part 1: Europe to Nepal

Turkey.

 

A perfect start.

The sun shines and the sky is blue. On may 11th we kicked on our DR's and rode to the 12th "Motortrottersweekend" in Otterlo in the Netherlands. This is a meeting for motorcycle travelers who traveled all over the world or have plans to do so. The place to get info about preparation of your bike and travel tips. As co-organizers it is a busy weekend. We saw some very interesting slideshows and had a fine BBQ with plenty of beer. Sunday morning after breakfast it's time to go. A lot of bikerfriends wished us a good trip and waved us goodbye. We ride up the highway and Harald comes aside me. We look to each other. He points his left hand forward. Lets go... To the east... To where the sun rises...

We took Eastern Europe as transit, not only highways but also some nice curvey roads in the Karpate Mountains in Rumania. But we did not go sightseeing. In Bjala, at the Black Sea in Bulgaria, we pitched our tent on a campsite. The campsite is not opened yet, but we could camp for free. The grass is 50 cm high and the toilets and bathrooms are too dirty to use. But the owner, uncle Mike, is very friendly and invited us for a BBQ with his family and 5 helpers who helps him to prepare the campsite. The meat, fish and salads are terrific and we drink homemade wine. Prosit! (cheers). They store the wine in 2 l coca cola bottles and when a bottle is empty a new one is opened. Prosit! And another one... That evening we had some problems to find our tent...

The next morning we move on with a little headache, but the fresh wind of the Black Sea sober us up. The border with Turkey at Malko Tarnovo gives no real problemes. We are the only pasengers there, it is very quiet. We follow the curvey roads of the Aegean coast. Riding the bike is fun but the pavement could be better. In Selcuk we give ourselfs and the bikes some days rest. It is a nice (but touristic) little town. We scroll over the market and we watch how the turkish people do their shoppings. The women that sells the vegetables sit on the table between the groceries. They polish the tomatoes, aubergines and onions to make them look better.

Today we walk to the Roman ruins of Ephesus. In the Roman times, this was Asia's capital. There are some impressive ruines, like the Great Theatre, which can seat 25,000 people, the library, erected in 114 AD by consul Tiberius Julius Aquila and holded 12.000 scrolls in niches around its walls that time. Also interesting

is the lavatory room. At all sites of the room there are toilets seated next to each other. Men sit here together to make a dump. That would be a smelly happening...

Sleeping with the Gods...

Tea,? Yes, sure. We want to take some fuel at a petrol station but first we have to drink tea with the servent. Petrol you can get later, sais the servant. After 3 cups of tea and one hour later we fill up our fueltanks. When we ask for a restaurant the servant sais that they gonna eat in half an hour. If we want to join them? Alright, we will. After sometimes Turkish pizza arrives and we talk with the friendly servants about Holland and football. Two hours later were are back on the road.

Cappadocia is a beautiful area and has some dramatic scenes. From the volcanic ground, the softer layers are washed away by rain and air and what is left are chimney shaped rock formations. They are spread around the little city Goreme. In many of these rock formations Christians from the 10th century digged holes in and used it as houses and churches. In some of the churches are beautiful remained fresco's from the life circle of Christ: the birth, the crucifixion and the resurrection.

In the city Adiyaman the tourist information gives the advice not to ride up to Nemrut Dagi (Mount Dagi). The last 13 km to the top of this mountain are too steep and the road is very bad. They tell us that a German guy had wrecked his bike. So, we will try it...

The road winds up the mountain. We don't see much other traffic and we ask ourselves if we took the right way. We pass little villages where goats shit on the road. Then we see a sign that says 17 km. After 4 km the road is still good to ride but goes steeper after every hairpin. The slope is at least 30 % and the stones get more space between them. Slowly in the first gear we ride up and a lot of times the rear wheel loses grip. We cannot stop here and have to go up to the 2000 m high summit. For the last 10 km we need half an hour and soaked in our sweat we reach the top.

At the summit king Antiochos of Commagne had made some statues of the Gods Zeus, Apollo, Hercules and himself. The statues were build in the first century BC and were 50 m high. But an earthquake took them down and now the 2 m high heads of the statues are put up only. From the top we have a beautiful view and see a nice sunset.

In the dark it is too dangerous to ride back the steep road and we want to camp at the top. But here is a military post and we are not allowed to stay on military ground. We explain our situation and for one time they make an exception and we pitch our tent behind the military huts. Tonight we are sleeping with the Gods...

Iran.

 

Free drivers license.

On our way to Iran we pass Mount Ararat. When we enter Iran we have some scary moments. The car drivers pass us with high speed and overtake us with one inch away from the bikes. When we calm down a bit the next car is flying by. As we keep to the speedlimits of 50 km/h, they race in to town with 100 km/h. They drive like crazy! When traffic from the other direction is overtaking another car they only blink their lights and horn and expect that we move aside. And we do, otherwise we could not tell this...Do they hate foreigners? We ask ourselves. But after sometime we see that they all act this way. That explains why there are 14,000 ! road killings in Iran every year.

We stop for petrol at a petrol station. Harald is filling up this fueltank. A car stops next to Udo and opens his door. Well, he wants, but his door bangs to Udo's alu box. He cannot get out and push his door harder. He shouts and wants that Udo moves forward. No way dude, wait for your turn. Then the guy pushes more and Udo decides to push his bike forward, scratching with the aluminum box a long, deep scratch on his car door. Inshallah I say to the guy...

Later we hear that to get your drivers license in Iran you drive! to the policestation. There you have to drive the street up and down and if you can make this you have your license.

Back on the road a bus is passing us and when the black diesel fumes are vanished an arm comes out a window of the bus and a trashcan is emptied. Fruit peels, plastic cola bottles, dirty paper, everything is flying along our helmets. F**king idiots! We know, new country, new habits, but this is enough for the first day...

 

BB with chadors...

Everybody in the traffic is horning and blinking at us, because we have our headlights on. So they do see us but they are trying every time to push us of the road. Other country, other customs, yes we know. So we adjust...We respect the other habits but that we (male) travelers are not allowed to wear shorts in our hotel is a bit crazy. And that women travelers have to cover their hair with chadors, even in the hotel where only western tourist stay... One time we follow the Iranian habits and put our motor scarfs over our heads, to project our bald heads from the burning sun during a lunch stop along the road. Well, the Iranians did not appriciate this. We are adjusting... Don't they have any sense of humor?

At the end of the day we look out for a place to camp. We spot a nice shady place along a river. An Iranian family is having a picnic and invites us for tea. The father knows a little english and they are curious where we come from and where we go. We get tea and sweets and the father is translating everything we tell to the rest of the family. After the picnic they invite us to go to their home for dinner. We ride behind their car to their home. It's a nice house with a place to park our bikes. We take of our boots and go inside a room. After washing our hands we are seated on the floor. More tea is served while the women starts to prepare dinner. We talk more with the father and other men of the family and we share information about our cultures. and ofcourse our suzuki's. When dinner is ready we all go to a next room where dinner is served on the floor. We all sit around and we can eat. During the talks Udo find out that if he ask a question, the answer is replied to Harald. After a while Udo ask why this is and the men look amazed to each other. Then the father explains: Harald is a real man because he has a moustache...

After many more tea we put our sleeping bags in the room on the floor and we go to sleep. The next moring after breakfast we say goodbye. We thank them a lot for this hospitality and give a little dutch gift (klompen=wooden shoes) to them.

In Esfahan we stay a few days to explore the city and to extend our visa. We have a transit visa for 7 days and to extend it we have to go to the "alien" office. Oooh, now we got it, we are not foreigners, we are aliens.... The extension is easy and within 30 minutes it's done. Much faster then we applied for the visa at the embassy in Holland. There we had to go 3 times to the embassy and stayed one day 7 hours to get it.

The beautiful blue Imam mosque is huge and the blue dome rise above the square and reflects in the water. People walk around the square and enjoy the summer. Around the square is a bazaar and in one place they make huge copper pots and pans. They are hammered in the right shape. It's fasinating to see, but the sound is overwhelming.

Persepolis is an Persian hystorical site that dates back from 550 BC. It contains ruins of colossal buildings on a huge terrace, with some pillars still stand intact. There are many relief pictures on the walls, but there is no english speaking guide, so we get no information.

 

Escort service.

The landscape is quite borrowing, it is one big desert and all the rivers are dry. There is a draught for 3 years. Thick walls surrounds the ancient citadel of Bam. It is too hot to go inside and we only ride around the citadel. When we leave Bam in east Iran we have to stop at a checkpoint. We are not allowed go further. First we don't understand, because the local people can drive further. But then the soldier explain that it is too dangerous and the policeman makes a guesture that he is cutting his throat. We have to wait for an escort. So it is only dangerous for travelers?? Why are they so worried about us now, when they try to kill us 10 times a day in traffic? After 2 hours a militair on a 175 cc Honda arrives. He is our escort. He is 1.70 m tall and has no gun. Wow, we feel safe now... He says that we can start our bikes and he will follow us. After a few kilometers he is getting behind and a little time later we don't see him anymore. We stop and ride back but the militair is disappeared. Did he became afraid?? We decide to ride on, alone. That night we camp near the road and the next morning we ride without problems to the border with Pakistan.

Pakistan.

 

Held Hostage.

The first kilometers in Pakistan we see many "petrol stations". Men and boys sell illegal smuggled petrol from Iran. Of course we stop and buy the cheap petrol and have a chat with the men. Hot, it is very today. We take a break at a roadside restaurant and have a drink, The 1.5 l cola bottle is empty in 5 minutes... We only take a short break because we want to cross this desolate desert in 2 days. We are in western Pakistan, in Baluchistan. This desert province is poorly developed and according to our guidebook the tribal people here have their own laws and in the past travelers were kidnapped. But the route Taftan (border Iran) to Quetta (600 km) is open and safe...

We put on our motor jacket, helmet and gloves. Even before starting the bike we are soaking in our sweat. If we ride away we feel the sweat evaporating and this gives a real cool feeling. Only for some minutes. Then we feel the hot desert air again. Like we are riding in an oven... A few kilometers later we met some other travelers. A group of 3 english guys that are on the way from India to England on Royal Enfields. Cool! When we have a chat a fully decorated truck pass us. These trucks look great, but the drivers ride like crazy... At dusk we pitch our tent just aside the road. After some cups of tea we look at our thermometer and it is still 38 degrees centigrade. On our route we see some camels crossing the road and ask ourselves where they will find water because all the rivers are dry. Well, some did not find water...

At a crossing we are forced to stop by a lot of people. One man shout at us that we are not allowed to go further because yesterday a man was shot by the police. "He wanted water to irrigate his land. There is a draught for 3 years and the Pakistan government do nothing about it. So we (this tribe) block all the traffic until the government comes with a solution. Even if it take weeks..."

Calmly we park our bikes and Harald goes with that leader to a little house to talk, to negociate. Udo stays with the bikes to guard them. The men are real close around the bikes and they all have a mean look in their eyes. Like if Udo is the problem. They wear the shalwar kameez, wide trousers with a long shirt and tulbands on their heads. They just look like Ali Baba and his 40 robbers... The men come closer around the bikes. Udo feels threatend and is afraid that the situation is going out of control. The sun is burning and sweat drops from his head. Udo pulls off a bottle of cola from the luggage and drink the hot coke. It taste terrible. Some of the Ali Baba's get bored and start to play with the throttle or try to open the luggage. This is going the wrong way... Udo tries to stay friendly and tell them not to do so. Udo starts to count how many of them he could take, 2, 3, but not all 40... And is it due to the hot sun thats burns on my head that make me imagine I see big knives and kalashnikov's under their shalwar kameez... CRAP!

Then suddenly there is a lot of shouting and men are running to a bus. The bus wanted to drive away but the men are hammering with their fists and sticks on the bus till the driver stops. Udo realizes that we can go nowhere. We are held hostage. After some hours Harald comes back, tired, and tell that they are waiting for the police from Quetta. Then they will talk about a solution. We have no idea how long it will take. We wait at our bikes and try to keep the men away. Every time they push some buttons on our steer or are playing with the throttle. We are getting desperate...

Finally, when it starts to get dark, the police arrives. Harald goes back to the house where the leader is. After one hour he comes back and tell that there is no solution. But he arranged that we can have some food and a place to sleep. Harald managed to get the police escorts us (again!) to a little restaurant. But when we start our bikes all the men run to us and start to shout and wave with sticks. We cannot go. Then the leader comes and explains that we are allowed to go. One policeman get on the back at Udo's bike and start to push away the Ali Baba's with his stick. We ride through the crowd along the road block of rocks and burning car tires. A few kilometers further in a little village we stop at a restaurant. The policeman order some food for us. After a few minutes we get dry bread and mineral water. Like in prison... Then we are escorted to a hotel and we can park the bikes safe in the backyard. The friendly hotel servent brings us some tea and mango's. How will this end? After a sleepless night the servent tell us that the road block is finished and that we can go. Still a bit nervous we ride up to the crossing. Only some rocks and smoking tires remind us of the incident. We open our throttles wide and ride to freedom.

 

Kalash Valley.

In Quetta we give ourselves and the bikes a few days rest before heading to Islamabad. In Islamabad, at the tourist campsite, we meet a lot of other travelers and exchange information. Here we find out that there is a jeep-track from Chitral to Gilgit over the Shandourpass... Studying the map we see that we can ride a circle instead of going twice into a valley. So the plan is made.

On our way to Chitral we cross the Lawari pass (3118 m). The dusty unpaved road exists of rocks and slowly we trail our way up. We see this as a training for the coming Shandour pass, because they told us it's not easy... From Chitral we make first an excursing into the Kalash valley. The road is narrow and rough with overhanging cliffs. It seems that every second a piece of rock can fall down...

The Kalash people are a non-muslim minority of about 3000 people. In their perception the nature belongs to other beings then themself. So, by making sacrifices and praying they ask permission to let their cattle graze or cut a tree. Jinnah, the man from the Kalash family where we are staying, gives us a tour in his village. The wooden huts are build on the slopes of the mountains and the roof is used as a terrace by the house above. On the terraces fruits are spread out to dry. The women wearing wide black dresses with yellow-red-white bordure finishing. On their heads they wear a round hat with a long tail over their back to cover their long hair. It is decorated with pearls, buttons and shells. They also wear dozens of necklaces that will only be taken off by a widow during mourning. Jinnah shows us around in his village. Their houses are build on the slopes of the mountain. We stay in one of their huts and get spoiled with fresh baked bread. We are grateful that we have met the Kalash. Thank you Jinnah!

 

Chitral - Gilgit track.

The gravel road to the Shandour Pass is one car wide, exists of big rocks and is worn out by the car tires so that in the middle a wall of 20 cm high is formed. Left there is the mountain and on the right side the canyon with the river. We trail in first gear over the rocks and are very concentrated. One little mistake can be fatal. Only when we stop we have time to enjoy the views at the mountains.

The last 600 meter to the summit we have a many sharp and steep hairpins and Harald's Suzuki has problems to pull through (probably due to the high altitude and of less compression by worn out cylinder of the 160,000 ! km old engine). Harald revs up and Udo is pushing at the back and pushes him through the first hairpin. Then we ride 100 meter and there is another hairpin. Till three times Udo has to push Harald's bike. Totally exhausted we reach the summit of the Shandour at 3800 meters. The summit is wide and flat and at the Shandour Hotel we take a cola and come back to life. This costs a lot of energy. We are glad that we made it sofar but realizing that the way down can also be difficult. Later that afternoon Udo is so exhausted that within 50 meter he drops 3 times his bike. Now it is time to stop. We pitch our tent and make a hot noodle soup. The whole day we rode in first and second gear. We both agreed that this is the most toughest part we rode on our suzuki's. Our hands hurt from the bouncing steer and we feel the muscles in our back from balancing on the bike. And we still have 200 km to go...

The next morning we are little bit nervous. How will be the rest of the track? We can feel relaxed when we arrive in Gilgit. The road is sometimes better so that we can ride parts in second gear. When we come out a curve there is a new surprise. A steep part uphill of 60 meters with halfway a big bump. Is this a speedbump? We don't think so, because we ride slowly. Udo revs it up and starts to climb. He get launched over the bump, both wheels in the air and when he land on the road the rear tire is spinning until Udo reaches the end of the climb. A few kilometers further they made a part of the road of big boulders. How the hell we can ride over this...?

At a certain moment Harald's bike stops. We think of some electrical problem but it turns out that his fuel is almost finished. He has to switch the fuel valve to reserve and have 3 liters to go... Luckely a few kilometers further we see a village where can buy some petrol. It turned out that we used 1 liter for 8 kilometers (12.5 l to 100 KM). Riding 2 days off road at this altitude in first and second gear with the same RPM's as normal in the 5th gear, we used much more petrol for less kilometers. If we knew that this track was so difficult we never would done it...

After 3 though days we reach Gilgit where we stay in a Japanese managed Hotel. The owners like to cook japanese food and we get noodles in Japanese style. It was really good. In the hotel we met a japanese guy who did the Chitral-Gilgit track by horse. He thought by horse it was difficult, but on "steel horses" it's crazy....

Karakorum Highway (KKH).

Riding on paved roads feels like heaven after days of rough tracks. We are riding on the Karakorum Highway in north Pakistan and that goes all the way to China. The KKH was a part of the ancient silk route, that took Marco Polo over the mountains to China. Nowadays it is still used for transporting goods and everything goes in the beautiful painted Pakistani trucks. The bad thing is they drive like crazy...

The views are supurb and mountains go up to 7000 meters. We enjoy riding here. And everytime we stop to take pictures. It is just breath taking... Then at 80 km from the Khunjerab pass (border with China) a landslide blocks the road completely. We park our bikes and want to take a look. But a few minutes later rocks are falling down. Men run away. Panic! More landslides. We move our suzuki's back and talk with some truck drivers. They tell us that they are waiting already for one day and that maybe tomorrow the road will be cleared. As it is not possible for us to enter China (no visa and no guide), we decide to go back. And enjoy the views from the other side...

Later that afternoon we stop in a village to buy some food. There we meet Mohamed and he invites us to his house. We follow him on his motorbike, back up a hill. His whole family comes outside to welcome us. Then its time for a tea and a talk about cultures. That is always interesting. We can pitch our tent in the garden and the kids are amazed. Yep, that's how we live... After diner when it gets dark, we go with Mohamed up the hill to see the lights from the village. "We sit her every night for the view, because we don't have a tv", Mohamed explains. But the real reason is that here he can smoke a joint...

India.

 

Golden Temple.

We cross the border from Pakistan to India at Amritsar. When we leave immigration we ride on an empty road. Something is wrong here...? Where are the people? We always hear that India is overcrowded. The only traffic that we see is an old man on a donkey and a boy on a bicycle. But after a kilometer we come into the city Amritsar and BAM! CHAOS! Yes, this is what we expect...The road is blocked with bicycles, rickchaws and tuk-tuks. Slowly we zigzag on our bikes through the traffic on the way to the Golden Temple. In the middle of the street cows are standing and blocking the traffic. We move on, but it is faster to walk... In the center we get stuck. Nothing moves and everybody horns. Two dutch travelers, that we met earlier on our trip, come to us and tell that they are watching us from a restaurant. We decide it's time for a tea break and leave our bikes in the middle of the chaos and go to the restaurant. From the second floor of the restaurant we look down over the street and to everybody that tries to move around our bikes. Cool!

Later we visit the Golden Temple. This is the most holiest place of the Sikhs. The Sikhs are easy recognizable with their long beards and coloured turban on their head. They take their turban only off when they go to sleep. In the GoldenTemple is the Adi Granth. This is the holy book for the Sikhs. The whole day they are reading from this book with spiritual music as background. It creates a relaxed atmosphere. It is impressive to see. Slowly and barefooted we walk clockwise around the temple. A warm, calmness feeling rise from our inside, making your heart go slowly...going into meditation...this is amazing. What a difference with the chaos on the street.

From Amritsar we ride north into the Himalaya's. The Kashmir district is still unstable and therefore we see a lot of militairy vehicles on the road. Every 300 meters militairies are checking the roadside for mines. We have only a few police checks and feel no threats. Recently the government leaders of India and Pakistan had a meeting about the Kasmir issue (Agra convence). But no improvements were made. We however notice not much of the problems, only the present of a lot of militairies. At Srinagar we stay 2 days on a floating houseboat at Dal lake. From the boat we watch the people how they live on their boats. How they prepare for fishing, smoke the waterpipe. They even have a floating supermarket. We make a tour on the lake in a shikara (little boat) to see the floating gardens full of lotusflowers.

 

Praying with the wind.

From Srinagar to Leh we take some high pass roads. We winding up the mountain and suddenly the road is blocked. We stop and talk with the roadworkers. The road is under construction and we are not allowed to go on. But we have no intention to go back. That will be a big detour through other valleys. Finally they let us trough but at our own risk. They warn us for very dangerous parts where the road slide away due to landslides. Where did we saw this before....? Later we realize that the roadworkers were right. On one part of the track a truck lost control and fall down into the river...

In this area there are some very interesting Buddhist monasteries to see. The monastries in Alchi and Lamayuru have some beautiful statues of buddha and fresco's, dating from the 11th century. Because the difficulty to pray all day and to save time the monks put praying flags everywhere. When the wind moves this flags prayings are send out to the world. What an invention! I like it. Also they have a lot of praying mills. Every time you give a praying mill a swirl, you make a pray.

Just before we enter the city Leh, the suzuki from Udo stops. Nothing works anymore. We check the electric system and find out that the dynamo is broken. It can take some time to fix this problem, but we are luckily that it happens near the city Leh. It gets dark soon, so we put our tent fly over the bikes and stay for the night. The next day Harald organize a truck in Ley to put Udo's bike on and we find a nice guesthouse to stay. We order a new dynamo in Holland but it can take 5 days to get it here. They say...

 

Top of the World.

Leh (3522 meter) is a touristic town in Ladakh. Ladakh lies between the Himalayan mountains in the south and the Karakoram mountains in the north. Until the 18th century Ladakh was a kingdom but nowadays it belongs to India. This area opened in 1974 for tourists. The indigenous people are lamaitic Buddhists and are farmers. Nowadays the most people live from the touristic industry: woodcarving, embroidery, hotels, restaurants and guides for trekking or rafting. At the streets there is a mixture of old and new. Ladakh women wear their typical dresses with their funny hats and sitting on the sidewalk selling their vegetables. And the teenagers are riding on scooters on their way to an internet cafe. We hope that they keep some of their culture. We mingle among the Ladakhi and observe their street live.

There are some interesting stupa's around Leh that we visit. They have beautiful buddhist carvings and are very colorful. The view over the Himalayan mountains from there is supurb.

While we are still waiting for the dynamo we decide to go together on Haralds suzuki to the Kardung La. The Kardung La is with 5602 meters the highest motorable road in the world. It will be the ultimate test for the bike. Can she ride up to the top with 2 persons? Harald kicks on his bike and Udo jumps on the back. We leave Leh at 3522 m and start to climb. There is a lot of traffic and carefully passes Harald the trucks. For Udo it is scary to sit on the back without control, but he trust his little brother completely. Slowly we go higher, taking curve by curve. The mountains have different colors of brown which gives a nice contrast in the blue sky. Our GPS gives 4563 m. We already climbed one kilometer. From here we have a nice view on the snowcapped mountains. On the steep slopes we see some yaks grazing. After a few hairpins we see a glacier. White ice surrounded by black rocks in blue sky. 5041 m. The air gets colder and the bike is still pulling up. At this point the road decays. A lot of holes and gravel. Harald rides constantly in the first gear. Every hairpin takes us higher. 5218 m. And 4 kilometers to the top. We feel that breathing is harder. At every hairpin Harald horns (is usual in India). He don't want to stop because it can be difficult to start riding again. At this altitude the bike looses a lot of power because of the thin air. A few more curves and then we see the summit of the Kardung La. 5602 m. We made it. Our Suzuki made it. She took us to the highest motorable road in the world. We are damn proud of this bike...

After one week waiting we hear that the dynamo is already for 3 days at the DHL office in Delhi. They will not sent the dynamo to Leh because it is "out of district". And this they call "world wide delivery". We have to go to Delhi. We build back the self repaired dynamo in the bike and leave for Delhi. But how long will the dynamo last? We have to go over 3 more pass roads above 5000 meter. The views are stunning and we camp at the most beautiful places high in the Himalayans.

 

Holy Cows.

After a few exciting days on the bike with the repaired dynamo, crossing three pass roads over 5000 meter, we finally reach Delhi. We search for the DHL office to pick up the dynamo. But before we get the dynamo we have to pay 80 % import tax! WHAT, 80%? That's more than USD 200. When we explain that we will leave

the country, so we take out the part and therefore not importing it, we get a loud NO. Since we still have 1 year to go we need the dynamo and pay...

In Agra we visit the Taj Mahal. Emporar Shah Jahan let this palace build to show his love for Mumtaz Mahal when she died. Thousands of people worked for 22 years to build the Taj. The perfectly symmetrical white marble palace with the black marble inlayed decorations is situated in a green garden. It is normal to pay entrance fees for these monuments and recently they raised the fee for foreigners. But asking 20 USD for foreigners and only 40 cents for locals is too much difference. And what do they do with the money? Not for education / maintainance / environment in Agra because outsight the palace it is dirty and beggars are bugging tourists. Of course we pay, because we really want to see the Taj Mahal. We are early and there are not so many people around. We see the rising sun lightning the Taj, making it look gold, making her awake. The palace is surrounded with a green garden and it is a very relaxed place. How different with outside on the streets.

We make our way to Varanasi. It is cloudy in Varanasi when we enter the city. And immediately we are stucked in the traffic. The constant sound of the horns of the cars and tuk-tuks is hurting our ears. All traffic goes criss-cross over the street, ignoring the traffic light in the middle. A police officer tries to make order with his whistle but everybody goes his one way. We try to find a hotel through the chaotic traffic, trying avoid the cows that are blocking the roads. The cows are holy in India and everybody moves around. Some parts of the street are so crowded that we have to push with our aluminum panniers against the rickshaws to pass. And we see for the first time a goat on a bicycle... It's great but it is nerve wrecking to make a way... Finally we find a relative quiet hotel where we can park the bikes inside.

Varanasi is famous for its silk, rickshaws, holy cows and is situated at the Ganges river. Every morning at sunrise many Hindu's take a bath in the holy Ganges. From the Ghats, stairs to the river, they walk into the river for a ritual bath. They say their holy prayers, dip 3 times completely under water and take a sip of Ganges water. Not to mention that the Ganges is one of the most polluted rivers in the world... There are some burning Ghats where the dead people are burned and their ashes are spread over the holy Ganges. It are very interesting rituals to observe.

A tropical rainshower pours down. In no time the streets are flooded. The whole traffic is blocked again. Some cows are learning to swim. We flee to a restaurant. We watch this chaotic scenes while we are ordering a Thali. This typical Indian food exists of bowls of rise, mixed vegetables in spicey curry sauce and chapati's (bread). You take a piece of chapati, dip it in the vegetables with sauce and eat it with your hands. Taste really good!

Nepal.

 

Namaste.

At Sonauli we cross the border to Nepal. The formalities are quite easy and within 30 minutes we are in Nepal. And what a difference compared to India.Much less horning and traffic. Also the people seems more friendly. A lot of people and children say hello to us with the word "Namaste" and folding their hands in front of their chest and bowing their head a little forward. Namaste means welcome, hello, but also goodbye and have a safe journey.

According to our map the short route to Pokhara is more beautiful but also in poor condition and sensitive to landslides. The other route is 120 km more in distance so we decide to take the short way. The road meanders through the mountains, following the river. From above we have nice viewings of the valleys with the green cultivated rice terraces. Only 70 km of the road is in poor condition and once a while there is a little landslide but that gives us no problems. The same day we arrive in Pokhara. This little touristic town is famous for its trekking in the Annapurna mountain range. We want to do a 5 day trekking but the weather is getting worse. From some showers to real monsoonal thunderstorms. Thus we wait a few days, but there is no weather improvement. We fill our days looking at souvenir shops, see how the men play games on the street and exchange the dynamo on Udo's suzuki.

Every day on our way from the hotel to the city center we pas a hairdresser and the man asks every time if we want a haircut. Maybe tomorrow. On a sunday morning we finally go to the hairdresser for a haircut. The little wooden hut with a tin roof has two chairs and a broken mirror. Udo takes place on the wiggling chair. The man looks for his scissor and starts to cut. Fast moves the scissor over his head. When he is finished he starts with a massage. Most of the hairdressers are also masseurs and I can choose from head, neck, shoulder, back or complete body massage. A head massage will do. The man slaps his hands on Udo's bald scull a few times and than tries to pull his head skin off. Moving my head in all directions and pulling with all his force. It is a strange feeling... And after a half hour Udo steps reborn and 2 inches taller outside...

After four days of continuous rain the sky clears up and we catch a spot of the 6997 m high Machhapuchhare. But after some minutes the view is vanishing behind the clouds. After one week of rain we decide to go to Kathmandu. This year the monsoon is worse than other years, the people in Pokhara tell us. Yes, we notice...

When we want to go to Kathmandu the rain pours down. We put on our rain gear and leave Pokhara. Parts of the road are flooded and rivers are formed next to the road. Because of the water we cannot see the potholes and that makes riding a motorbike more dangerous. A truck driver misjudged the width of the road and the truck tumbled over. At midday the sky clears and we can take off our rain gear. At many places there is a lot of mud on the road, fallen from the hill sloops, but luckily the road is not blocked. Later that day we arrive in Kathmandu. Slowly riding through the crowded traffic we reach the centre and find a nice hotel where we can park our suzuki's safely.

The name Kathmandu comes from Kasta Mandap and means "wooden temple" in Newari. Dozens of wooden temples are located at Durbar Square and they have beautiful carvings. We climb on one of the temples and have a nice view. We watch the street life go by. Three old women are cleaning the street, a grocer on a bicycle sells his vegetables and the rickshaws are racing over the square. A Sadhus is posing for some tourists. These eccentric "holy men" are barely dressed or wear colorful clothes and necklaces. Some shave their head and others never cut and wash their hair. They live ascetic, but want a lot of money if a tourist take a picture. No way dude!

Pashupatinath, in the Kathmandu valley, is one of the most sacred places in the country. Here are the burning Ghats along the river. After burning the dead bodies the ash is thrown in the Bagmati river. This river flows into the Ganges and has therefore the same meaning as Varanasi in India. When we arrive there is a burning going on. A lot of people, also not relatives, are watching. Respectful we watch from a distance, but it is a strange happening for us.

The Swayambunath temple is one of the oldest buddhist temple in the world. From here we have a nice view over Kathmandu. But much more impressive is the monotone singing of the monks: Om Mane-Padme-Um. A few monks turn a praying role to let fly the mantra with the wind. After two weeks in Kathmandu it’s time for us to fly also. With the ongoing monsoon and therefore a big chance of flooding in Bangladesh we skip our plans to go to Bangladesh and we will fly from Kathmandu to Bangkok, Thailand. Namaste!

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