I am the original 'Uneasy Rider' .. not especially blessed with much natural motorcycling talent, nor am I a particularly courageous motorcycle rider.
Nevertheless I went 'Right Way Round' New Zealand (at least twice) followed by a wonderful ride around Australia.

Then it was up to southeast Asia, around Indo-China, across southern Central Asia to the Middle East, Asia Minor .. and finally into Europe.

Right Way Round - all the way home .. from New Zealand to England, 2-up on a Honda Transalp.

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PROGRESS SO FAR - Distance covered across Western Europe: 6,411 km [3,984 miles] - as at Thursday, October-22nd, 2015

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

The Roof of the World - Back on Top

Some More Background

A long time ago - exactly 20 years ago to be precise - I was on a long-haul return flight back home to the UK from Brisbane, Australia, way up there in the stratosphere, staring idly out of a British Airways 747 cabin window - from one of the cheap seats behind the wings, obviously - looking down onto a moonlit Asia; when it occurred to me, with a certain uncomfortable forcefulness, that my geographical knowledge was pretty darn poor.

I didn't know, for example, where on Earth the island of Bali was located; my best guess would have been somewhere in a corner of the Caribbean Sea. I couldn't point at East Timor on any map. I had never heard of the Kingdom of Bhutan, was there such a place? What and where is The Golden Triangle? Is Krakatoa really 'East of Java' .. and [erm] where exactly is Java anyway? If I'm honest, I really didn't know that much at all about the world.

Staring down on those twinkling cities from 35,000 feet during April 1994 I remember becoming gripped by a quiet but insistent urge to know a little more about these matters and to better understand what's going on around the planet; the only home I had ever known and was ever going to live on. So I decided there and then that some day, when the time was right, I would devote a portion of my life to exploring far off places.

I had already sampled a taste of adventure travel, as five years earlier, in April 1989 (aged 34) I sailed across the north Atlantic, from Gibraltar to New York City, aboard an ocean racing yacht as a lowly unpaid crew member. That was going to be my vanguard trip to a greater ambition I had at the time to sail around the world, some day.


I discovered, however, that there's not much to look at out there, apart from a lot of very deep blue sea. Running before a steady and predictable tradewind; once the sails are configured and rigged there's not a lot to do either, apart from topping-up your tan, peel and prepare some rapidly deteriorating vegetables .. and excogitate the next plateful of pasta (what else?!)


A cloudless mid-ocean night sky is always a magnificent sight of course, where the nearest city is 2,500 kilometres away, with no light pollution to spoil the spectacle of a star-filled heavens above.

Occasionally, looking up during the daytime, in-between the fair-weather cottonball cumulus, you might see the odd streaming contrail from the jet engines of a Boeing passenger plane (Airbus was then just a twinkle in eyes of a few ambitious European captains of industry.)


Twenty-six days at sea all told, 24 of which were completely out of sight of land, and apart from my crew mates, there was nobody to meet-and-greet and share a moment with, nor exchange a friendly foreign smile. Now and again the occasional kamikaze flying fish would end its life on the foredeck before landing in its final resting place - the galley's frying pan. Take it from me, Cheilopogon heterurus is reasonably good eating - in-between the needle-like bones - with or without tomato ketchup.

Transatlantic Summary: The departure bit from Gibraltar was great; the arriving on the other side was even better. But the 3½ weeks bit in the middle for me was mind-fumblingly boring. Just a great deal of nothing, until reaching the next bit of something 4,240 nautical miles later on the eastern seaboard of America.

My romantic dream to one day circumnavigate the world powered by only the wind .. got crushed!


What next? Take to the road instead, I thought - and why not?

The events that followed are now part of my life's script. On and off - sometimes quite literally - since 1992 I have covered around 240,000 kilometres (150,000 miles) on two wheels - and for that I am glad.

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Sunday-6th and Monday-7th

Back to present times .. and a return to Pokhara, Nepal.

 8:30 pm, Sunday-6th

Terminal 3, London Heathrow Airport

The depature lounge, Gate 22  .. and we're informed that, for some vague reason, our Oman Air flight # WY102 to Seeb International Airport, Muscat, will be delayed for 1½-2 hours. Not that this concerned us too much, as we were facing a five hour layover in Muscat in any case.

A fair number of our fellow passengers were obviously connecting to onward destinations with tighter transfer schedules ..

.. and were not amused! Like Mr Grumpy here.

Mother and Daughter.

An extra two hours in a dispassionate departure lounge .. just 'people watching'

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Eventually .. 


A three segment flight path ensued: 8,737 kilometres [5,429 miles]

LHR--MCT--KTM--PKR

London - Muscat, Oman 5,840 km
Muscat - Kathmandu, Nepal 2,750 km
Kathmandu - Pokhara, Nepal 147 km

As our arrival at the penultimate Tribuvan Airport, Kathmandu, occurred during the early evening, it was too late to transfer to Pokhara, and so we stayed overnight in Kathmandu.

Arriving at dusk in semi-darkness, it was completely dark by the time we had navigated our way through the visa issue counter, immigration control, baggage reclaim .. and customs.

Too tired to negotiate the taxi fare, we involuntarily paid about twice the going rate. A prime example of Westerner 'tax'. A whopping 800 Nepalese Rupee (NPR) - approx US$8 - for the 3 kilometre ride to our pre-booked hotel near to the Boudhanath Stupa. AND the driver demanded a one dollar tip into the bargain, seeming completely untroubled by anything as inconveniencing as a scruple for his 25 minutes' work.

Taxi drivers the world over - you either hate 'em .. or you hate 'em!

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Tuesday-8th

As the onward domestic flight from KTM to Pokhara wasn't departing until the early afternoon, we took the opportunity to visit Boudhanath, one of the holiest Buddhist sites in Kathmandu.

The ancient Stupa is one of the largest in the world.


No Health and Safety Executive hereabouts!

Wise words, in private, from a Buddhist Monk to a Believer. And why not?

Prayer wheels, spinning such wheels will have much the same meritorious effect as orally reciting prayers to Buddha.

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What Happens Next?

Now here in Nepal - 'over there' from your point of view - some routine maintenance needs to be carried out on the bike, which I'm pleased to say, is exactly in the same place as I left it back in December last year. Aussies Matt and Chantal of Hearts and Tears Motorcycle Club looked after the Transalp for our 3½ months truancy from this trip awsomely. Thanks guys - you really are the best.

Now then, you should know that I have no return air ticket back home to England. Why not? well, you see, because I don't yet know when or where this next section of the trip will end.

The decision has been made to avoid Pakistan altogether. The revised plan, therefore, is to head south and cross the border into India at the weekend - say on Sat-12th; explore northern India for around 4-5 weeks, eventually arriving in New Delhi or Mumbai by mid-May, then either:-
  • Air-freight to the UAE or Oman, on the Arabian Peninsula. Explore some desert; maybe ride up to Qatar and Bahrain. Ferry across the Straight of Hormuz from Sharjah (Dubai) UAE, to Bandar Abbas, southern Iran. Spend around 18 days heading north up through Iran → Armenia → Georgia; or
  • Air-freight to Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, with the aim of riding westwards through 'the Stans' - from Kyrgyzstan →Tajikistan → Uzbekistan → Turkmenistan. Cross the Turkmen border just south of the city of Ashgabat → into northern Iran → Armenia → Georgia.
    Which way I by-pass Pakistan and Afghanistan - south or north? - will depend on a number of factors. I would like to journey both routes, but this time 'round can only go one way or the other. Time will work it out .. just like it always does.

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    Other Considerations

     VISAS

    We have the essential pre-requisite visas. Any others can be applied for and obtained when on the road.


    The Indian 6-month multi-entry visa was easy to get, although you must follow the prescriptive instructions to the letter. For instance your photo has to be exactly 50mm x 50mm (2" x 2") square. These are unusual dimensions.

    Submit your application with the widely accepted photo size of 45mm x 35mm and it will definitely be rejected.

    Get it right - and the whole procedure is turned around within a week.


    Obtaining an Iranian visa was a completely different story. For reasons that are too lengthy to go into here, the whole process took six weeks, from Feb-10th to March-24th, and involved a flying visit (literally) to the Iranian Consulate in Dublin, Ireland.

    In short, the rules were changed, without notice, by the Iranian government during mid-February banning independent travel for Brits and Canadians in-and-around Iran (the restriction already applied to US citizens). We just sneeked-in under the old unrestrictive rules - more by luck than judgement.

    CARNET


    My CPD (Carnet de Passages en Douane), the bike's essential 'passport' for certain Asian countries, expires on October-17th. With this in mind, I'll need to be through the carnet-requirement regions and countries by that time; these include the sub-Continent, the Arabian Peninsula and Iran, although I suppose I could always arrange a 12-month extension for the carnet if necessary .. at a cost in time and money! - just like I did in Australia back in March 2011.



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    I plan to leave Pokhara for the Indian border on Saturday, 12th April.

    Please stay tuned.

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    "Life begins at the end of your comfort zone"
    Neale Donald Walsch
    Modern-day spiritualist (born September 10, 1943)

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