Sunday, 3 May 2009
Mountain Biking in the Mountains!
Once more we woke up in the darker hours of the early morning, but it was truly worth it. We had arranged to go mountain biking and we fixed up transport to take us, and our bikes of course, right into the countryside of Nepal. We learned more about Nepal as we were driving through the dark streets, which were only lit up by a few dim street lamps here and there. We have seen street children sleeping outside in small groups, sometimes in which stray dogs are included. During the daytime we haven’t seen many signs of poverty, but under the surface it’s there in exactly the same way as the rest of South Asia, if not worse!
We kept our eyes peeled for the rising sun as it began to appear triumphantly from behind the surrounding hills. Would this be the day on which we see the snow covered High Himalayas? We noticed that this cycling party was being shadowed by a grim, dark cloud all the way from Kathmandu, but we thought nothing of it.
When we reached the start of our mountain bike ride, high in the area of Nagarkot, no sooner had we removed our bikes from the van and were ready to go, the cloud had swarmed over the high peak on which we were standing. That was goodbye to taking in a panorama including Everest.
But on we went regardless, with the man who dropped us off following us at a discreet distance. We didn’t really fancy having a minder following us for hours, so we craftily gave him the slip. We bombed it down the steep and winding stretch of road until we found a clearing on the edge of the mountain, just off the side of the road. Whilst taking in a spectacular view of the valley below, full of terraces and villages appearing small enough to be like a toy town, we also listened to the buzz of the van disappear around the corner and down the other side of the mountain. Did we really need him?
Well, as we stopped for about five more minutes admiring the beautiful view, we noticed the black clouds moving extremely quickly, creating a moody atmosphere. Then came the crash of thunder immediately followed by light drops of rain. Looking up at the inky black sky, we both concluded that we had better seek shelter. FAST! So we took to the hill and the weather became worse. Luckily we found cover underneath a corrugated iron shelter at the side of the road nearby a military training centre, where we intended to wait for the storm to pass.
Well, we waited for at least an hour, unequipped to cope with the harsh, cold squall. We were wearing only our shorts and t-shirts, rather than Himalayan trekking gear. It didn’t help when some training soldiers wearing all their warm clothes also took cover under the same shelter. Time was ticking away and conditions were only getting worse. Large hailstones began to pelt down heavily and the wind speed increased enough to take whole branches clean off the trees in the nearby pine forest. What should we do?
As if by magic, a small local bus rolled up just in the nick of time. It was heading back down into the valley so we placed the bikes on top of the bus and clambered aboard. Our idea was to take the bus just to escape the high clouds and we got lucky in a large town called Bhaktapur.
We got off the bus and unloaded the bikes before setting off once more. We started cycling towards the centre of Kathmandu, but we got distracted by the idea of cycling through small villages in the flatter countryside. There we saw women carrying huge sacks of freshly harvested wheat. The wheat would be balanced on their backs, like a tortoise and its shell, but a thick band joining both sides of the sack went around their foreheads for added support. Although it looks painful, they believe that if they take the weight on their heads then their gods will remove the burden from their shoulders.
As we looked back to the mountain range from which we had come, we saw the snow for the first time. We couldn’t believe our luck, and it was stunning! The frosted Himalayan peaks, poking out from behind the green foothills framing the Kathmandu Valley, was just how we imagined it. We spotted the beauty just in time, before the afternoon haze erased any view entirely.
The town of Thimi gives a first impression of being a miserable ribbon-development along the dusty and polluted main highway out of Kathmandu, but this is just the modern road. The REAL town of Thimi lies on an incline, perpendicular to this , and is an amazing array of vernacular architecture, with its riot of temples and merchants’ houses. Here lies the ‘Backdoor to Kathmandu’ and was the way we decided to enter the city on the bikes.
Weaving in and out of the dense traffic demanded considerable skill, and we were possibly the fastest vehicles on the roads! Once inside the city we navigated the narrow lanes and passageways of the Old Town: a true rabbit-warren of ancient streets, thoroughly exhilarating to traverse by mountain bike. We passed a low-running river, heavily laden with garbage and effluent, beside which was what can only be described as a bovine graveyard, where brooding, black birds feasted upon the decaying carcasses. The smell alone of this might possibly be the worst of our many, many experiences this far! Then onwards to the famous Durbar Square, with its temples. Kathmandu certainly is a fascinating place!