A Sojourn on two wheels
Replenished with unyielding adventure, stunning views, unpredictable roads and ultimate tranquility in the lap of Himalayas – a bike ride through Nepal encapsulates the essence of wild, young dreams
There is a widespread notion that we Bengalis are roshogolla-loving, chai-sipping intellectuals, quite unadventurous in life – a polite way of saying that we are lazy and that we barely, if ever, venture out of our comfort zone.
So, when I presented the idea of visiting another country on my motorcycle with two friends, my family members were understandably perplexed. Concerns about motorcycles being two-wheeled death traps and the possible perils of a long arduous journey followed suit. However, they eventually came around, albeit reluctantly.
Though the Sunauli and Nepalgunj border points are equally popular, we chose the Raxaul border to enter Nepal, as the route has a significant stretch of good roads. We fixed Bodhgaya as our halt for the first night.
The kick-off: As the starting date of our 11-day journey rolled around, the three of us loaded saddlebags on our trusty steeds, bade farewell to our families and met near Kolkata Airport. From there, we crossed the Dankuni toll plaza and moved onto the idyllic Durgapur Expressway. As we crossed Durgapur and moved towards Jharkhand, the roads remained largely good, with a few rough patches in between.
We had initially planned to cross Jharkhand by dusk but the sun moved west faster than us and it was dark by the time we reached Bihar. Riding in the dark slowed us considerably and with Bodhgaya still 82 km away, we stopped for a mandatory cup of evening tea.
It was nearly night when we finally rolled around to our hotel after a gruelling 516 km haul. Though tired, enthusiasm overtook our fatigue.
Day 2: We did not know that almost 65 km of our route on the second day was laden with loose gravel and dusty broken roads. Not only did it slow us considerably, but the dust often became so jarring that we had to halt and clean our face masks inside our helmets. We would not get the smooth tarmac of a national highway throughout the second day – and that coupled with densely populated areas through Bihar, kept our average speed quite low.
We realised it would be impossible for us to reach the border at that pace and, thus, halted at Motihari after 153 km for the night.
Day 3: We started very early on the next day, determined to reach the border check-post before breakfast, bad roads notwithstanding. We came to know from locals at Motihari that the last 20 km before the check-post was an absolute nightmare and so, we rushed wherever we found a smooth stretch.
After passing cattle-infested roads and potholes the size of swimming pools, we finally saw the ornate gateway to Nepal looming above. The euphoria of reaching our destination helped us forget our aching muscles.
We soon spotted the permit office and got the 'Bhansars' (local speak for road permit) for our motorcycles, as our vehicles would be deemed illegal inside the country without it.
As we had breakfast at a restaurant in Birganj, we enquired with the amicable owner about the route to Kathmandu. There were two routes, one over twice the length of the other at 275 km. It was a no-brainer and we immediately decided to take the shorter 125 km road.
What started as a beautiful winding hilly road for the first 65 km, soon started tapering off into the side of a mountain. As the day neared sunset, we found ourselves on a narrow road made entirely of broken, jagged rocks, with a steep slope on one side and the mountain on the other. To top it off, the road was steeply inclined, with sharp hairpin bends. We gradually saw the road getting deserted and, as it became pitch dark at around 6 pm, we could only see each other's taillights.
We were seriously worried now, as our engines strained to climb the steep inclines, on a surface where we could barely maintain traction. We soldiered for what seemed an eternity in the darkness.
As the inclines ended, the roads started sloping down and it was then that the unthinkable happened. The front brake of our group leader jammed and the wheel refused to budge. We stood stranded in the middle of nowhere, the temperature at a bone-chilling 4 degrees. However, just when we were about to give up hope, we had our deus-ex-machina moment, as an incredibly helpful local came around on a jeep, who also happened to be a car mechanic. Still struck by our luck, after around 45 minutes of repair, he set us on our path again.
When we finally reached our hotel in Kathmandu, the clock showed 11 pm and we collapsed on the soft beds, after a hot shower and a hearty dinner.
Days 4, 5: Our two-day jaunt at Kathmandu flowed seamlessly as we enjoyed the local cuisine, bought gifts for our families and even tasted a slice of nightlife at Thamel Chowk. The beautiful, bustling city made it very hard for us to bid adieu, but the second leg of our journey awaited us.
Day 6: We started from Kathmandu towards Dhulikhel at the crack of dawn and reached by 9 am. The view that welcomed us as we climbed the hill was breathtaking. And, as we reached the top, we were mesmerised by the majestic landscape surrounding us. We had our lunch and set out towards Nagarkot. The road to Nagarkot was less than 60 km, but the steep inclines, once again, slowed us down and we reached our hotel there at 9 pm. It was the coldest area we experienced in Nepal as the temperature hovered around 2-3 degrees.
Day 7: We had planned to see the sunrise before setting off for Pokhara, but the dense fog played spoilsport. Although we were disheartened, the view of the mountains kept us in high spirits. Pokhara was still 300 km away and we had a whole day of riding ahead.
However, apart from an hour-long traffic bottleneck near Thankot, the journey was mostly uneventful and we reached our destination by 9 pm. We checked into our hotel located near the beautiful Phewa Lake, had dinner and called it a night.
Day 8: We just had one day to explore Pokhara and intended to make the most of it. We hired a local guide and went on to visit Devi's Fall and Gupteshwar Cave, before heading towards Peace Pagoda, a shrine located on top of a picturesque hill. The entire skyline of Pokhara could be seen from the top, with the majestic outlines of Annapurna and Machapuchare adorning the horizon.
We then went to Bagnas Lake, which we explored on a boat. The ubiquitous peace and tranquillity was complemented by stunning views of the setting sun, making us almost nostalgic as we neared the last leg of our journey.
We wrapped the day early as we had listed the famous Sarangkot sunrise on our itinerary before saying our goodbyes to the hills.
Day 9: Shivering throughout my way to Sarangkot, I found the experience reminiscent of my visit to Tiger Hill a couple of years ago. It was still dark at 5 am, when we took seats at the viewing balcony, sipping our cups of coffee and waiting for the sun to light up the scenery.
The view of the skyline as the sun slowly painted it in a crimson hue was the single most beautiful sight of our entire trip and we stood in awe of the visual spectacle. Cameras clicked all around us to capture the moment and we snapped a few of our own.
The rest of the day was a mundane 210 km ride to Hetauda, which would be our last stop inside Nepal. As we sped through the long sloping roads, we took in one last view of the mountains, thanking them silently for the priceless memories.
Day 10: The way back to Jharkhand from Hetauda went by in a blur as we kept reminiscing the incredible memories of the last few days. Fatigue had started to rise by now and with our enthusiasm waning fast, we made a beeline towards home as fast as we could. We halted for the night at Barhi.
Bidding adieu: They say goodbyes are always difficult and, as we neared the Dankuni toll plaza again, the three of us experienced every word of the adage. As the hours rolled past and we entered the busy roads of Kolkata on our dusty bikes, all I could think of were the timeless words of Robert Frost – 'and miles to go before I sleep...and miles to go before I sleep!'