World Travelers–Nepal: Earth's Eden

Text: Simon Thomas • Photography: Simon and Lisa Thomas

It’s 6 a.m. The bikes are feeling strong as we negotiate potholed tar around the town of Butwai in the dry Nepali lowlands. We pass a humble white-washed stupa (temple) on our left. Above our heads, attached to a long line, yellow, red, blue, and white prayers gently flutter. We are steadily climbing and easily find our route into the mountains. As we head northeast, our dark visors diffuse the pink light of the slowly rising sun.

Rounding a tight bend, we stand on the pegs to manage a patch of rough tar. Skirting the edge of a long valley, the scene is glorious. Trails of smoke rising from the bushfires on the steep banks are caught by the sun in gentle orange, giving a warm glow to the countryside.

A Sense of Serenity

We both feel at ease for the first time in what seems like ages. The change from India to Nepal is like putting down your can of RedBull and picking up a cup of tea. The mountainous north Nepali landscape is home to eight of the ten tallest peaks on Earth, including the highest, Mount Everest. The world’s deepest gorge, the Kali Gandaki, is about 200 miles north of here.

Crammed between the People’s Republic of China and the Republic of India, 26 million people eke out subsistence in Nepal, living on the flanks of the mighty Himalayas.

We are riding to the country’s second best known town, Pokhara, most famed as the Himalayan launch pad for walkers and trekkers alike. In contrast to their Indian counterparts, truck drivers here surprise us with courtesy. A few even stop to let us pass on the narrower, steeper turns.

The sweeping curves of the H10 cut a winding route into the contours of the hillsides. As it has done for millennia, the fast flowing Seti River below slices impressive canyons into the valley floor. This terrain is a motorcyclist’s nirvana. There is no other place on Earth where the elevation rises a dramatic 20,000 feet within 18 miles.

On a wide dusty bend, we pull over and swap stories with four leather-clad riders on Royal Enfields. Upon learning our destination, one recommends the Sacred Valley Guest House. “The breakfasts are the best in town, and the view … well, you’ll see,” he says with a wry smile.

Riding the spine of a long ridgeway, our jaws stay dropped as all around us an intricate patchwork of terraced fields extends into the distance. We fight to keep our concentration on the unyielding curves that come at us one after another in quickening succession.

(End of preview text.)

For the complete touring article, including facts & information, map(s), and GPS files, please purchase the January/February 2013 back issue.