Well, sorry for the vanishing act again. I’d like to blame Nepal’s IT infrastructure issues, but really it’s my fault. I’ve been enjoying myself here and can’t be bothered to sit and write for hours. I understand that you’ve probably lost interest in my site as a result. This is especially unfortunate because of how much fun I’ve had over the past few weeks. I wish you were here.

From Rishikesh, the site of my last post oh so long ago, I drove for three and a half days to the Nepal border. I spent some time in smaller places generally void of tourists. The road was in the mountains so wonderfully curvy. It was fun but slow driving, especially considering how often I stopped to admire the views. Highlights included the always entertaining conversations with local men about my bike, my trip, and my opinion of India. One evening was spent drinking vodka-Fantas and watching an Australia/India cricket match with the hotel owner, his son and brother on the reception desk TV. Their English was good enough for us to discuss cricket (which I now appreciate as a decent, if slow-paced, sport), motorcycling, and the sporting culture in Canada (i.e. “No, in Canada we play ice hockey, you know? Yes, very cold. No, no cricket.”)

And on into Nepal. Crossing the border was fairly painless. The Banbassa-Mahendrager gate is so little used it’s almost comical in its laid back-ness. Indian immigration was just a couple of old desks under a concrete awning. The desks were lazily draped in purple felt to lend an air of officialdom, but it seemed more like signing up for the three legged race at the company picnic than checking out of the world’s largest democracy. After crossing the purgatory that dwells between nations, I drove right past Nepali immigration because it was, again, a little concrete shack down off the road with very little indicating I was supposed to stop there. The police had to stop me at the gate and point me back to the “office,” otherwise I would have driven right into the country with no visa. The bike had to get a visa as well, at a cost of 113 Nepali rupees (75 Indian rupes, or about $1.65) per day. The customs guys who looked over my paperwork were very interested in the bike, but more out of personal rather than professional motivation.

Yes, she is pretty. I finally had her painted and put on a new seat. She also has a name, now. More on that in another post.

Stamps and handshakes and forms in triplicate later, I roared into the country. The main highway burned east dead straight and flat. Southern Nepal is mostly level, hot plains much like central India. I immediately noticed a few differences, however. The people are much more Mongolian in their facial features – resembling Tibetans or Bhutanese rather than Indians. On the plains, however, they maintain the dark, rich skin tones of their southern neighbours. The people are, in a word, beautiful. Cruising on a motorbike on a busy roadway (buses and tractors and goats, oh my) is dangerous enough without gaping at a group of young women double-riding rickety bicycles. They giggled to each other when I smiled at them and I swerved around a cow I saw at the last second.

Nepal is also much, much poorer than India. Simple shacks dot the rice fields, water buffalo roll in muddy pools, and little half-naked kids run out onto the roadside to wave to me as I pour past. Enfields are rare in Nepal, especially in the poorer south of the country. When the kids hear one coming, and there is no mistaking that sound, they know it must be a foreigner and so come running out of their shacks and up onto the raised roadway. My wrist was tired from waving.

I spent my first night in a small safari style bungalow operation on the edge of Bardia National Park. There I met an American guy who was doing NGO work in the isolated mountains in the north. The next day we went tiger/rhino/elephant spotting in the park and, except for a semi-domesticated rhino that hangs around the park entrance, saw none of the above. We stumbled into plenty of rhino and elephant tracks and took photos of the tiger claw marks and prints we saw all around us, but no actual sightings of the animals. Still, a great day walking in the jungle.

The next day I flew east toward Lumbini, the birthplace of the Buddha. It was another long, hot day counting kilometers and hoping I’d get there before dark. I didn’t. The last hour was spent anxiously watching the sun dip behind the rice paddies. As the sky darkened, it filled with bugs. It was like driving through the rain only, you know, with bugs. Above me flew fruit bats bigger than crows, silhouetted against the pastel purple of the late evening sky. It was a frustrating, beautiful, hilarious scene. I couldn’t wear my sunglasses because of the darkness, so bugs were flying into my eyes and mouth and, when I’d look up in awe at the massive bats, nose. Every so often a big one would bounce off my forehead or cheekbone like a bullet. I’d swear loudly and scare some villager carrying a load of straw down the road.

But I got to Lumbini. The next morning outside the temple built directly on the auspicious spot, I sat down under a tree to meditate. Soak up the energy of the place, etc. Ten minutes later a tour group of a hundred Indian Hindus showed up and ended my meditation session. As with the Buddha, who is revered in Hinduism as an incarnation of Vishnu, the Buddha’s mother, Maya Devi, is worshipped as a goddess in her own right.

I spent the day riding my bike around the site, which is dotted with Buddhist monuments built by the governments of Buddhist countries. The whole place had this unfinished feeling, as if the Nepali government had only just last week realized the potential tourist gold mine it was sitting on. Buddhist and Hindu pilgrims aside, there really wasn’t much in terms of visitation to the area. It made my time at some of the temples quite special, as here were these massive monuments and temples lying empty in the hot sun. A few times I was the only one strolling the grounds or examining the murals. I met a young Thai family in the Royal Thai Wat and luckily remembered my sawadee kraaps and sabai dee mais.

From there, I sped back along a busy, intense highway toward the hills that make Nepal famous. Eight of the ten highest mountains in the world are at least partially in Nepal (Everest, the world’s tallest at 8848m, is on the border with Tibet and Kanchenjunga, the third tallest at 8598m, is on the border with Sikkim in northeast India), making it easily the most ridiculously mountainous country in the world.

In these hills I would join the reams of travelers who trek for weeks beyond road and rail (though, as I would find out, not beyond WWE wrestling) and into the snowy peaks. Where multicoloured prayer flags flutter above French tour groups clad in gore-tex. Where bearded hippies dodge herds of yaks. Where the temperature drops, the air thins, and people who have never seen more than inch of snow cross an 18,000 foot pass in a blizzard on Friday the Thirteenth.

More soon. I promise.