Snapshots from Nepal: Part One.

Since Nepal is known for being a 'Hare Rama Hare Krishna' destination, it seemed fitting to make this the opening shot for my posts on Nepal. This is the entire country in a single frame. The woman, however, is smoking a regular cigarette.
And the worries of her age go up in wisps of smoke. A local woman en route Kodari, from where the Chinese border is visible.

Nepal… Hmm, I’m really not sure where to begin. I can never separate the journey from the place on any of my travels. Nepal, however, broke the monotony. I am able to clearly distinguish between the journey through Nepal and the country itself – bizarre as it may sound. The reason’s quite simple – my 2000-plus kilometre ride delivered on the promise of adventure and adrenalin rush more than the place itself did.

Don’t get me wrong – the land of Gurkhas is stunningly picturesque in bits and pieces, but the first and most recurrent word on my holiday was not ‘stunning’, or ‘picturesque’, ‘beautiful’ or other similar adjectives. It was ‘impoverished’. It was the first thing I noticed on crossing the border at Kakarbhitta, and continued to notice throughout the ride – throngs of disabled people, an average quality of life, scarcity of water, power shortage, almost non-existent infrastructure… the works. If the country has any riches, I didn’t see any evidence of it. Not even in Kathmandu or Pokhara. I guess that’s the downside of riding through a country or visiting parts of it that do not have the ‘Tourist’ tag attached to them – you discover the reality behind the image portrayed to the world.

Fishing in shallow waters, en route Janakpuri.
Fishing in shallow waters, en route Janakpuri.

So that’s that about the place. Now about the ride… well, I have one word for it too: crazy. 80% of our journey was an off-road one, riding up steep hills, through parched river beds dotted with parched lands, surfaces covered with inches and inches of mud, slush and boulders. I am happy to say that my spine is fine and my butt isn’t in a rut. It was my first off-roading experience, but enough to last a lifetime – I have sworn off off-roading (for the time being at least). And this time, I didn’t fall off the bike even once or get chased by formidable roosters.

That’s about all I have to say about Nepal. I’ll let the pictures and videos work the rest of the magic. Since a lot of the riding was tricky, I shot a lot with my Moto G phone as well. You’ll know the difference. (Or not, because my phone camera is pretty good too.)

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Rest stop, on the way from Siliguri to Kakarbhitta.

 

At Chaubis, Bhedetar. Everywhere we went, the rains followed. This was snapped at 5:30 p.m. in the evening. Thunderstorms and lightening were the flavour of the evening.
And then there was light. Chaubis, Bhedetar. Everywhere we went, the rains followed. This was snapped at 5:30 p.m. from the first floor of our resort. Thunderstorms and lightening were the flavour of the evening.

 

A wandering minstrel, Chaubis. The instrument is a type of Sarangi, but what I find most fascinating is the way the sound box is shaped – like a shoe. Imagine this music playing to the thunder and lightning show that the weather at Chaubis put up for us that evening.

At the Janakpuri temple, where onlookers listened to an enactment of Sita's version of the Ramayan on a candybox television.
A lesson in mythology at the Janaki temple, Janakpuri, where onlookers listened to an enactment of Sita’s version of the Ramayan on a candybox television.

 

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Sita’s home – Janaki Temple, Janakpuri. The temple, like the town, gets its name from Sita – known in these parts as Janaki. Not surprisingly, a majority of the visitors are women, most of them hanging around the inner sanctum of the temple, chatting, gossiping and exchanging stories.

 

Crispy, gooey jalebis at a breakfast stop on the way.
Crispy, gooey jalebis at a breakfast stop on the way.

 

Smooth tarred roads, the last stretch that we saw before days and days of off-roading.
Serpentine roads, en route Kathmandu. Smooth tarred roads on the way to Kathmandu – the last stretch that we saw before days and days of off-roading.

 

How to lose weight while riding. En route Kathmandu. I wasn’t kidding when I said that Nepal doesn’t really have too many tarred roads.

 

A glimpse of the architecture at the Jal Narayan Temple. The Jal Narayan - a solid-gold god asleep as he rests on serpents in the middle of water - is a remarkable example of craftsmanship, but wasn't allowed to be photographed.
Repairing the time tear, Jal Narayan Temple, Kathmandu. Restrorations at the Jal Narayan temple. The Jal Narayan – a solid-marble god asleep on serpents in the middle of water – is a remarkable example of craftsmanship. Couldn’t photograph it, though.

 

Pashupatinath Temple, Kathmandu. Again, stunning architecture and craftsmanship of the centre sanctum, with giant lions and kings carved out of solid stone dating back to 400 A.D, but couldn't be photographed for two reasons - one, it's not allowed, and two, non-Hindus are not allowed either. Where there is a will, there is a way, though, and I managed to sneak in and look around.
No entry. Pashupatinath Temple, Kathmandu. Again, stunning architecture and craftsmanship of the centre sanctum, with giant lions and kings carved out of solid stone dating back to 400 A.D, but couldn’t be photographed for two reasons – one, it’s not allowed, and two, non-Hindus are not allowed either. Where there is a will, there is a way, though, and I managed to sneak in and look around.

 

Prayer lamps on display at Bodhi Stupa, Kathmandu. I'm in love with monasteries, and was especially fascinated with this display at the base of the stupa. There are many stores, hotels and restaurants surrounding the stupa and the place is quite commercial, but everything just fades away when you climb up on to the stupa and walk around it.
Arranged prayers, Bodhi Stupa, Kathmandu. I’m in love with monasteries, and was especially fascinated with this display at the base of the stupa. There are many stores, hotels and restaurants surrounding the stupa and the place is quite commercial, but everything just fades away when you climb up on to the stupa and walk around it.

 

Patan Darbar Square, Kathmandu. Darbar Squares are massive, open spaces with temples, palaces and civilian residences co-existing next to each other. Patan Darbar Square is five centuries old an is the perfect example of traditions and modern-day living coming together.  This poor lion, however, is not a happy creature what with his majesty being abused by a shameless display of ghutkas.
Majestic no more. Patan Darbar Square, Kathmandu. Darbar Squares are massive, open spaces with temples, palaces and civilian residences co-existing next to each other. Patan Darbar Square is five centuries old and is the perfect example of traditions and modern-day living coming together. This poor lion, however, is not a happy creature, what with his majesty being abused by a shameless display of ghutkas.

 

Giving the wheels a sunset break, on the way to Pokhara.
Giving the wheels a sunset break, on the way to Kathmandu.

We spent a couple of days in Kathmandu and rode on to the highest point in Nepal, the Chinese border and a hotel at the end of the universe. I had a duck for company (what is it with me and birds??) and two snow-capped days in the lap of the Annapurna range. That, however, is for another post. This should whet your appetite enough for you to look forward to Part Two!

Masinagudi: A jungle Haiku

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Masinagudi from the Safari centre.

At the junction of

Nece Road, we meet early to

ride high with the wind.

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Golden butter melts

Over soft, fluffy idlis –

Breakfast at Bidadi

Piping hot Tatte (South Indian for plate) Idlis and crisp golden vadas at the famous Shree Renukamba hotel.
Piping hot Tatte (South Indian for plate) Idlis and crisp golden vadas at the famous Shree Renukamba hotel.

The lull of the wind

whooshing past, rocks you to sleep;

The jungle wakes you.

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Dry, brown crackling grass;

Not a leaf moves in the air,

Nor an animal.

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Except, wait, what is

that in the distance? Oh! A

lone tusker, walking!

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At Tiger Paws,

We all arrive, tired and tanned.

Lunch, and then the safari.

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Deep inside we go,

Hoping for tigers. But there

are only peacocks.

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Some bison, a hurt

elephant calf, eating slow.

…The safari ends.

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The jungle’s quiet,

Like your mind; clear, like your thoughts

amid deep blue hills.

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Maybe the jungle’s

plan is to keep you coming

back to see fauna.

Maybe the plan is

to share the stillness of the

tigers’ home with you.

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That’s why, cat or not

When the jungle calls, answer

with a smile and go.

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Getting there: Masinagudi is approximately a 6-hour drive from Bangalore. The roads are nice and the drive through the forest is brilliant. I’m not sure about buses plying to the place, but i guess there will be.

Go if: You love jungles, wildlife, nature, need some solitude and quiet time.

Biking 101 or what riding to Masinagudi taught me.

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The bike that bore my weight with machismo.

When was the last time you experienced a whole new dimension to travel? Something that was so starkly different that it opened up a world of alternative travel experiences? Mine was last weekend, when I went on my first ever biking trip as a pillion on a Bullet Machismo 500. The wind in my hair, the tarred road under my feet that dissolved into a motion blur as we picked up speed, the machine gun doog-doog-doog of the Bullet’s engine… I can confidently say that the pleasure of a biking road trip has no equal. The traffic is just background noise and your 9 to 5 becomes an alternate reality; nothing is of consequence any more. All that matters is the love affair between you and the road and the elements. It’s a liberating experience.

Of course, biking is not everyone’s cup of tea, especially if you’re going with people you don’t know. Experienced as well as novice riders will have a hundred things to say about it, a sore backside being a constant warning. But you’ll never know what works for you (or doesn’t) till you get on a bike and hit the road. The two days I spent riding into the wilderness taught me some very important life – and biking – lessons.

#1 Choose your riding club with care

Going with friends is great, but what works for riding clubs is that they’ve done this thing a hundred times before and are extremely organized. There are a few biking clubs in Bangalore, but the friend I rode with is a part of Bangalore Motorcycle Club, and it was a great first experience to go with them. The bikes travel in single file on the roads, flanked by a pilot – the biker that leads the group – and a sweep – the biker that rounds up the group and is always the last one riding. Hand signals are passed down like Chinese Whispers along the line and were damn fascinating to watch. Spare parts and a mechanic are mandatory, and there’s no place better than the middle of the jungle to help you understand how crucial they are.

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Riding back to the resort after the jungle safari.

#2 Leave your hang-ups at home

Learn to let go and get friendly. Your riding group is going to be your on-road family, and it makes sense to establish a certain familiarity with them. If you’re riding pillion, make sure you know your rider because it’s the two of you on the bike and really, you’ll be bumping into his/her back a lot and that can get awkward with strangers. The BMC bikers I met were just as crazy and uncomplicated as the people I usually meet, so I had no problems bonding with them.

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The advantage of riding with someone familiar: you get to do crazy things like take pictures of shadows on the road.

#3 Protect yourself against the elements

At the end of the trip, my face looked like it belonged to a Matrioshka doll – I had two spots of deep red on my cheeks and chin, thanks to the sun. But that’s also because I went without sunscreen lotion like a stud muffin. So, protection gear must include a comfortable helmet, an all-weather jacket, a scarf to cover your face, sunscreen lotion and a pair of good shades. Oh, and good shoes.

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Riding jacket: check. Helmet: check. Shoes: check. Gloves: check. Sun glasses: check. Pillion: Oh wait, did she fall off somewhere?

#4 Biking is as basic as it gets

It’s not exactly about roughing it out, but it’s not like a car where you can carry your house and (your neighbour’s) with you. Biking trips teach you to be frugal with your packing. You don’t end up spending too much either – our ride was supposed to be to Bandipur, but things changed and we ended up in Masinagudi, at a resort with a gorgeous view of the Nilgiri hills. Because the bookings were last minute, we had four rooms between 17 of us. And we managed just fine.

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Travelling light is key.

#5 Save your backside by shifting positions from time to time

Take turns at moving your legs, sitting straight, slouching and raising your backside off the seat over speed bumps. I gripped my friend’s shoulder at regular intervals to leverage my weight (I was numb at one point) and lift myself off the seat or slide forward a little. Oh, and definitely carry some meds with you if you suffer from motion sickness.

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I call this the ‘Straight Leg’: bikers often use the bars in the front to stretch their legs over them or raise them over it.

#6 Biking knows no discrimination

Anyone can ride. There was a woman rider in our group and four women pillions, including me. Some of us didn’t know how to ride a geared bike. Some of the bikers had been with other biking clubs before. Some were new at long rides and some were seasoned trippers. Some were techies, some teachers, some from HR and marketing. All of them were bound together by one thing only: their love for biking.

En route Gopalswamy Betta.
En route Gopalswamy Betta.

I would recommend at least one biking trip for everyone at least once in their life. This was my practice ride before my two-week biking trip to Bhutan. And now that I’ve got a taste of this, I don’t want to let go of it.