IT WAS A FINE CONUNDRUM. I needed money to buy a phone but a phone to unlock my cards. I needed both before I could move on, but was increasingly beaten up untangling this complex web in a town that only ever had one random ATM working at any given time and in need of respite. I hacked away a little bit each day, slipping easily into lazy days where the only goals were breakfast, lunch and dinner.
I was having less luck with the paragliding lessons. For a town so consumed by the sport it transpired that the currency was tandem flights and schools were under capacity to actually run any courses. And the police case quickly turned fruitless when the police suggested I work an agreement out directly with the prosecuting taxi driver. He wanted an excessive 150USD for an accident I wasn’t even aware of, but I was adamant any damage resulted from him being at fault. Standoff ensue.
All the shite administration aside, it was difficult not to like Pokhara as I explored the pretty Lakeside resort and surrounding areas, falling in with a group of new friends and reuniting with old friends. A comforting sense of normality blanketed most days. Yaron, Paulina, Alex (‘the nicest Frenchman’) and I went for a boat ride, singing backstreet boys. The mythical Jamie returned from a trip and joined us for happy trips to the movie garden – walking, whistling and always singing backstreet boys. We hosted our own semi-successful movie nights and went out for group meals but more often than not these too descended into singing backstreet boys. A plague on polite society.
I was a few days into my woolgathering when Ali and Tom, friends from Manali, tagged Gerardo and I into their rideout plans to Bandipur. Dug into the a cresting hilltop ridge and surrounded by ragtag bands of yellow, terraced, patchwork farmland and thick jungle, Bandipur itself is a classy pedestrianised town with all the exposed beams and bold feature walls to make Kirsty Allsopp double over in ecstacy. It was a well deserved stopover, making up for some rubbish and blindingly dusty roads, a tyre blowout on Tom’s particularly shit Yamaha RX100 and even a good old fashioned stickup – a pack of feral children stringing rope across the road and demanding a toll.
We wandered around as the days golden afterglow trickled into night, down narrow streets, to scenic viewpoints and weaving through beautifully restored and authentically creaky wooden buildings that might’ve been lifted straight from medieval England. We decided to eat in perhaps the creakiest, with atmospherically dim lighting, loose chickens in the basement and a sitting area overhanging the valley that was propped up on on rickety, weathered looking poles that groaned like a main mast in a storm.
“So what’s going on with you and the German girl then?” It was a tack in conversation I didn’t see coming. Tom had thrown his hat into the ring and the others were watching inquisitively.
“Nothing.” It was true. She was very pretty, with flecks of black constellations in her bright golden eyes, but I hadn’t done anything more than steal the occasional glance. “How come?”
“Man, I thought something was going on with you two. When you were with the group on the stairs, she wouldn’t take her eyes off of you.” I wanted to bottle Tom up and take him everywhere with me. The attentive man. An enigma. And as usual, I was totally oblivious.
He nodded a “you should go for it man, she’s hot”, before the conversation turned to how Ali had crashed his paraglider into a tandem and fallen 200m through the sky. Natürlich.
After a cramped nights sleep, we chased the morning mist up to the rocky ridge on a road that was cleaved out of the red earth like an artery. It was a steep and rocky climb, but with Spiti behind me I knew the bullet was capable of it, so thumped into and over boulders with gleeful impetuosity. Ali and Gerardo weren’t far behind, though their Pulsars seemed a little underpowered for the tougher bits. Five minutes later, to a high whine and a disconcerting engine rattle, Tom emerged, creating his own smoke clouds behind him. Back on the black and heading to Pokhara the police flagged us all into the verge. It looked like a routine stop until all of the other bikes (including Tom on the smoke machine) were sent on their way, while the officer paced alongside my bike, clearly looking for faults to go with my Delhi plates.
“No mirrors. Big problem. Illegal in Nepal. You have to pay a fine.”
Sure, I hadn’t got round to replacing the mirrors smashed in the crash some months ago – but in a country where literally no one looks where they’re going, even in front for that matter, it was a bit rich pulling me for it. It was kind of like policing the mandatory carrying of suncream in England. I wasn’t having it.
“No.” I let him blink back at me a couple of times. “You’re making this up. I was in the police station this week and nobody even mentioned it.” Besides, as everyone drives with everyone seems to have blinkers on, you’re better off without them. Treat it like a racetrack; everyone ahead is your problem and you’re the problem for everyone behind (and obviously the bike looked way cooler without them…).
“It’s the law. You must pay fine.”
“It is the law.” Chimed an unhelpful bystander.
“Well how much is the fine?” I asked out of curiosity, not willingness to pay. His eyes were smiling even if his mouth wasn’t. He thought he bloody had me.
“Two hundred rupees.”
“Ok. No. Still no.” The money wasn’t the problem, two hundred rupees is barely more than one pound sterling. I remembered I had an ace up my sleeve. “Call this number,” I said passing a scrap of paper with the police Sargent’s name and number on it, given to me after the ‘crash’. He laughed, talked to his friend and asked who it was again. But I guess it worked, because after a minute of deliberating and chatting on the radio I was waved on my way, promising to replace them first thing when I got into Pokhara.
Cross my heart officer. Wink.
Admittedly the wink might have been lost on him, but it felt like a nice touch at the time. Hurtling back to base, with a quick stopover for celebratory beers and for Ali and Tom to take a dip in Begnas Lake, we took the chance to swap bikes for a few kilometers. The pulsar was different, maybe bad. I’d become so used to the tickle-tastic power vibrations when revving the Enfield hard, that the Bajaj bike felt pretty mild. More like a wet sneeze.
As for the Rx, I couldn’t believe Tom had actually rode it the 160kms to Bandipur and back. It was a valiant effort, though he attested it was more ignorance of what a bike should feel like, rather than bravery. The throttle grip was loose, freely spinning without pulling the cables. It had no third gear. On a bike with a tiny engine you need a third gear. I bounced and pushed from the saddle, egging it forwards in fourth. Then I found out there were no brakes, luckily with no casualties.
I handed him back the keys and escorted him back, for the first time conscious how unsafe it actually was. Back in familiar company, we played combatitive cards long into the evening, like we’d done many nights before, drinking super strong Nepali beer like it was going out of fashion.
As the last stragglers trickled off to bed that night I found myself sat alone with the girl on the balcony. I thought back to the palm reader in Dharamsala who, after inspecting my badly stitched up palms following a bottle injury, proudly declared that adventure, danger and romance were the three pillars of a good life for me (note: he also told me I’d live to 94 which is less believable at my current pace). I’d been a two pillar man for some long months and there wasn’t much time before she flew back. I stood apprehensively at the third pillar, a long forgotten totem, and made a move. Tom had been right; all the little touches and playful shoulder barges finally clicked into place.
Three days later I was sat alone on a small wooden stool, drunk on local “wine” at 7am, singeing the hairs off a goats head with a propane torch and wondering what had led me here. The crew was gradually splintering into their own adventures again – Yaron, Tom, Chris, Noa and others hiking, Eva, Gus and Jamie on safari in Chitwan National Park and Paulina off on her own motorbike adventures, even hitting a taxi like me (for exactly the same purported 150USD damage, smell a conspiracy anyone?). Alex and I resumed our ravenous quest for breakfast, lunch and dinner, when we weren’t attending local festival celebrations, goat beheadings or riding out to nearby suspension bridges.
Pulling more hair from the briefly boiled ruminant’s face – it’s tongue limply flapping between menacing teeth – I decided that it’s probably time to move on soon…
I’d had no luck with the flight school and evaded the cops on two occasions, but I’ll remember lazy days spent hanging around in Pokhara with good company for a long time. Batteries had been recharged, including some batteries I’d left forgotten in a draw somewhere. Now it was back to the old two pillar routine, neither of which would be found in comfortable Pokhara.
It was time to ride. Kathmandu calling.