From Daman on clear day, you could see 18 Himalayan peaks. Unfortunately visibility wasn’t good, but the peaks of Ganesh Himal, Annapurna and Machappuchre were a mystical sight floating atop the whispy clouds and haze.
I passed the 2400m summit point feeling spiritually rested from being in the quiet mountain area surrounded by glorious wild nature. The downhill was long and ponderous. I regularly stopped to take photos, film travelling shots, and otherwise record my thoughts as they occurred via dictaphone. I stopped briefly in a house where a large old woman with a crinkly face sat with her young grandson propped against her knee and her daughter.
The daughter made me cups of chay and I shared my biscuits with them. The girl’s face was very beautiful but her hands and feet were weathered and looked leathery, I supposed, from arduous daily work. She was about my age and it made me think what she would be doing had she been from a rich family. Perhaps she would have studying for something.
It appeared that it was her responsibility to look after her ageing grandmother and brother. I took some photos, donated a few rupees and was on my way. The road continued passing through lush vegetation and the settlements I rode through got gradually larger.
I followed a large river through a valley. I noticed a couple of temples as I passed and thought that given the choice between becoming a holy man or living a regular village life, you can see why the holy men might take that path. You get to live in a beautiful temple to live in next a huge river. You are given respect and money from the locals. You take adventurous pilgrimages, host other interesting saddhus on pilgrimages and it looked to me like you had a fair amount of freedom from authority.
I met 5 saddhus doing a pilgrimage to Parvati in Kathmandu. They asked me for a donation to their cause and offered me to smoke some cannabis. I refused both. Instead I set up the camera and cooked them dinner and heated up some coffee.
Eventually they declined the dinner, but we drank coffee and they invited me to sleep at the temple that we had passed earlier on. They seemed to gradually leave me to my own devices and stopped treating me as if I’d been a gulible tourist like at first.
I’m a wild foreigner on a bicycle from distance lands, with no glint of awe of these ascetic traveller as ‘holy’ but instead a respect and excitement about their pilgrimage walking adventure. I thought walking barefoot for a month was a great adventure. They seemed to expect me to feel sorry for them, but I said ‘what a great adventure’, ‘you have the really hard task walking, I’ve got it easy with a bicycle’.
I asked them questions ‘are you happy?’ to which their spokesman said ‘no, we are not, we can’t take a wife, we have nothing’, I said' but you have friends', he said ‘no, not friends’. ‘But you have company’ I insisted, ‘these are just other Saddhus’ he replied. They were clearly friends and got on well. They had the basic ingredients of a successful mission in a group - common interests, a shared goal, a plan to walk to Kathmandu. They had guaranteed food and money donations from people along the way and temples to stay in.
They are very lucky to be able to make a journey like that and have experiences which regular people cannot -which I guess adds to their ‘holiness’. Although, all this said, one of them produced an ID card, and I got the impression that they had day jobs as policemen and had taken time off for the pilgrimage. That’s great, I thought. Imagine if that happened in England- people taking extra time off work for a mind-expanding adventure, instead of relying on getting pissed every weekend for escapism. Perhaps the Santiago-de-Compostella pilgrimage route in Europe could be a candidate. Indeed many holy men and holy works seem to come out of journeys or pilgrimages.
For example the journey made by Siddhartha or that of Tulsidas (the poet who translated the Ramayana into the local language of the people -so they could read it- from Sanskit). Google or Amazon these for more info. The next days were spent on the Terai. The plains of Nepal where 80% of the population lives. These are mainly flat and intensively cultivated. Very similar in appearance to Uttar Pradesh being the southern adjoining Indian state I cycled through to get to Nepal. A couple of days of boredom, dusty hot roads, and the having to contend with seeing a dead body smeared with blood lying at the side of the road who had been hit by a wayward truck. It felt nice to cycle with my bizarre bike through the morbid crowd that has descended upon the seen, I felt like a glimmer of light amidst the chaos and self-destruction.
On leaving the Plains I pedalled hard into the dusk along a dusty valley road aside a wide emerald river. I watched children diving down huge white dunes in the sandy beaches created by the meandering erosion of the river. The sights there were from a fantasy world. Smokey shacks on terraced hillsides, steep mountains and bare black trees, a temple perched on a steep cliff at the river tributary junction amidst thick autumnal forest. That evening I camped with the Police in the town of Mugling.
On arrival I had bought some vegetable and some diesel for the stove (unfortunately petrol wasn’t available - much less black residue). The police were friendly and interested (as usual) in my stove and tent. In the morning I left the station and went to buy breakfast, sitting with some school children who were do their English homework. I went to get money from my wallet to pay, and all but 5 rupees out of 3000 was gone. This was a strange situation because I thought it unlikely that a pick pocket would take my money then replace the wallet in my pocket and the only time my wallet had been away from me was for 20 mins inside the police station campus in my bar bag whilst I prepared my dinner. I told the police about the situation in the morning. I said I wasn’t accusing them but explained the above. The chief policemen looked almost in tears and ordered me to leave saying ‘we are all policeman here, you cannot accuse us’.
The occurence made the morning a bit miserable as I had to rid my mind of the negative thoughts . It was also raining which didn’t help. I was listening to ‘Tales of night - Air’ and ‘the John Peel Festive Fifty 1984 - Cat’s Caravan’. By the afternoon the sun came out, and I put the ‘lost money’ down to an unavoidable law of averages with travelling. It was a hard day of climbing on a fairly busy road and the last section which I cycled an hour into the darkness was along a straight road through sprawling suburban housing which made me think of an American style of housing(co-incidence or cultural transfer?).
I reached Pokhara around 8 and slept on the roof of a petrol station. The next morning I found a guesthouse and spent 2 days resting, washing clothes, visiting the buddhist world peace pagoda, doing some mountain biking in the surrounding dense ancient forest and eating food. I was glad to leave the tourist bubble of Pokhara, and decided to leave a mountain trekking adventure to another time. I was making a beeline for Delhi now on my way back to my girlfriend in Georgia. However, you can’t rush in the mountains and I always try to focus on the moment.
In pleasant sunny breezy weather I pedalled up and own twisting mountain roads with the Himalaya in the distance. My only quibble was that my knee seems to have changed since I spent 3 weeks off the bike walking at Christmas and now I can’t pedal with a right cleat. I’ve spent many frustrating moments removing my boots, rotating the cleat 2 degrees left or 5 mm forward and such like, then putting it back on, lacing up the trekking style laces, only to still not be happy and feel like my knee was being twisted. I’ve now given up on them and I pedalled the last 200 km to Delhi without cleats.
From the Siddharta highway, I was back down on the Terai heading East. There was a mountain section to cross near Lamahi and after that a couple of days of fun riding in undulating wild lands of forests, wide dry riverbeds and little villages. I was able to wild camp on a couple of occasions and this freed me from the reliance on other people which was a nice feeling, but I also like to make contact with people as I’m travelling alone so either way doesn’t bother me in terms of finding somewhere to sleep.
(<a href= “Photo from Andy Welch’s cycle adventures”)
(<a href= “Photo from Andy Welch’s cycle adventures”)
I watched monkeys playing in the road and passed long sections of quiet road through Bardia National Park and the Royal Sukla Fhanta National Park. A few days ago I passed back into India and it’s been pretty spirit crushing pounding the tarmac just to do the km’s on the highway back to Delhi. But as always it’s an experience and it’s been interesting to see India again after leaving and returning with refreshed eyes (it’s been good food for philosophising).
I’m now in Delhi staying with a CouchSurf host. I have one month left on my Indian visa and my plan is to get my Iran and Pakistan visa here hopefully and head overland by train back to Turkey, maybe with a bit of cycling in between trains back to my girlfriend who in a week I will have only seen for 3 weeks in 6 months for a stint of domestic life, working, and loving! Before hatching the next adventure.