"Where Happiness Comes Naturally" Mahendranagar Travelogue by travelinxs
Mahendranagar Travel Guide: 0 reviews and 11 photos
Nepal had a great deal to live up to. It was my third visit, and it had consistently maintained the top spot as my favorite country in the world. But since I was there last, in 2004, the monarchy had been deposed, the Maoists now formed part of the government, and a new wave of unrest prevailed. And from a cyclist’s perspective, I didn’t know if things might be different.
We entered the country through its far western border, into Nepal’s least developed area, which had previously been off-limits to foreigners as it had been a hotbed for Maoist insurgency.
After paying for our visas, which had typically just been increased, we rode the 6km to the first town of Mahendranagar. For a border town, it was pleasantly hassle-free, though very hot and humid.
We booked into the Sweet Dreams Hotel, which although was in the midrange price bracket still only cost a fiver for an ensuite room. After our plod north through India, we needed a day off.
Then I fell sick. I was as much disappointed in myself as anything. I had hoped I could have made the whole journey, from England to Kathmandu, without so much as a pulled muscle or a bad bowel movement, but it wasn’t to be. As I keep telling Juliet I am, of course, double-‘ard. So if there was something severe enough to keep me bedridden, it could only have been the advanced staged of rabies, couple with malaria and Japanese encephalitis with a bout of cholera to boot. Her own diagnosis was Man Flue. Having no bowel problem, we compromised on the stomach cramps probably being an ulcer. Whatever it was, I was pretty much incapacitated for four days, which I whiled away in front of the movie channel, leading to a bad back!
Finally, I was well enough to get going. It was going to be a long, nine day ride due east to our first, and penultimate destination of Royal Chitwan Nature Reserve. We might have done it in less, but the sweltering heat kept our days a little shorter than we were used to.
We were going to follow the Mahendra Highway, the only road crossing the length of Nepal from west to east, through the lowlands of the Terai.
I had photocopied the relevant pages we needed from a Lonely Planet guide to Nepal, borrowed from a tourist in India (for 1 rupee a copy plus a 10 rupee bar of chocolate for the tourist!) Despite the west accounting for a good one-third of the country, the guide book only dedicated half a dozen pages to it. That saved on photocopies, at least. The author said that the Terai; “…is perfectly suited to cycling … the terrain is pool table-flat.” Perhaps he was comparing it to the pool table down the Royal George, but it was about as flat as Hugh Grants hair. Had he actually traveled across the Terai, which I doubted very much, it must have been by bus and he must have slept through the two thousand-foot climbs up two hills. And he had probably never owned a bicycle. As any cycle tourer will vouch, never bother asking a non-cyclist about the road ahead. ‘Flat’ will turn out to be hilly, ‘hilly’ mountainous, ‘mountainous’ and you’ll be needing crampons fitted to your wheels – or it will be flat. Better not to ask in the first place.
But the ever persistent incompetence of the Lonely Planet aside, long stretches were fairly flat and the hills not killer mountain climbs, helping to vary the already stunning landscape.
Id also read the Mahendra Highway was a notorious accident black spot. This appeared justified when, on our first morning, we saw a motorbike collide with a tractor just ahead of us. We rushed over, dropped our bikes and pulled the motorcyclist out of a ditch. He was concussed, but not seriously hurt, and once back on his feet we left him a bottle of water and went on our way.
The warmth that radiated from the people at the roadside was overwhelming. All the adults smiled and gently called out “Hello!” All the children waved frantically, calling out, “Bye-bye! Bye-bye! Bye-bye!” Still, today, very few tourist venture out this way, and those that do invariably whiz through by bus on their way to Kathmandu or Pokhara. To have such a huge part of the country to ourselves was a privilege and a delight.
The road was in a good state of repair, though the rough grade of asphalt, similar to that used on most Turkish roads, made it marginally laborious. But the traffic was so light that most of the time it was just the two of us, sailing down the center of the road, with just the hum of rubber on asphalt as the tires sang out their marching tune with a chorus of tropical birds singing backup from the surrounding forest. And when a bandh, or strike, was called, which still seems to happen with predictable frequency, roadblocks were set up against motorized vehicles and the road really did become deserted.
There was a very significant drop in living standards compared to India. The vast majority of village homes were just mud and wattle structures with thatch roofs. Water came from community wells and electricity often only available in the towns. But where wealth may have been absent in its entirety, the happy smiles and shared laughter that filled those same villages was an enviable treasure. The Nepali, put simply, are truly a beautiful people.
Our first couple of days ride east were hot, and I was still feeling a little fragile, stopping for the night in a simple, two-pound a night room at a roadside hotel, though I was surprised to find it had a hot shower!
On our third day, after a night at the promisingly named Dolphin Tourist Hotel in Chisapani, which turned out to be no more than a wooden hut beside the river, we rode through the Bardia National; Park.
The evening before a warden from the park had warned us against the risk of attack by wild animals, and as the road descended deeper into the jungle we were sure to keep our wits about us. We had a close escape when we were charged by a rabid peacock, and a couple of deer bared their teeth at us as we rode past, but nothing really life-threatening. Passing over a bridge we saw large crocodiles basking in the sun upon a sandbank. We stopped to watch them and have a snack. I tried to liven up our entertainment by throwing a banana skin at one, but somehow he really didn’t seem bothered.
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