been here 5 years ago and much more since 2007, when we’ve been here for the first time. But good thing is that our old favorite local café is still where it was, though it changed the name and owners… Food is still delicious there.

Despite the clear morning and sunny day, around 3 pm clouds came, and in evening heavy rain with hailstone disappointed our plans a bit. Rain and hailstone in Pokhara means snow and below zero temperatures up in the mountains. We had to wait.

Project 88. Motorbike trip in Nepal. Day 2. Kathmandu – Bandipur

Today is Fools Day, and people say that fools are lucky. Asking for all the luck we can get, even agreed to be a bit crazy people, early morning on the 1st of April we have started to drive narrow streets of Thamel, out of the city towards main highway to Pokhara.

The total trip from Kathmandu to Pokhara, being only something like 200 km, can easily take 7 hours, and sometimes even more (back in 2007 we have spent 12 hours on a bus). The road is partly winding with only two lanes, packed with trucks, buses, tractors, jeeps and bikes. Driving through all this villages, rice fields, stone, cement and bricks factories, there is no chance to go faster then 50 km/h. Trucks sometimes drive with a speed of 20 km/h, driving car or bus on such a narrow road you can wait for a long time to pass them. For bikes things are different, but you can go only slightly faster. Even on the bike you can still stuck in traffic and wait for tens of minutes.

We decided to split the trip in two days. On the first day we have driven to Bandipur, a lovely small one street village with preserved Newari architecture. Which is located on a top of ridge, 1050 m above sea level.

The main challenge is to get out of Kathmandu to Prithvi highway to Pokhara. We decided to start early, 6-7 am, to avoid work traffic and heat. Planning the way out, we considered two options: the first one by the Ring Road, kind of high way around Kathmandu, and second one directly through the city. We have dismissed the first option, to avoid speedy trucks and cars, and, as we saw later, made a right choice. The Ring Road was partly under construction and traffic was forbidden on the part leading to Prithvi highway. For the first 20km the highway is also under an active construction of additional lanes, so we got all pleasure of bumpy road, crazy trucks speeding to deliver the next portion of stones to a construction site, dust, lots of dust, and noise. Happily it was over quite soon after Kathmandu and, totally covered in dust, we got into serpentine.

Bandipur is located around 120 km from Kathmandu, 10 km uphill from the main highway, you need to take a left turn after dusty town of Dumre.

We have been here 10 years ago, the village is still nice. Our lovely guest house, Heritage Guest House, is still there. It’s an old wood and stone building, soaked with traditional smell of milk, oil and fat, run by local family. Very basic but cozy rooms, with lovely views over the valley, are for the offer for 5-7 dollars.

There is only one issue with Bandipur – the main village, as well as nearly all guest houses, is located on a street surrounded by steps, so no vehicles can drive there. But there is a place just before steps that can offer an overnight parking for 100 Rs, they also have rooms if you decided to stay with them.

The village did not changed much in 10 years. Though it was quite close to the epicenter of destructive earthquake in 2015. Some houses were damaged and being restored now, the whole reconstruction is still under progress, but main street keeps it authentic looks and many houses survived the damage.

There are nice walks around Bandipur village, including Tundikhel view point where views towards Himalaya mountains suppose to be spectacular. But the weather were cloudy on that day, so we haven’t seen any mountains at all.

Soon after lunch time the sky got darker and storm arrived. For about 30 minutes we have witnessed a beautiful change of clouds in the storm sky, followed by a shower rain. As a result, electricity was down, so for the rest of the day the whole village became dark.

In the evening we got local meals from the restaurant beneath our room, and some local wine as well. It was kind of surprising experience – hot barley wine, with honey and, gee on top. Gee is a butter which is quite often used for cooking in Nepal and India. I’ve tasted the wine… and I would not want to repeat the experience – yayks.

Rain gave us sometime for evening promenade and after came back for the whole night.

Project 88. Motorbike trip in Nepal. Day 1. Test drive

Driving around Kathmandu is a lot of fun. It’s not a kind of thing that would please you everyday. Commuting to work like this would be really awful. But for us, travelers who enjoy Asia, its lifestyle and bikes, especially Indian Royal Enfield, this was a great experience.

Today we took a bike for a short test drive. Yesterday we have chosen a bike, agreed to the rental price and asked mechanic to attach a luggage rack. After an early breakfast, we took it from the garage to ride across Kathmandu to Swayambhunath, down to Durbar square and then back to Thamel. The bike was good, streets were narrow, road was terrible, traffic was crazy – lots of fun. For experienced bikers only. For newbie it would be a disaster and quite dangerous.

Parking in Kathmandu is quite an issue, no bikes are left on the street after sunset and most of the day time parkings are locked up for the night. So we parked our bike in the parking lot of 5 star hotel nearby our modest guest house. We kindly asked permission from the hotel reception and security guy, they were happy to provide us with a space, they have lots of it. Next day when we departure, we tried to offer some payment for security guy, but he resisted, so we present him with couple of chocolates from Russia, a recent gift from our parents.

The owner of the rental shop, Ram, kindly provided us with an air pump and an extra tube, just in case. After packing our own gear and other stuff, we were ready to go.