There is always a fist time for everything but this road trip was the first time for so many things in my life:
- 1st longest motorcycle trip. (2800 km approx)
- 1st hill ride and that too into the Himalayan mountain range.
- 1st road trip to a foreign country.
- The place, Muktinath, in Nepal is a trekking route and hence, there are no roads.
The reasons were enough to generate sleepless nights and I had too. One must be thinking that why did I choose such a place for my 1st trip? Well! I didn’t. Atanu Dey, alias Iron Man is a senior xkmphian, an excellent rider, planned this trip and posted on our community website (xkmph.com). I, Amit alias keshto, a very good friend of mine and Santosh ji (who did join the ride from Patna, Bihar) volunteered without knowing of what we were getting ourselves into.
The Night Before the Trip
Anxiety was all over me. My new saddle bags and a backpack were packed with everything but I could not get over the thinking that if something was missing. I took the help of the almighty (You Tube) to saddle up the bags but couldn’t manage to mount it properly. I was getting this feeling that it might fall off. So I unmounted it, and called Amit for assistance who was coming over to my place anyways. After Amit’s arrival we got busy talking, few other friends dropped by to wish us luck and Amit proposed that we must celebrate the night before our 1st trip and we ended up 2 bottles beer down.
Our meeting point was Dankuni Toll Plaza @5.30am. The point was 20kms from my residence and over 80 kms from Iron Man’s place. Obviously, Iron Man had to start very early and was on time. Reality kicked in for Amit and I when my phone rang displaying Iron Man and the time was already past 5:30. Forget about being at the meeting point we were on our bed. We got ready only to find that we didn’t even saddle our bags last night and by the time we left my residence we were already over an hour late. We didn’t find Iron Man once we reached the meeting point @7 am. Panic kicked in and so the negative thinking of Iron Man must have left alone, as our phone calls to him also went unanswered. We got our breath back when he answered our call at last and responded in a very calm tone that he is having tea at a nearby shop.
We experienced his humbleness and people management skills, which we have heard about him before as he neither uttered any harsh words and nor showed any rudeness for being late. He just said, “common guys we are late, lets take a pic and start”. Finally, we kicked off the ride.
I learnt my first lesson about preparation and timing for long trips.
Patna and Indo-Nepal Border
According to map Patna is 600kms, however, we opted for a longer route via Bodh Gaya (700 km) just to avoid state highways as much as possible. As state highways are known for bad roads, both way drive and also slow traffic. We reached the capital city of Bihar around 7.30 pm and Santosh ji was there to welcome us.
I met Santosh ji for the first time and felt the respect for him as at his age, he accepted this challenge to Muktinath. We bonded over a cup of tea and In the morning, we started for Kathmandu. Patna was wrapped in dense fog, visibility was not more than 10 meters and on the top of it, the city threw a bad stretch at us which was Gandhi Setu (Bridge), crossing that was a real pain in the ass. However, from Muzaffarpur we got awesome four-lane road and we utilised the opportunity with three figure number in our speedo. But the joy didn’t last long, as from Motihari to Raxaul (Indo-Nepal border) the road was worst. We reached Birgunj (entry point of Nepal) @4pm for our visas.
When we got our visas, it was getting dark and Kathmandu was still a far cry. We didn’t want to lag behind in our planned schedule and were determined to reach Kathmandu by that night. Without any further delay, we started looking for the road en-route to Katmandu.
Locals made us aware of two routes to Kathmandu, one being 200+ km journey – the usual route for all vehicles and the other, shorter, steep climb route with lots of off-roading but only 80kms journey. We took inspiration from Robert Frost’s poem “The Road not Taken” and went for the shorter route.
I had my first moment of truth with hairpin bends and that too in off-road condition but looking back I feel that I shouldn’t have taken that risk, after all, it was my first hill ride as an amateur and also missed the view since I rode the entire stretch at night. It was fun though, and I guess this how we learn from our mistakes.
We entered Kathmandu past midnight. The city was deserted and we were wandering on the streets looking for hotel rooms. It was cold, we were hungry and tired, our eyes were searching for assistance. Finally, we spotted a cab with the pilot in it and we asked for his assistance, which he happily extended but getting a room at that hour was even tough for the local cabbie which he also experienced for the first time. We were turned down by several hotels, some didn’t even open their gates and we had no choice but to follow the cab from one hotel to other. Roughly around 02:00 am, we finally got a single room and the hotel charged us a whopping Rs 2800 (Nepal Currency) just for the night. The room was huge with triple beds and at that time, those soft warm beds were more than heaven to us. Expecting a room service at that hour was a stupid idea and hence, we had of whatever left from the dry foods that we were carrying and called it a day.
After two days of extensive riding, we needed a well-deserved break but, it wasn’t the part of our plan. Our next destination was Pokhra, a town 205 km ride from the capital Kathmandu hence starting early was not mandatory. We decided to take a tour of the city and visit Pashupatinath Temple.
Kathmandu is a big, clean and vibrant city and in many ways, it’s people too. Roads are excellent, wide, and everyone obeys traffic rules. There are loads of things to do and see in Kathmandu, however, it wasn’t the purpose of this trip. Our target was to conquer Muktinath and we need to preserve our energy for its harsh challenges.
We started for Pokhra after seeking blessing from Pashupatinath temple. The broad and smooth highway greeted us with Kathmandu in our rear view. It was like a dream come true. I was mesmerised by the picturesque mountain beauty of Nepal and with wide curvy roads, I was speeding into my dream. I was floating in the awesomeness of life and relished every bit of it. We took a break at a cafe, which presented a serene view of the moonlit valley.
Finding accommodation was unlike Kathmandu, smooth and hassle free. We settled for a large room with triple beds and the night ended with hob nob and experiences of the trip over a bottle of whisky.
From the hotel’s balcony, my eyes got the treat of the sublime Fewa lake. It was an absolute pleasure experiencing the dawn with a cup of tea. The soft hues of red and golden colour, played peek a boo with scattered clouds and mountain peaks before the sun announced it’s presence in full. Santosh ji and Iron Man were out for a stroll and they returned with some great shots of the lake.
At check out the receptionist enlightened us about further permits required for visiting Muktinath.
Locating “ACAP (Annapurna Conservation Area Protection) entry permit counter” wasn’t easy as locals were not aware of an office which is essentially required by foreigners. The task became more tedious as we were asked to pay in Nepali Rupees for the permit and we were only carrying Indian Rupees as it’s widely accepted in Nepal. With banks being closed celebrating a local festival, a small local kiosk came to our rescue, we managed to exchange Nepali Rupees and get hold of the permit on time. We were also informed about acquiring another set of the permit after crossing Beni at Tatopani.