(A mix of travel notes and comments added later)
22-09-2014 – Monday afternoon.
Such an action packed day I made it two posts
(Monday morning is here)
You can certainly see the difference between Nepalese and Tibetan (OK, Chinese) infrastructure. That nine hundred kilometres of sealed concrete edged Tibetan highway we rode becomes this in Nepal:
Leaving Kodari on the Arniko Highway, yes Highway!
Beautiful Mountain biking down a highway
The Arniko Highway follows the river down a valley. Great for us as mostly downhill riding and bizarrely, considering it is THE highway, ideal for my hardtail mountain bike.
The lush green foliage and humid dense air was contrast after several weeks on the Tibetan Plateau. It really was noticeable how different the oxygen rich moist air made you feel and how different it felt. I had never thought of air as ‘thick’ before.
Does rocks on the roof suggest it sometimes gets draffy here?
Noticed further down the road that flasher houses have bricks, not rocks, holding down the roof.
The BBC “World's Most Dangerous Roads” landslide
Before going to Nepal I’d watched this BBC Documentary:
“Comedians Rhod Gilbert and Greg Davies attempt to drive through the mountainous, landlocked nation of Nepal. Starting from the chaotic border with India, they travel across the country's most important roads”
The last 15 minutes showed their attempt to get from Kathmandu to Kodari, the Tibetan Border. They found the road blocked, impassable, by a landslide. It was not dissimilar to what lay ahead of us.
They abandoned their 4WD vehicle and tiptoed across the slip, still on the move, to catch a bus on the other side to the border. It was filmed in 2011, three years before I travelled. I was amazed to find the slip, although somewhat restrained and the road reformed, still there.
This house, the occupants they talked to—as rocks rolled down the hillside—were still living beneath it. A rock wall is their only protection from a vast loose looking slope above.
The trip notes recommended waterproof socks. I’d never heard of Seal Skinz and couldn’t find them in NZ. I’d left it too late to order them on-line but B kindly offered to bring me some from Australia.
I found they were brilliant in the cold, kept wind chill out even when it was dry, and ideal for roads with fords (as Kirsten & Eric are crossing below). Bike shoes are ventilated and overshoes (which I also had) are a real pain, both to fit and wear. I found waterproof socks just brilliant.
I was especially happy to catch B at one ford and shout as I passed:
“Seal Skinz rule!”
The road sweeps down the valley, it got even hotter as we descended.
Helen riding the decade old Warehouse bike.
X marks the B!
A terraced food supply system, rather lovely.
Barhabise Village/Town on the Arniko Highway.
I liked this Motorcycle service workshop advertisement (right).
Stopped to take a photo of it and a couple of guys walking past were interested in what I was doing.
Showed them my phone (admittedly an unusually large 6 inch screen Nokia 1520) , the GPS map that showed our location and that it was also a camera.
They were intrigued, especially when they saw our selfie shot (below). One of several occasions I’d like to have had a portable instant photo printer in my backpack!
A photo of Craig stationary at a drink stop because he’s too damn fast for me to catch and photograph riding!
First signs of the flood
This was the first sign of the devastation ahead of us. A muddy plateau with the remains of buildings. In early August a massive landslide created a natural dam which then burst.
Landslide in Nepal Kills at Least 8; Hundreds Are Missing - www.nytimes.com/2014/08/03
KATHMANDU, Nepal — A major landslide early Saturday morning near Nepal’s border with China killed at least eight people and left hundreds missing, officials in Nepal said. It also washed out part of a crucial highway and blocked a river, leading to a dangerous build-up of water...
The death toll was later reported to be 156
The horrific landslide
The landslide was enormous, you could see why it had such a devastating impact. 156 had died as an entire village was wiped out. The aftermath also will impact the lives of many beyond the local area this is Nepal’s only overland trade route with China. For Kiwis imagine this is SH1, and there is no alternative route…
We rode, pushed, walked over it and it was a mission on a mountain bike. They had carved this ‘road’ to try and make a navigable route for vehicles but it really was tough going. The hot sun and humid air meant our altitude training over the past few weeks got a good test.
B contemplates the climb so far, from only about halfway up !
Up, up, up, up it goes
The muddy bush line above the current river in the photos below shows the height of the flooding created by the natural dam.
Heavy rain in the days before we had arrived had washed out the temporary road. Excavators were still trying to bridge the stream.
Nic pointed out I was actually standing on a bit of an overhang to take this photo. Perhaps just as well I was several kg lighter than usual.
This photo below, and the deliberately angled one below it, was an attempt to capture the scale of the landslide. Even a wide format photo couldn’t get the extents without cropping off the top. Hard to give a sense of scale but I’d guess that hillside was at least 300-400 metres high.
There were people dotted around the landslide constantly watching the hillside above. They appeared to have phone, or walkie talkie, in hand to warn those working below of further movement.
I rode down from here, challenging with the soft dirt and ruts.
The tiny red dots in the photos (below) are porters carrying our kit bags. The 20x digital zoom of my IXUS camera just got them in frame.
Compare the rocks to this stranded truck for scale!
I watched this heavily laden truck attempt to drive up here. It was futile as it got stuck soon after and the road just led to that traffic jam further up the hill.
Before and after
I found this report on Disaster-Report.com while writing this post. The first time I’d seen a before/after photo of the area.
Quote from www.disaster-report.com/2014/08
Massive landslide in Barhabise area of Sindhupalchowk region of Nepal has blocked the Sunkoshi river. Disaster area lies 1.5 km below the meeting point of Sunkoshi and Bhotekoshi river.
Death toll from landslide at Mankha VDC in Sindhupalchok district has risen to 156. The District Administration Office Sindhupalchowk today declared those missing as dead as there was no possibility of recovering the bodies alive from the debris, ekantipur reported. Rescue workers have only found 33 bodies from the landslide area.
They also had this news report from the time:
The boy, the toy and the photo I didn’t take…
In the small village a kilometre or so after the landslide I stopped for a drink from my water bottle. Noticed a small boy, maybe 7 or 8, playing with a Tonka Toy type excavator. He was digging a road into the face of roadside berm, a miniature version of the one up the road.
It reminded me of my childhood. We had a dirt bank a metre or two high. I used to build ‘dangerous roads’ into it for my own toy vehicles. I would liked to take a photo but asked his mother, or perhaps much older sister, supervising him. I couldn’t work out if the response was a yes or no, so didn’t. It was sad to think, on reflection, he could have been emulating rescue workers digging for his relatives as many people were still missing.
Sobering to think we had been riding over them.
School is in
In spite of the chaos around them I was impressed to see a temporary school in session. Amazing the value placed on education here, something too many Kiwi’s take for granted.
End of the cycling
Our ride ended soon after. I’m not certain how far I rode—my odometer was a bit out due to varying tyre pressure from 30-50 PSI—but it was about 920km over 16 days riding.
The Nepal crew had two buses (due to shortage of trucks!) to take us to Kathmandu. With all the camping and cooking gear, kit bags, bikes and bike boxes it was a full load.
The Bus ride
The drive back to Kathmandu was interesting. I was quite glad we didn’t ride this bit as the road was narrow, hilly and busy. After the relative isolation of Tibet, and the almost closed highway section we rode in Nepal it was a bit of a shock.
We stopped for lunch at a ‘café’ on the riverside. Although they had been advised we were coming it was amazing to see a wonderful meal appear in minutes in a place with few facilities.
I thought our bus driver was great but the passing traffic was amazing to watch. Probably better not to think about possible consequences! There were trucks overtaking on blind corners, cars overtaking trucks themselves overtaking mopeds which were passing pedestrians. I was amazed when our bus passed a car, itself not going slow only to have a fully laden truck following pass us!
There was one severe looking accident, a truck on its side in the deep ditch with a tarp covering the wrecked cab. Suspect, on a fine day, it wasn’t there to keep the rain out.
Some of the architecture as we approached Kathmandu was… um interesting.
I was surprised how far the agricultural land extended into the city.
Kathmandu, now relax!
We arrived in the middle of the afternoon/evening rush. It was nice to get back to the Radisson hotel, the prospect of a nice hot shower and a soft bed
After helping unload, my bike (on the bus roof) had collected a nice chunk of foliage from an overhanging tree on-route, it was nice to collapse.
I don’t recall going to dinner that night, think I just went to sleep!
Quote of the day:
Lots was said, lots more unsaid after today’s experience. It was a rollercoaster of highs and lows, adventure and reflection but the only one I can reliably remember was:
Seal Skinz rule! – Me & B
- Friendship bridge altitude 1717.500 meters
- After the slip, end of ride altitude 762.000 meters
Post 22. Farewell to Kathmandu