Cycled: 52.2km / 32.4mi
Elevation: 807m / 2,648ft
You’d think that after our Russian scandal, we’d have a bit of luck on our side. Think again. Not only was there a fire on our flight to Kathmandu, we ran into yet another visa problem. You really couldn’t make this stuff up.
It seemed the woman a few rows ahead of us was charging her phone with the seat plug when it sparked. Thankfully the in-flight fire was extinguished quickly and after the smoke subsided, the air hostess announced over the tannoy that we would carry on to our destination. Never mind reaching our destination, I thought we’d fall out of the sky!
Now the visa. We knew the 90-day Tourist Visa had to be paid in American dollars. We had planned to get some in Russia before we left, but in the bureaucratic madness, it completely escaped our minds. So we landed at 6pm in Kathmandu with no money of any sort, just a bunch of bank cards. We tried paying the $200 (£156) visa fees with four different bank cards and they were all declined.
Next, we tried getting cash with the same bank cards from the only ATM in the airport terminal. Annoyingly, the ATM only offered Nepali Rupees, which we’d then have to exchange for dollars, as they don’t accept their own currency for visas. Government policy apparently. It didn't matter anyway, as all four cards failed to produced any cash.
I was starting to lose the plot by this point. After two weeks of everything going against us, I was struggling to remain calm and rational. As always though, Dan stayed level-headed and started to contact the banks. The WiFi wasn't great, which made this quite difficult.
After a while, the Immigration Officer either felt sorry for us or wanted to go home – it was pretty late by this point – as he wrote us an I.O.U. and said we could leave without a visa if we left our passports with him for the night. We’d have until 7pm the following day to come back, pay the $200, collect our passports and pass Go.
We were well and truly over it by the time we collected our oversized boxes. Unable to face building the bikes up, we decided to catch a taxi instead. Then we remembered we had zero cash. Damn it. With no other ATM in the airport and no option to pay for a pre-booked taxi by card, we had no choice but to build and ride the bikes in the end.
Cycling in Nepal is every bit as crazy as you’d imagine – especially in the dark. First thing we noticed is that they actually drive on the left. After four months of cycling on the right, this took a bit of getting used to.
Next thing, there appears to be no particular road rules at all. No lanes. No traffic lights (humans control the traffic). Lots of honking. Pedestrians just dawdle across the road without a care in the world. Everyone undertakes. Mopeds drive on the right if the gap suits them. Cars drive on the right if the gap suits them. It really does feel like you’re joy riding in Grand Theft Auto; it’s alarmingly fun.
You’ll be glad to hear that after yet another night of being in a country without a valid visa, we got it all sorted the following afternoon. Armed with 22,600 Nepali Rupees, we cycled back to the airport, exchanged the cash for $200, paid our debts and got our passports back with a visa inside. Later that day, we learned that one of the initial card payments actually went through, meaning we've now paid for the visa twice. We’re currently trying to sort the refund with our bank. No wonder I’m pulling greys out…
We spent the rest of the week sussing out the Indian visa and tasting lots of local food. We also went on a 26km day ride in the mountains just outside of Kathmandu. You may have heard of them, the Himalayas? We can’t believe it either – and nor can our legs. It was a total shock to the system. I lost count of how many rest stops we had.
It was in the mountains I felt the first pang of embarrassment about my knees. It's custom in Nepal for women to cover their shoulders and knees. Interestingly, they can show their navel, which in the West is a far more sexual part of the body than a pair of knobbly knees. In Kathmandu, the capital city, locals won't really bat an eyelid at what you're wearing, but outside the capital, conservative clothing in key.
I thought I was prepared. I have plenty of t-shirts, shirts and trousers. My cycle shorts are actually knee-length and baggy too, but when I pedal, each knee takes it in turn to pop out. When we passed a mother and her two daughters in a rural village, I saw her eyes dart straight to my bare knees. She made a comment, which her daughters laughed at. I was so sure it was about my knees... I'm now searching for the best way to cover them while cycling.
Speaking of rural mountains, it only took us a few days in Kathmandu before we succumbed to the challenge of Everest. We’re now in the process of booking a twelve day trek to Everest Base Camp (5,364m). We weren’t even meant to come to Nepal and now we’re climbing Everest. If you’d have told us two weeks ago that this is what we’d be doing, we’d of laughed in your face. It's funny how things turn out.