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Guided tours

Arriving by plane

If you arrive by plane, make sure you pick up a disembarkation card and join the correct immigration queue. This depends on whether you have a tourist visa already, or you need to buy it at the airport. Queues can be long, but the immigration officers are usually helpful and professional.

There's a small money exchange office near the exit. Exchange rates are better in the centre of Kathmandu, so it’s advisable to just get a small amount at the airport. You'll need about 2,000 Rupees (€20) to get a taxi and dinner for two. Ask for some small change, as big notes can be a problem in Nepal.

There is an "official" taxi office on your right, but they charge slightly higher prices than independent taxis. The ride to town should be a fixed price of about 500 Rupees; 99% of the tourists stay in Thamel (say Tamell). Hold on tight for the ride!

Kathmandu

We recommend the Sacred Valley hotel, which is a short walk from the tourist area of Thamel. Kathmandu is noisy, crowded, colourful, chaotic and dirty. You’ll soon understand why we don’t ride Bullets in Kathmandu! There are hundreds of bars and restaurants to choose from. You can find most styles of cooking (except sea food). There’s also a vibrant live music scene. The locals love classic rock, so expect lots of requests for “Hotel California” and “Born to be Wild”. It’s pretty safe before midnight but, as in any unknown city, don't carry valuables down dark alleys.

If you have time to explore, walk around Thamel or take a bicycle rickshaw to Durbar Square. It’s only about 100 rupees each way, and the architecture is exquisite. Rickshaws are a fantastic way to see the city centre; cut through the madness in comfort and style. Please note that water in Kathmandu is notoriously dirty; drink bottled mineral water (and use it for cleaning your teeth) to avoid stomach problems.

Buses and taxis to Pokhara

Tourist buses leave Kathmandu every morning around 7-8am. Have a decent breakfast before you leave. Bus tickets are available everywhere. Deluxe buses are around €15; backpacker buses around €5. The first hour or two is congested, but the chaos is fascinating. The road winds its way through beautiful scenery; try to sit near the front to avoid nausea. Buses normally arrive in Pokhara mid-afternoon at the tourist bus park, a 20 minute walk from Lakeside. There will be lots of taxis waiting for you.

16-seat “microbuses” also shuttle between the cities. Starting at dawn, they leave regularly from Kalanki (a 10 minute taxi ride from Thamel) and cost around €4. The journey is relatively comfortable and quick. Catch an early one, and you could be in Pokhara before lunch.

Taxis can be organised for around €60 one way. It’s cost effective for 2 or 3 people, and much more comfortable than a bus. Leave when you like, stop when you like, and get dropped off at your hotel. The downside to any form of road transport is that you can be delayed by traffic jams, accidents, or the occasional strike.

Flying to Pokhara

Flying is recommended if budgets allow. Pokhara is only 20 minutes away on a small twin-propeller plane, and it can be a great experience. Tickets are around €90 each way. We find Buddha Air and Yeti Airlines the most reliable. If you like, we can organise tickets and have them delivered to your hotel. There’s a constant stream of flights after 8am, but the last flight of the day depends on the weather. The domestic terminal is just next door to the international one, and check-in times are only 1 hour before departure. Eat first and use the toilets at your hotel, because you really don't want to do either at the airport!

Airport security is a joke, but you have to get your bags checked anyway. Airport tax, about €5, must be paid before checking in; the tax office is on the far right side of the building. After hand luggage inspection, make your way to the lounge, sit near the gate and pay attention. There are no departure signs; the ticket collector simply shouts out the flight number. If possible, get a seat on the right (as you face the front of the plane) for stunning views of the Himalayas.

Geography

Nepal is the most bio-diverse country on Earth. The world’s highest peaks, many over 8000m, lie along the northern border with China. 150 km to the south, at the Indian border, the scorched flatlands are near sea level. That’s the steepest incline anywhere; the landscape and climate change dramatically with altitude.

Few people realise that Nepal is the world’s 2nd biggest water-producing nation, after Brazil. This sustains an incredible abundance of life. Woolly yaks trudge through Himalayan snow and ice, while rhino and elephants forage in sweltering jungles below. Despite being a land-locked country, there are even fresh water dolphins. New species of flora and fauna, previously unknown to science, are discovered on a regular basis.

Nepal only stretches about 800km east to west, but maps fail to convey the scale of the scrunched-up mountainous landscape. If all the hills could be squashed down and spread out, Nepal would cover an enormous surface area. The sheer size is hard to describe or capture in photos, but perfect for exploring on a vintage bike.

Nepal is home to around 30 million people, but nobody knows the actual number. Vast areas of the country are inaccessible to anyone but the locals. Centuries of cultural separation has led to the evolution of over 30 different languages (not just dialects). With few roads in remote areas, walking is the only option. Goods are carried in by mule. It’s not possible to ride, even on a dirt bike.

Climate

Nepal is a land of extremes. The climate varies dramatically with altitude and the seasons. Luckily, the weather changes are very predictable so we can run tours for most of the year. Riders are more likely to feel hot than cold. With bright sunshine, few showers, clear roads, fresh air and stunning scenery, its motorcycle Nirvana.

We spend most of our time in the mid-hills (wait ‘til you see a Nepali “hill”!), where the climate is perfect for riding. Between about November and February, early mornings can be chilly and it can get cold at night when we ride over 2000m. In the south of the country, at low altitude, it gets seriously hot from about April to June.

We only open by appointment from June to September. Monsoon rains have to be experienced to be believed. Riding conditions are great for most of the day. It’s warm, roads are freshly cleaned, the rivers are in full flow, and vegetation grows rampantly. However, landslides are common and journeys can be unpredictable.

Roads & traffic

Spectacular winding roads cling precariously to the sides of the mountains. With few bridges and no tunnels, there are virtually no straight sections of road. Corner after corner, hour after hour, a 200km ride is a long way in Nepal. It’s extreme terrain. Many roads lead to dead-ends because they physically can’t go any further

Bikes and buses are the most common form of transport in Nepal. Riding is great fun, and very different to the aggressive car-focused road culture of the west. Local people usually stick to the left side of the road, but there’s a chaotic, anything-goes style thrown into the mix. Literally anything could happen anywhere, at any time. It’s crazy. You’ll witness stuff that defies belief, and there’s a prize for the most ridiculous thing we see on the tour.

Driving is a team sport, and everyone joins in. Truck drivers give various signals using the horn, lights, indicators and their hands. Buses employ a boy to hang out the side of the vehicle and wave signals. Motorcycle passengers help out too. If you use your indicators as you do at home, you will be sending the wrong messages. If you know the local way, it’s easy. We’ll show you how.

Petrol

Petrol is included in the price of our guided tours, but not with rental or sale & buy-back bikes. A full 14 litre tank gives us a range of 400+ kilometres, or about 2 day’s riding. The petrol on sale is normally 87 octane; less potent than the 95, 98 or even 100 octane fuels available in other parts of the world. Only use petrol from trusted sources, as there have been cases of people mixing in kerosene to make a quick profit.

There is only 1 state-run petrol company; the Nepal Oil Corporation (NOC). At around €1 per litre, petrol is incredibly expensive for local people. For many years, NOC has subsidised petrol across the country; selling it at a loss. When NOC is unable to pay its Indian suppliers, they suspend deliveries until the bills are paid. The pumps run dry. When NOC tries to raise the retail price to break even, there are widespread protests and political back-lash. Invariably they back down, only to face the same financial problems again.

During the conflict years, Maoists and other rebel groups used petrol as a bargaining tool. They stopped tankers coming across the border, and blocked supply roads to Kathmandu and Pokhara. They could grind the country to a halt until their demands were met, or at least listened to.

We stock petrol around the country to minimise the impact of these problems. If there are extended shortages, we are sometimes forced to buy on the black market. On rare occasions, we have run out. If this happens, tours to far away or places or difficult to access areas may have to be cut short or re-routed.

Mechanic support

We feel that support trucks miss the whole point of a motorcycle adventure. We like to ride where a truck can’t go, and don’t want to be held back by a logistics caravan. If there’s a strike, bikes can usually squeeze through the blockade. Our mechanic rides with us on scheduled tours; Rick handles technical matters for individual riders or private tours. We carry a selection of tools & spares to cover the vast majority of common problems, and we know mechanics all over the country. Occasional technical side-shows add to the authentic and memorable experience of Nepal.

Safety equipment

Riding kit is always a compromise between comfort and safety. We try to strike the best balance considering the climate, riding conditions, and possible risks. Helmets, jackets and gloves are provided free with all tours.

The Police are very helpful towards foreigners who obey the law, so please wear your helmet at all times. We can provide anything from a skull cap to a full-face Arai, but most people choose something in between. An open face model with a visor, sunglasses or goggles works well. We stock a good range, but please let us know if you have a particularly small or large head.

Leather jackets are far too hot, and lead to dehydration problems. We find textile jackets to be comfortable and practical. We stock Hein Gericke and other quality European brands. All have armour at the shoulder and elbows; some are fitted with back protectors. Many are water resistant, although we avoid riding in the wet. With casual-style jackets, a poncho can be pulled over the top during a shower. Again, let us know if you have special requirements.

Textile gloves are better than leather in the heat, and dry out quicker if we get caught in the rain. We’ve got a good selection of European brands in different sizes. We do not provide trousers. Most customers ride in jeans, but armoured textile motorcycle trousers are even better.

You are most welcome to bring your own safety kit on a tour. It really helps us, especially if you are of a non-average shape or size. We cannot buy safety equipment here, so all our clothing has been imported. If you have any old protective wear that doesn’t fit as it used to, or has gone out of fashion, please leave it with us. Future riders would be most grateful for your generosity.

Luggage & weight limits

All our bikes are unique, so your luggage depends on the bike you choose. We can try different combinations panniers, tank bags or seat packs to see what works. Some bikes have metal racks for carrying heavier loads. We advise against wearing a back-pack. They distract riders on difficult sections of road, cause overheating, and are extremely dangerous in the event of a spill.

The Royal Enfield was designed for English gentlemen on the country roads of 1955. We push our bikes way beyond what they were originally intended for, so the ride is far more enjoyable if we travel light. The bike handles beautifully and pulls up the steep hills, the suspension doesn’t bottom-out over the bumps, we get far less punctures, and reliability improves 10-fold. In our experience, 120kg is the maximum weight that a Bullet should be asked to carry. That’s the total for the rider, safety kit and luggage.

In most cases, it is not possible to carry a passenger. There can be ways around this issue, so please let us know if you want to ride 2-up. Light passengers can ride with the guide; we can share the total load between bikes; or we can choose less demanding routes. Even better, the passenger can learn to ride their own bike instead!

Clothes & shoes

We don’t need to carry many clothes. Our heavy riding kit (jeans, boots and a motorcycle jacket) can be worn at night if it gets really cold. A few basic, functional items can be recycled by the laundry service at our hotels. Avoid bulky clothing, and bring thin layers that can be worn in different combinations. A T-shirt or vest is nice for hot places. Long sleeve cotton shirts are really comfortable under a bike jacket, and offer sun protection or warmth when not riding.

Please consider shopping for clothes in Nepal; local people desperately need your business. Trekking is hugely popular, so there are many clothing shops selling shameless copies of famous brands. These knock-offs are cheap, and work really well on bike trips. Lightweight trekking trousers feel great after a long ride, and cost around €7. With zips below the knee, they quickly convert into shorts for swimming. Thermal under-shirts, fleeces and under-trousers are great in the colder months, up high, or in bed. Expect to pay about €4 per item. A €1 scarf or neck tube will keep out the afternoon chill.

If you’re going rhino-spotting in Chitwan National Park, wear natural dark colours and cool fabrics. Long, cool clothes keep mosquitoes at bay during the hot seasons. Safari shirts and tiger motif sun hats can be bought locally. Shorts and a t-shirt are ideal for washing an elephant.

Strong walking boots are ideal for Bullet tours, and can be bought in Kathmandu for around €150 (fake versions are about €20). They give good ankle protection, are water resistant, and comfortable on or off the bike. Training shoes are not advised. Racing boots are great when riding, but require another set of shoes to be packed, especially if you go walking into the jungle. Motocross style boots offer superb protection, but can lack feel for left-foot braking. Plastic sandals cost around €3. Light to carry, they give your toes a little luxury when you take off your heavy boots. They’re perfect for exploring villages, and can also be worn in the shower.

Hotels

You’ll need to arrange your own hotel before and after the tour. We recommend the Sacred Valley in Pokhara. Once we’re on the road, shared accommodation is included in the price, but you are responsible for any additional charges. Please note that for private tours, we may not be able to promise our first choice of hotel at short notice.

We steer clear of package deals at tourist resorts. Instead, we stay in quality hotels with clean bed sheets and towels, an attached bathroom, and a western-style toilet. Hot running water and a fan may be advertised, but only work if there’s electricity or a generator! Let us know if you prefer 2 single beds or 1 double bed. Private, single person rooms can be arranged for a surcharge. You do not need a sleeping bag, as blankets are provided. In remote areas, hotels can be very basic with lower hygiene standards. A silk/cotton sleeping bag liner can be comforting, and provides warmth at high altitude.

Breakfast and evening meals

Some riders like a leisurely breakfast in the morning; others only wake up 5 minutes before departure. We’ll agree the next day’s kick-start time with you, and leave you to buy breakfast if you want it. Hotels usually offer western-style food such as omelettes and toast. Small, local restaurants have typical dishes such as spiced chick peas, vegetable curry, or boiled eggs. It’s a great way to see how Nepali people start their day. If you skip breakfast, our first stop for drinks and tasty snacks is only an hour away. Once we’ve reached our destination for the day, food & drinks are at your cost. Local restaurants generally serve much better food than hotels. We’ll head out to the best places; you’re welcome to join us, or do your own thing.

Lunch & refreshments

Dehydration causes loss of concentration and stamina. We carry bottled water, and encourage you to drink as much as you can. Some clients purify tap water with iodine tablets or filtration kits. We stop every hour for a drink in a completely random place. It all adds to your unique experience of Nepal. Chia is usually on offer; it’s a small, sweet, milk-based cup of tea. In remote places, there may be no alternative. Fizzy drinks are popular in bigger towns, but alcohol is off-limits until we stop riding.

We manage the refreshments on the road, and it’s all included in the price. We avoid tourist-trap highway restaurants and resorts, and find local places instead. The food is always better, and it immerses you in a typical cross-section of Nepali life.

Dal-bhat!

Dal-bhat is the national dish of Nepal (dal is lentil soup; bhat is rice). It’s accompanied by a mild vegetable curry and a spicy pickle. Cooks like to show off their skills, so it’s usually delicious. Pour your soup over the rice and get stuck in; it just keeps coming until you’ve had enough! Dal-bhat gives structure to daily life. Many people don’t even say “hello”; they ask “have you eaten rice?” Nepali people eat it twice a day, in the late morning and early evening. Restaurants often don’t have a menu as dal-bhat is the only food available!

Toiletries

Forgot your toothbrush? Everyday toiletries can be found within minutes. Nepali women are obsessed with shiny hair, so small sachets of shampoo are available everywhere. They take up much less space than bottles, and shed another half kilo. Disposable razors are cheap, but a hygienic cut-throat shave and invigorating head massage is less than €1.

Cameras & electronics

Cameras, lenses, laptops, hand held devices, power packs, batteries, chargers and adapters. They all take up space and weigh you down. Riding over a landslide is thrilling, but your valuable electronics get shaken around. And re-charging is tricky when the power only comes on for 2 hours a day (a small torch is always a good idea!). We recommend that you keep it simple. Expensive cameras tend to remain strapped to the bike in a padded bag, while riders with a compact point-and-shoot camera take lots of nice pictures.

Advice for girls

Modern urban girls zip around Pokhara on twist-and-go scooters, but very few can ride a motorcycle. So, wherever you go, you’ll get a lot of attention! Nepal is very different to its Indian neighbour; women have a prominent role in everyday society, and the men are generally very respectful.

The culture is traditional and conservative. You only get one chance to make a first impression, so wear something that covers your shoulders and knees, and avoid low-cut tops. Bikinis are fine for the swimming pools of expensive hotels but, in other areas, shorts and a T-shirt are better. Rural toilets will either make you laugh or cry. When we ride in the countryside, it’s far more elegant to copy the local ladies and just nip into the bushes.

Healthcare

Ask your doctor about immunisation jabs for Nepal. Malaria was wiped out long ago in most of the country, but remains in remote areas. Pharmacies everywhere sell treatments for common ailments. Stomach upsets are unpleasant, but re-hydration salts and garlic soup accelerate recovery. Local insect repellents are cheap and effective. Hospitals are scarce and of variable quality. Some are frighteningly bad. You must pay for medical treatment up front, in cash. Medical insurance is only for reclaiming your money.

Riders sometimes get sick. We will try to organise medical treatment or medicines locally. With private tours, we may have the option to delay or re-route. With scheduled tours, the enjoyment of the group takes priority. We will always try to reach a solution in consultation with the riders.

Accidents

Your safety is our top priority, and we are proud of our unblemished record. We’ll give you essential training and advice, plus decent safety kit. It’s good to have around €300 in cash for emergencies. ATMs are rare outside of big cities, and credit cards are virtually unknown.

Rick is qualified in Emergency First Response, and can deal with minor issues. If you are involved in a more serious accident, Rick will decide on the most appropriate course of action in consultation with local people and the group. Ambulances are rare; helicopter rescue is almost impossible. As a precaution, please provide us with a copy of your travel insurance certificate.

Foreign interest in Nepal

This tiny, poor nation is sandwiched between 2 global superpowers. Nepal’s location, political instability, and vast natural resources mean that many foreign governments have strategic interests here, including:

  • vying for regional influence
  • gathering intelligence
  • curbing the potential spread of communism
  • controlling water supplies and hydro-power generation
  • negotiating ownership of future resources
  • recruiting Gurkha soldiers
  • protecting commercial interests

They influence Nepal’s policy on a wide range of issues, either through the front door by diplomatic means or through the back door via the huge and unregulated non-government sector.

Foreign aid

First-time visitors are often shocked by the number of Non Government Organisations (NGOs) and charities in Nepal. Foreign aid is the country’s biggest business, accounting for 40-60% of the total economy. It’s hard to be precise because the industry is un-audited. Donor countries, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund hand out enormous loans with strings attached. Aid is used as a carrot and stick to influence policy through easily-swayed officials.

Most of the aid is channelled through myriad NGOs. Hundreds of millions of dollars are spent every year on development projects. Foreign aid workers are widely criticised for their extravagant lifestyles and $100,000 air conditioned vehicles, but these really only represent the tip of the iceberg.

Some NGOs are multi-national organisations, but there are also thousands of smaller outfits. The aid industry is not clearly structured; the overall objectives and intended results are not agreed; communication is poor; roles and responsibilities are vague; reporting lines and accountability are unclear; and project deadlines tend to be loosely defined.

Nepal has urgent needs in electricity; clean water; infrastructure; education; healthcare and jobs. The aid industry almost exclusively employs professional development workers, who rarely venture outside Kathmandu. There are very few technical experts, so it is understandably difficult for the NGOs to achieve any real results. Luckily for them, future funding is not dependent on past achievements; it is generated through the liberal use of fashionable industry buzzwords.

Most people assume this foreign aid fiasco has been created through incompetence. Conspiracy theorists believe the system is deliberately designed to fail. Either way, “No Good Outcome” seems to be more appropriate for the acronym.

The Maoist insurgency

Maoist rebels fought a 10 year armed conflict against a deeply unpopular King. Their leader (Prachanda, which means “the fierce one”) had some classic communist manifestos, but other policies were very disturbing in certain circles: stop foreign powers’ management of Nepal by “remote control” and kick out the NGOs unless they could show any tangible results.

Some foreign governments denounced Prachanda as the leader of a terrorist organisation. Much to their surprise, the Maoists came to power in a UN-monitored election. Ambassadors had to force a smile and congratulate Prachanda as the new, democratically elected Prime Minister. The fighting stopped. A peace deal was signed, the monarchy was overthrown, and the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal was created. The new Maoist-led government faced the task of writing a constitution, under the eye of the UN, and were given 3 years to do so.

Internal and external powers prevented Prachanda from implementing his policies, so he resigned in frustration. Interestingly, the Maoists still remain on some countries’ list of terrorist organisations; hence the unhelpful travel warnings for Nepal. As other politicians scrabbled for power, the new constitution failed to materialise. When (or if) it will be produced is anyone’s guess, and so the political and economic future of Nepal remains unclear.

Strikes

The Jana Andolan (People’s Uprising) of 2006 brought a long series of strikes or “bandhs”. Protesters brought the nation to a standstill by closing the highways. It was a blunt but effective weapon against the Kathmandu elite. Images of the consequent military curfews made the international news.

Since then, the bandh has become something of a national pastime. It can be sparked by any issue, but usually follows the same pattern: a group of protestors place stones across the road, burn a tyre or two, wave some flags, and chant slogans. Most bandhs are good natured and short lived, but the resulting delays can upset people on package holidays with a fixed itinerary.

We do things differently. We keep well informed of the latest situation, and can re-route to avoid possible demonstrations. A bit of slack in our plans ensures that a drama doesn’t turn into a crisis. And local knowledge allows us to settle in somewhere nice if it’s really not possible to ride.

Some foreign Embassies have issued travel warnings, but we have never experienced any hostility on our rides. Even during the hardest times, tourists were welcomed everywhere. Tourism generates around 15% of the economy, and is widely regarded as one of the few viable businesses for the future. There have been no strikes since May 2010, and the politicians agreed to keep the roads open during “Visit Nepal 2011”. Let’s hope they keep their word.

 

3 wheels are better than 2 in central Kathmandu
Pokhara is 7 noisy, colourful hours from Kathmandu
Engines sometimes work, meters never do
Sunrise with China to the north
Sunset with India to the south
No speed cameras here!
They don?t take credit cards
Today?s entertainment ? a broken chain
Our safety kit is the best in Nepal
Travel light to discover a whole new world
Kevlar jackets are perfect for the conditions
Chill out after a hard ride
We stop every hour for a nice cup of tea
Dal bhat ? the national dish of Nepal
Don't worry, you can buy a toothbrush anywhere
If only they were all this luxurious!
We?ll warn you about possible risks on the road
Strikes are inconvenient, but usually good natured
All the politicians agree that tourism is good for Nepal
The UN keeps an eye on political developments
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