Nepal: Snippets, Tidbits, Fragments, Stats

2015-01-24 to Bandipur 003 (res)

“What is your country, sir?”  “I’m from the USA.”  “Oh yes, the USA.  Very good country.  Your country is free sex, no?”

Such were the opening lines of my first interaction with a police officer.

“Bananas!  Feed my body!  MINERALS!”

Such were the screams of an elementary schooler who spotted some fruit dangling off my backpack.

“We didn’t know each other before, but now we’ve worked together for a few months, so we’re cousins.”

Such are the relations of the two young Nepali volunteers at the farm where I spent six weeks.

“I’m studying now to become a police officer.  I really hope I do well on the exam.  If I can get a good post then I can make lots of money through corruption.”

Such are the dreams of one 18-year old, a bit disappointing in content but expressed with a certain respectable directness.


I expected a certain amount of surreality from the Himalayan landscapes, but from the people, too?  Nepal seems equal parts weird and wonderful.  It’s among the poorest countries in the world, but people are oddly approachable.  A third of them seem to have relatives who live or have lived in the USA on “Diversity Visas;” another third has been out of the country to work construction in Dubai or Kuala Lumpur; the final third, those in the cities, have studied abroad themselves, some even getting advanced degrees from Ivy League colleges.  There are villagers who make a living carrying gigantic clumps of animal fodder down from the mountains, and there are NGO workers trying to implement the latest ideas in education and development.  There are foreigners who come to trek, foreigners who come to paraglide, and foreigners who come to smoke marijuana and play with fire poi.  There are places where the only food available is rice and lentils, and places where you can walk past Italian, Chinese, Korean, Middle Eastern, and more in a matter of minutes.  I guess this isn’t so paradoxical – is it just the difference between rural and cosmpolitan, provincial and globalized? – but for some reason it feels strange in Nepal.  I feel like I’ve done a decent job of documenting my four months here; there’s the post about bikepacking the Annapurna circuit, the post about the classic Everest trek, the post about the gory slaughterfest, the post about the grub, the post about the eco resort (still in the works)…and yet, something’s missing.  What’s the essence of Nepal?  What ties it all together?  What’s life like?  What are the people like?  What’s cycling here like?  I did so much, but it all feels fragmented, like there’s no way to put it all together.  Nevertheless, there are so many moments that fell between all those topical posts, so many memories and interactions and snapshots.  I’ll just try to throw a few together here without too much analysis or fanfare and see what happens…

2015-01-15 to Gorkha 001 (res)

image“Farming” refers to time spent at Mango Tree Eco Resort, “Trekking” to Everest.    “Riding” was split about half and half between bikepacking the Annapurna circuit and getting to and fro in Nepal (a total of about 1500km).  “Rest” includes days off in Kathmandu and Pokhara as well as a few days here and there on the two treks.


Since I only spent about 1/8 of my time in Nepal on the bike, this chart looks pretty much like the other one.  One nice surprise was that the police were usually happy to let me camp or crash at their stations; another was that, at least in the south, it was pretty easy to find camping spots.  Cooking got tough when the O-ring on my fuel pump started to go bad, then tougher when someone stole the whole fuel bottle and pump contraction off the back of my bike.  Oh well, I guess I’ll just have to stock up on samosas and salad ingredients.


In the lowlands, totally flat and well-paved, covering 120-150km per day was no big deal.  In the mountains, with lots of switchbacks and bumpy roads, some days I could hardly manage 20.  I’m not sure there are any other countries with quite so much variety in such little space.


A bit under $2000 for four months, or $11.50ish a day not counting visas, gear, and trekking fees.  Pricier than usual, but the extra costs were generally related to awesome new experiences (i.e. winter, snow, mountains, trekking) that I hadn’t had before.  Worth it as a one-off; I’m sure I’ll get back to my Fauxbo ways once I start my mad dash down to south India.

That’ll suffice for the numbers.  How about a few anecdotes that kind of encapsulate the day-to-day of bumming around?

– A large bus passes by me.  I see a man’s arm extend out the window, dangling a blue plastic bag clearly full of something.  I’ve been here long enough to know what’s coming: he drops it into the middle of the road at 40 miles per hour.  The bag explodes, the vomit inside splattering out in all directions.  As I pass it, I look down and can still make out the rice and yellow lentils that didn’t even have time to get digested.  It smells like cheese.

– With dark setting in and 10km to climb before the next town, I decide to try my luck camping at a traffic police checkpoint.  They are skeptical at first but eventually cave and let me set up my tent in a nearby gazebo.  Then they feed me dinner, make me tea, and lend me a sleeping bag to use for the night.

– A woman hangs her arm out another bus window and, again, lets a bag of vomit fall to the ground.  A nearby street dog comes over and laps it up.

– Spotting me stopped and looking at a map, a family gets my attention and then starts making eating gestures.  I accept the invitation and wind up spending two nights camping on their roof, spending the days following them around to weddings and goat sacrifices.  One of the two sons calls me greedy for not wanting to give him my Kindle.  The other tells me that he’s a “small don” in his town and can get 200 friends to come back him up “like in the Michael Jackson video for ‘Bad’” if he needs to fight someone.

– Before the start of a 200km bus ride along windy roads, the driver’s assistant walks up and down the aisle with a pack of plastic bag s in his hands.  He says to us, “If you want any problems, tell me.”

– Half of the people I meet say, “A Nepali person could never do what you’re doing.”  The other half say, “Have you heard of Pushkar Shah?  He cycled 220,000km in 170 countries in fifteen years and just wrote a book called Five and a Half Times Around the World.  He started with a $1 loan from his mother.”

– I watch three Nepalis each order a snack of fried rice flakes with an omelette at one of our guesthouses on the Everest trek and see them pay $2.40, total.  I order the same thing the next morning.  The cook charges me $2.40.  But she still sells us local beer at $1 per liter.

My memory is failing on account of the $1.10 meal of rice with double helpings of lentils, mustard greens, tomato salsa, split chickpea soup, and potato and green bean curry that I just scarfed.  If not for that, I could keep going just about ad infinitum.  After all, I’ve been here over four months now.

2014-09-28 Kakarvitta 001 (res)

My time there started with a day off in Kakarvitta, the border town just a day’s ride from Darjeeling, where I changed some money and walked around in circles until this grandma stopped me and offered me tea.  She was so happy when I ran to the nearest store and brought her back a copy of this photo.

2014-09-28 Kakarvitta 013 (res)

Friendly kiddos.  I love it when they ask for pictures rather than pencils or “bonbons.”  What the hell is a bonbon anyway, and who taught them to want one?

2014-09-29 to Portaha 009 (res)

Then a week or so cycling through the lowlands, mercifully flat after so many months in the mountainous northeast.

2014-09-30 to Kamala 003 (res)

Several times a day I’d come across a kilometer-long bridge that would take me up and over dried-out riverbeds.

2014-09-30 to Kamala 009 (res)

2014-10-04 to Hetauda 011 (res)

I found the riverbeds made for good camping spots – just a few hundred meters away from the bridge you could count on it to be flat, dry, and totally secluded.

2014-10-01 to Danusadham 005 (res)

2014-10-01 to Danusadham 014 (res)

If the lowland locals aren’t  out in the rice paddies, they’re probably herding goats or water buffalo.

2014-10-01 to Danusadham 022 (res)

That’ll keep them from running away.

2014-10-01 to Danusadham 015 (res)

They asked me to take their picture, then chose this as their pose.  At least the directions they gave me were accurate.

2014-10-07 to Mango Tree 027 (res)

In late September, all the paddies were filled with green rice stalks yeigh-high.

2014-10-06 to Bode Odar 021 (res)

2014-10-06 to Bode Odar 018 (res)

2014-11-25 to Kathmandu 004 (res)

By the end of November, the harvest had come and gone.

2014-11-24 to Magymtar 003 (res)

2014-10-06 to Bode Odar 005 (res)

2014-10-07 to Mango Tree 023 (res)

Just fyi, this is not the officer who asked me about “free sex.”  This is the one who walked me down to the nearest bakery and may or may not have intimidated the baker into letting me sample of of everything and take away a large cream cake free of charge.

2014-10-07 to Mango Tree 005 (res)

He also gave me some deluxe treatment.  I only asked to camp at the station, but they fed me dinner and breakfast, gave me a bed in one of the officers’ dorms to sleep in, and let me join in the morning badminton game.

2014-10-07 to Mango Tree 044 (res)

Sometime around Nepalese New Year.

2014-11-24 to Magymtar 006 (res)

Somewhere on the way to Kathmandu.

2014-11-24 to Magymtar 013 (res)

Kathmandu lies right on the road between Lhasa, the historical center of Tibetan Buddhism, and Lumbini, the Buddha’s birthplace. This makes it a popular route for pilgrims, such as this Tibetan who has been doing walking prostrations – three paces forward, then one lying plank – for several years and thousands of kilometers.  He started somewhere in West China and is on his way to various holy Buddhist sites.

2014-11-24 to Magymtar 014 (res)

Yeahhh he likes my website!  He didn’t like the prayer flags across the top bar of my bicycle; he indicated quite plainly that it wasn’t proper for my crotch to be rubbing on them every time I mount and dismount.  This wasn’t the first time that a Buddhist had said this to me, but it is the first time that I took the comment serious enough to think up a new solution: now the flags are secured to my back pannier, fluttering even more than before, and still visible every time I park the bike.

2014-11-25 to Kathmandu 006 (res)

Auntie hooks me up with a bit of fresh sugarcane.

2014-11-28 Kathmandu 001 (res)

Graffiti a little outside the center of Kathmandu.

2014-11-28 Kathmandu 005 (res)

2014-12-01 Kathmandu 001 (res)

I had a slightly unconventional time in the capital.  While i did make plenty of time for pizza, pie, and historic plazas, I also spent a good deal of time with the good folks from Teach for Nepal.

2014-12-03 Kathmandu 002 (res)

They’re trying to enlist young college graduates in the effort to fix the disparities in Nepal’s education system – ninety percent of private school students pass the standard examinations, while only thirty percent of public school students do.  TfN volunteers delay going into their profession and instead spend their first year or two out of college teaching English, math, or science at remote, underserved countryside schools.  The TfN folks even arranged for me to give my own talks after their presentations.  Thanks to Amrit for organizing my stay, to Manoj and Suman for taking me to the presentations with them, to the rest of TfN for all the great work they’re doing (and also for putting up with me and my stinky Shaky friend lounging around their office for two weeks), and to my WashU Text & Traditions / Interdisciplinary Project in the Humanities buddy Flora for the contact.

2014-12-02 Kathmandu 005 (res)

Patan square, where all the nobles used to chill.

2015-01-12 to Pipaltar 001 (res)

Krishna, the coolest bike mechanic in town.  “Pay me whatever you think is fair.  I don’t care about money.  After you leave here, go find the meaning of your life.”

2015-01-13 to Selle 003 (res)

Maoists on the march.

2015-01-31 to Lumbini 007 (res)

Pink-panted aunties on the march.

2015-01-13 to Selle 006 (res)

Kiddo amusing herself with a bag full of air.

2015-01-14 to Arughat 004 (res)

The Hopkins family, some crazy Aussies I met on the back roads.  Mom and dad used to do lots of cycle touring and didn’t want to give it up “just because we’re parents.”  Now, it’s a yearly family expedition.  Tailin rides on a tandem with his father while Zali sits in a carseat on mom’s back rack.  Won’t be long before they both have bikes of their own.

2015-01-14 to Arughat 008 (res)

Bridge to Nowhere.

2015-01-25 Bandipur 013 (res)

2015-01-26 to Pokhara 004 (res)

Ram and Raja, both of whom were overjoyed when I fiddled around with the bike and brought it back to life.

Ram left school at 16 to work as a cook in a tourist hotel. After ten years, he had saved up enough to build a guesthouse on a piece of his father’s land.  Now the place is worth nearly $100,000.  Once it’s worth $150,000, he wants to sell it, buy a car, move to Pokhara (a bigger city) with his wife and son, and become a driver and tour guide somewhere where nobody knows anything about him or his family’s history.

2015-01-30 to Tansen 003 (res)


2015-01-30 to Tansen 006 (res)


2015-01-14 to Arughat 001 (res)

2015-01-30 to Tansen 002 (res)

After all that time up close and personal with the mountains, it was super cool to see them looming from afar on my way out of the country.

2015-01-24 to Bandipur 001 (res)

When surrounded by the mountains, one feels one part awe and one part “I wouldn’t be surprised if I died from either exposure or asphyxiation.”  When seeing them from afar, only the awe remains; it’s easy to understand why just about all of Nepal’s ethnic groups, though often separated by geography, language, and culture,  regard the mountains as holy mothers.

2015-01-25 Bandipur 007 (res)

2015-01-25 Bandipur 012 (res)

2015-01-12 to Pipaltar 005 (res)

Hrm, something’s still missing.  Guess I’ll have to find it on my next visit.  Won’t be long before this India visa runs down and it’s time for me to check up on everything I did at Mango Tree.

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5 Responses to Nepal: Snippets, Tidbits, Fragments, Stats

  1. wd says:

    Dude, some of these photos are spectacular. Like, magazine worthy.

  2. Greg says:

    Hi Mike, I’m picking up the good vibrations from your blog. Awe perspiring.

  3. G Krishnan says:

    Good show. Enjoy your journey and keep up the good work. (I saw a brief write up in The Hindu, Visakhapatnam edition.)