Between Heaven and Hell

Cycling west out of Kathmandu in the post monsoon humidity, my clothes clung to me like a wrapper to a lollipop. I had gingerly negotiated my exit of this ancient city through the cacophony of traffic, pedestrians and livestock.

As I ascended the “King’s Way”, an endless stream of colourfully decorated trucks and buses seemed to purposefully belch dark clouds of diesel fumes directly at me as they inched past to the checkpoint above.

Once over the valley rim the narrow and winding country road affectionately named a “highway” dropped dramatically into the deep Mahesh Khola Valley, offering a welcome reprieve to my weary legs. The sweeping views of the snowcapped Himalayas can easily pull ones attention away from the task at hand…survival.

Being on a bicycle one is at the bottom of the highway food chain. I soon learnt that in order to prolong my life on the path to Pokhara I should expect a surprise around every bend. It became apparent that an unwritten Nepalese driving rule dictated that drivers of slow vehicles should indicate whether it is safe to overtake them on a blind corner. A simple gesture out of the driver’s window would herald a mass stampede of marginally faster vehicles and family laden motorbikes all hoping to gain a place closer to their destination.

Every morning I went through an internal struggle as to whether I should persevere through this verdant valley on my bike or place it onto the overloaded roof of a bus as wisely suggested by a local guide book. Day 4 out of Kathmandu dawned no different. Ahead of me, the road to Pokhara traced the Trisuli River, both glinting in the morning light, they lay together like courting serpents.

Entering one of the townships that had sprung up around a local rafting operation, I was envious of the rafters getting ready for an exhilarating day on water. “Chickens, the lot of them” I thought as they paddled out into midstream, “taking the safe option”.

That was my near fatal mistake. I had taken my attention off the road. A bus coming towards me was pulling off the road to allow some travelers to disembark. Behind him a truck took the opportunity to pass. Had that been it I would not have cared too much, but to my bewilderment a faster bus took the same opportunity to pass the truck. I was faced with a wall of heavy metal bearing down on me. Judging by the amount of white I could see in the nippy bus driver’s eyes he was just as surprised to see me.

I had nowhere to go. All I could do was hold my line. The heavy machine operators were also unable to take evasive action without dire implications. I had barely begun my prayer when I felt the wall of wind hit me. With the truck on my right and the bus on my left, both vehicles passed within centimeters of my handlebars. Their mirrors formed a near perfect archway for me to pass under on my way to the afterlife. As I passed through the smoke from their screeching back tyres I expected to see angels ready to give me respite from my arduous journey. To my surprise, and that of the applauding witnesses, I emerged from the sudden moment of disorder, clearly shaken but physically unblemished.

A very short detour took me to a rafting outfit where I purchased a beer and a bus ticket for myself and my two wheeled companion.

C Leggatt

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