Out of the bubble, into the hills
Dolalghat Travel Blog› entry 3 of 17 › view all entries
I'm late for our meeting at De La Soul and for a minute I'm terrified I've missed them, until I see Ineke and Alison walking down the street towards me. The alcohol's worn off and the hangovers have kicked in, but they're still as friendly to me as they were the night before, and I feel fucking good about getting out of Thamel with these girls.
We head to a bike rental place just outside of Thamel and pick our bikes. We're supposed to be meeting two other girls there but half an hour later they still haven't shown up, so we give up and go for breakfast at Funky Buddha. We share cigarattes, stories and jokes over toast and coffee, and I like the two of them more and more. It's strange how quickly you feel close to people when you're travelling. By the time we set off, I feel like I've been friends with them for ages.
We agree to take a bus as far as Dulhikhel to escape the heaviest traffic, and set off through the narrow, crowded streets of Kathmandu to the bus station. Before we even get there, Alison's brakes fail, sending her flying into the back of an old Nepali woman. So we go back to the bike shop, get them fixed, and try again. It takes us about an hour just to fight our way through the vast amount of people and traffic to get to the bus station - not helped by the fact that everyone we ask for directions seems to say the first thing that comes into their heads, without the slightest regard for whether it's the right way or not. But we make it in the end, throw our bikes onto the roof of the bus, climb up after them and set off.
I really enjoy the ride to Dulhikhel. As we drive out of Kathmandu, I watch the bustling city fade into wide fields, then rise into dusty terraced hills. And I still haven't got over the novelty of riding on the roof - I love the unobstructed view and the feel of the wind on my face. I stand up and strike a "Titanic" pose on the front of the bus, earning me baffled stares from the Nepalis.
We get our bikes down in Dulhikhel, have a quick drink then set off. Ineke tells us that the first 27km is all downhill, which sounds pretty good to me. The roads wind round the curves of the hills in a dizzying series of bends and spirals, dropping down on one side to give us stunning views of the ridges and valleys below us. The whole earth looks crumpled - nowhere can I see even the tiniest bit of flat land. The only thing that makes this ground possible to cultivate are the thousands and thousands of terraces, hugging the hills like contour lines. Unlike most man-made creations, the terraces seem to enhance rather than detract from the beauty of the hills, adding form and colour to the dusty red-brown earth. I am so transfixed by the view that I keep forgetting to watch the road, causing me to nearly crash into cars or come off the road several times. Eventually I decide to stop every five minutes or so to allow me to look without killing myself.
It's an exhilerating start to the ride, as for miles and miles the road is a steep downhill series of tight curves. Ineke, a self-confessed adrenaline junky, speeds on ahead, determined to use the brakes as little as possible. Alison and I take it a little slower, but coasting down round the curves is so much fun it's difficult not to pick up speed after a while.
About 10km after Dulhikhel, I'm cycling just behind Alison, approaching a particularly tight hairpin bend. I squeeze my brakes and start to slow down. Alison keeps speeding up. I stare, helpless and horrified, as she hurtles towards the edge of the almost sheer drop. Luckily, she manages to swing the bike round in time, but she misses the edge by less than a metre. It seems the brake repair job wasn't quite up to scratch. She's not hurt, but obviously pretty shaken, so we take it a bit slower from then on. We have to, as Alison now only has one set of brakes working, which is pretty fucking dangerous on these roads.
Not long after that we stop for about an hour in a little village somewhere. Ineke and Alison are both feeling pretty ill, and all of us could do with a drink and a rest. We drink coke, wash in the hand pump by the little shop, and watch a heated game of football on a big patch of red dust in front of us. The locals are lovely to us, always smiling and chatting away to us in Nepali, despite the fact that we clearly have absolutely no idea what they're talking about. I am bouncing around like a little kid. The weight of confusion and paranoia I've been carrying around in Thamel has completely gone, and I feel refreshed and ecstatically happy.
The ride gets a little harder after this, as we start facing stretches of uphill as well as down. I am still full of energy, but I am lucky enough not to be ill. Ineke and Alison both have some sort of food poisoning and aren't feeling good at all, so we decide to stop for the night in Dolalghat, a small town by a river. This turns out to be good timing, as about 15 minutes after we find a guest house, storm clouds roll in and it's much too dark and wet to keep cycling anyway.
For me, the night is fairly pleasant and uneventful. I stand outside and enjoy the storm for a bit, chat with Ineke and Alison over a dinner of fish curry, read for a bit, smoke a joint and go to sleep. For Alison, the night is a descent into hell. I hear the story the next morning over breakfast. Unable to eat or drink for fear of throwing up, a mixture of fever and dehydration sends her into hallucinations - and not the good kind either. She spends the night convinced that every way she turns is a wall and she can't get out, she can't remember where she is or who else is in the room and panics completely. By morning she hasn't slept at all and is even more drained and shaken than she was the night before. Ineke is also still sick, though not nearly as badly, and we seriously consider whether or not to go on.
Eventually we come to a compromise - Ineke and I cycle another 30km or so as far as Lamosangu, where the road starts to climb steeply. Alison takes a bus, meets us there, then we all take a bus up to Kodari, on the Tibetan border. It's during this conversation that I finally realise, (being rather slow on the uptake, apparently), that Ineke and Alison are together. Like, together together. I'm watching the way they look at each other when they talk, and blurt out - "I swear you two telepathically communicate or something! What the hell am I missing out on here?!" They flash each other another look - a 'silent laughter' type look this time - and it suddenly dawns on me. At first I'm a bit thrown by this - I'm wondering if they're really glad I'm here or if I'm just an irritation and they'd rather spend time alone - but they're such genuine people, they never for a second make me feel awkward or unwelcome. And now I think of it, they do make a really cute couple.
By the time we've decided what to do, it's already nearly 1pm and we have to get going if we're ever going to get to Kodari before night. So Ineke and I say goodbye to Alison, get back on the bikes, and set off for Lamosangu as fast as we can manage.