All ArticlesNepal

Of broken tires, closed frontiers and cramped cities

Klick hier um den Artikel auf Deutsch zu lesen

Many thanks to Juliane for this translation

Nepal/Thailand – July/August 2013

After the Annapurna trek I cycled back the 220 kilometres from Pokara to Katmandu. Halfway I noticed that something was wrong. A short glance was enough: the outer tire had burst open right at the rim and I could see the tube. In Nepal, simple bike shops can be found in every village. However, the right mountain bike tire can probably only be found in Pokhara or Katmandu and I was exactly in the middle. I had to find a solution, taking a bus was no option for me. So I stopped at the roadside and – under the eyes of some curious spectators- started to sew the outer tire with a needle and some dental floss. The makeshift repair was working amazingly well until after 50 more kilometers the tire burst open on a different spot. I repeated the whole procedure and barely arrived at the Katmandu bike shop. After about 16000 kms the tire had had it: it had served me well, only three times on the whole track I had to fix a flat tire.

On this journey I learned to do makeshift solutions

Unfortunately, it’s nearly impossible to leave the Indian subcontinent cycling overland. The borders with China and Myanmar are closed, a (legal) crossing for foreigners is impossible. For the autonomous region of Tibet solo travelers don’t get a permit, let alone cyclists. The way via Pakistan is blocked as well as you only get your visa in your home country. Besides, I had arrived this way.

blue: route I wished to take
red: route I had to take

So I booked a flight from Katmandu to Bangkok. The bike would be no problem and I wouldn’t have to pay extra for carrying more luggage, the friendly staff of Nepal Airlines assured me. One day before departure I got a call from the airline, informing me that unfortunately the flight was cancelled but that I could fly with Thai Airways the same day. However, no one could tell me if they would carry my bike and how I should pack it up. A box is always the best option so the airline can’t complain but where did I get such a big box and how could I carry it to the airport?
I decided simply cycling to the airport. On the way I bought some plastic foil for 150 rupees (1.5 dollars) and only wrapped up the gears and the handlebars and pushed the bike to the check-in. The packaging was ok so far, however I now had luggage of 50 kg (bike 20 kg, bags 30 kg). I was allowed only 20 so I had to pay 5000 rupees (50 dollars) for extra luggage.

My bike well packed, I went to the check in

A little sad, I entered the plane. I would have preferred to cycle the distance, even if it had taken several weeks, instead of now sitting on a plane for only 3 hours and getting off in a different world. Me and my bike arrived safely in Bangkok and off we went from the airport, following multi-track motorway and huge junctions, towards the skyscraper scenery. The traffic was insanely fast, cars only rushing by but leaving enough distance, even changing track if possible.

Bangkok is a modern metropolis

Trafficwise Bangkok was a clear change: whereas in Katmandu there were no rules except “honk and ring as much as possible” and “keep as little distance as possible” in Bangkok there are significantly more: At the traffic lights that all work well you have to wait at a red light, turning without using the indicator/hand sign doesn’t exist and the cars keep enough distance so that (motor) cyclists can go on in between the tracks if the traffic comes to a stop. Bangkok’s city center is jammed up nearly all the time. However, the drivers just wait patiently in their air-conditioned cars and not a single honk can be heard, even if traffic can’t go on for 10 minutes.

The first day I went to one of the city’s many bike shops where you can get nearly everything you can get in Europe as well. When the shop assistant measured the attrition of my bike chain with a slide gauge he only looked at me with big eyes and when I told him the chain had now made 10000 km he only shook his head. I got a 10 percent discount on everything and I bought the spare parts needed so urgently to prepare my bike for the next thousands of kilometers.

Some parts really needed replacement

Bangkok is a modern metropolis with an estimated population of 10 million. Huge shopping malls, skyscrapers, subway and Skytrain and a gigantic amount if people and traffic. Katmandu, on the other hand, with its 1.5 million inhabitants now seems like a village. One day I visited the Wat Po Tempel together with hundreds of tourists, otherwise the city didn’t offer much to me and me and my bike hit the road again, northbound.

Lumphini park in the middle of the city
pleasant weather for this day
Wat Po temple