Stage 2: The Top & Bottom
A time to climb, forced to freeze, and a season to sweat
Stage 2 Actual Route
On this, and all other route maps, the blue lines represent travel by ship, red by airplane (Booo!), and green by bicycle.
Nepal: Beauty and Revolution
Another, more well known, Himalayan Kingdom came next, the classic travel destination of Nepal. I visited there on three occasions, each with a different feel and a different outcome. The first route was an easy ride through the eastern part of the southern plains, known as the "Tarai," starting at the eastern border with India at Kakharbitta, and moving west, entering India again at Sonauli. The conditions were quite good, except perhaps for the food, which was much less appealing than in the rest of the country. The highlight of this section was a nice visit to Royal Chitwan National Park, where I saw wild rhinoceros for the first time.
The second visit was when most of the best rides, and sightseeing was to occur. However, for the first couple of days I was a little under the weather, and so didn't have a very easy time. For this section I re-entered Nepal at Sonauli, stopping briefly to visit the Buddha's birthplace at Lumbini, then rode north, up into the mountains, to the resort town of Pokhara, beneath the mighty Himalayan peak of Annapurna. Next, I turned to the east and towards the famous capital, Kathmandu. There were some great conditions along the was, with the oncoming Spring brightening the landscape. An pleasant stop along the way was the historic hill town of Ghorka. A brief stay in Kathmandu followed, just long enough to finalize my plans for Tibet, and then it was a pretty, and enjoyable ride to the border.
The final Section in Nepal was meant to be the shortest, simply a ride back from the Tibetan border, through Kathmandu, and then directly south to the Indian border. However, do to extraordinary circumstances, this was possibly the most fun and interesting section. The ride back from the border was normal enough, but as I approached the capital, I became entwined in massive street protests aimed and ending the King's rule. The next two days when I planned to rest and go sightseeing in wonderfully interesting Kathmandu, were a bit unproductive, due to the chaos gripping the city. Then just as I was about to continue on the King gave in, and democracy returned to the nation. It was a unique and somewhat exciting experience to be present at a major change in the country's governance.
Nepal was a welcome respite, on all three occasions, to the often mentally or physically stressful travel in the surrounding areas. The people and culture were pleasant and relaxed, and the environment was, of course, quite beautiful.
A post with some interesting happenings is: ~HERE~
Rhinos take a mud bath in Royal Chitwan National Park
Terraced mountains in the Lower Himalayas
The Kali Gandaki River
Durbar Square in Kathmandu
A huge pro-democracy protest in Kathmandu helped dethrone a King
Tibet: Legendary Land in the Sky
One of the Tour's "high points," in more ways than one, came next, an amazing visit to the highest country in the world, Tibet. I planned on doing a tour from Kathmandu to the capital, Lhasa, and back. Unfortunately, for political reasons, traveling on the route required an "official" guide and support, which again felt a little odd for me. As it turned out, the support was needed after all, however. The route followed a generally direct route along the Friendship Highway, which may have been friendly, but was often rocky, muddy, or sandy, and frequently slow going. Between the border and the second city of Tibet, Shigaste, were two passes in the vicinity of 5,200 meters of elevation, the higher one, Gyatso La, marking the high point of the tour. A turn off the main highway lead the route through the smaller, but very charming city of Gyantse, past the sacred lake of Yamdrok Yumtso, and over another 5,000 meter pass, before reaching the capital.
After the ride there, which often left me winded in the thin air, a long break in Lhasa, a city surrounded by beautiful mountains and jam-packed with spectacular cultural sites, was just what I needed. The fascinating Johkang Temple, the people-rich Barkhor Square, the Sera Monastery, and the completely compelling Potala Palace were the highlights. After that stay, we set off back to Nepal, generally on the same route, though we took a direct route back to Shigaste, following a good road through mostly flat valleys. At Shigaste, I made a difficult decision to transfer over the next section of rocky gravel road which also was experiencing horrendous headwinds. I was not pleased about that, but it may have been for the best as just before the border, and in the main Himalayan range, we were held up for two days thanks to a big snowstorm. Breaking through to the descent back to Nepal involved walking through the deep snow, pushing the heavy bike along, which was not really what I had in mind. Nevertheless, Tibet was one of the most fun, interesting, and personally rewarding sections of the tour.
A post befitting such a lofty place is: ~HERE~
Snowy peaks of the main Himalayan Range
Me at Gyatso La, the highest point of the Tour at 5,220 meters
Two pilgrims heading for Mount Kailash
Women from a rural village
A figure in Palchoi Monastery in Gyantse
The sacred lake of Yamdrok Yumtso at 4,400 meters
The famous Potala Palace in Lhasa
Sri Lanka: Island of 10,000 Lily Ponds
A visit to Sri Lanka was another that I was looking forward to, but another that was greatly affected by politics. Specifically, the 20-year long civil war between the Sinhalese government and the smaller Tamil population, which had been calm in recent years, but began to heat up as my visit neared, has disrupted many aspects of tourism on the island nation. The most notable disruption is the lack of any sea transport from nearby India. That caused me to make another annoying flight, and due to the changes in my transfer schedule to Stage 3, I had to fly from a city further to the north than I wanted.
Once there, my routes was generally a clockwise circle of the island starting from the capital, Colombo. I first rode north, turning inland after a day or so, to visit the cluster of historic sites that includes the sacred city of Anaradhapura, the Golden Cave Temple at Dambulla, the rock fortress of Sigiriya, and the ruined city of Polonnaruwa. From there I headed to the east coast, where I hoped to relax on a quiet beach for a couple of days. However, due to my slow progress and the increasing conflict, which is centered on the east coast, I only had a few hours to do so. From there I took a route back to Colombo, which was more indirect than I wanted thanks to the conflict, passing through another sacred city, Kandy.
At that point, I was not feeling at full strength, my bike was even worse off, and the weather was beginning to turn bad. So, I shortened my ride by a day or two and rode straight back to Colombo. The rest there was appreciated and I was able to visit Galle, the other place I wanted to see, on a day trip by train. The political unrest certainly caused problems for my travel, however, the island was verdant and beautiful, the number of interesting sights on such a small island was impressive, and the facilities for touring were better than I had seen in months, so I had a rather good time.
Tales of beauty and annoyance in this post: ~HERE~
A Stupa in the scared city of Anuradhapura
A giant Buddha at the entance to the Dambulla Golden Cave Temple
The central highlands on the way to Kandy
Dalada Maligawa in Kandy, the home of the Buddha's Tooth Relic
India: A Large Land of Contrasts
India, together with Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and parts of Myanmar, Bhutan, and Nepal, were the only places on the Stage 2 route that were actually part of Gondwanaland, and so was one of the most important places on the route. Of course, being such a large nation, I was not able to see all of the places that I would have liked, despite entering the country on five separate occasions over four months. Additionally, the delays I encountered by lengthening the route in southeast Asia and by slow travel in the Himalayas required me to completely rework the route for the last two sections.
The first section was only one day long, a quick ride from Bangladesh to Bhutan, the only time I've ever ridden across such a large country in a single day. The second was longer and more varied, passing through the states of Assam and West Bengal. Those areas were often crowded and hectic once again and things did not quiet down until I ventured briefly up into the Himalayas once more. Specifically a quick visit to the famous tea-growing hill town of Darjeeling. While the climb up to the city, at 2,700 meters, was not the highest of the tour, it was certainly the steepest and most strenuous.
The next section was yet again longer, but completely flat for a change. Specifically, a round trip across the Gangatic Plain from the south-central Nepal-Indo border, to the famous city of Agra. The riding conditions there were mixed sometimes quiet, sometimes busy, with some good roads and some bad. So, when I reached Agra, I was quite ready to take a little time off to see the area's three famous destinations, Fatehpur Sikri, emperor Akbar's abandoned capital, Agra Fort, and, of course, the incomparable Taj Mahal. These places made the often stressful ride there completely worthwhile.
The fourth section came after my visit to Tibet, and the rapid cold-to-hot contrast proved to be a completely draining effect, especially since, while I was there, the "pre-monsoon heat" was already building.. This section was rerouted completely while the Stage was in progress. Instead of going down the center of the country, I took a more easterly course, in order to reach a place from where I could transfer to Sri Lanka. That turned out to be the east coast city of Bubaneshwar, the capital of Orissa state. In addition to that state, I rode through the states of Bihar, and Jaharkand. Once again there was a mix of conditions along the way, both easy and rough, and a somewhat varied landscape. The new route let me see two nice cultural sites, the famous Buddhist Mahabodi Temple at Bodh Gaya, and the Sun Temple at Konarka, both of which were very interesting.
The final part of Stage 2 was also a new addition to the route, made to accommodate my sailing schedule. I now had to get from the east coast city of Chennai, to where I returned from Sri Lanka, to the west coast city of Mumbai, and did not have much time left to get there. On the bright side, the riding conditions in southern India were by far the best I encountered in India, with mostly good roads, usually good food, and a better choice of accommodations. On the other hand, the bike was really worn down, and eventually reached a point of uselessness with only a few days left to go. At the same time the summer monsoons decided to arrive 10 days ahead of their projected date. So I chose to end Stage 2 in the small, interesting state of Goa, and skip the last few days to Mumbai. That was slightly disappointing, as I then needed to transfer up to Mumbai, but Goa did prove to be a nice place to end. Along the way were some more nice cultural sites, the ruins at Mamallapuram, the impressive ruined city of Hampi, the ancient Temples at Pattadakal, and the old Portuguese Churches in Goa.
Overall, I was completely satisfied with my efforts in Stage 2. While it was often strenuous and tough, there were so many fascinating places and friendly people along the way that I will certainly remember those the most.
Four posts from this large country are: ~HERE~
The roads are rather crowded sometimes
A pair of sarus Cranes
A man selling rope in Bodh Gaya
Krishna Temple in Hampi
A patriotic cow
The incomparable Taj Mahal
A bonus Asian post; The Story of Steel is: ~HERE~
Dates and Distances
Start: November 13, 02005
Finish: May 30, 02006
Actual Distance: 17,587 km
Ride days: 121
Rest days: 78
5,220 meters: Gyatso La, Tibet
Stage 2 Log