One of those magical days truly unable to be re-created. A collection of remarkable moments in time about which was a pleasure to write of rather than a chore. The second day of a two day strike and subsequent people enforced national lockdown gave me the opportunity for a once in a lifetime 210km scenic drive from Pokhara to the holy city of Lumbini. 180km of impossible natural beauty with no more than 500meters of straight road returned me to the Gangenic plain at the city of Butawal and was driven without any traffic. I speak not figuratively in this regard. In 10 hours of driving I encountered 18 vehicles. This consisted of 6 Ambulances, 5 jeeps full of Maoist protesters, 6 inevitable Honda 125’s and 1 tandem bicycle piloted by a chirpy yet exhausted Swiss couple. Even the cows stayed in their paddocks, I mean what was the use there were no cars on the road!
Whilst yesterday it seemed that locals were happy to sport their Sunday best and roam the streets in dispersed crowds to show their support for a uniethnic Nepal, today was different. I think for no other reason that it had been done before. Besides, it was a stunning day weatherwise; a perfect 25 odd degrees with clear skies and local villagers appeared happy to soak it up in a unified collective of nothingness. Though this was not true of the city of Butawal where several large yet peaceful gatherings were seen towards the end of my days ride. In most places however, adults were content to lay back in shaded yet shuttered shopfronts while kids were seen to be involved in any one of a huge number of cricket matches being played out along the empty roads. Some villagers could be seen to be loosely manning self imposed road blocks consisting of a stick of bamboo or string of rocks across the road, all were happy to quickly remove defences and lower guard as I came sauntering into view.
When Matthew Sladden and I rode our pushies around Australia we would almost daily seek respite along with a cup of tea in the afternoon. It became an enjoyable habit where the simple pleasure of a nice cuppa was preceded by the routine of unpacking half the gear and setting up the MSR jet stove. Today I took the first opportunity to do so on this trip whilst also giving a trial run to my new toy, a SteriPEN. While surely containing a certain element of gimmick, this device picked up in Pokhara will allow me to ditch the practice of buying into environmental decimation (through the purchase of plastic) and instead pummel tap or well obtained water with UVs. Apparently it removes most of the germs and bacteria found in water so prevents sickness in that regard. I will get back to you on this one. Today’s stop overlooking a huge open valley, maybe 4km wide and towered on all sides by hills was different in so far as the audience I obtained. Pulling up at a quite spot on the side of the road was followed minutes later by the usual materialisation of people from no-where. But it this case it was a group of girls, my age who although speaking little English were happy to sit down across the stove and be part of the occasion. It is probably the first time while in Nepal that I have been readily able to identify (on account of them telling me) the age of a group of people, particularly women. This is no less due to the rigours of poverty quickly draining the youth out of anyone born into this environment. It was also an interesting situation given that girls/woman approaching a man especially a foreigner on his own is a societal rarity in this part of the world. The girls were followed by a younger group of boys who seemed to step over the edge of a vertical cliff face nearby to join the party. True to form they were more interested in the bike and proceeded to ask the normal questions, “How many CC?”, “How much you buy?” etc. They were however and perhaps being children much more interactive than adults, generally men who just stand and continually stare at me until I depart the area. Although seemingly simple it was a refreshing experience.
I write above of a scenic drive, this cannot be understated. If Nepalese roads are dangerous it is no less due to the hazard of trying to remain on an impossibly perched sky trail whilst also taking in the impossibly panoramic spectacular being played out around one’s vehicle. Although I had driven up from the plain to Kathmandu two weeks ago, today’s road was wider, better surfaced and followed a kinder route vertically, in the most part loosely tracking river systems as they emptied out to the south. From leaving one World Peace Buddha Stupa, on the edge of a high peak overlooking Pokhara with the mighty Himalayas stretched across the background, to arriving at another near identical World Peace Buddha Stupa, in a field beside the small town of Lumbini time stood still. I was more than content to keep rolling through an endless stream of small picturesque villages past smiling, waving children. Snow (my motorbike) I were in our element, this is what this trip is all about I thought to myself.
So here I am on the rooftop of the Maya Devi Guest House and Hot Kitchen in the holy city of Lumbini, in fact a small town significant for being the site for where a wee lad named Buddha supposedly took his first breaths no less than 14 centuries ago. With a Siam Reap feeling to it but not much more than a few guesthouses, mud huts of villagers and a huge paddock, I will be off to take in the World Heritage Listed site tomorrow morning. Meanwhile I am getting accustomed to not being hemmed in by huge mountain ranges as pillars on all sides and enjoying the balmy evenings typical of sub-tropical North India.