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Back soon ... 

I have posted a few random thoughts with the intention that these would merely be footnotes to the main article about my first loaded trip from Kathmandu to Pokhara. Unfortunately, I have run out of time as I have to hit the hay ahead of a 5am rise to join my jeep tour to Tibet. I will post details of the bike trip shortly as it was a big moment for me in terms of what I am trying to achieve here. Believe me, the strong sensations and vivid images could not possibly grow stale so it will be an easy piece to pen once I get around to it.

I'll be offline for the next few days, possibly a week. I look forward to catching up when I'm back from Tibet.

Mind how you go



Learning English

Every so often a light of understanding flashes in my brain with regards to terms or words we commonly use in the English language. Often I might use such a term without realising it's true origin or meaning. For example; 'that place we stayed in last night was such a shit-hole'. Of course, I understood what people meant when they said it but I thought they were just being crude.

Having now been confronted by the darkness, drab decor and smell of said shit-hole, the pennies (or should that be poopies) have finally dropped. I'm all in favour of squatting, it's far more effective way of going about one's business but would somebody please explain to me what I am supposed to do with that jug and bucket? In this part of the world one does not wish for a room with an en-suite!

Now that I am enlightened, I am a little worried about what people mean when they say they 'slummed it' or that they stayed in a 'dump' ... please God let them not be referring to India.


Stuck in the middle

I am in a weird place to say the least. I am privileged from a western point of view because I have somehow managed to end up in a situation that a lot of people would love to be in; traveling the world with the safety net of a sabbatical, no attachments and plenty of rupees in my pocket to ensure that I have enough resources for the time being at least. Of course, I am also incredibly privileged from a Nepali point of view. Not only is life here not a struggle for me (although a lot of them havn't seen the bucket loads of sweat it takes to climb a pass here) but I am en-route to several other countries that they have only ever seen on a map. A young unemployed farmer asked me how many countries I had been to ... I reckoned about 15 (not sure) and his eyes lit up with wonder. I asked him the same question and he said he had visited five districts. 'Oh' I said very embarrassed!

It is very easy for somebody from a relatively high income country to travel, not so for somebody from a low-income country it seems. Should somebody want to obtain a foreign visa then they typically need to have enough money in the bank to show that they can survive in that country for a time unassisted. It is just not possible for these people to save that much money, thus, they are stuck in the 'land of no opportunity'. I am simply stuck in the middle it seems.



Cars are not too common here. The only cars are taxis. These are usually tiny Kias, Hyundais or Suzukis with roof racks on top. You see the odd SUV in the countryside but its use is purely functional as opposed to status. To get from town to town one uses the local bus. Tourist buses that travel direct are more comfortable but they are not exactly modern. There are no trains here. Thus, the best way to get around is on a motor-bike. They are everywhere and on every terrain carrying any amount of people and baggage. There are plenty of vans too. The most common of these is the Toyota Hosanna in the Hiace. These are typically people carriers and seem to be kings of the road, they have enough speed and size to dominate.

The highway code is such that the bigger vehicle has right of way. One also has to honk to overtake. This gives people the false sense of security that if they honk then it is safe to overtake. Such thinking inevitably means that you pull-out to overtake and then check what is coming as opposed to checking first. The manoeuvres I have seen are jaw-dropping but everybody seems to get along and enjoys the entertainment. I inhabit the inside of the road. Overtaking buses and trucks leave both me and them with no margin for error, in most cases I have the option to ride the dirt. The people with the best view of the road are the guys that happily climb onto the roofs of buses and sit with the luggage. They seem to have parties up there as it is not uncommon to see a guy strumming on a guitar. Unfortunately is not too unusual to see a truck that has run off the road. On the Prithvi Highway to Pokhara I saw three such cases. The first case below is a little bizarre as he totally lost it. Traffic travels on the left-hand-side like at home, so this guy managed to drive onto the other side of the road and then into the gully. This means that the driver took the biggest hit in this case as the driver-side is what toppled first. I can only imagine he was traveling in the dark and didn't realise where he was on the Highway. There is no such thing as a street-light here.


The local buses and trucks are Indian manufactured Tatas. They are colourful affairs decked out with streamers and tinsel. They always have a slogan on the back, 'Road King' or 'Horn Please' would be common but I have come across the following which was good for a mid-ride chuckle; 'Don't Love, Love is Painful'.



It is amazing how difficult the photography is here. The sun has to rise quite high to break-out over the peaks and as it doesn‘t need to fall too far to set. This means that one can never access the soft tones that allow for some really nice shots unless you get above the nearby peaks. The haze makes taking scenic shots pointless. Kathmandu is equally challenging; take a close-up and you miss the real sense of the scene, take a step back for a wider shot and there is too much going on in the photo. It would be impossible to find Wally in such a shot.

In the countryside I have not quite got the nerve to use my DSLR. It feels wholly inappropriate to whip out something that is worth four times the average annual income of a Nepali. People are everywhere here so it’s unusual to be in isolation to stage a shot. I’m sure they are well used to it but for the moment the compact is a lot more discreet.

Of course, I arrived in the tourist resort of Pokhara and the white-man is everywhere. Funnily enough, the amount of camera artillery suggested I was at some sort of movie premiere. If those lenses were target finders there would be no hope for the Yeti. I can’t believe that people would trek the Annapurna Himalayas with kit that heavy but then when has the white-man ever made much sense. I would hate to see what size North Face duffel bag he expects his porter to carry up the mountain for him. I can only hope that he at least nails the shot!



I came with two pairs of shoes, a pair of bike shoes and a new pair of trail runners. For some reason I have not yet worn my bike shoes for any cycling, it just seems easier to wear the trail shoes. The consequence is that I have been wearing one pair of shoes for everything … pooey! The heat here means that I will pick up a pair of flip-flops and ship my bike shoes home. All I need for this climate is a pair of flops or sandals but I will hold onto the trail runners for the off-road biking. In this heat the perfect attire is akin to what I used to wear in gym class when I was six; a white pair of pumps (plimsoles), short shorts and a white vest. These were of course the days before Nike Air Jordans ruled.

I imagine the bike shoes could come in handy to work the up-stroke of the pedal action on some tough climbs but touring is hard enough without having to rip my hamstrings off too. We’ll see.

In the meantime I am left scrambling trying to find bread soda or something equivalent to deodorise my shoes ahead of my jeep tour to Tibet. There is enough social exclusion in Tibet without me joining the mix.



My first trip on the bike into the dust clouds of Kathmadu reminded me that I needed to buy a pair of shades, I had forgotten to bring a pair. I was squinting both from the bright sunlight and the dust so I picked up a knock-off pair of Oakleys. However, once I started touring I preferred not to use them. The dark shades seemed to act like some sort of veil, separating me from the locals as I passed by their roadside houses. There is something about that part of the face that is so descriptive. It is why professional cyclists use shades to mask hurt from their opponents and also why poker players wear them to shield the twinkling in the eye of a good hand. Speaking of poker it is that part of the face that casinos in Vegas use as the basis for the face recognition technology that is used to weed out the disguise-wearing card counters early in the night. It is impossible to disguise the bone-structure of the mid-section of the face.

For some reason shades have been spreading like a rash on our faces in recent times. Wrap-arounds are now the size of the visor of a motorcycle helmet. It makes it very difficult to discern how good looking a girl actually is … perhaps that’s the point? Our eyes can communicate so much it did not seem right to be riding like a diplomat in his blacked out Mercedes. The whole point of bike touring is that it brings you closer to the people of a country, when they see your face you are no longer a robot but a weary blood-shot traveller in need of food and water. Having said all that, I reserve the right to wear shades when I choose; they remain useful for checking out girls discreetly etc.


Just walk away ...

I am just back from Pokhara and have lots to write about. However, I have just endured two power-cuts and despite my best efforts of saving my work I must have been offline as I was writing and so have not successfully saved the last hour of work to the site.

Obviously frustrating but such is life in Nepal. Power-cuts occur every night here. As Nepal is such a poor country they part pay for their obligations to India with power. While they are cash poor they have plenty of hydro power. A result of having the widest band of altitude of any country on the planet; Mount Everest reaches 8848ms and the relatively nearby Terai plains bordering India are only 100ms above sea-level. The result is that power-cuts can occur for up to six hours at times but unfortunately there is no temporary back-up as the accommodation I'm in switches from mains to the generator and back again. I do miss my mac! Just walk away Mark ....

I had to return from Pokhara a day earlier than planned as the Chinese embassy insisted on seeing my physical passport for my visa to Tibet. Typically a photocopy suffices but they must have sussed out my Tibetan sympathies already. The Chinese have more powers than we think!

Will get back online again tomorrow. I have posted a few photos of Pokhara, a lakeside resort which people use as a starting point for trekking the highly regarded Annapurna circuit.

Mind how you go,



Namaste from Kathmandu

Having arrived into Kathmandu I quickly realised that there was a lot to take in. I was unsure how I was going to make sense of it all but it was obvious that I would not be able to quietly observe from the sidelines. Firstly, there are no sidelines and secondly there is no such thing as quiet in Kathmandu. Hotels arrange to shepherd tourists from the airport to their accommodation in Thamel; the main hub for tourists. While this is helpful it is easy for tourists to think that the claustrophobia of Thamel is representative of KTM (Kathmandu). Most tourists fly in and are quickly bussed out to the conservation parks, trekking regions and rafting areas after a very brief stay in Thamel. This tiny part of town is a real-life Google for tourists. The amount of hoardings makes it very easy to find things quickly, although the competition for street-level space is such that if you are looking for one place in particular then you will not easily find it. Email, photocopy (visas), internet, cybercafé, laundry, restaurant, bar, guesthouse, equipment, DVD, pashmina, trekking, rafting, mountain-biking and tours are what the signs state simply. One quickly understands that tourists have everything they could possibly need here but such is the competition for business that everything is generic, hence the simple signage.

Thamel is a small place. The streets are tiny and not much light makes it through. The open shop-fronts and numerous street-sellers make you feel like you are walking through the aisle of a supermarket. However, in Thamel somebody is more than happy to guide you down the aisle to help you shop. As competition is tough (tourist dollars is the best source of income here) there is a huge amount of people shouting to grab your attention. On top of this the Nepalese tend to drive with only one hand on the wheel.  I should clarify, the other hand is on the wheel too but it is kept firmly on the horn. The funny thing is that even though the noise is constant and even deafening, it is never threatening. They beep simply to alert you that they are coming through, not because you are holding them up like in Dublin. One quickly senses that there is no rage here. It feels like quite a stress free place even though tourists could easily be overwhelmed here. Of course, the fact that they don’t really giving a damn about much explains why they are always smiling and very gracious. One would think that they might worry about the fact that a slight breeze blowing in from the valley might cause a domino rally of houses. Certainly, it seems like these people are built on solid foundations even if their homes are not.

If it wasn’t so hard for a Nepali to get out of the country, one would think that they all learnt Commerce in UCD. They are not shy of trying to rip people off Dublin-style; however, it is difficult to feel ripped-off when we are talking in terms of rupees. Still, the amount of young volunteers and back-packing nomads means that it is possible to pay next to nothing for everything. Once you step off the street and slip through a tiny alley you notice that there are two different worlds here. The alleys are literally portals to the real Kathmandu. Set-back from the street the din softens, the prices deflate massively and the kitchens become even more authentic. If a take-out back home costs about a tenner, then the same Chow-mein or whatever will cost 70 cent here. I’ll have two please! What’s more, the food is ten times better than at home. Of course, I might not want to risk the local tap-water but I could eat here every night for the rest of time. Everything is simple but more importantly, everything is simply delicious and agreeable. I struggle to understand how the majority of restaurants in Dublin are fine purveyors of the tummy rumbles. The things we put up with! Of course, down the alley people are even more gracious because they really appreciate your business. Life is hard here, there is no doubt about that but regardless of how run down and lacking it may be in terms of all the normal infrastructure that we expect, the people and the city are very clean considering the amount of dust and lack of proper rubbish collection. While you can’t ignore the poverty it is not in your face. Nepali’s are mostly Hindu but a lot of them would follow the Buddhist teachings too as it’s compatible with Hinduism. There are few billboards and lust is not really advertised here the way it is in the West. The lack of desires and practice of moderation show that they are very true to their beliefs. They have values and seem very proud of them unlike at home where religion and spirituality are things that you fit into your day, if at all.

I had to get out of Thamel and so I wandered down to Durbar Square, one of three such squares full of temples, each of which is a world heritage site. Shrines and temples are commonplace and they are very integrated into the lives of the people. Durbar Square in KTM is just a rat-run for the locals. This walk through Kathmandu just reminded me that I didn’t have a clue as to what was going on here. I had been run-over by a rickshaw; I had even wandered home from the pub to find a solitary cow walking towards me. Never has Robin’s catch-phase ‘Holy Cow!’ been so appropriate but where was Batman to make sense of all this for me. Of course, I was quickly approached at the entrance to Durbar Square by a local offering to guide me and as I could understand his excellent English I was more than happy to pay him whatever he wanted. I had just spent 40 minutes alone with a Buddhist monk in his shrine and conversation was not exactly great as we could not understand each other, possibly a good thing! My guide was great and ensured that I saw the Kumari, the living Goddess. Appearances by her are rare (not sure) … she does not seek attention like most normal happy-go-lucky four year olds but then being a living Goddess is not exactly normal. My guide explained a fair few things to me and he linked me up with a rickshaw driver to take me back to Thamel. It’s nice to have someone else do the cycling!

So having ventured out of Thamel, I needed to venture out of KTM. I gave as good as I got in Nepali traffic … which is as technical as mountain-biking can get. I love cruising cities on a bike. In KTM I was no longer the white-man, instead my pale complexion assumed ghost-like qualities as I seemed to disappear from view of the street-sellers altogether. I cycled pretty aimlessly … well, I aimed for Patan but there are no signs anywhere to tell you where you are so I ended up cycling aimlessly for two and a half hours. The dust and pollution were pretty intense on the highways but this was due to road-works. Traffic here doesn’t go in a straight-line, it zigzags all over what is a straight road. This means that it is no longer so menacing much like a crocodile when forced to switch direction constantly. The result is that I’m pretty much as fast as most vehicles, save for the motorbike. If my push-bike wasn’t so heavy then I might have given it a run for its money too. Ironically, the highway was the safest place for me, I wasn’t brave enough to cross the dirt verge and explore the extra-burbia of Kathmandu, not that Kathmandu feels unsafe; not at all.

I am making friends, which is great. I’m in with the anglophile set, but I have met a couple of girls who live here full-time. One is working with volunteers and the other married a Nepali and now has her own tour company. She is a keen mountain-biker so she very kindly offered to guide me through the valley and told me what was what. In return I am going to use her for an overland jeep tour into Tibet. My original plan of biking across the Tibetan Plateau has fallen through, simply the organiser accelerated anybody looking to go in October to the September tour on the back of visa concerns. This meant that 16 people finished that particular trip the day I arrived and there was nobody left to go with. I met with an Aussie and an Israeli who were looking to recruit people for a tour to Mount Kailash. This is a very holy mountain and has never been climbed (officially at least) out of reverence to Buddha and the Hindu God of Shiva who resides there. It’s very remote and so it provides the authentic Tibetan experience unlike Lhasa which by all accounts is a modern Chinese city. The infrastructure programme in China is such that 95% of the Lhasa to KTM route is on perfectly sealed tarmac, the dodgy 5% represents the Nepal part of the route. While religion is an interesting way to learn about a people, visiting Mount Kailash is effectively a pilgrimage. I did find it curious that an Israeli had strong sympathies for the Tibetan people when one considers the Palestinian situation. I kept my mouth shut! I wouldn’t be able to do that for a 16 day jeep tour so it was best that I dodge, in any case, I view religion as the middle-man and so Mount Kailash doesn’t mean so much to me. Instead, my inner sense of injustice suggests that inspecting the current situation in Lhasa is more relevant, to me at least.

I will be on the road for the next few days. I have a sense of Kathmandu and so I will move on to get a better sense of the land. I have not been great with the camera. I took a few photos mountain-biking the valley earlier but not having your own laptop makes life difficult in terms of uploading them. I have put some up but this trip is not supposed to be work if you get what I mean. If only I could just borrow a mac!

Talk soon



Family First

As Michael Bluth (Arrested Development) would say; "Family First". So, it was with family in the middle of the English countryside that my odyssey began. Since my flight to Delhi was via Heathrow, it was the perfect opportunity to catch up with my sister Ann Marie, Graham and their son (my Godson) Charlie. Their country home in a small village with no shops near the horse town of Newmarket was to be the perfect refuge for me as I sought to take a little holiday from my big holiday.

I arrived exhausted having had precious few hours sleep in the build-up to take-off. When people told me that this trip was a once in a life-time thing I now know what they meant. Simply there is no way that anybody would want to go through what I did in the last two weeks twice. Between wrapping up my job, organising things for the trip, moving out and launching the web-site I was running on empty. I'm shocked that the only thing I forgot was my sun-glasses ... or at least as far as I know. August was mentally tiring as I thought things through but September was physically exhausting as I pulled everything together. Hopefully a few more rest days will have me back on talking terms as opposed to cursing terms with my bike. You get the picture.

Staying with my sister felt like Christmas had come early, which is apt as I'll miss (in every sense of the word) Christmas with my family for the first time this year. The adults had time off work and charming Charlie provided the entertainment as only babies can do. We watched some movies, we went for walks, the house was snug and there was plenty of hot-food and chocolate. Of course, I did my bit to add to the Christmassy feel by sleeping-in, lounging around and generally being of little use altogether. 

We took a lovely stroll around nearby Cambridge, which is more high-street than high-brow these days. I also had a great tour of their organic fruit and vegetable garden; it really is a delight to pick walnuts from the ground and eat ripe fruits from the trees. Graham showed me his late Father's shed equipped with no fewer than seven fully-serviced bikes plus meticulously-cleaned spare parts (and I thought five bikes was bad enough). If anybody is looking for a retro Brooks saddle for their Fixer then I know just the man!

After a couple of days of rest it was time to move on. I had recovered a great deal by this stage. I knew this as I was no longer slurring my words as only drunken Dino can. While I felt refreshed, it was no more than a 'sucker's rally' or a 'dead cat bounce' to borrow financial market terminology. The overnight sleepless flight to Delhi followed by a seven hour fight to stay awake in Delhi airport to ensure the safe-keeping of my possessions left me more wired than an all-night online poker-player. Not that I needed to have worried since Delhi airport has more guns than a US school. Needless to say, my senses were a little numb on arrival to the colours and cacophony of Kathmandu ... my next installment.

Keep well