Cycling the South of India. The ride, the road, the facts
Cycling Nepal: Over the hills and far away!
Leg 1: Kathmandu to Nepalgung and the Indian Border - 517 km
Leg 2: The Indian Border at Nepalgunj to Gonda (India) - 100 km
See Nepal Map at left.
The Ride: A truly excellent ride. Mostly downhill to flat, a great road, minimal traffic and good but basic food and accommodation. The scenery is spectacular, the locals are friendly and it's as safe and relaxed as it gets.
The Road: Sealed, wide, smooth and in first class condition all of the way. Leaving Kathmandu, the run is effectively 130 km downhill (out of the Himalayan foothills) to Narayanghat, and then flat to rolling along the Terai all the way to Nepalgunj. This is one sweet road!
The People/The Tourism:
See Some Snaps... at left.
Kathmandu: Western tourists have been flooding into Kathmandu since around about the time 'All you need is Love' was first released in the late sixties. The lifestyle is laid-back, the architecture exotic, the food is good, the drugs are plentiful, and the whole exotic show is surrounded by the the Himalayas, the world's tallest mountain range, A tourist Mecca it is, and with pretty good reason. Kathmandu is a genuine one-off, and cycling around town is the fun way to go.
Still, cycling training regimes can take all shapes and sizes, so it's not all bad. See Kathmandu... the Other Side! at left.
The Kathmandu Valley: The Valley is only about 40 km from one end to the other, and you can easily spend a few days chuffing about visiting the many wonders and weird things, your bike being your greatest asset.
The Terai: The Terai is the tropical southern area of Nepal that borders India. Geographically it's characterised by flat to rolling plains, which makes for great cycling. It's also thinly populated, and the locals are as trustworthy and laid back as it gets.
See Nepal Topographical Map, and Out in the Terai... at left.
Road Safety: Considering the good roads, the moderate to thin traffic volume and the fairly polite drivers, this ride comes up trumps on safety.
Road Carnage: Despite the excellent safety standard, Mr Pumpy had two traffic related near-death experiences on this ride, the closest he's ever come to taking that big bike path up into the sky.
See Mr Pumpy's Near-Death Experiences 1 & 3 below.
Hills (to climb): Three of note.
Visa: The usual Nepali tourist visa is for six weeks, and if you've got that amount of time to spend, you can do worse than to spend it on this ride.
Time: If you are fit you can easily average 125 km/day on this ride, and make it into Nepalgunj in 4 days.
Best time to go:
See Cycling the Monsoon! at left.
Health/Microbes: No too bad on the scale of things Asian: better than India, worse than Thailand, and about equivalent to Indonesia. You pay your money, you take your chances, and use common sense. .
Camping: Once you're through Narayanghat the camping possibilities are endless. Camp in a field by a river, snuggle up to your bike under the stars, whisper sweet things... it could be worse.
Personal Safety: As safe as it gets.
Women cyclists: Perfectly safe, even if you cycle alone. The Nepalis are pretty OK on the annoying, small-brained male side of the equation, and as usual, the local women, although aghast at your bold cycling endeavour, will welcome you with open arms.
Bike Jihad/Al Qaeda: Not a problem! There's a minority Muslim population in Nepal, centred mostly in the Terai adjacent to India, but you'd be hard pressed to find any radical behaviour.
See Bike Jihad! at left.
Money: In Kathmandu prices tend to be 'tourist' and you can easily blow 30 to 40 dollars US a day just on basics, viz.; 10 dollars for a hotel, 5 or 6 dollars for lunch, 10 to 15 dollars for dinner and so on.
See Let's talk money! at left, although it probably won't help you much.
ATMs/Money Change: There are ATMs in Kathmandu and in the bigger burgs out in the Terai. It's possible to change major currencies at all the banks/money changers, but still, keep the usual 100 US dollars in small notes tucked into your wallet at all times, just in case.
Internet: Kathmandu is loaded with cheap internet cafes, and the speed is workable depending on the usual factors. Out in the Terai, the bigger towns all have a cafe or three, but once you leave the burgs, forget it.
Bike Shops: There's a couple of well equipped bike shops in Thamel, the main tourist area in Kathmandu. They can do OK repairs and sell a small range of quality gear.
To Mahendranegar& India (Delhi) in the far west: If you're continuing on to Mahendranegar and entering India from the far west of Nepal, it's about another 250 km on from Kohalpur (Nepalgunj) to the border. From the Nepal/Indian border at Mahendranegar it's about 300 km to Delhi.
The Ride in Detail
Start: Kathmandu to the Top of the Kathmandu Valley - 9 km
Hill climb No.1: To the Top of the Valley - 5 km
The morning traffic is mixed: busy in parts, thin in others, but always chaotic and dusty. The road is sealed and in good condition.
The View Magnificent: The Top of the Valley!
Top of the Kathmandu Valley to Mugling Bazaar - 101 km
At the top of the Kathmandu Valley check your brakes; you'll be needing them. The kick-off is a very steep and winding 15 km plunge down the side of the mountain into the Trisuli River Valley. It's a roller coaster ride of pure joy.
The traffic is light, there's guesthouses dotted along the road at 10-15 km intervals and plenty of food and drink stops.
The Trisuli River
There is, however, guesthouses dotted all along the road, so you can simply pull into the first one that takes your fancy.
Out of Maleku the road continues downhill, wide and generous. Approaching Mugling there's a few short, easy uphill sections, but nothing to worry about, other than you need to actually start pedaling for a change.
At the town limit are the turn offs to Narayanghat and Pokhara.
The Road to Pokhara - 125 km (approx.)
From Pokhara you can head 125 km (approx.) south to Butwal and reconnect with the Mr Pumpy route.
Mugling Bazaar to Narayangaht - 34 km
Take the left fork in the road at the west end of Mugling Bazaar, cross the bridge and keep going (southwest) to Narayanghat.
It's a spectacular run. The road clings tenaciously to the side of the mountain and down below the Trisuli River rumbles on. "I like a woman with staying power, Feely!" said Mr Pumpy, more than once. (See The Trisuli River, above.)
There's plenty of funky chai-shops along the way that may not have electricity, but make up for it with good tea, good cheer, nourishing food, no rip-offs and the occasional monkey. It's good!
Exit the mountains - Enter the Terai!
Narayanghat to Dumkibas - 63 km
The road continues good and fast southwest out of Narayanghat, past the Chitwan National Park and through long stretches of dense forest. You roll into valleys, cross rivers and climb out again, over and over, and Mr Pumpy couldn't get enough of it.
"This is close to cycling heaven, Feely!" he laughed, and who could argue?
Monkeys, birds and waving kids dot the landscape, and there are small villages every 5 or 10 kilometres that invariably sport a teashop, a guesthouse, and a Photocopy Depot, which may prove handy.
Just before Dumkibas there's a long, sweet 8 km roll into the Binai Khola River Valley, with the landscape spreading out around you into all things green and tropical.
Dumkibas to Butwal - 51 km
Hill Climb No.2: Dumkibas
It'll take you at least an hour to make the summit, more if you collapse half way.
From the top it's a 7 km rush down the other side of the mountain onto rolling flatlands and sweeping river valleys. The country is nothing short of exquisite. There's villages every 5 to 10 kilometres all the way to Butwal, and guesthouses abound.
Butwal: City of Hope, Birthplace of the Mother of the Lord Buddha.
Turn right at the T-intersection as you come into town, head up towards the Butwal Bridge, and you're on your way to Chanauta.
The Kali Kandaki River and the Butwal Bridge
The alternative Buddhist Route through Lumbini
You can hook back onto the main drag at Chanauta.
For an even deeper spiritual experience, see Mr Pumpy's Gwiffing your way to enlightenment! at left.
Butwal to Chanauta - 65 km
Turn right (north) at the T-intersection as you come into Butwal, head a kilometre or so up along the river, turn left (west) over the Butwal Bridge, and you're on your way to Chanauta.
The first 5 or so kilometres out of town is a treat; the road weaves around the mountains, skirts the river and gets Mr P's official stamp of approval. After that it's a flat, sweet run all the way to Chanauta; cute villages, scrappy villages, forests and the welcoming, uncluttered arms of all things Nepali.
There's three semi-grubby guesthouses in a line on the right hand side of the road just before the turn off (south) to India, and a funky eatery serving good Daal-Bhat opposite (near the big tree with the tethered goat).
This burg's not real high on Mr Pumpy's list of romantic weekend get-a-ways, but he was quite taken with the goat.
Chanauta to Bhalubang - 35 km
About 8 km out of Chanauta on the left hand side of the road is a small mini-mart selling food and drinks, and if you haven't stocked up in Chanauta, do so here. (See below.)
A further dead-flat 4 km along is Sunaika (Suranaika), or at least where Sunaika was before it got wholly abducted by a UFO and was never seen again. Strangely, it was marked large and red on our map, and after under-whelming Chanauta, Mr Pumpy was expecting pretty much the Las Vegas of the Terai.
"Maybe we can pull in and see a show, Feely?" he said. "The Ringo Starr All Star Band might be playing!"
Well, not quite; Sunaika doesn't exist, and Mr Pumpy didn't get to buy any water, nor did he get to see Ringo Starr (Peace be upon him!), but he did almost get to see John and George (Peace be upon them!).
Hill Climb No.3: The hills beyond Chanauta - 12 km
The road goes up and up, cuts along gorges, hangs over rivers, whips back and forth, and then goes up again. It's rugged, ugly country, and tough going in the heat. Make sure you stock up with a couple of litres of water.
See Mr Pumpy's Near Death Experience No.2 at left.
As per Mr Pumpy's Near-Death Experience No.2, there's a water pipe jutting out of the rock, on your left hand side, at about the 8 km mark (est.) up the hill, and a shower may be in order.
Thankfully, there's a line of teashops at the top (actually two lines, the first line being a faux-summit, about a kilometre from the real top), and trust me, you will be stopping.
The climb will take you about 2 or 3 hours.
After you've re-hydrated with a couple of teas at the teashop on the top of the hill, and can now vaguely remember why you do this leg-cracking, mind-numbing activity called cycling, you get to ride one of the best legs of the whole trip...
The roller coaster into Bhalubang!
"I love it, Feely!" shouted Mr Pumpy, as we tore down the mountain, side by side, his two very recent near-death experiences forgotten in a sea of freewheeling cycling endorphins, for such is life on two wheels.
If you choose to spend the night, and wander out onto the bridge in the late afternoon, you'll be accosted by a gang of young schoolgirls wanting to know:
Mr Pumpy answered correctly on all counts*, and the next day was doing his best to impart cycling wisdom to the sensitive, young minds at Deukhura Valley English Medium Boarding School.
(*The answers, if you never went to school, are: Yes, Yes, and Yes.)
See Mr Pumpy Spreads the Good Word! at left. (It must be said, in Mr Pumpy's favour, that he'd just survived two near-death experiences...)
Bhalubang to Lamahi - 25 km
Enter the Remote Zone!
"We're really 'out there' now, Feely!" said Mr Pumpy, as we cycled leisurely along.
Roll on vast, weird, beautiful world!
Lamahi to Kusum - 54 km
More beautiful road, more beautiful scenery; it just goes on and on. Most small villages along the way have shops and guesthouses of some shape or form, so wherever you choose to stop for the night, it'll be basic, but sweet.
Sporting sand bags, razor wire, searchlights and soldiers in various states of activity and dress, the army post is quite a sight. "It's just like in the movies, Feely!" said Mr Pumpy, and I had to agree. Just make sure you don't take any photos, in which case the soldiers may take you inside the wire and do strange things to your mind and body, which is probably not what you want.
Kusum to Kohalpur- 60 km
More beautiful road, forests, rivers, villages, friendly people, cute kids, and healthy goats.
About 20 km (est.) out of Kusum is the Staff Hotel & Bar, Mr Pumpy's favourite Lodging and Fooding stop on the whole trip. However, life on two wheels being what it is, it was almost Mr Pumpy's last Lodging and Fooding stop ever.
See Mr Pumpy's Near-Death Experience No.3 at left.
To Mahendranegar& India in the far west:
Whatever the case, this being Asia, it'll work out!
From Mahendranegar it's about 300 km to Delhi.
Kohalpur to Nepalgunj - 12 km
Nepalgunj is large and sprawling, noisy and disheveled, and really doesn't have much to offer other than an overnight stay before you cross into India. There's oodles of guesthouses, lots of shops, a bus station and plenty of helpful people.
Nepalgunj to The Indian Border - 8 km
Immigration, both exit out of Nepal and entry into India, is straightforward; no queues, no bag searches, friendly enquiries about the bike and bingo!, you're out of Nepal and into India, for better or worser, surrounded by money changer wallas.
Welcome to India!
The Ride: An easy enough ride into the usual chaos of northern India. You pass farms, villages, temples, trees, cows and the occasional bizarre oddity, but other than the fact that this is raw India without the tourists, there's not a lot to recommend.
Traffic: Moderate, but always tricky; trucks and buses (with air-horns), cars and pedestrians (with no road sense) and a few cows (with no sense at all).
The People: Indian people are generally warm, friendly and helpful (albeit under a lot of stress), so when you are sitting in a tea house, or under a tree, surrounded by kids, goats and a talkative schoolteacher on his day off, things can be very ambient indeed. However, it can all go bad very quickly when you actually have to get something done, and your own stress level becomes part of the problem.
Safety/Theft: Despite having over one billion people living together in close proximity, India is a remarkably safe country. The microbes will get you long before the thuggees and fundamentalists, so simply take the usual precautions, and have no fear.
Women cyclists: Any young Western woman on the street in India without male company will attract unwanted attention, and it can become annoying. If you are female it's best to cycle with company, preferably male. When it does all get too much you may find yourself becoming a little more fiery than is the usual lady-like thing back home, and what to do? It's India.
Food & Water: The food is the usual Northern Indian fare of rice, curry, daal, roti and tea, and bottled water is available everywhere.
Microbes: Microbes are a problem, and most days you are riding with an upset tummy (read: a mild case of the runs), although it's usually nothing too debilitating, believe it or not.
Accommodation: There's a couple of hotels along the way, but not a great choice. It may be best to go straight through to Gonda from the border in one hop.
Camping: Finding a secluded camping spot anywhere in India short of the Himalayas might be difficult. The locals, being a curious lot, are likely to visit at 3 in the morning, just to ask you what you are doing. Not recommended.
The Ride in Detail
Start: Indian Border to Nanpala - 20 km
Indian Immigration is easy and straightforward. There's no queues, and the border guys love cyclists. If you tell them that you are cycling all the way to England they may even bring you a nice tea whilst the paper work is getting done.
The border town itself is a ramshackle gathering of hotels, shops, eateries, and money changer wallas. The road is a muddy (or dusty) cattle track (depending on the season) full of busy people, but once you're clear of the town things settle down, somewhat.
From the border town it's a 20 km dead flat straight run to Nanpala.
The scenery is pleasant - fields, villages, women in colourful dress etc, but you will have to concentrate on the road a little more than in laid-back, ambient Nepal.
Nanpala to Gonda - 80 km
More flat, sealed road, some potholes, and lots of trucks, air-horns and cows. There's plenty of teahouses and food shops along the way, numerous small towns and villages, the occasional hotel and not a few blind pedestrians.
Which brings me to the flies: I've never seen so many flies in any one place, in all of my life.
See Gonda! at left.
Gonda to Delhi by Bike - 600 km approx.
Gonda to Delhi by Train - 12 hours
See Train to Old Delhi at left.