To the Border and Back By Bicycle
- On a trail of devastation from the capital to Kodari, a look back at the changing scenarios after the earthquake.
Jan 11, 2016-
I don’t remember exactly when my friend Anirudh and I decided that it would be a good idea to cycle from Kathmandu to the Nepal-Tibet border at Kodari and back again. I suspect it was a few weeks before the downhill from Nagarkot to Bhaktapur, just after burning calf muscles from the previous day’s 20 kilometre uphill. I am also not sure why the Sino-Nepal Friendship Bridge at the border town of Kodari was our must-see destination; but it was and it would involve a 230 kilometre round-trip along the Araniko Highway.After delaying for two weekends, first to celebrate Thanksgiving with Susan, our lovely friend and connoisseur of delicious home-cooked food and after the initial Thanksgiving celebration and an unfortunate incident with a stray cat that lead to me getting rabies shots, we were on our way.
We left our office after lunch on a Friday and had the afternoon to complete the first stretch— 65 kilometres from Kathmandu to Sukute. This involved a gentle ascent out of the valley to Dhulikhel, where we took a break to drink chiya and admire cloudy views of the elusive Himalayan range followed by a rapid downhill to Dolalghat. The exhilaration of the downhill ride was only slightly marred by the knowledge that we would have to cycle back up the following Sunday. With the sun setting on our backs we meandered upstream alongside the Sun Kosi River, reaching Sukute just before night-time.
On Saturday, we were ready to leave at the crack of dawn ensuring we could make it to Kodari and back to Sukute, 100 kilometres in total, during daylight. The day was to be Anriudh’s longest cycle ride ever and my longest since being in Nepal. It was arduous, climbing from 700 metres above sea level at Sukute to the 2,150 metre Kodari, but it was also incredibly rewarding, with beautiful views and exciting descents. At Kodari, access
to the Sino-Nepal bridge was restricted. However, it seems that a smile pretty much
gets you everywhere, and we were able to slip through a gap in the gate and make our way to the bridge, where we were given enough time to take a quick photo.
The closed border combined with the current fuel embargo meant that many hotels and eateries in Kodari were closed. The generosity of Nepali people, even in times of great hardship, was always present and after observing our fatigued state, the owners of a local teashop took pity on us and made us steaming bowls of Maggi noodles paired with eggs and vegetables. Re-energised and with our pedal-power regained, we sped back to Sukute. The next day, we retraced our tracks back up to Dhulikhel (around 30 kilometres of uphill switchbacks) before cruising down into Kathmandu just in time for lunch.
When I look back and reflect upon the trip I realise that it was not the distance or uphill that was most challenging but rather the destruction of the 2015 earthquakes left in the area through which we cycled. I am not, as my friends so articulately put it, ‘earthquake ok’. The table shaking or the ground vibrating still sends me leaping for cover and my whistle and go-bag are never too far from reach. The Araniko Highway winds its way through the steep valleys of Sindhupalchok where the geology and steep topography mean that landslide risks are incredibly high. The April 25th and May 12th earthquakes and their countless aftershocks triggered landslides and destabilised valley edges, thereby increasing the risk of future landslides. I was petrified. ‘Don’t dawdle’ was the travel advice we received from an office colleague but dawdling was inevitable when the highway had been turned into a boulder field. You are trying to process the extent of the damage and you are overwhelmed by the jutting edges looming over you, a constant reminder of impending landslides.
But far more than the concerns for personal safety it is the real life human remnants of this devastation that are still so apparent and ever present. Villages were sparsely populated and many buildings had been crushed by falling debris or razed to the ground. Lives had, and continue to be, devastated than the geography in which they were located. Sometimes in Kathmandu it is possible to forget that the earthquakes ever happened. My life is (save the current fuel crisis) as comfortable as life in Kathmandu can get and during my day-to-day activities visual signs of the fifty seconds earthquake on April 25th are limited. When I venture into Patan Durbar Square, I find the destruction incredibly sad but I also think, ‘thank goodness it was temples and not homes’. Along the Araniko highway, things aren’t as easy to forget as most of the devastation of the earthquake extends to homes that, no doubt, have uprooted countless families.
There is currently not much choice in terms of places to stay along the Araniko highway.
We stayed at Sukute Beach Resort for both nights. The rooms were basic but there was plenty of hot water and their showers were the best I have had since living in Nepal. The cost was Rs 750 per person per night and they are cheaper (I think) if you are a Nepali national.
Another option is ‘The Last Resort’ which is closer to Kodari and more luxurious, although also more expensive. This would be a good option if you want to either condense or extend the trip.
Our first tip is to wear padded shorts. Always.
And our second tip is to pack lots of high-energy snacks or chocolate bars (although this is not the healthiest option). We also had glucose powder on the last day to help with the uphill to Dhulikhel!
For the trip, both myself and Anirudh rode our mountain bikes. His is a Giant and mine is a Trek. Until Sukute, the road condition was beautifully smooth and I longed to be on my road bike but closer to the border, the road condition deteriorated and I was glad of the chunkier tyres and suspension my mountain bike offered.
The author is a Gender and Water Researcher
Published: 11-01-2016 17:33