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NARESH NEWAR


For Kathmandu's 100,000 motorcycle riders, it is all about dodging pot holes, being stuck in traffic jams, waiting in queue for petrol, and (lately) trying to outsmart policemen with breathalysers.

For a real adrenaline rush, gun your bike and head off beyond Naubise. Go on, do it, and see what Nepal has to offer. That's what I did last month, and what an adventure it's been.

As I navigated across the country, passed through 60 towns from the far west to the east and crossed over into Sikkim on my 500cc Enfield Bullet, I realised the first rule of road tripping in Nepal: make a plan, but be flexible. Bandas, chukka jams, landslides, are common and strike without warning.

Rule number two: don't be fazed by flat tyres in the middle of the jungle or Maoists threatening to burn your bike during a banda. Look around, ask for help. Nepalis outside Kathmandu are very helpful.

Once you escape the traffic bottleneck between Thankot and Naubise, the raw beauty of the countryside will take over and you won't feel any pain.

There are some really bad roads (Surkhet-Dailekh) but the highways in the west are surprisingly well maintained compared to rest of the country. In Bardiya, you'll have to ride through the national wildlife reserve at 40 kmph, not faster, not slower, or risk being penalised at the army anti-poaching checkpoint.

For the more adventurous, take the Karnali Highway to Jumla, but it may be a better idea to let them at least gravel the road first.

For the best and shortest route to the east from Kathmandu, drive down to Hetauda from Dakshinkali. The roads are being re-surfaced but the rough ride is worth the risk, passing lush green hills reflected on the Kulekhani reservoir.
It's one long day from Hetauda to Kakarbitta on Nepal's eastern border with India. But you can also make a pit stop in Janakpur then head out to Lahan the next morning. You can keep going east and hit India, or head north to Dharan, Dhankuta and up to Khandbari.

The reassuring throb of the Bullet takes you through this incredibly diverse country, and you notice how much things are changing because of road access. But also how much of the Nepali soul remains the same.

The East-West Highway is 1,000 km long and Nepal's road artery

Roads in the western Tarai are the smoothest in the country, like this one in Dang

The road from Surkhet to Dailekh is not for the faint-hearted

Demonstrators torched this car near Surkhet to enforce an impromptu banda

The risks are always higher in the mountains for the motorcyclists, however scenic, you shouldn't take your eyes off the road

With most men having migrated, women repair tyres in Dailekh


Frontier towns

PICS: NARESH NEWAR
Contrary to popular belief, crossing over to India on a motorbike is not that difficult. The Indian Embassy in Kathmandu issues vehicle permits to Nepalis within two working days after they submit a bank guarantee of Rs 10,000 which is refundable upon return, vehicle registration and insurance papers. With the permit in hand, the Indian border security forces won't interrogate much and vehicle owners will be asked to undergo regular customs check.
A three hour drive from Nepal's eastern border takes you to the beautiful tea estate town of Mirik. A further three hours and Darjeeling with its toy train and sweeping panorama of Kangchenjunga beckons. Kalimpong and its flower nurseries should not be missed either. From there it is on to Gangtok in Sikkim, and one notices how much more economic progress this place has made. Everyone speaks Nepali, it feels like Nepal, only more prosperous.


A united Nepali nation

As leaders in Kathmandu scramble to finish a new constitution behind closed doors, they should listen to the people I met from Mechi to Mahakali. It is a country of breathtaking beauty and heartrending poverty. Especially in the west, you can see that poverty spares no one. The Brahmins and Chettris are as poor as the Janjatis and Dalits, their fates are entertwined, as are their hopes and their stories of survival have remained unchanged for centuries.

All castes struggle under the poverty line, and it is poverty that binds them together. In the western Tarai town of Kusum, a destitute young Brahmin widow with two children who lost her husband during the war runs a tiny roadside restaurant. A Madhesi milkman bicycles four hours in the scorching heat everyday to generate income by selling milk to her. A young Dalit fisherman sells his fish at her eatery. A Chettri woman works as a maid to feed her children.

At tea shops and lodges along the way I ask people about federalism. They are fed up with politicians, they think federalism is just a slogan, and having suffered violence during the war they don't want the country to be divided along ethnic lines.

In Janakpur, I meet Madhesi families tired of extortion by armed Madhesi groups. This should have never happened, they said. In Rajbiraj, Madhesi and Pahadi families said they have lived together for generations and don't want to be separated.

A tiny tea stall by the highway in Butwal is run by three men: a Brahmin, a Madhesi and a Gurung. One makes tea, one waits on customers and one washes cups. Here you go. This is the model of a united Nepali nation practiced by ordinary people without any need to carve the country up.



1. Bikram GC

First of all,i would like to say thanks to Naresh Ji who has shared his experience here.I totally agree with you my fren about the situation of our country.And u have already seen how people are living together no matter what caste they belongs to but its our politicians who are very desperate to break our lovely nation into pieces in the name of federalism.Anyways,we,nepalese leaving outside country, cant do anything except praying to god that such kind of worst thing wouldnt happen to our Nepal.At the end,i would like to say something about your bike tour,i havent been on such a long ride but definitely would love to go on those kind of adventures.Recently, i was in nepal decebmer/january and i rode from Ktm to surkhet(hometown) on my bullet too...was such a good and memorable ride of my life so far and next time definitely will for another one upto Eastern nepal.And u been to my hometown and hope u enjoyed ur tour from surkhet to dailekh...though road is very crap but i hope u loved our natural beauty.thanks alot.

bikram



2. KiranL
A motorcycle tour of Great Nepal! Congratulations Naresh Newar for your effort and to bring out the true feelings of Nepalis about social harmony and national integrity.

3. Biker myself
brilliant piece. we need these types of stories rather than some "journalists" writing radical slogans for their feeding parties.


4. Armugam
How come the map shows "Dakshinkali" between "Hetauda" &  Mugling? 

5. Marty
Kudos to you Naresh, for being one of the few journalists who remains committed to exploring the Nepal beyond Kathmandu. Your article reminds me that when I lived in Nepal the air outside the capital always seemed fresher - in more ways than one!


6. Easterngirl

Cross country bike ride has always been one of my wish, "a thing to do before I die" kind of thing and yet still haven't had the chance or guts to do it. I envy, in a good way though, Naresh on accomplishing one of my dreams. One day sure but first have to set aside my scooty and maybe start familiarizing with a hard core bike!!



7. Easternboy
Ditto Eastergirl. How I wish!

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LATEST ISSUE
638
(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)


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