Nepal

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Nepal

Nepal
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With a 500 Enfield to the eight-thousanders on earth. A journey between wooden sheds and pagoda temples through one of the poorest and most beautiful countries in the world. Nepal offers all extremes.

Monika Schulz, Annette Johann

11/12/2002

The load thunders into the huge pothole.

Lurches close to two rickshaws, just circles around an excitedly fluttering chicken, right behind it a leisurely paddling cow, only to be sucked into the cauldron of the next roundabout with a threatening incline. Infernal noise. Ringing the bell, honking. The roar and roar of ancient diesel engines. Smelly tuktuks, rattling delivery vans, countless cyclists, moped drivers, passers-by, and above all the incessantly shrill whistle of a policeman who tries hard to maintain something like right-of-way in this bunch of hopeful road users. Which, however, is completely open. Kathmandu Ring Road. The bus driver gives everything. His assistant hanging far out of the window no less. The two virtuously thread through the chaos of Nepal’s most important traffic artery. As prominent on the map as the Berliner Ring? but actually little more than a rutted cart path. Every now and then a piece of asphalt, otherwise clay and dust, flanked by wooden stalls, which are placed exactly on the gutter, in which goat heads, saffron and Sony tapes are offered. Oil-drenched workshops next to steaming food stalls, with a few pathetic residential areas and fields in between. Children, poultry, stray dogs, women knocking stones on the roadside, and everywhere a thin-legged pilgrim with his forehead blessed by an illustrious cow. »Namaste Nepal« ?? Greetings, you Hindu empire in the middle of the Himalayas, you country with the highest peaks under the sun and one of the lowest gross national products in the world. Without a bus, our small tour group would probably have dispersed after 500 meters of the Ring Road. Only in Mugling, with 110 kilometers and a four-hour safety distance from the capital, does the tour continue on two wheels. But everything stays different: “The best thing to do is to forget the front brake immediately, there is nothing to get there,” we learn during the technical briefing. Okay, then you just brake with your foot, to the left. The gearshift lever is on the right, first gear up, the remaining three are pushed down. It is comforting that at least the clutch and gas function as they should. There are also traffic rules, even if their subtleties are barely comprehensible for normal central Europeans. In general, if you want to pass somewhere, you honk. And cows always have the right of way. Nobody has ever said that riding a motorcycle in Asia is easy, especially on a Royal Enfield 500. So no whining now. Kick starter broken in top dead center? that’s where the ammeter pointer is at the bottom, and then no more inhibitions, please. Will somehow go wrong. The archaic single-cylinder cylinders are surprisingly easy to bring to life, get on their toes without further ado and, as in the best British Empire days, carry us majestically thumping from the courtyard of the Hotel du Mugling. “Drive left” ?? almost forgotten. In view of the sum of strangeness, it doesn’t make a big difference either. A courageous push of the gas, two kicks in the third, then we are right in the middle of this brightly colored country with its 23 million inhabitants. More than half are probably traveling in packed buses, from whose roofs they wave down in a friendly manner. 26 kilometers to Gorkha ?? 26 kilometers and a little eternity. The way up to the homeland of the Shah kings and warriors leads back to a time that was believed to be long gone. Past ox carts and water buffalos pulling mighty plows, past huts in front of which straw is threshed by hand, while mothers bathe their children under the house entrance and warm up tea at the open brick hearth. It smells of earth, wood fire and incense sticks, a little boy is painting flowers in the dust with a stick. The farmers come from the fields with huge baskets on their backs, bringing in every grain of their hard-earned harvest. Over 90 percent of the Nepalese live from agriculture, over 70 percent are illiterate. The Chinese built the road to Gorkha. And the mystical light in the narrow streets of the temple city could come directly from the sources of Indian filmmakers. Strange that poverty can look so beautiful. The rice terraces rise up the slopes gently green behind the multi-storey wooden houses ?? Fields laboriously wrested from the mountains, which are cultivated square centimeter by square centimeter. The Gurung mountain people have little to give away. Unless the gods ask for their gifts. To oppose this would be very dangerous, since after such sin the Hindu soul will wander into a pathetic creature at rebirth. For example, Kali, the goddess of destruction, asks for fresh blood tomorrow. Up in the Royal Palace, 240 meters above the city. Even the steep ascent just before sunrise is a sacrifice. 45 minutes long. The Hindus, however, bravely drag their goats and chickens up with them, gather on the stairs of the temple with the typical, lavishly decorated pagoda roof and wait for the Brahman, who is supposed to kill the animals in order to appease Kali. Before the bloody ritual begins, we flee towards happier celebrations. About 170 are recorded on the Hindu lunar calendar, and the most beautiful, the five-day festival of lights, is imminent. A counterpart to the occidental Thanksgiving. Garlands are already being offered down on the market square and colored powder for making up faces. In the open shops there is sizzling, pounding, washing and laying. Foot-operated sewing machines hum with alcohol stoves, sacks full of spices spread their mysterious scent, two boys proudly present a live chicken for sale. Gorkha ?? a completely normal, crazy Nepalese town. Pokhara is the next destination. That means back to the Prithvi Highway. The overland route should be relatively easy to drive. Gradually getting acquainted with the Enfields, we let it crash down to Mugling with up to 70 things. Yesterday 50 was the highest of feelings ?? and 50 are damn fast if you can’t find a brake. The completely red, white and green painted Castrol gas station, just behind the junction to Dumre, keeps up with the subtropical flora on the Marsyangdi River. The fuel, however, is a gloomy affair, costs 40 rupees per liter, the equivalent of 57 cents, more than an average daily income in this country and is still of poor quality. Up to 50 percent adulterated with water. It probably hardly brings more than 65 octane together. Such an Enfield swallows everything “and even climbs more than 5000 meters high Himalayan passes with this scrap” ?? says Peter, who has lived in India for over ten years and has been working on motorcycle tours, so no problem: Pokhara is at just 853 meters, but with around 110,000 inhabitants, it presents completely new challenges for moped driving. First you have to get into the congested streets, getting through is another matter? what the bus driver must have experienced in ten times as densely populated Kathmandu …? But Asia wouldn’t be Asia if everything didn’t work out somehow, everyone dodged a bit and muddled along more or less smoothly. Without any losses worth mentioning, we end up in one of the numerous hostels that vie with illustrious names such as Butterfly, Tranquility or Buddha Lodge to attract trekkers from around the world. Pokhara is full of it. No shop without hiking boots, sleeping bags, rucksacks and energy bars, because from here they are within reach: Annapurna I, Dhaulagiri, Machhapuchare. Two eight-thousanders and the distinctive holy Fischschwanzberg. Covered in snow, they rise up into the deep blue sky and declare the entire main Alpine ridge to be wasted. On the way to Beni, the westernmost outpost of civilization, which can still be reached by road, we come so close that our eyes fail. The trekking tours into the Annapurna area start here. Taxi operators cart the wanderers up from Pokhara before the Sherpa take on the responsibility and haul the luggage. For 200 to 300 rupees a day they accompany their customers to lonely heights and earn not that bad compared to field workers. Sherpa, which in modern times has become a synonym for porters, means “inhabitant of the east”. And in the east of Nepal, where the ethnic group is originally at home, the Sherpa have been hauling every item they need in week-long marches to their villages at 3300 to 4600 meters above sea level for centuries. Often more than one and a half times their body weight, they say up to 90 kilograms. Roads have only existed in this country for 50 years. The mobile network of roads currently covers 7,550 kilometers. Almost half of it is paved. Austria and Switzerland, together roughly the size of the Hindu kingdom and also served by Bergen, bring a proud 280,000 kilometers together. However, not one of them as exciting as the almost 100 on the Siddhartha Highway, which leads from Pokhara down to the Indian border. It takes its name from the Buddha’s birthplace, otherwise it has little transcendent traits, but turns out to be a crumbly, more or less dissolving slope that will keep us busy all day. At first because of the intoxicating views into the deep gorges of turquoise rivers, then because of the abysmal traffic routing. Somewhere in a tiny little nest, the worst part of the route: knee-deep, muddy gullies, au cheek. But the Classic Bikes cut through and the village workforce waved as if the Paris Dakar were passing by. After that, the Enduro cannot be stopped in the Enfield. Stoically plows over everything that gets in the way, down into the fertile plain of the Terai. We dive into the heat of the tropics, the Indian border is only a few kilometers away. Politically difficult terrain. Not only immigrants, but also criminal energies pour into the country through the open borders to the impoverished neighboring Indian provinces of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal. Nepal actually has enough to do with the Maoists. Since the murder of the royal family in June 2001, the communist subversives have become increasingly brutal. Your hatred is primarily directed against police stations? they just blow it up. Suddenly nothing works with Bardaghat. Striking rickshaw drivers are blocking the road, and there is tension in the air that suggests that tariffs are not being haggled here. The day before, a man was murdered at a festival, it gets through to us. Probably in front of the greased police. People want education? where the killer is, we shouldn’t happen under any circumstances. The crowd was extremely upset, and there might be shooting. That’s what it feels like too. The so far overwhelming Nepalese friendliness is zero and nothing to be felt here. Dark faces fix our motorcycles, in between a reporter from the local newspaper with the probing question: “Are you a Christian?” We wait for the blockade to end in a bar. To eat there is the inevitable Dal-Bhat. A combination of spicy lentil soup and rice, garnished with spinach or meat on request. 30 rupees in the luxury version, 15 without anything. Including a lookup. It is served from plastic buckets in passing. Lentils in the green, rice in the blue, chicken and pickles are all. The demo is over at around 2 p.m. We set course for the Royal Chitwan National Park. At Tadi Bazar the driveway branches off, then another three or four kilometers to the boardwalk on the river and over there in a south-westerly direction. One searches for a long time for signposts in Nepal. They appear either suddenly or not at all. Just like elephants. You can search all of South Africa for them, and in the middle of Tadi they suddenly stand next to you, participating in normal traffic. Between tractors, hay carts and God knows what kind of vehicles. Gray colossi, a small, barefoot guide on his back. Majestic. They are barely audible, their landmark-sized footsteps touching down next to us only with a gentle tap, a rustling of the wrinkled dermis, small, sweeping eyes, the swinging trunk, the child unconcernedly stretching a few leaves. Then the wave of ringing bicycles and diesel-fogging buses closes behind them. You are over. What a moment. Behind Hetauda we are back in the mountains. Kulekani, the main pass in the country that connects the capital with the rest of the world. A priest blesses us before we swing up to plunge into Kathmandu’s cauldron from almost 2600 meters. Now we’re ready, ready for action on the Ring Road. This lousy, completely overloaded road on which the whole of Nepal seems to be turning in circles. Just follow me, Peter had said, and if we lose each other: There is life after the road.

Info

Even if Nepal is not an easy travel destination? overcoming adversity is worth it. Grandiose eight-thousanders and extremely personable people beckon.

From around 600 euros, Qatar and Thai International Airways as well as Royal Air Nepal fly directly to Kathmandu. Lufthansa flies to New Delhi, where Royal Air provides connections. German citizens with a valid passport receive a tourist visa for 60 or days upon entry for 30 or 50 dollars. The best times for motorcycle tours are in the autumn after the monsoon from the end of October to the end of November and in the clear spring from February to March also includes the tropical south and the national parks. Overall, road connections are rare and often in poor condition, and remote villages in the high mountains can often only be reached on foot. Orientation is difficult because there are no precise maps or signposts and sometimes only boundary stones or the bus destination notices help. The motorcycles: The rented Royal Enfield 500 takes a bit of getting used to due to the reversed brake and shift pedals as well as the reversed shift pattern (first gear up, second to fourth down). But those who are flexible enough will enjoy an ideal partner for this country and its routes. No matter if pothole asphalt, gravel passes or dirt roads ?? the 24-horsepower Enfields swallow everything and also offer the advantage of being much less conspicuous in the street scene than a modern travel enduro. And you can’t and shouldn’t drive particularly fast in Nepal due to the innumerable routes and the colorful mix of two- and four-legged road users. Organized travel? Of course – if you have no experience with motorcycle tours in Asia, the safest way to get started is with the help of an organized tour. Because in Nepal motorcycling takes place at the upper end of the driving skill level. Roads, traffic behavior, orientation, left-hand traffic, right of way, fellow players ?? everything is different. If you add an unfamiliar motorcycle, the stress level quickly adds up to the highest regions. This country is warmly recommended for those who already know their way around, because the friendly population helps to cope with many situations. Security and InfoNepal was previously considered a peaceful and safe travel destination. But as a result of the unrest following the king’s assassination on June 1, 2001 and the increased number of attacks by Maoist rebels, the situation in the country is currently tense. As a rule, this has no influence on travelers, but to be on the safe side, the situation should be observed before the tour. Information from the Nepalese Embassy in Berlin, phone 030/34359920, the Foreign Office at www.auswaertiges-amt.de or the ACTION TEAM (see box). Literature: The best »Nepal« guides come from Reise Know-How and Stefan Loose. No route, no price, no departure time that would not be included in these top works in the industry for 22 euros each. Images are not used for this. The cards from Mayrs, Nelles and Int. Travel maps in 1: 500,000 to 800,000 are not really convincing on the way because many places are missing. With luck, you can find better ones in the travel bookstores of Kathmandu-Thamel. Distance covered xxxx kilometers Time required: two weeks

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