I first met Ashwin in the midst of a rather hectic, and badly specced out tiger census exercise in a forest in Northern India. He would go on later to take up a job with the Nepal Forest Dept and then tempt me with invites to various forests in Nepal! It was after one such invite that the plan to ride to Nepal first took seed, perhaps to be combined with a ride to Sikkim. A chance opening on the business front in end January, coinciding nicely with the Rider Mania in Delhi also helped push things along.
Shipping the bike out a week in advance, i took a flight out to Delhi on Saturday, hoping to begin riding on Monday. With me on the ride was Manas from the RTMC, Bangalore, incidentally my neighbor as well! Manas was attending the RM and we were hoping to begin riding on Monday after the event. However Manas came down with a bad case of Delhi-belly on the eve of departure and we were forced to postpone departure for 2 days.
The rough ride plan was to ride down the Mahendra highway, from north to south. Enroute we planned to halt at bardiya national park, and then head to Pokhara via Butwal and from there to Katmando, rejoin the Mahendra Highway at Hetauda and ride south to exit nepal at Kakkarbhitta.
Day 1: Ghaziabad to Khatima
We were to head down the NH24 which goes from Delhi towards Bareilly and then turnoff towards Tanakpur to make the border crossing: a total of around 300 odd kms: not too difficult considering that most of the roads were 4-laned.
Leaving Manas’ aunts home near Ghaziabad at around 10 am, we made good progress down the 4 laned highway. Stopped for a late breakfast of puri-subzi on the banks of the Ganga at Brijghat near Garhmuktheswar.
We made fantastic speeds on the NH24 until Rampur where we were caught in a horrific traffic jam. Rampur is the point at which, we take a turnoff for Nainital via Pantnagar. Getting out of the traffic jam and onto the road for Pantnagar took more than an hour, and it was past 0230 when we crossed over towards the road heading for Pantnagar. The road had been 4 laned till Rampur, but after that it was a 2 laned mess. Rudrapur or Uddham Singh Nagar was the point where the road further diverges: the straight road leading onwards to Nainital. A right turn from Rudrapur would take us towards the border town of Tanakpur. The road from here was 2 laned but ran through some pretty scenic terrain. Lots of Sikhs to be seen in this part of the country, and lots of signboards in Punjabi! For a while it was like riding through Punjab! Rudrapur was the site where a number of Sikhs from what is now Pakistan displaced at Partition were resettled which explains the demographics. We finally stopped at around 4pm a little beyond Rudrapur for a hearty vegetarian lunch.
Our original plan was to cross over the border into Nepal the same day. But there was a lack of clarity on exactly how far away from the international border we were and how much time the border crossing formalities would take. If the border closed at 6pm as some were saying, we would be forced to backtrack. So after a quick map-check, we decided to make a night halt at the border town of Khatima. A little before Khatima, 11 kms to be exact we came across a stunning spectacle: a HUGE expanse of water, almost like an inland sea. The Nanak Sagar! The lake is created by a dam on the stream called Deoha considered to be holy among the Sikh community. Perhaps it would have been less dramatic if we had been told about this!
We were checked into our hotel on the Pilibhit road by 545pm. The weather had been reasonably pleasant till then, but the temperature crashed to near sub-zero levels as soon as the sun dipped below the horizon: which made us regret the fact that we left our rooms to go into town for dinner. Room service might have been a better option!
Next: Crossing borders…