Those of you who know Andy will not be surprised to hear about the numerous Excel sheets and other documents that started appearing in our shared Dropbox folder (yes, romantic partners get the same treatment as development partners, lovely no?) some weeks before we left. Now, I’m not at all averse to categorisation or making detailed plans myself, but the various pouches that were laid out on the floor (one for technology, one for cold weather gear, one for underwear…), the list of possibly useful phone numbers (a task actually delegated to me – and a grand waste of time as naturally Andy is also making sure we have 3G access to Internet wherever possible, which turns out to be nearly everywhere in India and Nepal), the shopping plan of everything that needed to be bought along the way, and the mega comprehensive first aid kit, represented new heights in my world of organising and preparing. Aware of my slight distaste for dealing with matters such as health insurance and my somewhat reckless local dining habits, I also started receiving an increasing amount of questions around such matters as my medivac liability and estimated frequency of street food consumption.
I was therefore secretly a little relieved that it was Andy who was to be struck with a bad belly first. After being unable to resist Thamel’s (Kathmandu’s somewhat dodgy backpackers’ quarter) high cuisine and indulging in a piece of over-ripe fish, he soon started cramping up and running to the bathroom. The relief was soon overtaken by concern however as his condition deteriorated throughout the night.
We had only just recovered from the rather horrific night ride from Pokhara to Kathmandu (sharing Enfield adventures over a beer afterwards with fellow riders Amanda and Ubesh really helped – great to meet you guys!), and then passed another challenging day fixing parts of the bike (thanks Himalayan Enfielders!) and sitting in the Indian Embassy waiting for certain bike papers to come through (in vain, we will now have to get creative at the border…), so the timing was not ideal.
With more border and bike repair delays upcoming, we felt a bit pressed to keep on going. The next morning, in a moment of belly quiet, we therefore decided to try riding to Dhulikhel, one hour east of Kathmandu up in the mountains. Dazed by pills and fatigue, yet still the better driver of the two of us in Kathmandu’s crazy traffic, Andy rode us up in two hours, after which it was clear he needed to lie down immediately.
And there in bed he remained for the next three days. Luckily, we couldn’t have been stranded at a better place. We had stopped at Dwarika Resort’s mountain branch (‘Himalaya Shangri La Village’), which had sounded somewhat off on the Internet but turned out to be the most beautiful place either of us had ever stayed at. Having undergone a complete make over in the past two years, we were pretty much the first guests since its reopening on October 1st. When he crashed out on the 3m x 3m bed of our immense room, Andy asked if I could please check whether we had not accidentally been put in the presidential suite. We hadn’t it turned out, this was in fact Sanghita’s idea of ‘standard’, Sanghita being the owner and mastermind behind this oasis of peace, relaxation and luxury with 180 degree views of the Himalaya.
Thus we need not take too much pity on Andy, who for the next three days was miserably, yet with a cheeky smile, propped up in the royal bed, looked after by in house guru Guruji (of course) and carefully fed by chef Prasod, whilst the rest of the staff closely followed his every bowel movement. After it became clear the bug was not going to be fought off without outside help, we were even driven to hospital in King Mahendra’s old Land Rover, where a posse of enthusiastic young nurses and doctors in training took over. A drip, a diagnosis and some drugs and he was thankfully soon on the mend. And we unfortunately had no further excuse to stay another night at the Shangri La. After having ridden nearly 2,000 kilometres in ten days, from a bustling metropolis through countryside, plains, and mountains across two countries, in a certain way coming to a real standstill was rather welcome. The fact that the pace of our trip often only allows for just a glimpse of towns, faces, and stories had made both of us at times a little uneasy. A good friend once told me of the Arab proverb, ‘The soul invariably travels with the speed of a camel.’ And ever since a seven week walk to Santiago di Compostella in 2006 I have been quite a fan of long distance hiking. In the last couple of years I have also taken up long distance cycling, where it took a little while to get over the ‘disturbance’ of the constant sound of the wind in your ears. Long distance motorcycling – its pace and noise – represents a whole new level. But I do have to say that the thrill of cruising through the mountains (rather than sweating your way up and braking your way down on a bicycle) is a big advantage and even the solid sound of our Enfield’s engine is starting to grow on me.
All of these attractions were confirmed by yesterday’s ride from Dhulikhel across the mountains to Itahari in the Eastern Terai. Although it was another day of extremes, with stretches of Class A new road built by the Japanese interspersed with stretches in which there was little more than a stream or steep gravel trail hugging the side of a cliff to navigate the bike over, the beautiful landscape, the area’s remoteness and quiet, and a refreshing afternoon swim in a river made this one of the best days of our trip so far.