A ride through the Nepali Terrai into India:
KTM to Nepalgung (Indian border) – 508 km
KTM to Gonda (India) – 636 km
Kathmandu to Mugling Bazaar – 110 km
Mugling Bazaar to Narayanghat – 34 km
Narayanghat to Dumkibas – 63 km
The story so far:
On his search, Mr Felix has ridden through Hell, died in the bathroom, been visited by the Ghosts of Lovers Past, fallen down a mineshaft and found the Green Gibbon. After five days of rock and roll in Narayanghat, he resumes his journey west.
Part 14: Back on the road!
I roll out of Narayanghat at 10 am and Raja stands on the steps of the hotel waving me off. After almost five long days, the certified nut case in room 104 is finally leaving.
I ride past the bus depot and head down beside the market and can’t stop chuckling. Asia! If I was Raja, I’d be throwing rocks at Mr Felix as he pedalled off down the road to the next hotel and lucky houseboy, but no, he’s been attentive all morning and seems genuinely sorry to see me go.
I’d put my arm around him before I climbed on the bike and said, “I’ll never forget you, Raja!” and meant it.
I turn on to the highway into the morning traffic and weave through a long line of squeaking rickshaws carrying bundles of schoolgirls in crisp white shirts and blue skirts, and stand on the pedals and accelerate past gangs of wide-eyed schoolboys on bikes.
“Hello mister!” they chime, and I ring my bell, put on a burst of manly speed and feel the wind clipping at my cheeks.
I’m back on the road.
The highway out of Narayanghat is paved and wide and heads southwest for 60 kilometres, running just to the north of the Royal Chitwan National Park, before it crosses the Binai Khola (Binai River) and heads due west to Butwal, today’s probable destination, a further 60 kilometres on.
It’s a mainly flat run but I’m leaving today’s schedule wide open. If I flag or the weather turns bad, I’ll pull in and spend the night at one of the small guesthouses dotted along the road.
After the fun and games of the last few days, and especially last night, I know better than to be headstrong and antagonise the gods.
I stop for a late breakfast a few kilometres out of the city at a roadhouse of sorts, and when leaving almost skittle a lone brown duck that’s taking it’s usual, I guess, leisurely morning constitutional between the petrol pumps. “Sqwak!” goes the duck, highly indignant, flapping its wings, and it pays to concentrate.
I look over my shoulder to see if the owner isn’t standing on the driveway shaking his fist, also highly indignant, but no, it’s Asia, and they don’t do that sort of thing, so on I ride.
Twenty kilometres down the road the traffic drops off to a trickle. There’s dense forest on both sides of the highway and I sit high in the seat, coasting down the centre of a green tunnel while my front tyre goes ‘rrrrrrrr!’
I ride through a small village where young children call to their mothers from darkened doorways and arrest time in a squeal and a jig, and old men sit immobile under shady verandas and give me a quick salute, reminding me of my destination.
I cycle past a herd of cows and pretty girls in wrap around skirts turn their bright, hopeful faces in surprise, splashing light all over the road, and what is this landscape I move through?
There’s rain clouds up ahead – big, floating, white and grey hulks, expanding and billowing slowly upwards into a rich, blue sky, silent and as yet, benign.
On I ride.
Off to my right the thin blue line of the Himalayas comes and goes through the trees and every few kilometres I roll down sharp curves through crisp air into verdant, shaded river valleys, across sparkling streams or the odd wide brown river, and work my way over the bridge and up the other side, pushing on the pedals, leaning over the handlebars until the road levels out again, and I puff and sweat and settle back into rhythm.
Just after one o’clock I cross the Binai Kola and roll into Dumkibas. It’s a small, forgettable village with a few brick houses on each side of the road and a couple of earthen floor chai-shops.
Coming over the small crest down into the town I could see a steep, deep green ridgeline of mountains cutting straight across the road up ahead, and unless we’re taking a rather long detour, it looks like I’ve got some climbing in front of me.
It might be time to take on refreshments.
The chai-shop has the usual rice, dahl and chapatis laid out in pots and metal plates over the woodstove and after this morning’s brisk ride it smells like real food. Thank the sweet Lord for an appetite and a body.
While I’m sipping on a chai and waiting for the daal-baht to arrive, a small, thin man with wide, staring, fragile eyes wanders into the shop. He’s dressed in rags, says nothing and acknowledges nobody, and pads silently through to the back and takes a seat by the wall.
He looks about fifty or so and is possibly Nepali, but judging by his face, build and polite body language I’d swear he was Japanese, or had been at some point before he got deeply lost in Asia.
Nobody in the shop pays him the slightest attention, so I guess he’s a regular, and he sits, staring into the shadows, as weightless as a ghost.
After a few minutes, curious, I reach over and offer him a cigarette, but he looks blankly at the pack and turns away.
The daal-baht arrives and I spoon it into my mouth but in the face of such pointed human loss it’s hard to eat with any gusto. Still, I brought it on myself, so no use complaining, and thank God for Asia. If this was the West, we'd have cured the poor guy by now.
“Come now, Fujisan, you can’t go wandering all over the place like a madman!” says the nice man.
“No, please, leave me alone!” pleads Fujisan, as they drag him out of Starbucks.
“No, you’re lost and we’re just taking you…”
“But I like being lost!” he shouts in defiance, and so proves his madness.
According to the chai-shop owner, who speaks a little English, there’s a fruit shop over the road, a guesthouse just up the road, and right up the road there’s a steep climb through the mountains for either 7 kilometres, or 14, and I can’t decipher which.
“You mean seven up and seven down,” I ask, “or fourteen up and fourteen down?”
“Yes, fourteen!” he says. “Take three hours on bicycle!” he adds helpfully, which confuses me even more.
“Very steep?” I ask, and plane my flat palm at a ridiculous angle to the table and he says, “Yes!” whatever that means.
I can’t wait for iBlab, the portable digital voice translator to be released on to the market, but until then international cycling will remain an inexact sport, it seems.
By the time I get back out to my bike the clouds are hanging low in the sky and hugely pregnant, and if the ride up the mountain turns out to be the full 14 kilometres it’s going to take me over an hour, and from the looks of it I’m going to get dumped on real bad.
“Ah, no,” I decide. It’s a bit early to pull in, but so be it.
I cycle off up the road and turn right into the guesthouse, which is no more than a raw brick box with a few windows and a sign, but the owner is helpful and his wife flaps gently around making me comfortable, and this looks like home for tonight.
I take a quick, cold shower and by the time I emerge refreshed in my clean sarong the owner has kindly placed a comfortable wicker chair on the rough concrete platform at the back of the guesthouse under the first-floor overhang, and his wife is smiling shyly and holding a tray of hot black tea and a couple of biscuits.
It’s the Ritz, and I’m a fortunate man indeed.