If you imagine it as a representation of the fabric of space time, the Kathmandu valley is a lot like a black hole. A more or less perfect ring of mountains, and a mysterious force inexorably pulling you toward the unimaginably dense (and crowded) core. Some how l’ve been in this general vicinity for 3 weeks! I don’t especially like it, the city that is — it has goods and services, a maze of unplanned alley ways and narrow streets, hundreds of temples, a tourist quarter packed full of shops all selling the same trinkets scarves and north fake outdoor gear — so it’s been entertaining and useful, I guess l just don’t like cities all that much.
In a (futile) attempt to break the unexplained attraction l undertook a mini tour around the kathmandu valley with two new friends, Wayne and Simon, both of whom are cyclists at home and intrigued with the idea of cycle touring. To accommodate their various time constraints we proposed to ride the ridge around the city. Despite being a bustling metropolis, the capital of Nepal gives way rather quickly to rural farmlands and national parks. The mountains which surround it are fairly wild — forested and relatively unpopulated. Our plan was to leave the city headed north west and ride the fire roads, and single-track trails across Shivapuri Nagarjun National Park (which lies to the north of the city) then turn south and continue the orbit, following the crest, till we made it all the way around.
Despite visions of an early departure, leaving town is never easy, especially since my friends had to rent bikes and situate their gear. Which meant wild goose chasing around Temel (the tourist center) with the ‘help’ of various touts looking for the magic combination of decent bikes for a decent price, equipped with racks. Which meant that it was almost noon when we wandered out of town packs lashed to the aforementioned racks, one of which was unfortunately flimsy looking and seatpost mounted.
Crowded streets gave way to rural dirt tracks, and we were exuberantly approaching the event horizon, when the poorly designed and overloaded rack gave up the ghost. So we were sucked back to Temel to abandon unnecessary equipment, repack, and eat white-people-food for lunch. We headed back out to discover that the first park we planned to enter had just closed. That plan abandoned, we took a semi- random fork and plunged downhill, blindly trusting my brightly colored ‘bicycling around kathmandu’ map. The road wound scenically through terraced fields and small villages before abruptly entering a garbage dump (one of many around the city l presume) conveniently located on the bank of a small river.
We spent the next while mispronouncing town names to bewildered locals and riding in circles fruitlessly seeking the northward track my map promised. Encouraged by the impending gloom, we abandoned our plans, turned south, and slogged uphill into the evening. Arriving at a hill top one horse town with the dusk, which was fortunately equipped with a (well hidden) bar/restaurant/lodge. We settled in and immediately began entertaining (or visa versa) several families’ worth of kids, all of whom, including the 2 year old, were fascinated with our bikes. Wayne’s bike, being the smallest, was immediately commandeered, and ridden/pushed back and forth with and without passengers for the remainder of our stay. In the morning the kids grudgingly left the bikes to go to school, and we began our day with a long downhill into one of the bread baskets supplying Katmandu.
Our day was spent wandering through fields of all sorts, and we lunched in the sort of town where everyone seems to spend all their time sitting in front of the the one store/eatery, gossiping about who knows what. Befuddled by our inaccurate map/lack of compass or odometer/inability to pronounce place names, evening again found us racing the the sunset steeply uphill towards the unknown. Lacking sleeping equipment (and food) — we were on a ‘creditcard tour of sorts — this wasn’t the most comfortable position to be in. So when we found ourselves on the main highway after dark and the nearest lodging 5k away, we elected to flag down a bus, rather than risk night riding on the already treacherous road.
The bus driver recommended we return to the city proper, and passed our intended destination while we were palavering. So Katmandu’s gravity took hold and we found ourselves back in the center. Wayne decided to stay in town (he was only planning on riding one more day anyway) and Simon and l decided more gear would be useful. So we repacked again, and got lost on the way out of the city. Thanks to some good samaritans on a motorcycle, who lead us on a circuitous path — which included a drunken fight at a road side tea house — to our intended road, we once again raced the coming dark steeply uphill. This time losing (we camped on a turnout at the end of one of the switchbacks). Which was just as well, since the ‘town’ were were aiming for, turned out to be a single shack at a crossroads, where some drunk fellows stopped their morning gambling long enough to sell us some cookies and tomatoes. And offered us roksi (home-brew fruit bear) instead of water — since they were out.
Turns out it wasn’t much of a crossroads even, since the road we wanted was so washed out/overgrown we couldn’t even carry our bikes on it. We were however getting the hang of navigating around the valley. For the next two days we managed to ride more or less where we intended. Fun single and double track through places one wouldn’t have otherwise visited. Before timespace got the upper hand and we spiraled back down the gravity well with a few things to fix, before l could make my next attempt to break free.