Nepal

Picture of the bridge over the River Kwai.It’s strange sitting here in Thailand thinking back across our experiences of Nepal.

It was a place which left us with one profound feeling.

The feeling was one of relief.

Even now after two weeks in Thailand and five weeks in Nepal we still work through our experiences of India; the bad days and what they meant to us individually. We still talk of the feelings each day bred into us, building layer on layer of anxiety to the point where we wanted to run and hide from it.

It was this multi-layered fear which led us to spend five weeks in Nepal.

Nepal was the balm for our emotions and it gave us time to return to what we were, rather than what we had become; two frightened people.

Rightly so did it frighten us. We have just heard (by email) of a head-on with one of the dreaded Indian trucks by another English motorcyclist. He survived and is now back in the UK with multiple fractures.

Nepal itself is a very beautiful place occupied by very beautiful people and it gave us space and time to recover. The roads are still not good but the traffic (apart from in Kathmandu) is very low in density as it is the 12th poorest country in the world. The people themselves are very kind, considerate and friendly despite their lack of material wealth.

I did have reservations when Bernard said of India “Enough, we head north and leave this place.” My picture of Nepal and the Himalayas in December, of all months, was of mountains, cold and snow; nothing could have been further from the truth. In England we would have been very happy with the climate during our summer!

For now, enough of prevarication – onwards to the story of Nepal.

Picture of us as we arrived at the Nepal border.The grins on our faces when we reached the Nepal border would have put the sun in the shade so big were they. We danced and hugged and a crowd watched in bemusement at our antics. They couldn’t understand why we were so happy but we didn’t care – we arrived. Bertha in one piece, both us us still sane (as sane as we can be) and no serious mishaps. We savoured every second as we looked at the crossing to Nepal.

When calm, we pondered all the normal ‘border crossing’ formalities but we found a very nice young man who directed us to all the relevant offices and paperwork which needed to be completed.

Three hours later we had finished the formalities and sat outside the Visa office talking to backpackers from all over the world before leaving for the road to Pokhara.

We trade stories with them and they ask what it means to be travelling on a bike when you are blind. It strikes people as difficult to comprehend my experiences and, in many ways, I have met the same thoughts and perceptions even before I left England.

It is truly hard for people to understand that sight is just one sense; there are other ways of experiencing the world as we pass through it.

For example, you do not need sight to experience fear! In some ways, no sight leads to greater fears at times which I have to control otherwise it will control me. We say goodbye after talking for some time and fire the bike up. Bertha rumbles with contentment and pulling off we gingerly make our way into a new country.

Like all new countries Bernard is hyper cautious as he feels his way through the protocols and ways of driving which each nationality adopts. The first impressions are good as the traffic is slower and a lot less of it. The roads seem better initially although many, many Indian trucks are delivering goods to Nepal and the horns remind me of where we have come from. The Nepal drivers use their horn in a similar way but there is less traffic and people use their indicators and wing mirrors – bliss, sheer bliss, according to Bernard!

The plan was to do the border run and then stop just inside Nepal for the night as we know there are many Hotels in the  region – as you would expect. Four kilometres down the road we come across a hotel and it has everything we need; safe parking for the bike!

Picture of the road sign outside our first stop in Nepal!We climb off and enter reception where we are greeted by a very nice member of staff. India has primed us to negotiate prices and we settle in for the usual ‘too high’ first price of a hotel room. The manager (as he turned out to be) reflected on our attempts at negotiating by commenting it was obvious we had been to India!

As wide as we have read, ‘bargaining’ is an art and so you have to enjoy it. It is a method for people to gain the most for their goods and if you are happy to pay the price then everybody is content. If they are not willing to buy for the price quoted then you just walk away. It is that simple.

In the end everybody is happy at £8 for the night after we get a pound off! If you look after the pennies then the pounds look after themselves! While this true, the manager did jump on his scooter and go wine hunting for me as this was the only thing missing from the menu at the hotel. An hour later, he returned and success – he clutches the magic elixir and all is well with the Birchall world once again. What more can a girl ask for but for a knight in shining armour (even riding a scooter) to take such chivalrous care of my needs!

We fall asleep (not I hasten to add as a result of the wine consumed) to the silence which is so different from the previous weeks as we lay awake listening to it for a long, long time.

The next day we leave early after long discussions about the road ahead and the manager ringing several friends about the two routes we can take. We are really paranoid about road conditions and go into minute detail with the staff to decide which way to go. In the end the considered opinion is the ‘straight’ road through the mountains; the shortest route of 113 miles (180 kilometres). They say the roads are ‘good’ apart from the odd section and so we set off in the sunshine for, we think, a three-four hour ride according to everybody. Eight hours later we arrived in Pokhara!

Picture of 'a bit of rough stuff' on the road as Bernard called itThe mountain roads are so full of twists and turns of such tightness you are coming back on yourself constantly. 180 degree turns on narrow roads is the order of the day and it is hard, hard, work for Bernard.

The bike engine growls in second and third gear all day and the popping of the exhausts due to the poor quality petrol ping against the hard rock surfaces as we wend our way through the mountains.

In several places the road has disappeared in the monsoons as the water crashes down the steep sides in torrents and sweeps the road off the edge into the gorge below; where you come across it like stacks of broken biscuits blocking your way at the next road level down.

We weave around obstacles constantly and through the intercom comes the confident voice saying “Bit of rough stuff ahead” before we bounce through hardcore and gravel bedding on top of which there used to be tarmac.

It makes me nervous after what we have recently gone through as my emotions are still raw. I tense and brace myself as we shudder and shake our way through. It helps there is little or nor traffic and we are not competing with massed ranks of wagons and four-by-fours for inches of room under such conditions.

We only come across a few such sections and Bernard’s cheery voice reassures me it is “No problem” and then the shaking will start but it does not go on for hours and hours. It is short sections and then we are swooping and turning up and down the mountain roads. The roads are narrow and Bernard has described to me many times the need to watch the apex of the next corner for something coming around it and taking up too much of the road.

Picture of one of the dreaded Indian Wagons.Wagons pass us going to the border and the drivers toot at us in welcome and wave out of their windows. The same happens when we stop and savour the mountain quietness and they approach from behind. Bernard describes how a big smile appears on driver’s faces without prompting as they slow down to look. The same smile appeared in India constantly when we smiled at people. In Nepal, it seems, they smile first (much like in Pakistan).

We already like the space of Nepal as we cross the coolness of the mountains after weeks and weeks of pure heat and pollution. The people, the air, the room to breath, and the whole scenery seems more ‘something’. We cannot define it beyond ‘something’. We just knew we liked it and were instantly comfortable.

We took a wrong turn and ended up in a place called Tansen (despite a satellite navigation system and not one but TWO road maps) after climbing the side of a mountain which left us both with nose bleeds, and altitude sickness.

Pulling up we were surrounded by people as the whole town came to a stop. With his normal pantomime Bernard seeks direction and the twenty people around us all merrily pointed back the way we had come! It seems we missed a turning four kilometres back as we followed the buses (“if in doubt follow the wagons – or the buses!”).

This time it didn’t work and so we turned back and I could smell the heat of the brakes going back down to find the right road which was plainly marked on both maps although ‘him’ will never admit it!

Picture of the 'wrong turn' at Tansen after climbing the mountain.People come out waving and shouting to us as we rumble past. Bernard describes the changing scenery; the happy people working on the terraced fields which climb the sides of the mountains. Even though the day was hard and slow in terms of progress it actually did the two of us good.

We needed to restore our confidence and we could meander through the mountains, stopping to our heart’s content in silence and isolation without being instantly surrounded by people – watching every move.

Picture of the stone marker beside the road - still 100kms to go!We felt ‘alone’ for the first time in weeks. It was a good feeling and one to be savoured.

As the sun is starting to set we arrive in Pokhara and investigate several hotels with Bernard huffing and puffing at the quoted prices and negotiating for all he is worth before settling on the Lake View which has space and an outside seating area. We have sorely missed being able to sit in the open air and feel we have been cooped up in hotel rooms for weeks on each and every stop for the night.

The Annapurna mountains are our backdrop and the snow lined peaks reach to the sky like fingers pointing to God as we realise we can now collapse until we feel well enough to go on.

The room is quiet although you can hear the constant hum of the generators due to the power cuts.

I never knew Nepal had such a power deficiency and for 48 hours per week there is no power (in our time it increased to 112 hours per week). In Pakistan we came across this same problem of what is called ‘Load Sharing’ – in other words, you supply your own electricity for ‘X’ hours per week. Can you imagine 112 Hours per week with no electricity? England would shut down, there would be riots in the street as the government came under siege – blind people would be king at night!

Picture of the outside area at the Lake View.In Nepal, they reach for the candles or their generators (if they have one) and just get on with it.

The funny thing is you get used to it and adapt accordingly. You do the things you need to do when power is available. You plan your time and your consumption accordingly. Apart from Bernard who shaves by head torch while muttering about how do all the blind men he knows manage this in the dark? They just do. They just get on with it. Much like the people of Nepal.

As we sit in the Lake View and ponder all things of life and Universe we meet several people on package tours – looking for a ‘spiritual experience’ and they tell us of their disappointment as what they encounter is the pollution and noise of Kathmandu and the traffic congestion. Pokhara is only a ‘pit stop’ for them and it is more like they were expecting Nepal to be. but they feel herded from place to place with little time to explore anything. They express envy at the way we are travelling and making decisions about where, what, and when as we come across things. We have that luxury. We have that freedom. The next morning we wave to them as they climb on their bus to head back to Kathmandu as we sit eating breakfast.

Bernard wonders as he munches on his toast if a bike cleaning pixie has been at work during the night. He is puzzled and we go over to look at it. Somehow, magically, it also sports a large Nepal sticker on the left hand pannier. Perhaps there is a Nepal sticker pixie as well?

Picture of the product of the 'sticker fairy' and their kind donation of the Nepal sticker.As we are pondering the manager turns up and confirms he asked the security guard to go and buy the sticker and clean the bike as we slept. From this point onwards the security guard became our firm ‘pixie-like’ friend. We seem to have that effect on people as many of the stickers have ‘magically’ appeared when we park the bike (Serbia, Montenegro, Makedonia, Pakistan, India, and now Nepal).

For a few days after first arriving we both struggled with coughs and colds as we felt completely drained of everything – it is like we kept going because we needed to keep going and now we have completely collapsed. We are drained and tired and sleep constantly for days although with sleep comes dreams of wagons running over my head and Bernard dreams of crashing and flying through the air – he wakes up before hitting the ground and I wake up before the wheel touches.

We spend hours and hours talking of our experiences and rehash and relive many things as we work through our time. We are emotionally and physically in far worse condition than either of us realised. I startle like a frightened rabbit at the slightest noise and do not want to be left alone at all.

As we walk down the pavements (Oh what bliss!) I hold tightly onto Bernard and try hard not to jump when a horn is pressed, or a car passes by. Often I fail.

It was as we were struggling with these consequences we met several blind people as we wandered through Pokhara. It turned out that there is a ‘training centre’ for visually impaired masseurs in the town. It was obvious they were so pleased to meet me but, unfortunately we were both full of a cold and at such a low ebb we didn’t really fully engage as we would have done otherwise. We spoke for a little while standing in the sun and then promised we would come and visit the centre and have a massage in a few days. We did keep our promise as you will come to see.

During those early days we scoured our email inbox for news, contact, anything from home and had an email from our friend Fergus – whom if you recall we met while sitting in Eastern Turkey for three weeks during the Iranian Visa fiasco. Fergus, it turns out, is in Pokhara as is Ian who we know of through the magic of email and the ‘link’ network which occurs between motorcyclists on the road. They are both staying not far from us and we arrange to meet when we are feeling a little better in a couple of days.

As the days pass we start to feel more like ourselves and we wander off to find our other motorcycle travellers. We meet and it is so good to link up with others who understand everything we feel.

Ian is a nurse from London and he has been on the road for 6 months and we both instantly took to him as we are sure many other people would to. In one of the ‘sharing experiences’ exchanges he asked Bernard what he thought of India. Bernard didn’t answer and after a few seconds Ian’s voice came back saying “He has that India look” and everybody starts laughing. It seems we are not alone as Ian had been in Nepal for five weeks recuperating. Day after day, he puts off going back to India. He admitted he keeps finding excuses and he even overran his Visa but he has spares being shipped to Goa and arrangements to meet his friends there for Christmas are already in place.

We had a lovely evening complete with meal and conversation as we traded funny stories around the table of all the things which happen while on a motorcycle travelling around the world.

While we sit in Pokhara Bernard had set a task of making some form of protection plate as the bottom of the engine has taken some hard bangs over the journey. The fins on the engine are bent and cracked where mountainous speed humps and cavernous pot holes have left their marks on poor Bertha’s bottom. In our evening talks with Ian and Fergus they suggest a local place where Ian had his frame welded after it fractured on his brand new bike. We made arrangements for the workshop to have a look at whether one could be designed – we had tried before leaving England but nobody made one or could suggest where one could be found.

Picture of the early stages and 'design' of the new engine bashplate.Sure enough the workshop in Nepal could do the job and for a whole day and a half two men worked (with Ian in attendance) on the construction of a protective plate. Ian was glad of the task as it allowed him to put off going back to India for another two days! Nobody has any idea how much to charge when it is finished as they have never made one before. We all stand and scratch our heads trying to work out a fair price. In the end, everybody seems very happy with 2000 Rupees (about 19£) and we take pictures while Bernard profusely compliments them all on the job.

They beam happily when he tells them BMW did not make one nor did the specialist company Touratech and they all gathered round the bike pointing and saying “Made in Nepal, made in Nepal” like football supporters chanting for their team.

We met many other travellers as we rested in Pokhara. They stopped as they saw our bike and this is how we met Ralf and Marianne (from Germany) on the road with two machines for TWO AND A HALF YEARS! They have been through Russia, Mongolia and a whole host of other countries. It put our ‘little trip’ into perspective and made us feel like novices. They sold everything and put other things into storage with friends. They have to start again when they return. It takes some courage to do this and go so far as we, at least, have jobs and a home to go back to.

As we sit with Marianne, Ralf, Fergus, and Ian at a cafe talking ‘shop’ and all things motorcycles we discover there is no wine on the menu and so Bernard is promptly despatched to find some. He returns clutching a bottle and I ask “What wine is it” and everybody falls off their chairs laughing when he replies “The only wine in the shop”. He knew I was asking whether it was French, or Chardonnay, Sauvignon, he was just being deliberately difficult but I forgave him (as always).

As we sip the wine Ralf and Marianne ask about our experiences as they noted our use of an intercom system which, obviously, has been a god send for me personally. Ralf recounted about his friend who did have a system on his bike so he could talk to his wife but ripped it out after a short period due to her incessant chatter. Ralf had planned to use a bike-to-bike system for their trip but gave it up after his friend’s reports and the cost of the near subsequent separation.

Bernard asked what it would be like to hear Marianne’s voice constantly for nearly six months in his helmet. He threw his hands up in the air and said one word “Divorce” and we all laughed.

Banter aside, they were very interested in my perceptions of the journey and, as always, what it means to be blind on such a trip. I have gotten used to such questions and, in some ways, it is nice that people ask them so openly instead of skirting around the issue. It means they feel comfortably to ask about such things. I tell them of the kindness and consideration of people all over the world, of my descriptions and pictures in my head of everywhere I have been. These pictures may be right or they may be wrong but that doesn’t matter. I have been there and so they are right for me and this, at the end of the day, is what matters.

Apart from a couple of evenings with our fellow travellers, we shopped, ate, recovered and talked for the first seven days really. We tried cafes and bars along the length of the road and experienced an Italian Pizza house which did not sell cappuccino.

I asked the lovely waiter who had instantly picked up about locating things on the table for me and placing my hand on drinks etc. “What kind of Italian Restaurant is this” and quick as a flash he came back with: “it is a Nepali – Italian restaurant!” by way of explanation for the cappuccino-less menu. The three of us all laughed about this and I had to admit to him that I loved Nepal.

There is that ‘something’ about the people which you just take to.

Old ladies sitting outside their shops on wicker stools put their fingers to their eyes and shake their heads asking Bernard “No sight?” They always move out of the way as we passed by browsing the rows and rows of walking and embroidery shops. People came to recognise us as we walked so much and even the cab drivers gave up stopping and asking if we needed a taxi – so used where they to us, a simple wave of ‘hello’ as they passed looking for their next fare.

Picture of Ian, Cathy and Bernard as he is about to leave for India.During this time Ian, eventually, packed his bike and we were sad to see him leave as in such a short time we had become attached to him. It is often the case you meet many people on the road and most leave you glad you have met them. Occasionally, you come across somebody whom you ‘connect’ with. It is hard to explain but you just ‘take to’ somebody. Ian was one of those.

Bernard and I gave him a big hug as he was leaving our hotel and, as always, Bernard said “Ride safe and take care” as he knew what going back into India would mean for a large capacity motorcycle and rider.

We really do not think we would have gone back ourselves unless we had to. We did talk about it after several days – well Bernard talked about it – I just said “No” and so he gave up. It may have been that, perhaps like Ian, he wanted to prove something to himself by going back. Like some form of masochistic male tendency where certain tribes stab themselves with sharp sticks to be ‘masculine’ and ‘tough’.

I think – secretly – he was glad I said no! But he will never admit it.

After a week at the Lake View (and after Ian’s departure) we decided we needed to 1. Reduce costs and 2. We felt very much on show as we sat on our small balcony which never got the sun. So it was we bade our farewells, repacked the bike and moved to another very quiet guest house further along the road. Even departing the Lake view was not without incident as they ripped up (before we were awake) the very steep drive leading to the road leaving an earthquake zone to get the bike through!

Picture of 'our' balcony in our new home at the Greenland Guest House.The third floor of our new home catches the sun all day and we more than halved our accommodation costs down to 7£ per night from the heady heights of 18£. It may not sound much but we feel the ‘Nepal’ inertia which Ian and Fergus have both talked about and it is settling in our bones making it hard to move and get back on the bike. Our visas are for 28 days and costs soon mount up over a period.

While in Pokhara I arranged an hair appointment and when we arrived the male hairdresser informed me he could not get the colour we ordered and he was puzzled as we hummed and hawed over the one he had instead.

“Is good colour” was his response as we compared it to having a size 9 shoe when you take a size 10.

“This will be fine” he repeated as we pondered (well Bernard pondered).

Picture of Cathy undergoing medieval torture - eyebrow plucking In the end we went ahead and the colour was left on forever; there was no electricity and I ended up with a very nice two-tone shade of Hazel blonde. Needs must when you are in Nepal I suppose and your hair need doing. Then it was on to a very fine example of eye-brow shaping using cotton thread to rip the eyebrows out – Bernard was fascinated with it to the point he even took pictures of this medieval torture method (so he called it). You get a length of cotton and twist it somehow and – pulling the end with your teeth – it wraps around each hair and pulls it out. Very strange but very effective and it kept Bernard amused for days afterwards; he even wanted to try it himself on me! No thank you.

We shopped for new clothes as we have been wearing the same ones now for five months and they are a little the worse for wear. We spend time paddling on the large lake watching people leap off the mountains before their large handkerchief opens and they float down to earth. Then they climb the mountain again before jumping off the cliff and the whole scenario is replayed.

Our very first visit to the lake led to a rather hasty paddle back to the bank from half-way out as health and safety was obviously not a feature as the boat started to fill up with water. By the time we got back we virtually needed snorkels as we swopped to a peddalo to save the blisters on our hands.

It was during this period I discovered Bernard is rubbish at negotiating in the shops. He walks in and asks “How much?” whatever the price they say he goes “OK” and hands over the money. He is good at the ‘big’ negotiations (Hotels etc.) but completely lost at small scale stuff and I ribbed him endlessly. He says I am harder as I cannot see the pained expressions on the shop keepers face’s as they haggle with ‘Piranha woman’ who is eating their season’s ‘Western Profits’.

We met Bruce, Erika, Mack and Hamish from Australia who are taking a year out and travelling around their homeland, India and Nepal. In one of our conversations they mentioned the National Park at Chitwan. We had already thought about staying in Nepal for Christmas as our next destination was to Bangkok from Kathmandu by air. Bangkok Airports were closed due to the political unrest and being in a city for Christmas did not fill either of us with glee (particularly with what everybody had told us about Kathmandu). So off we go to explore what the park has to offer. In the end we decided to shift to there for Christmas and, to make it a little different, we decided to raft down the river to the park over two days.

Picture of the sleeve badges we now wear - design by John at Liverpool Community CollegeOnce we had organised our Christmas visit we got on with writing the India update which took several days of reflection. It was during breaks in this writing – and to get away from it – we had tee-shorts and badges made at a local embroidery shop. Bernard spent some time harpooning his fingers sewing the badges onto our bike jackets with many a ‘ouch’ and ‘damn’ puncturing the air as we sit in the sun on the balcony.

We kept our promise and went to visit the ‘Seeing Hands’ massage centre where we caught up with Anita and Chiran whom we had met on the street a week earlier. We sat and talked of what it means to be blind in Nepal and the purpose of the centre; to train blind and partially sighted people in Swedish Style Therapeutic massage techniques to UK qualified status. You can find out about the centre by visiting their web site at www.seeinghandsnepal.org

Picture of the students listening to my talking watch.We ended up confused really as facilities for blind and partially sighted people – according to the students – appeared to be minimal but then people would say they had ‘Talks’ (specialist speech software for mobile phones) and they all used JAWS (screen reading software) and were braillists so we couldn’t fathom where the facts sit. All the students loved my talking watch as if they had not seen one at all and yet, Mel (a volunteer teacher from London) came out of the office with one? My cane also attracted a lot of interest as it is longer (and lighter being made from Graphite) than their shorter heavier aluminium version. The long cane (as I use) is designed to be an aid for independent travel and for seeking obstacles whereas the shorter cane seems more like a ‘symbol’ rather than a useable tool.

The one thing we were sure of is that many people in Nepal accrue blindness due to malnutrition in childhood. Chiran, for example, is a point in case. There are thirteen children in Chiran’s family and four of them are blind due to malnutrition.

They were very interested – as many blind people have been on this journey – about my relationship with Bernard and how it works in terms of sighted and non-sighted – much like in India and the women’s institute.

Anita and Chiran were married 18 months ago and they met through the centre (they are both totally blind) and they live in one room in a house an hours drive away by bus from the massage clinic. They ask if many people in England are blind and whether many relationships exist between blind and sighted people? They also ask about the main causes of blindness and is it true all blind people in England have jobs; which is what they believed. They were quite shocked that blind people are marginalised to the extent they are in a developed Western Economy; as revealed by the unemployment figures and the endless struggle blind people have to gain employment in the UK.

We booked a massage and the questions continued. I answered in between the moans and groans of Bernard as Chiran found every sore spot accumulated from riding the bike for 5 months.

Chiran – “Does this hurt?”

Bernard being a man – “only a little” (though gritted teeth)

Chiran – “Is this sore?”

Bernard – “A little uncomfortable” (squeezed out of his throat).

We finished the massage and limped away (well Bernard anyway) after saying our farewells to sit on a wall not far from the clinic and within seconds of sitting down a young man approached us. He tells us his sister is 23 years old and blind (malnutrition) and unmarried as “Nobody wants a blind woman, life is very hard in Nepal if you are blind”. We sit and talk about what she does and does not do during the day and then he offers to sell us marijuana!

Bernard – “No thank you, don’t smoke it”

Him – “It make you happy!”

Bernard – “We’re always happy, don’t need to smoke it to be happy”

Him  – “It make you fly”

Bernard – “My motorbike does that”

So it was he gave up and moved off to find some other closet – or born again – hippie who wants to sample the demon weed before turning their toes up with the grim reaper of time.

Picture of Bernard and Cathy as the Christmas diary was being filmed on the lake at Pokhara.We wander off to the lake and spend two hours pedalling around in circles as we made a video diary and tried to keep a straight face and not laugh. The problem is that we laugh so much – it is infectious and we start each other off and then neither of us can get any sense out of the other. We wanted, however, after all the emails and comments about the India update to reassure everybody we were fine.

It was our way of connecting with everybody who has been following the journey and, in their ways, worrying about us.

We hoped the video would convince people we were alive and kicking in the real sense of the words and we launched the video on the 21st.

We spent hours sending e-cards to everybody with the rapid approach of Christmas and before we went ‘incommunicado’ to the National Park (little did we know how incommunicado it was going to be!)

In between hours and hours of playing the “Do I need this?” in packing for our raft trip and Christmas at the National Park we move all of our stuff into a storage shed at the guest house for while we are away.

Picture - from left to right - Kedo, Bernard, Cathy, Fernando and MarekaThe morning of the big departure comes and we say goodbye to Bertha as we board the mini-bus for the first part of the journey. We are in a party of five along with three staff. Our companions are Fernando (Brazilian) and two Dutch people (Mareka and Kedo) along with Puna (the boat boss) and two names we never quite caught for the other staff. One-and-a-half hours later we fall out of the bus and onto the banks of a river where people furiously start to inflate a big bright yellow dinghy and before we know it we are getting a briefing on paddling methods and, at this point, Bernard realises he is going to get wet, and not just be sitting and watching the world go by. Everything is tied onto the boat and it is obvious when we are handed crash helmets and life-jackets that we may have got more than we bargained for.

I ask where the toilets are before we leave and Puna says “Girls can have the third bush on the right and the boys the first bush on the left.”

I climb on the boat and settle into position in between Puna at the rear and Bernard in front of me and off we go, swept out and down the river as Puna shouts instructions and practices paddling methods for 10 minutes before he is happy to proceed. We go forwards, backwards, sideways until he thinks we have some control over the boat.

Picture of Puna.The banks drift past as we set off and Puna points out birds and animals while we get rather wet as the boat crashes through rapids with everybody else paddling furiously to keep us straight and not lodged on the sharp rocks which can rip the bottom out of the boat. I hang on tightly as we bounce up and down through the rapids and water cascades over us soaking everything!

Bernard asks Puna if it is possible to get the waves to come over the right hand side of the boat instead of always the left (where he is sat) and Puna just smirks and we get soaked again shortly afterwards – but only on the left side!

We pass people washing their clothes and the gorges echo to children shouting “Namesta” (hello!) as we pass underneath the wire bridges which span the steep sides of the gorges. Monkeys scatter up the sheer cliff faces as we approach or alternatively they sit chattering “Can’t catch me” like mischievous children just out of reach.

After a few hours we stopped for lunch on a beach and sat resplendent on table clothes with mixed fare and finger buffet style before setting off again towards the night camp which was to be set up on the banks of the river.

Bernard’s dry sense of humour and presenting himself as ‘nervous’ (which nobody really believed) let to a lot of laughing on the boat as we encountered various rapids and gorges, getting constantly soaked and with prune-like feet from the water in the bottom of the boat. It got to the point Puna asked if he was available for a three week rafting tour with the British Army (going fishing would you believe in Nepal). He thought it would be good to have a little ‘entertainment’ on the boat and I must admit the group dynamics would have been fairly subdued without the banter and humour between Puna, Bernard and one of the other staff who understood everything Bernard said (like Puna). So it was we laughed our way down to the night stop on the beach.

Picture of Cathy in front of the 'tent' under which Fernando sleptThe boat was unloaded, tents set up and there is only two tents!

Mareka and Kedo seem to be a couple (we think) and obviously, Bernard and I are a couple. Bernard did discuss whether it would be possible to have lads and girls tents but nobody was used to working with a blind person and so I shot that one down! What this meant was that Fernando was to have ‘a full on experience’ (his words) by sleeping with the crew under their makeshift shelter for the night.

Fernando was a real treasure as he was fully prepared for a night out and had managed to remember to bring rum and coke with him which I duly helped him consume later on by the light of the camp fire we had built. The local villagers turned up complete with beer for sale and we had a roaring fire and talked our way into the night long after the Nepali crew were asleep.

People in Nepal go to bed really, really, early (eight o’clock is very common). But then again, most of them are up at 5am. It seems to be a national trait one which, thankfully, we do not share – at least not at this point! Puna says we should be up by 7 and gone by 8 before he turns in for the night.

Bernard asks – with a straight face “Is that in the morning?” Puna agrees while Bernard continues with the whole scenario “So there is two 7 o’clocks in the day?” and “My blisters will not have healed by then” with a final “I have a sore back and will not be able to paddle that early” he gives up as we all sit and laugh. Which is what he intended.

Picture of our canine friend who needed human company.As we sit by the campfire we are joined by a local dog who befriends us and it shows signs of a skin disease as it has clumps of fur missing from scratching and biting itself along its back. It seems such a friendly dog by all accounts and seeks human contact at all opportunities and Bernard comments that, in the west, it would probably be solved in a few weeks of antibiotic care by a vet.

As we sip our drinks after a very full ‘dalback’ meal (rice and vegetables) Bernard very mischieviously picks up on Fernando’s worries about the dog snuggling up to him in his sleeping bag and him dreaming it is not a dog. He messes with Fernando and, later explains to me, that, often, the last thing discussed turns up in our dreams. We lay in our sleeping bags giggling about the content of Fernando’s dreams until we fell asleep to the sounds of the animals in the forest and the river as it rushes past our campsite.

Picture of the stunning scenary at day break by the river.The morning comes (Bernard was actually up first) and after a quick breakfast we are back on the river and paddling with two local girls hitching a ride. Puna asked if it was alright to give them a lift with their heavy sacks of produce as it would take them three hours to walk whereas, on the river, it will take one hour for the same journey. We all agree and their male companions turn away to start their long walk as there is only enough room in the boat for two extra passengers and not four.

We drop them off an hour later and go back down the river before getting hung up on rocks at one Picture of one of our hitchhikers down the river.point and with Puna and one of his staff jumping in to drag us off the rocks.

The paddling is much, much harder and the rapids are more violent than previously; we are tossed about like a leaf in the wind. A few hours pass as we traverse many such obstacles and then we are pulling up on the beach of our destination where we are to separate from our new found companions – they are going back to Pokhara by road while we travel in the opposite direction towards the national park.

We dry out and are soon on the local bus with not the faintest idea where we are, where we are going or even where to get off but it seems everything has been discussed and arranged.

The bus staff come and get us from where we are crammed onto the back seat – with luggage falling on top of us – and lead us to a rickshaw which is to take us to our pick up point for the national park.

Picture of the local bus from inside.We actually could have walked to the pickup point if we had known but instead the rickshaw driver tried to sting us for three times the fare which even we knew was excessive.

A long discussion occurred which involved several other people before Bernard gave him half what he wanted. It was obvious he was embarrassed at being caught out trying to fleece us and he couldn’t look at Bernard at all as he was harangued by the staff at the pick-up point.

He left telling everybody we were really heavy and it was uphill (we think) but he didn’t (we think) tell them Bernard got out and pushed the rickshaw (while smoking a fag) as he felt sorry for the lad on the hill!

Forty five minutes later (and a jeep ride through the outback) we arrived at a river and it suddenly dawned on us “The ISLAND Jungle resort” was actually an Island – talk about two innocents abroad.

Picture of the final stage of our journey - the boat to the island.So it was we were transferred into a boat and across a river to a remote island where the jungle reigned supreme and was all around us instantly.

After checking in we were shown to our ‘lodge’ and it was explained we had electricity from 5 until 9pm and hot water from 5.30 until it ran out; which was usually quick! Needless to say there were no plugs in the room thus no TV, no Mobile signal, and no radio. Since I had banned Bernard from bringing the computer it all worked out perfectly as he did not have an opportunity to complain about the lack of network!

We declined the offer of a 5.45am call to go on a jungle walk and, indeed, we never did make the early walk. You see 5.45 and Bernard do not go together unless he is escaping traffic in a city!

Its really funny the way people pop up who know you and when you least expect them. We are now in the jungle in Nepal.

At the coliseum in Rome we had not expected to meet Mick Smith from Liverpool Community College and as we sat in the Nepali jungle eating our evening meal a voice said “Are you Cathy?” Lo-and-behold it turns out to be Saul from Action for Blind People along with his partner Jane who are also on walk-a-bout (as we call it). Saul worked in the fundraising arm of Action for Blind People in London and was aware of our journey and suddenly the world, again, seemed a very small place. We had spoken several times on the phone in our work and now, in the jungle of Nepal we meet whereas, in England, we were just two voices on the phone. The world can be very strange sometimes. We talked long into the night about their journey and ours and with a lot of laughing about the strange things which happen when ‘you are on the road’. We turned in late and fell asleep in minutes to the night life all around us.

Now one of the reasons we had come to Chitwan was to ride an elephant on Christmas day – it had a certain ‘ring’ as an activity for me.

The staff at the Resort were a little – well actually very much – non-plussed by me as they had never come across a blind person before. We had put ourselves down for the morning jungle walk and the manager came to see us to say they had organised a special boat for me to go down the river. This was to save me walking. Bernard mentioned we thought it was a jungle ‘walk’ to which he replied “Does she walk?” I felt the hairs bristle on the back of my neck and stopped myself as obviously they were being considerate and thinking this would help.

Bernard put his arm around my shoulder and said “In England we climb mountains and we have crossed the world on a motorbike, she can definitely walk my friend!”

“You can walk? You want to walk?”

We both replied at the same time “Yes”.

At this point we were escorted to where the two jungle guides gave our group (about 8 people) a briefing and it was hilarious.

The two guides have long bamboo sticks and they proceeded to tell us the ‘safety’ instructions for walking in the jungle.

“If you see rhino and they charge then hide behind a big tree. If you cannot find a big tree then run zig-zag as they have poor eye sight. If we see bears and they attack, climb a tree but get over 6 feet high as they stand on their back legs (Bernard muttered “and give them no honey”). If tigers appear do not run but stand and look them in the eye. Do not turn your back on them”.

Such was our safety briefing and we set off into the jungle armed with nothing more than two bamboo sticks and my white cane for defence.

Now if you know Bernard at all you will realise he can be a bit of a stressor. So it was for the first several hundred yards he fretted about not having a big stick himself like the guides. He also fretted about how he was going to find a big enough tree FOR THE BOTH OF US in case of Rhino attack. How was he going to get me 6 foot up a tree while a bear was biting his bum and God Help us, if a tiger attacked how could I look it in the eye?

Sometimes it’s not good thinking this much; as I keep telling him but I suppose he’ll never change. He definitely thinks too much.

Picture of our companions tip-toeing through the jungle - notice the handbag over right shoulder!Our guides start with one at the front and a tail-end charley to make sure rhinos do not tip-toe up behind without us hearing it. The parents’ of the children hopefully clutch their video cameras to catch a glimpse of a tiger while they chatter away and the children run amok in the jungle. Meanwhile the animals are miles away wearing ear plugs saying “Jesus that’s loud!”

In the end they filmed each other walking through the jungle as little else showed (Bernard filmed them filming each other as he thought it was so funny). I had pictures of all the animals phoning each other to tell everybody we were on the way and they all then took off.

Even the birds stopped singing well before we reached their location. We did see one crocodile with its front legs over its ears; we think to block out the sound of our passing. In the end it gave up and went underwater!

After several attempts by the guides to get the group to be quiet they gave up and at this point, suddenly, Bernard and I started walking really, really slowly and a huge gap opened up between us and the group in front. So we ended up with just the two of us and our Guide (Saroj as his name turned out to be).

Picture of a deaf crocodile asleep despite the noise.Within minutes the birds had taken the cotton wool out of their ears and they started singing and Saroj (in a quiet voice) explained the surrounding – which he had not done up to then; he had an obvious passion for all the birds and named every bird we heard. He started to call to them and they responded in kind. We spent two hours walking through the jungle listening to the birds and the various sounds of the insects and savouring where we were.


The end of the jungle walk led to a small jetty where a boat was waiting for us to take us back to the camp and we swayed along the river with the current for a few miles. Passing crocodiles asleep on the bank and birds perched on floating debris it was a gentle ride back to the site with the sun streaming down. It was hard to appreciate it was Nepal in December on Christmas Day. At lunch we met up again with Saul and Jane and we got so engrossed in talking, the staff had to come and get us for the elephant briefing – which we nearly missed!

The briefing consisted of information on the differences between African and Asian Elephants and I got the chance to feed bananas to them. They do take them so gently and I was so surprised at how gentle a four ton animal can be as they nuzzle your hand. The one finger (Asians have one while Africans have two) on the end of the trunk wraps around the banana and eases it from your grasp. Special, very special. At this point I think I fell in love with elephants.

We found out of the rareness of the birth of twins in the elephant cycle (some had just been born in the elephant breeding centre and the staff were very excited about it).

There was a demonstration of how to mount the elephant with the animal lifting you using its trunk. I was fascinated about this method; it was so hard to pictu

Picture of a bird perched on an upside down tree!

re how this worked. In the end I never had a chance to try it as a Spanish couple dominated (and did it) before anybody else got a chance and then we had to move on.

I mulled over whether it was something I could do? Bernard and I talked about what he had seen as we walked towards the elephant safari mounting platform; pondering from this point onwards over the whole next day and a half whether it was ‘doable’ as a blind person? I wanted to try. To mount an elephant for the safari itself there is a structure which stands about 12 foot high and you reach it by climbing stairs to a platform. The staff (we think) thought the stairs were beyond me and so they made a loop with the elephant’s tail after it had knelt down on all fours like a big dog. I stood on its hind leg, put one foot in its looped tail and then hauled myself up using the ropes of the attached seat platform on its back. The elephant gave a loud trumpet and lurched upwards as I was hanging onto the ropes and before getting to the platform – well, think about it.

How would you like it if somebody stood on (or should that be stood in) your tail?

Everybody panicked (apart from me, I just hung on) as it stood up. Once it settled I crawled across its back and climbed  onto the sitting platform to everybody’s relief. Bernard thought he would give this method a miss and climbed the stairs to settle in beside me.

The staff had already decided we would have an elephant to ourselves as it would be more comfortable. Usually the platforms seat four people but, not for the first time, they showed great consideration and had obviously talked about it before hand and made adjustments.

We had expected a gentle meander through well designated paths but far from it. We ended up bashing through trees and bushes and within a short time the pair of us looked like scarecrows – according to Bernard who picked branches out of my hair – he didn’t have this problem himself!

Our driver was called ‘Pim’ (we couldn’t pronounce the rest of his very long name) and the female elephant was called Tamparkin. Pim takes great care of the bushes and trees as they pass me and Bernard explains he reaches with his ‘spittle’ (like a curved and spiked fishing gaff) to push them away before I get to them. In the more dense undergrowth he gets Tamparkin to reach up with her trunk and snap branches off so they do not tear at my face in passing. Bernard’s hands hover around my head and protect my face from the assorted jungle foliage at the same time.

Picture of wild rhino within feet of our position.Within a short space of time of bashing through the undergrowth twelve foot up in the air we had encountered a snuffling Rhino and , unusually, two rhinos having a bit of a disagreement to the loud clashing of horns!

Pim, our driver, was so excited as he exclaimed “You very, very lucky to see”. Little did we know how ‘lucky’ we were to be over the two hours in the jungle. We tracked several rhinos for a long time before moving off  to search for anything and everything else.

Not long after seeing the Rhinos, Pim (very quietly) and very excitedly said “Bears”. I was a little at a loss why – when you are crashing through the jungle on a four ton animal – people talk quietly. I suppose it’s to do with ‘natural sounds’ rather than human sounds.

Anyway, we followed and identified the fact that it was an adult bear with two large off-spring. We could not call them ‘children’ unless several hundred pounds of bear could be defined in such a way!

Ever closer Pim guided Tamparkin to the bears who ambled along through the jungle trying to keep ahead of us and out of our way. I could hear their footsteps as they rustled through the undergrowth and as Bernard described what was happening.

Suddenly there was a huge roar and a crashing sound coming closer and an enormous double trumpet from Tamparkin announcing “I’m the king of the jungle, not you!”

Picture of fuzzy bear as it comes to get us!Bernard…

Closer and closer we got to the bears as they sought to get away from us. In the end, the mother got fed up I think and from a stationary position looking at us through the undergrowth, she came out of the jungle like a missile. She really did ‘explode’ across the short clearing towards us, all teeth and claws. I have never seen anything move that fast from a sitting position. As it happened I thought – get six foot up a tree in that time? Not a chance at all would you outrun this. I had focused on her as she sat in the jungle and at the precise second I pressed the shutter on the camera, she launched at us.

My next pictures were of the sky as I wet myself – nearly!

When Tamparkin trumpeted she slid to a halt growling and with the second trumpet she turned and ran back to her cubs. They disappeared into the jungle as we all waited for our hearts to start beating again!

[Elephant Ride Video goes here]

Pim was SO EXCITED when he met the other elephant drivers on our way back and after we had seen deer as well – he is positively animated – beside himself with excitement – you can hear it in his voice as he recounted what had happened. He could hardly contain himself as nobody gets to see these animals very much; it was a huge topic of conversation around the camp for several days and was mentioned in the evening slide show for the new arrivals.

[Pim (in Tharu!) Video goes here]

When we reached the structure to dismount after two hours Pim had calmed down but was obviously unsure how I can get off without being able to see. Bernard tells me he is obviously waiting for somebody else to arrive to assist us. So we sit for a few minutes as he searches the jungle.

Picture of Cathy on Tamparkin, with Pim and the platform.I heard Bernard say “Is OK Pim, back her up” and he tells me he is waving his hands to say this is fine for us to do alone.

I felt the elephant walk backwards to the platform. Its gentle rolling gate stops and then Bernard describes how this can be done before he climbs off the elephant and directs me. Within seconds we are both standing on the platform, climb down the 20 stairs to the floor and I say hello to Tamparkin and apologise for hurting her tail – I think she forgives me as her trunk gently strokes my hand as if to say “It’s ok, I’ll let you off.”

Tamparkin ambles off with a wave to us from Pim and we sit and talk about the two hours.

To see a rhino is rare, to see two is even rarer according to Pim. We find out that to see bears in the same day, unheard of in all the elephant rides that occur each day. For a bear to chance its luck with an elephant had never, never happened in 15 years that anybody could remember. We were charmed according to the staff and all the elephant drivers wanted to take us out the next day! Bernard and I talked about how many blind woman have ridden an elephant in the jungle on Christmas day and had such experiences? We think few, if any. It was a very, very special Christmas day for me.

It’s quite strange really people go out into the jungle at 5.45 in the morning to see these things and often see little. We go out at 3.30 in the afternoon and experience so much – a little more than Bernard wanted but there it was.

The camp, in the evening, is abuzz with what has happened as we sit talking long into the night with Saul and Jane and demolish the bar in the process as they are leaving the next day – even the bar man went to bed before us and asked us to put out the candles before we left. The candles didn’t need to be put out as they burned away and we continued by the light of Bernard’s head-torch; which he had managed to wear all the way through dinner without anybody telling him – he hadn’t realised! Have I mentioned that sometimes I do worry about him?

The Christmas period involved so many experiences; far too many to write here. The centre staff of the Jungle Island Resort arranged so much for me which was apart from the ‘standard’ activities we decided to stay another day so that we could include visits to, for example, the Tharu Cultural centre.

Many of the people in this region are descended from the peoples of India who migrated to Nepal and Saroj (our guide from the jungle walk and also a Tharu) showed us many aspects of Tharu life and we ate lunch with his family on Boxing day. He took us to museums where I had lots of hands on tactile experiences of clothing, implements and all aspects of Tharu life. It was also a feature that entry to all of these visits were free for me; Bernard had to pay!

Picture of the starting line-up for one of the elephant races.In every country so far (15 to date) blind and partially sighted people are considered in terms of entry fees which are often zero. It is nice to have this recognition that access to such places does have its limitations when you have a visual impairment.

We visited the 2008 – 2009 International three day Elephant racing which occurs every year and I was completely surprised 20 ton of racing elephants can run towards you and you hear nothing!

[Elephant Racing Video goes here]

I had pictures of them tip-toeing along the race track as they sought to be the first past the line they were so quiet.

They say an Elephant can put its foot on an egg and it not break it if it so desires. We felt nothing as they ran towards us and so I can well believe it!

Picture of Cathy holding a Tharu 'head-dress' in placeSaroj introduced me to several Tharu friends who were taking part in the procession leading up to the first day’s racing and they were initially very shy as I explored their head dresses, fine jewellery and soft clothes. One of the girls very shyly approached when Saroj first explained my sight loss. Before long six excited girls were around me guiding my hands to various aspects of their costumes with Saroj translating their voices. They walk in the procession with very elaborate items which balance on their heads.

Every one of them walks with such skill that finishing schools would be proud of their deportment and posture. One such item ended up on my head although I had to hold it in place to stop it falling off and I was only standing still!

No comments please about my posture!

We walk around the various market stalls who have set up for the festival and Saroj fingers enamel bird badges on a conservation stall and picks up every free leaflet on birds he can find. The badges cost 50 rupees each and this is half a day’s wages to him. He fingers them so longingly Bernard asks him to pick his favourite and he then buys three; one for Saroj and two further for his two colleagues back at the centre. We also buy one each as a memento and these are chosen by Saroj for each of us.

We leave our ballerina-like elephants and drive to the elephant breeding centre, crossing the rickety bridge which stretches across the river and see the ‘famous’ one month old baby twins whom we have heard so much about.

[Elephant babies video goes here]

One of them takes a fancy to my stick and tries to pull it from my hand.

They say Elephants have poor eye sight, but an elephant with a white stick is pushing it a little bit don’t you think?

[Elephants and sticks video goes here]

The noise of the animals is loud as we have arrived at feeding time and they eat up to 300 (1kg) bundles each day. Like naughty children the youngsters pull the bundles apart to get at the ‘tasty bit’ in the middle and the handlers crack them with bamboo sticks to stop them doing this. The sounds are harsh as they crack the babies who are the size of small ponies but it is essential to their welfare they eat the whole bundle as it provides the vitamins and essentials of their diet. An elephant only digests 40% of their daily intake and they would fall ill if they did not eat a balanced diet. So the saying “Cruel to be kind” seems entirely applicable when you know such facts.

A two hour drive back to the centre, bouncing on the roads, leaves us tired but happy at the day and all the experiences it has brought as we re-cross the river in the dark.

The following morning we sit on the banks of the river and catch up with our journal while being joined by the manager of the centre with whom we discuss the possibility of me mounting the elephant using its trunk; as we had seen days earlier. The manager immediately says yes it is possible with a different elephant (who lifts slower) and so arrangements are made to meet at 2pm in the briefing circle for me to try on our own with no spectators.

I am excited and apprehensive at the same time. Bernard just thinks I am mad and he expressed his reasoning in the following way.

It’s a four ton animal. It is about 12 foot off the ground. If you fall, it will hurt like hell. That’s a good enough reason not to do it!

Personally I don’t believe him and want to try and at 2pm we make our way to the briefing area with Bernard clutching every camera he has!

The manager videos the whole incident as everybody explains how it is to be done. Bernard is very nervous I can tell as he is constantly fidgeting and he always fidgets when he is this nervous. He hovers like a mother hen.

The manager and driver (on the elephant above me) explain you have to grab hold of the elephant’s ears very tightly and your arms are spread out wide as they are so big. It feels very leathery in your hands as your fingers wrap around and you worry about squeezing its ears too hard! You then put your foot against its trunk and it keeps slipping off until you realise that you have to push your foot INTO its trunk; this is the signal to the elephant to curl its trunk into a form of loop while lifting upwards. My foot slips off the trunk until I realise this. Then I am airborne and before I know it my hands are on its bristly head with my palms feeling the hairs underneath them.

Very unladylike I crawl up its head towards the reaching driver’s hands and my heart is pounding with excitement and adrenaline as Bernard’s voice calls “Does my bum look big in this?” The driver’s hands grasp mine and I am sitting – the wrong way – facing the driver while Bernard translates the hand signals from the driver to me about how to turn around to face the right way!

Picture of Cathy on top of the elephant.Hey presto – I am sitting on the neck and behind the ears, feeling an elephant breathing underneath me and the driver’s hands lightly resting on my shoulders. We set off around the enclosure, swaying slowly to the gait of the ambling animal.

I hold on tight with my legs and my hands are grasping the ropes behind its ears listening to the sounds of ‘Nameste’ (hello) from the manager; which is a command for the animal to raise its trunk in a big ‘hello’ gesture. Interestingly all the commands are in Tharu and not in Nepali as the Tharu are the traditional workers with the elephants and have been for as long as anybody can remember.

All too soon it was time to dismount and my lumbering friend sat down and then leaned to one side with one of its legs stretched out like a slide for me to slip down to be met by Bernard’s arms to catch me.

[Climbing elephant video goes here]

I was shaking with excitement and wondered if this was another ‘world’s first’?

“Blind woman crosses world on motorcycle and then climbs elephant using trunk before sliding down leg like big kid”. Guinness book of records perhaps? Who knows!

Bernard tells me the manager and the driver have even bigger grins than me and it seems to have had a large impact on everybody the fact I had done it.

I stroked and thanked my big friend (‘coli) and waited for my pounding heart to settle before making our way to a specially arranged elephant safari just for the two us with the same elephant (Tamparkin) and driver as before (Pim).

Now Pim has lost all fear of working with me and he backs Tamparkin up to the platform and we climb onto her without any problems at all.

The gap between the elephant and the platform is like any gap for a blind person; whether it be train and platform, bus and pavement. You have to listen to what people tell you is around and then follow their instructions. If you do this then no real problems occur. After five months on the road with Bernard, across every environment and circumstance I can trust him implicitly. We have previously walked in mountains in England and across all terrains and he knows what he is doing (most times!) It is also true to say I do trust people and follow what they tell me. Without this trust life would be so much harder as a blind person.

I have walked planks onto boats, I have parachuted out of planes and all because I listen to what people tell me. If you do this, then little can go wrong. So it is Pim now knows he can relax.

We spent the next three hours hanging on for grim life as Pim took us hunting Tigers well off the beaten track. We climbed such steep sides we hung on as we traversed virtually perpendicular areas and then hung on tighter as we went down even steeper slopes. We found fresh tiger tracks on river beds and followed them into the long grass with Bernard muttering “Is this such a good idea?” as he looked down into the grass which was higher than the elephants head “It could be in the grass and grab my leg” he whispered at one point; I felt him shuffle and I pictured him pulling his leg up out of reach of a rampaging tiger.

The afternoon was spent following and retracing tracks but we never did get to see a tiger. We think Pim was hoping the ‘lucky’ streak would hold, but it didn’t (it did, according to Bernard as he didn’t particularly want to meet a tiger!)

Little did he know what Thailand was to throw at him with regards Tigers!

Picture of the boat coming to get us in the early morning mist.So it was our time ended the next day at Chitwan National Park and the Jungle Island Resort and we left by the river boat to make the long journey back by road over many hours.

This was actually the first time we have gone back to the same place and it felt very strange returning to the Greenland Guest house. It felt like that ‘back from holiday’ feeling which people get.

We had only got half-way down the drive when Bernard dropped the bags, went over to Bertha and started her up. He listened to the contented rumbles of the bike before pronouncing he was satisfied. This was the first time in his life he has left a bike anywhere out of immediate reach and he did fret while we were miles away. But all was well and we settled back into the familiar house with all our bits around us.

From now our priority is to start arranging the air lift from Kathmandu to Bangkok (whose airport is now running normally after all the political unrest).

Picture of Saul and Jane with Cathy.We spend several days organising our departure and were rejoined by Saul and Jane who are spending a few days in Pokhara before setting off again across Nepal to another National Park. Needless to say, the meal involved lots and lots more laughing as we talked about anything and everything that came to mind. It was good to meet up with them and they figure much like our friend Ian previously mentioned; sometimes you just take to people.

We spent hours trying to post a parcel to the UK and gave up before sending it to Kathmandu on the tourist bus where we could pick it up from the local office and then the plan was to send it from there. We even had to arrange for Visa extensions when we suddenly realised we had overrun – another whole story in itself.

We left the Greenland guest house with our newly extended Visas and set off to Kathmandu and the whole journey turned out to be very difficult.

We have not been on the bike really, for over a month and had planned to stop halfway as the road conditions are not easy. In the end we drove the 126 miles as we could only find one Hotel on the road and they wanted six times more than we had been paying in the tourist centre of Pokhara; needless to say Bernard balked at this.

We climbed the 4800 feet steep and narrow incline of the only road from the Kathmandu valley to Kathmandu itself following wagons belching black smoke into our faces. Suicidal mini-bus drivers overtake on tight narrow bends around which they cannot see and we sp we revert to Pakistan and India methods of survival; using a ‘shield’ in front of us for the long and steep climb up to the top.

In the end we spent nine hours doing the 126 miles, getting caught up in the traffic backlog of a fatality which left the only road into Kathmandu closed for hours and we arrived in the dark (Rule one and rule two broken again). As always we used ‘Plan A’ and stopped at a rank of taxis and pulled out the address of a reasonably priced hotel we knew of (Holy Himalaya). The taxi driver led us to a vaguely similar name (The Hotel Himalaya which was four times the price per night). Even this ‘four times’ prices was negotiated downwards after Bernard turned white at the original quote per night which would pay off the Nepal National debt.

We were tired, hungry, it was dark, the traffic was awful and there are no street lights due to the power cuts. We hadn’t been on a bike for this long for weeks and so we caved in and took the room as it gave us a base close to the airport and the shipping agent we had an address for.

After arriving in Kathmandu on the Saturday night everything was arranged for us to leave Nepal on the Tuesday. It was so efficient and quick.

Picture of Bertha in a box of bits at Kathmandu customs house.Unlike the previous air shipment this time the crate was very, very, carefully considered with the help of an experienced carpenter who had done the job before. This involved dismantling the front of the bike and making the whole package much smaller and I spent hours listening to the sound of spanners in the Customs shed at the airport as Bertha was stripped down and she was crated up. We even crammed the parcel bound for the UK in the crate to Bangkok as everything had happened so quickly we had no time to post it!

In the end we wondered whether it was worth all the extra work as the pricing structure seemed to operate against us. The overall weight of the bike (plus crate) came to 428kgs and the price was 1.74 US dollars per kilogram. The agent suggested we classified it as 500kgs as the price then dropped to 1.4 US dollars per kilogram. More weight equals cheaper?

So it was we spent three hours dismantling Bertha (and inevitably, three hours putting her back together at the other end) to save less than a hundred dollars!

Ah well such is life on the road.

Picture of Bertha - with the yellow strap - about to board the flight to Bangkok.We arrived at Kathmandu airport on the Tuesday and waved Bertha off before we climbed the steps of our flight to Thailand precisely at the same time as Bertha was being loaded.

It seemed symbolic we all boarded at the same time.

A new stage is about to begin in the odyssey of “A Blind Woman, Two Wheels and 25,000 miles”

Thailand.

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