Touring in the Himalayas
The existence of vehicular roads in Nepal is recent compared to many countries. The steep vertical mountain terrain has made it very difficult to cut roads wide enough for vehicles. Until recently, people living in these regions would have to walk for more than 10 days to reach a nearby town or city.
There is a main highway which joins the capital city of Kathmandu with India to the south. Almost all the daily essentials of the city are imported through this single-lane highway. There is also a highway from Kathmandu connecting to the Tibet region of China (the friendship highway); this highway is hardly used because of the mountainous roads crossing the Himalayas. With the arrival of heavy digging equipment, gravel roads have reached villages high in the hills and on mountain tops. With haphazard digging and without proper drainage, these gravel roads become damaged during the annual monsoon (June-August) with frequent heavy rain and landslides.
Driving in Nepal is on the left side, as in the UK. There are many hazards to be aware of while driving in Nepal. The road conditions are different wherever you go. The roads can suddenly change from smooth black top to bumpy dirt without any signage or notice. There are no notice signs for hazards, obstacles or anything else so be aware and careful of:
- pot holes
- mud holes
- dirt patches
- speed breakers
- oil slicks
- water and
There are many temporary and permanent settlements on the side of the road and on the road with people, children and livestock. The road/ highway is also used as a sidewalk and sometimes the front yard, so there will be people walking, sunbathing and chatting. Near the settlements be aware and careful of: children playing, children going to school, adults, dogs, chickens, ducks, goats, cows, buffaloes, bicycles and people under the influence of alcohol.
You will have to be aware and careful of other vehicles on the road. People, bicycles, motorcycles, scooters, tractors, rickshaws, buffalo carts, cows, elephants, cars, pickups, buses and trucks all use the road. The basic traffic rule is to drive on the left side of the road, pass a vehicle from the right, and use your horn profusely when overtaking and when in doubt. Use your horn when there are people around to signal your presence. Be prepared for garbage, other items and even vomit to come flying out of buses and other vehicle windows while overtaking. Sometimes you will see vehicles driving on the wrong side, or you might even see a vehicle start to make a turn 30 meters before the turn itself. You will see broken vehicles and tyre changes happening in the middle of the road. You will see a few rough young bus and truck drivers.
There is a strange signal used by vehicles in Nepal and India when the vehicle in front of you turns on the right sidelight, this can mean:
1. This vehicle is turning right, or
2. You can pass my vehicle because traffic is clear in front of my view.
You will have to take an educated guess on what the signal means. At night on the highway, the vehicle coming at you on the opposite lane will turn on the driver’s side turn signal, this means that there is no vehicle behind him trying to overtake so you can pass.
When on the road, ALWAYS concentrate on the road. If you have to look around, pull to the side, stop and then look. The vehicular speed is relatively slow on the road and highways. You will be fine if you just move with the flow of the traffic.
There will be a full briefing once we arrive in Kathmandu and we will ride around in Kathmandu and the surrounding hills to get used to the bikes before we go further outside. We travel slowly as a group and always in single file, road safety is paramount. No racing or aggressive riding is accepted on our tours.
Saying all this, the roads in Nepal are beautiful with spectacular views and you will certainly never forget the biking experience! We are travelling on roads with relatively less traffic and I will be the guide in front. There will also be a guide at the back of the group and we will have a back-up truck with an extra rider in case someone wants to go in the pick-up truck instead of the bike for a while.