Love, Peace & Namaste
Nepal was always a dream, a bucket list item. I fell in love with the exotic ideal of it: the people, the landscape, the culture. So, when my partner Ray and I pulled Nepal from a list of 20 desired destinations we’d collectively chosen, I couldn’t have been more thrilled. It was Kismet, I reckon.
We decided to ride Nepal at the end of a three-week trip, exploring cities and experiencing the Himalayas on two wheels, as closely as possible to how the locals do it. Along with the usual booking of flights and accommodations, we needed to find a reputable motorcycle rental company.
We spent a fair amount of time reading reviews, determining ease of access via location, perusing inventory, and comparing prices. There was a budget in mind, and we wanted to stay within it. So, in knowing there are often hidden costs, we deciphered the various options and, proceeding with cautious optimism, discovered Sujan of City Motorbike in Kathmandu. Then, with great enthusiasm, the preparations began.
Guided tours don’t interest us, Ray and I have uncovered a mutual love of being independent. With a few emails back and forth, we had a solid plan, starting with the rental of two Yamaha FZS 150cc motorcycles for a whopping $15 a day.
Not long after flying into Kathmandu and locating City Motor Bike, we met Sujan, a happy-go-lucky bloke who was fascinated that we planned to ride Nepal without a guide. Perhaps even more so with me, a woman riding her own bike.
Later, during a four-kilometer trek around Kathmandu, we stumbled upon a local business selling helmets from an apartment above a garage. There, I was presented with an assortment of “lady’s helmets,” and not afforded an opportunity to choose from the entire collection… rather guided in the direction of what was “acceptable.” I smiled and chose one: bright blue with a dark tinted visor, like a fighter pilot. And, for a grand total of $35, we walked away with two local-style helmets.
The quantity of traffic was like nothing I’d experienced before, and it only got worse as we left Durbar Square and hit the dusty roads leading out of the inner city. No lanes, no lights, no signs… no rules! Unlike North America, the horn is used for the purpose of indication, not hostility, and the traffic flows surprisingly smoothly as pedestrians, cars, and bikes vie for position. What appears to be a chaotic, reckless practice is in fact a skillful, well-established pandemonium. Having never ridden in a third world country, it was both mesmerizing and manic, but by the end of our trip I’d have it mastered. An hour later we reached the edge of the city and stopped for fuel, with no shortage of excitement having survived the mayhem.
The route was challenging and, as I soon learned, there was no easier alternative. Nepal is a beautiful country full of tiered mountain crops, verdant fields, dense rain forest, quick flowing rivers, high desolate Himalayas and terrible roadways. The contrast was more startling than I’d imagined and much slower than anticipated. Narrow, potholed, flooded, eroded, muddy and obstructed, the infrastructure left much to be desired. This created long, arduous days and eventually the landslides, which were endless, forced us to abandon our plan to climb the Annapurnas.
Giving up the climb had an upside, however, affording the opportunity to explore a little more in and around the villages and the lush countryside. While it was treacherous in places, it was exhilarating in others. Over countless mountain passes and past enormous roadside waterfalls, I was in love with this journey and swept away by the romance of unencumbered and unrestricted travel. We stopped frequently to admire the landscape, stunning vistas between shanty tin roof homes, and roadside restaurants where we enjoyed the local fare. We marveled at the commerce of these crowded villages and took copious photos. It was as leisurely as it was glorious.
But there’s a peculiar cultural downside that I must mention. As I rode in ignorant bliss, caught up in the picturesque topography and unaware of what was happening around me, at no time did we see another female on a motorbike. Often, when traveling through densely populated areas, I’d be deliberately separated from Ray by other male riders. It took a little illumination from my trusty partner to realize that these occurrences were not accidental, and that I was being bullied on the road. Apparently, Nepalese men feel threatened by women. And not wanting to ride behind a woman, or worse, be passed by one, they became very aggressive, frequently squeezing me out to ensure they remained in front, often passing me in dangerous situations. Although I eventually became amused by this little dance, it didn’t start out that way. In Nepal, women often describe themselves as “the lower caste” in relation to men and generally occupy subordinate social positions as a result.
Not one to back down or fold, I was determined to stand my ground and, now that I was aware of the little road game, I was prepared for battle. It was a dogfight and I was ready to engage in bike-to-bike combat. With my “fighter pilot” helmet’s visor down, I recognized the need to combine the fundamentals of offensive and defensive positioning in an effort to outperform my opponents. Tactical turns, weave positioning, use of space, throttle control and communication with my partner were all employed to gain a positional advantage. The geometry of pursuit became the key to my survival, and as a wing man, it was critical to stick with my lead.
It was not until we were traveling from Bandipur toward Chitwan on a long windy road that I decided I’d had enough. Beeped at and narrowly passed at great speed, a guy pulled out in front of me then proceeded to slow right down in the corners. So, with a nod to my partner, I hit the throttle on the next bend and overtook him, continuing hard until I had enough space between us that I could resume my ride.
The remainder of the trip was similar, and I learned to go with the flow while maintaining dominance. That’s the way of things in Nepal. It’s my hope that all women who wish to are emboldened to embrace the freedom that comes with two wheels.
Even with the objectionable moments, this trip was a highlight in my life. As I returned the Yamaha to City Motorbike, I reflected on our experience, a little tearful at its conclusion. There is nothing more intoxicating than traveling the world and being able to explore, by any means, with the one you love. We’ve ridden both bikes and elephants; swam in pools and floated down alligator-infested rivers; watched cattle and men bathe along the shoreline; seen the riches of trade and the devastation of poverty; witnessed pride in religion and desperation at the temples; and entertained the little ones as we toured.
Nepal is a country vibrant in color, with a diverse people that are polite and quick to greet you with a friendly “Namaste.” It’s a country impassioned by its history and religiously diverse. It’s a country that boasts the highest mountain in the world, the World Peace Pagoda, the birthplace of Lord Buddha and multiple World Heritage sites. It’s a country that begs to be explored, to be climbed and to be ridden. It’s a country worth the wait and one to which I will return, endeavoring to ride those peaks that stand tall protecting this stunning nation.
Nepal is a destination for those with an adventurous soul and an open mind. My “fighter pilot” helmet made the trip home with me and now sits on a table where I can see it each day. It reminds me how lucky I am to have the liberty to choose what I desire most.