Nepal

wanna race?

Yvoine could have entered Nepal with just about anybody. The immigration officer stamps the 2 passports she gives him while Mike is outside, out of sight, looking after the bikes. He does not even take a look at Mike but wishes his passport a warm welcome... From there, it is about fighting our way in between goats and saris, buses and trucks. So much noise, some many colours and so much life! Maybe that is what freedom is? It definitely is a stark contrast with the oppression in Tibet...

After a few kilometers on a very bumpy road, we find tarseal! We almost kiss the road! What a pleasure to be able to go faster than 25 km per hour in a downhill! At the bottom of the valley, our bodies, still accustomed to the winds and cold of Tibet, are in shock: our thermometers show 53 degrees. We decide to stop for the day, and meet a group of 10 germans . They have just ridden from Lhasa to Kathmandu, like us minus the luggage (5 staff and a vehicle of support). We share our first Dhal Bat with them. It is with a certain surprise that we see the cook come back from the local market with a live chicken, holding it by the legs. She goes straight into the kitchen, where the chicken's throat will be cut, the chicken plucked and cooked before ending in our plates! The following morning, we only have one small pass (about 1000 m vertical climb) and a bit of flat to reach Kathmandu. We are like dopped, the Himalayan altitudes our drug. Our climb is very fast: was this a climb, really? Where?

Finally, we make it to Kathmandu, after all these weeks spent on these awesome, but difficult Himalayan roads. We truely have the feeling that it is the end of a chapter. So, we have crossed them, those mountains. To us, they were the "middle hurdle". It seems to us that from now on the road is direct, simpler, more tarsealed, faster. It is like there is no more obstacle from here to Paris! Hard to remove the smiles on our faces. Despite the mechanical problems, Mike's bike - and the rider himself! - has made it. We can now fully relax: no dogs, no police, no wind, no broken wheel... We have made it!

Kathmandu comes as a surprise. Where are the mountains? We are lost in the middle of a great big pollution cloud. And this city really looks like a third-world city, somewhat overwhelming and claustrophobic. Traffic is heavy, and the vehicles on the road have little respect for our bicycles... Only the "out-of-caste" people ride pushbikes here. This means that anything that has an engine has very little respect for anything that has pedals. An introduction to what we will find later in India, only even more pronounced there. Mike does not give up and proceeds to teach all these taxi and bus drivers the basic rules of road safety... But despite all of this, we are confronted with the reality of a system (the caste system) in which respect for human life is not a given. As Mike goes to a small sawing shop to get a few of our things fixed up, he walks passed a dead body, lying in the middle of the street. That does not stop the flow of people: they come and go, barely avoiding the man who has just died... Deep inside, our core values are shaken. Life is so precious to us... But beyond the traffic, the pollution and the noise, Kathmandu does have a certain charm: the temples and sculptures in the old town, the colours of the buildings and the saris, the fruit and the flowers, this whirlpool of life, the women making offerings to the gods, and the men frying doughnuts, the small teahouses around every street corner...

Kathmandu (and Nepal) is for us symbol of meetings and encounters. First, with the wonderful Sonam, in his bike shop, who will fix Mike's bike in a few days! And then, through Sonam, with all these guides, sherpas (the mountaineering season is just over so they are all back in Kathmandu) and other cycling fans who, every morning, go for rides around Kathmandu. They go early, before the sun gets too hot and unforgiving. We join them and are welcomed so well. We discover Kathmandu's surrounds with them, pedaling, drinking sweet milk tea (Nepali tea) and eating chapatis. As we make ready to depart, Mike's bike being fixed and our visas for India and Pakistan newly acquired, they convince us to stay for another couple of days. This coming sunday, there is a mountainbike race in Kathmandu, to promote cycling on the occasion of environment's day. All our new friends are going. Sonam finds us a couple of mountainbikes, a bit too long, a bit too big, and not entirely comfortable (our bikes are not really designed for a bumpy mountainbike race) but they wil do. We are ready to enter our first mountainbike race.

On the sunday morning, we meet again with our friendly group, a couple of hours before the start of the race to share the tradititional tea. Sonam has given everyone instructions: carbohydrates for dinner the day before, and now everyone is filling their bottle with sports drinks... But the mood is friendly and relaxed. Men and women start together in the narrow streets of Bhaktapur, one of the old royal capitals of Nepal. 130 cyclists have entered. It makes it difficult to make our way on the small paved streets, surrounded by temples and sculptures... But the bottom of the first uphill is near, and the crowds spread fast. Mike finishes 5th and Yvoine 11th overall. Yvoine is kind of proud to have left so many men behind (;o) but it is her 2nd place in the womens that gets her to be interviewed and broadcasted on Nepali TV that evening! As well as receive the congratulations of the French ambassador in Nepal. After the race, we plant trees for environment's day and we share a dhal bat with all the cyclists, before riding back to Kathmandu, light-hearted and happy. What a great day!

We then get back on our bikes, heading to Pokhara (Annapurna region), trying to avoid the first monsoon rains. Last climbs, last passes and last valleys before heading down to the Indian sub-continent. We make our farewell to these mountains that we love so much, and that we will not meet again until Europe.

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