Nepal Motorcycle Tour April 2023
The Himalayas on Himalayans – a tour of Nepal 2023
In late March 2023, 2 couples flew out from the UK to Kathmandu in Nepal to start an adventure in the Himalayas. 2 of us were to travel on 2 wheels. The wheels were on Royal Enfield Himalayans. We were to ride over 1000km, including on a lot of unmade roads, whereas, our partners were to follow in a backup vehicle, which also carried the luggage etc. We were being led by Deepak Chandrashekar, who had also led us across Southern India in 2019, that journey being on 500cc Bullets. Let the adventure begin!
After a day sightseeing in Kathmandu, we left the city early on Sunday morning. Our destination was the National Park at Chitwan, some 170km Southwest from Kathmandu. The sun was shining and we were keen to get moving, however, the traffic and road conditions meant our ‘movement’ was less than rapid. The main West/East highway was undergoing a series of upgrades. This meant it had been dug up and left as rough hardcore for many kilometres. We had our first experience of Nepal off roading – whilst still being on the road! After some hours fun getting round the manic buses and other traffic, we left the highway and enjoyed some wonderful country roads, with little traffic and smooth tarmac! Deepak told us that he first rode on the highway route 7 years ago, and the conditions were unchanged in all that time, something to do with Chinese funding?……
The hotel had a pool, so I felt obliged to take a dip, after washing the dust off me in a hot shower. A short walk allowed us to watch the sun set over the National park, while the crocodiles watched us from the bank of the river.
The next day was spent in the National park. We had a couple of safaris, one in a canoe, getting precariously close to some large crocs, and another in a jeep. Chitwan park is home to the very rare Greater 1 horned rhinoceros. These huge rhinos were in serious decline, but their numbers are starting to rise again. We saw 5 of these magnificent beasts on the jeep safari. Wonderful.
Day 3 saw another 170 km ride, heading further West. As we were in the Terai region of Nepal, which is close to North India, the temperatures were high. I was glad of my vented jacket to allow some air movement as we rode. The roads were in quite good condition and so we rattled on to our next destination, Lumbini, the birthplace of Buddha. The bikes performed well on the roads, 170km being covered in a few hours, including the inevitable chiya stops. The hot, slightly spicy and very sweet tea clearing any dust from the throat. Lumbini seems to be coming almost a Buddhist monastery city. Every country appears to be building a new, bigger, better temple than the existing ones, with huge statues of Buddha and vast amounts of gaudy decorations.
The next day we rode from Lumbini to Pokhara, heading North towards the Himalayas. Pokhara is at 900m above sea level and so the temperature started to drop. The anticipation started to increase as we saw snow clad mountains of the Annapurna range in the distance for the first time. The road conditions to Pokhara had been Ok, with only a few sections of roadworks. Traffic lights around roadworks are unheard of, so we just weave around the JCB’s digging up the road, avoiding swinging buckets and falling rocks. All part of the experience! Pokhara is the trekking centre for the area, so I took advantage of the shops and bought a ‘genuine’ North Face fleece for £5. I was very glad of this in the next few days!
Deepak told us that the road conditions deteriorated a lot on day 5. He wasn’t wrong. We were heading to a place called Marpha, famed for its apple orchards. After a few km of reasonable roads (by Nepal standards), we reached Beni Bazar. This was where the road conditions got worse, or, more accurately, the road ceased to exist. We were now off roading, along with cars, minibuses, lorries and many other small bikes. This was fun, in a weird sort of way. The road was sometimes gravel, sometimes clay dust, had deep potholes, some of which were full of water. No place for the faint-hearted. We charged on, enjoying the challenges; bouncing from rock to rock and moving much quicker than the 4 wheeled traffic. Then we hit the roadworks and were brought to a halt as the road was closed for 4 hours. Lunch was a leisurely affair. We rode past the queue of traffic to the front and waited with the other bikes for the road to open. Then it started to rain. After a while, the word came through that the road was open The first 50m was up a steep rocky section, now very wet. . It was like the start of the wacky races! Dick Dastardly and Muttley were right behind me in a large jeep, there was no option but to go for it and get some momentum. The rear wheel spun a bit then found grip and off I went. Over the brow of the hill we were in the roadworks. The diggers had converted the track into a stony base with a 10cm layer of porridge like mud on top. Ignoring the long drop to my right to the valley bottom, I slid through the mud. Then we reached the end result of the roadworks, smooth tarmac; bliss, even in the rain! The rain stopped and we reached Marpha in late afternoon sunshine. By now we were at 2650m altitude and the temperature was cool. Deepak, who lives in Bengalaru in India, certainly felt the cold and wore gloves and woolly hat from then on.
Marpha is a little village which had been bypassed by the road and so had survived development. We had a very pleasant wander through the narrow streets the following morning before starting the last ride North. Today was just 30km to Muktinath, so the ride was unhurried. The weather was good, the roads were good and life was good. After a couple of photo and brew stops, we reached Muktinath. By now we were at 3750m and the bikes had a noticeable drop in power briefly. The electronic wizardry kicked in and normal service resumed. No tweaking the jets on the carbs! Muktinath is an important pilgrimage site for both Hindus and Bhuddists, so we walked up the hill to visit the temples and see the pilgrims walking under the icy water spurting out of 108 bull shaped spouts. I wasn’t tempted to join them!
After a night where the temperatures dropped well below freezing point, where I needed my expensive fleece bought earlier, our bike seats were defrosted with warm water. I was pleased about this, as I’m told testicular frostbite is rather nasty. We were now heading back to the roadworks, but had an early start to get through them before they closed the road in the afternoon and to avoid any possibility of rain. Another great ride both on and off tarmac and we reached our overnight stop at Tatopani. Here we had a dip in some natural hot springs. We were in an area of geological turmoil, with frequent destructive earthquakes, so the Earth’s internal heat sometimes comes close enough to the surface to heat the water. The pools were hot!
We were now approaching the end of the trip, which seemed to have gone in a flash. However, Deepak had one last little experience for us. We followed him through to a small village which seemed to be on the edge of a deep gorge. Turning a corner, we saw our proposed route. The Kushma suspension bridge. 334m long and over 130m high, it was a scary prospect. Locals walked and rode over it every day, so why should we be worried? Deepak went first. The access to the bridge for pedestrians was 4 steep concrete steps before reaching the polished metal platform of the bridge. Bikes went down a 10cm strip of concrete in the middle of the steps. This meant you couldn’t really put your feet down until you were on the bridge. I just kept telling myself to look straight forward and keep going. A group of giggling schoolgirls coming the other way meant I had to stop to let them pass. On again, I approached the end and realised that I had to go up the steps at the end of the bridge. Give it some gun and I flew off the bridge onto solid tarmac again. Done it! Exhileration and relief flowed through me.
After a day sightseeing in Pokhara, we reached the last day riding; the longest ride of 205km back to Kathmandu. With the confidence of someone who had spent the last 10 days riding in all conditions, we rode the last journey with enthusiasm and had more fun. Traffic levels increased as we reached the city outskirts and all too soon we were back at the hotel, tired, but on a high.
A few days later we flew back to the UK, with more memories than I can recollect at any one time. A fantastic trip on some great bikes. Where next? Deepak says Colombia is a good place to ride…….
The tour was organised through Deepak Chandrashekar and his company, Motorcycle Escapades. I’m not linked to the company in any way other than as a customer, but can highly recommend them for motorcycle tours in India and Nepal. They also do trips in other South Asian countries.