With a population of only 27 million, Nepal is home to an estimated 4 million motorcycles, and that’s only the registered ones. Compare that to the UK, with 63 million people and only one million taxed cycles, and it’s clear that Nepal is a nation of bikers!
Every Nepali rides and plenty of them can fix one too if the need arises. Combine this fact with the most beautiful mountain scenery in the world (think, Mount Everest and the Himalayas) and you have the perfect destination for a motorcycle journey.
For those who came searching for information on how and where to rent a motorcycle in Pokhara, the cheapest option is to rent one of the light-weight, high-performance bikes that are in abundance here (usually a Pulsar). (Bajaj Pulsars and Hero Hondas are Indian built using technology from Japan and elsewhere.) These are available from pretty much any tour place and many a trekking shop along the main Lakeside drag. The usual rate is 500 or 600 Nepalese rupees. If they want 600 (4 British pounds) just tell them another guy offered you 500 and they should match it. You might even be able to get one cheaper.
I went with Benchmark Tours & Travels (towards the Northern end of Lakeside) so I can vouch for them. I got my passport back without difficulty.
Another nice guy was at a trekking supplies shop somewhere opposite Lemon Tree, but unfortunately I can’t remember the name.
Some points to remember when choosing a bike:
- You’ll need a driving license. (My Chinese friends couldn’t get bikes because they ride in China without licenses, or left them at home.)
- Check the bike thoroughly before you commit to anything – not only for scratches, but also the tyres, brakes, horn and so on – all of which are very important in Nepal. (I choose a bke with plenty of tread, checked it over, set off…and pretty soon discovered the horn was gone. Unlike in England, where the purpose of the horn is to express anger at others’ poor driving – or parts of LA, where it indicates gang loyalties and could well get you shot – in Nepal, India and thereabouts the horn is actually used for its intended purpose: to warn others of your presence and save your life on a minute to minute basis.)
- Take a test ride first. They take your passport as deposit. (I didn’t have mine on me so the guy was nice enough to let me take the bike and then drop in my passport a few hours later when I was passing.)
- Don’t lend your bike to anyone else. (This should seem obvious since it’s your passport on the line, but that didn’t stop me and the Chinese guys taking turns to rag it up and down the strip.)
- You’ll get a helmet and the vehicle documents. These are the basic legal requirements so make sure you get these.
However, if you want an Enfield or to ride with a group of fellow motorcyclists, there’s only one way to go: Hearts and Tears Motorcycle Club.
Hearts and Tears is pretty easy to find: it’s inside Busy Bee – probably the biggest, most-popular restaurant, bar, club and live music venue in Pokhara. I was in Busy Bee most days so popped in to enquire about renting leathers and potentially an Enfield.
Basically, Hearts and Tears was (half) set up by an Aussie, Matt, so you’ll have an English speaking contact and get full support, including a satellite phone for emergencies, all the riding gear you’ll need and a fully serviced and well-maintained bike.
They also offer motorcycle lessons and mechanics classes so that anyone can experience Nepal by motorcycle. Their top package is the “Bullit Experience”, where you get to ride – you guessed it – a Royal Enfield Bullit.
It’s also a great place to go for advice and help planning your motorbike trip in Nepal. These guys have a lot of riding experience, especially when it comes to Nepalese roads and riding conditions.
Motorcycle Rides from Pokhara (Without a Permit)
To enter most of the more beautiful, mountainous regions of Nepal you need a permit. This includes the Annapurna region and applies to foreign motorcyclists as it does trekkers, climbers and so on. Hearts and Tears will arrange all this for you, but if, like me, you’re on a limited time-frame and/or budget, the process might be a bit too daunting.
In that case, here are some great motorcycle rides you can do from Pokhara with no permit required:
|Phewa Tal||Also spelt “Fewa Taal” (tal means lake in Nepali) this is the easiest route from Pokhara since you just follow the Lakeside Marg around the lake as the road slowly deteriorates.|
|Begnas Tal & Rupa Tal||These two lakes are just out of town and there’s a thin road that winds up the hills between them and offers views of both.|
|Dhampus||Ride to Phedi (careful, there are lot’s of Phedis in Nepal), park up and make the relatively short hike up to Dhampus, where in clear, undusty weather you’ll get a view of the Annapurna range and Mount Machhapuchchhre (Fishtail Mountain).|
|Sarangkot||Another beauty spot, great for sunrise and sunset.|
|Naudanda||A mountain village similar to Sarangkot – a little further from Pokhara, lower in elevation and some say less impressive.|
|Baglung||This ride follows the “main highway”, which passes through little towns and villages, over mountains, along plateaus and through picturesque valleys.|
|Beni||For the adventurous rider, you can turn North from the Baglung road onto this unpaved gravel track that hugs the boundary of the Annapurna Conservation Area.|
I had the bike for four days and – apart from the one day I didn’t use it, quite happy to pay three pound fifty to have it sit there, look cool and to feel like a biker again – I rode all over the Pokhara Valley.
One morning I set off, only to immediately run into a herd of water buffalo charging down the Lakeside strip. The female at the head fixed her eyes on me and let out a bellowing roar.
I skidded to a stop, threw myself into the closest shop and watched as they continued their rampage through the middle of town.
The Nepali bikers didn’t bat an eyelid, just whipped around them.
Giant potholes, dust clouds, frequent stretches of unpaved road, loose rocks, steep downhill gradients, overtaking belching buses on blind bends without a horn and encountering sacred cows sleeping in the middle of the road: these are just some of the hazards you’re likely to encounter when riding in Nepal.
I took a winding mountain pass and through the dust was offered a quick glimpse of snow-capped mountains where I thought the sky should have been. Incredible!
More Extensive Motorcycle Rides in Nepal
If you want to get out of the Pokhara Valley, Hearts and Tears offer rides throughout Nepal, including:
- Chitwan National Park
- Ghandruk, deep in the Annapurna range
- Lumbini, birthplace of the Buddha
- Bardia, where you can watch “elephant polo“
Their rides take in all kinds of unknown villages, dramatic mountain roads and incredible viewpoints. You can also customise your own tour.
I actually had the pleasure of meeting Matt from Hearts and Tears in person. I was in the Blues Bar one night when a bunch of guys came in fresh from the road.
In true biker style they’d arrived back in town after a few nights out on the road, tossed their gear in their rooms and come straight down to the bar.
It all started at “Gin O’Clock” in the Hotel Angel dorm…followed by beers at Lemon Tree, where me and Max ran into Rhye, Betty and the other Germans…followed by more beer in Club Amsterdam… (If you’re interested, I’ve also done a nightlife guide to Pokhara.)
Anyway, I got into the Blues Bar just as the band finished playing.
“Well, that’s your problem,” says that loveable arsehole behind the bar.
Old Jim wasn’t around but Jimmy (an old regular from somewhere in South America, so the legend goes) was doing his thing (dancing around, dressed in Mick Jagger-esque rags, yelling incoherently and flirting notoriously with hot young backpacker chicks. Me and Aelroy were knocking back whole glasses of whisky and photobombing strangers – one of whom claimed to be called Dusk. I said my name was Dawn, but she wasn’t buying it, guess she’d heard that one too many times before, then I realised I’d just been giving a Chinese name equating to something like “shi long” which in Chinese means “sunrise dragon”, which is kind of like Dawn, I argued.
“Wait a minute, did you just say your name was Schlong?” asks Aelroy.
“No…well, yeah, kind of…” Sunrise dragon…morning glory…schlong… Ah! The fun you can have with words when you’re drunk!
There was an Aussie with an American accent, a Nepali kid with an Aussie accent…everything was all mixed up!
That’s about when the bikers rolled in.
We got talking to Alan, an English guy who’d started an adventure trekking company in Pokhara. They’d just come down from the mountains, riding a new pass, blazing new trails to add to a Hearts and Tears tour. It turned out the guy beside him was Matt. I couldn’t let this pass without shaking his hand.
The barman locked the door. I ordered a glass of rum, Aelroy another whisky – each at least 150 ml.
“I’ll sell it to you guys,” says the barman, “but we’re just waiting for the cops right now.”
Some of the guys went back into the kitchen for more drinks and dal bhat.
“Oh, we’re not invited?”
“Sorry, dark people only,” mocked the barman with a genuine twinge of an apology. He had a point. When the cops came around, we weren’t going to pass as Nepalese.
I was in the middle of a deep conversation with Alan about how getting old and getting ill are a state of mind. He shared my dads “ride until I can’t get on the bike anymore” philosophy and was telling me about a guy called Mesmer when we heard from behind, “guys, I actually don’t think I can do this.” It was Aelroy with the whisky.
“Alright,” I say. “We’ve got to help him out.”
“Screw that. He’s on his own,” says Alan. “I’ve had my drink spiked too many times in this place…”
There was a guy called Fergus who, according to legend, came from Glasgow to Kathmandu on a motorcycle – which was more than enough to warm me to the guy immediately.
Fergus was telling a story about leaving his international driving license in Kathmandu and having to go back for it…but the barman kept trying to kick us out – “Okay, but cannae just finish mae story?”…which ended in him getting the license, before being stopped by a police check-point. Four police officers approached him and demanded to see his “international driving license” or else pay a fine. When he produced it they all looked dismayed. “He actually has an international driving license!” they said to their captain who sat under a tree. He shrugged and they let him through. He gave them a cigarette to console them.
Story over, we were out on the strip. I’d stashed a beer in the bushes, school-boy style, so we shared that as we walked.
Fergus had to call it a night. Tomorrow was a big day for him. His “mail order bride” was arriving.
“So everything’s closed now?” I asked, disappointed.
“Not neccessarily,” said Matt. “We’ll make a few calls.”
And so it was that after 10 nights drinking in Pokhara and every night being turned out of the bars at 11.30 curfew, of course it was typical that on my last night, when I had to be up at 6am the next morning for a bus to Kathmandu, we managed to break curfew.
Now the police had done their patrol of the lakeside bars and we slipped in, via the back entrance, into that place where they funnel the package tourists and do the “traditional” Nepalese dancing in the evenings and simultaneously the shittest and most expensive breakfast I had in Pokhara.
On a shadowy balcony looking down on their strip we found Dan with a group of Danes and Aussies – one of the best groups of guys I’ve ever had the pleasure to drink with.
We shared stories of motorcycles, trips, women. Mat and Alan recounted a race they had across a Nepalese plateau at nearing 100 miles an hour, only to discover afterwards that the head-camera had switched off.
“What’s the longest you guys have spent in the saddle?”
“Wait,” said Alan. “Are we talking motorcycles or hookers?”
I told them about the 11 and a half hours straight I spent riding from Ottawa, Ontario to Joilet, Illinois without getting off the bike – but the comfortable seat of a Honda Shadow on smooth American highways is no equivilent to the steep sliding rubble and winding mountain passes on the Nepalese roads.
I got them to admit that the cumbersome old Royal Enfield was far inferior to the likes of the Pulsar on these roads.
But they in turn convinced me that sometimes it’s not about what’s easiest and most sensible. Sometimes it’s about pushing yourself, taking on the challenge, and looking damn cool while you’re at it!
Like a Harley, it’s all about the image.
“I sell dreams!” Mat said, somewhat self-mockingly, but it’s true: people want to ride a Royal Enfield through Nepal, so with Hearts and Tears that’s exactly what they get.
We ordered in quarts of rum, dusty bottles of Coca Cola, filled the table with beers…
They told of days eating nothing but dal, rice and veg, drinking raksi every night in a different mountain village, bathing with women at the roadside.
Matt said, “this is gonna reek of superficial, but one of the main reasons behind Hearts and Tears is to help local development…” They advise their participants not to pay extra for their food or drinks as it fucks with the local economy, or to tip, which has never been a Nepali custom, but they are committed to giving to the community in other ways. Apparently it’s not uncommon to see a Hearts and Tears tour making its way into the mountains…each bike laden with a live goat.
Hours passed. One by one everyone left until it was just me, an Aussie called Jake and a couple of Danish guys called Gustav and Anton. We talked sex, drugs and raksi, shared scars. The Danish guys also had a 7am bus so I ordered in a round of beers and coffees and we pulled off an all-nighter.
With the sun rising over the lake (and the waiters laying out the breakfast buffet) we said our goodbyes. I crept back to the hostel dorm, shovelled up my stuff and passed out in the back row of a bus that bumped and shook its way to Kathmandu.
I’d like to say it was one of the most epic nights in Pokhara history, but I’m guessing Matt and the guys have plenty to rival it.