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Author Topic: Highways around Kathmandu and Pokhara, Nepal  (Read 10797 times)

berberry

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Highways around Kathmandu and Pokhara, Nepal
« on: October 21, 2013, 01:46:39 PM »

I am very seriously considering taking my next vacation in Nepal, and in particular going paragliding in the Himalayas at Pokhara, which is remarkably inexpensive to do, by the way. Of course, I want to see sunrise over the Himalayas from some of the Temples in Kathmandu and Bhaktapur also, plus ride the elephants on safari through Chitwan National Park.  There is a lot to do, and some of it will involve domestic flights from Kathmandu, but at least two excursions will involve the highways there.  They are among the most popular things tourists do in Nepal, so I'm thinking maybe someone here has done them and can advise me.

One is the ride from Thamel in Kathmandu to Bhaktapur.  Is it comfortable to ride on top of the bus?  Or will I wish I had taken a taxi?  What is that highway like?  Supposedly takes 45 minutes to an hour each way.

I will probably fly from Kathmandu to Pokhara and spend a couple days.  It is popular among Americans and Europeans to rent motorcycles there and ride through the Himalayan foothills (and in Nepal, anything less than 10,000' is considered a foothill!).  It is reputed to be safe and thrilling, but I'm wondering just HOW thrilling?

So I'm wondering if these highways are gonna scare the shit out of me.  Anybody here ever used them?

Incidentally, if you ever wanted to see the Himalayas, next year might be a great time to do it.  Tribhuvan Int'l Airport in Kathmandu has made a lot of improvements since the civil war ended there several years ago.  The airport is attracting new international airlines and fares are dropping dramatically from certain cities.  If you are flexible with your dates you can get roundtrip fares from Chicago to Kathmandu for just under a thousand, for instance.
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Grzrd

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Re: Highways around Kathmandu and Pokhara, Nepal
« Reply #1 on: October 21, 2013, 02:22:55 PM »

I am very seriously considering taking my next vacation in Nepal ... I will probably fly from Kathmandu to Pokhara and spend a couple days.  It is popular among Americans and Europeans to rent motorcycles there and ride through the Himalayan foothills ... So I'm wondering if these highways are gonna scare the shit out of me.  Anybody here ever used them?

In 1980, I went to Nepal in the Fall post-monsoon season and had a great time!  I rode on a top of a bus from the India border into Kathmandu.; in hindsight, not the brightest thing to do because luggage shifted underneath and we almost lost a couple of passengers. I cannot remember the name of the holiday, but there was one in particular where I remember going up to the Monkey Temple and looking at the Kathmandu Valley literally filled with kites being flown by people celebrating the moment. Amazing.  At the time, you could rent a bike to visit different places in the Valley.

Took a bus from Kathmandu to a small village at the trailhead for the path going up the east side of the Annapurna Sanctuary.  Nothing memorable about the road, but the trail itself had only been open to Westerners for three years, which allowed for great interactions with the locals: no lodges yet, just ask a family for food and a floor to sleep on for a rupee or two.

I'm a little disappointed to hear about the motorcycles.  One of my most enduring memories of Nepal is the silence: no noise from electricity or motors up the trail. Oh well .....

If you enjoy hiking and can stretch your trip, the hike up to the Annapurna Base Camp is relatively short and might be enjoyable.  I think a lodge has been built there since I visited.  You are literally surrounded by 5 of the world's ten highest mountains.  Latitude is same as Miami, so warm days compensate for cold, snowy nights.  Outstanding scenery.

On the western side of the Himalaya, the Srinagar-to-Leh road by bus was quite an adventure. Endless convoys of empty Indian military vehicles hoping to fool Chinese satellites.  :-P  Memories of the 1962 war were still lingering ...

I guess a lot has changed since then ....... ouch!
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berberry

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Re: Highways around Kathmandu and Pokhara, Nepal
« Reply #2 on: October 21, 2013, 03:14:11 PM »

I am talking about the highways around Pokhara, not the trails.  I think the trails are still off-limits to motorized vehicles.  And in a lot of towns and villages, like Bhaktapur, motors are either banned outright or high entrance fees are charged to discourage them.

The thing about the trails that has gotten worse since your visit would probably be the situation at Everest, where too many people are climbing to the top.  It's getting messy up there, from what I hear.
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Grzrd

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Re: Highways around Kathmandu and Pokhara, Nepal
« Reply #3 on: October 21, 2013, 03:31:28 PM »

I am talking about the highways around Pokhara, not the trails.  I think the trails are still off-limits to motorized vehicles.

Good to hear.



Quote
The thing about the trails that has gotten worse since your visit would probably be the situation at Everest, where too many people are climbing to the top.  It's getting messy up there, from what I hear.

Make no mistake, I was/am just a recreational hiker.  I never dreamt of trying to climb to the top of one of them.  That said, the trek to the Everest Base Camp was pretty overrated and overcrowded even back then.

I now need to check and see how much the road network has grown in the interim!  Sorry to go Old Man on you.
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berberry

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Re: Highways around Kathmandu and Pokhara, Nepal
« Reply #4 on: November 09, 2013, 04:26:53 AM »

The Prithvi Highway runs from Kathmandu to Pokhara, and that is the main road I'll be using.  It looks like a true thrill ride from the pictures I've seen.  Very dangerous, but some of the grandest scenery anywhere on the planet! 

I have a friend who lives there, not far from Kat.  He wants to take me to Pokhara on his motorcycle, and I might just do that.  There is a chance he won't be in the country, though, and if not I will probably fly to Pokhara.  I am the type of person who would feel reasonably secure on a motorcycle going down roads like that, but NOT on a top-heavy, wide bus.  It is the narrowness and the winding curves of the road that would scare me much more than the extreme heights of the mountains.

Speaking of which, just think if we applied the Nepali definition of 'mountain' here in the US.  We would not have nearly so many.  Anything less than about 10k feet is just a foothill!  The country has some 250+ peaks that exceed 20k feet. 
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berberry

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Re: Highways around Kathmandu and Pokhara, Nepal
« Reply #5 on: March 18, 2014, 03:16:08 PM »

So this is going to happen.  I can't believe I'm gonna do it, but in just a few days I intend to book a flight to Kathmandu, probably with an overnight each way in Abu Dhabi, UAE since that is the cheapest flight from Chicago.  There are just a few details for me to work out so that I am certain I can go next fall.  I think I can stay 10 to 12 days, maybe 14.

Grzrd, just how difficult is the Annapurna Base Camp trek, and how long?  I have seen the pictures, it's so beautiful!  I can usually handle relatively vigorous hikes in the Appalachians, but the Himalayas are a whole 'nother thing.  Way down in the valley, Kathmandu sits at about 4,500' above sea level, and just about all of the rest of Nepal is higher I think.  But I may try to do it.

And did you go into Mustang district?
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agentsteel53

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Re: Highways around Kathmandu and Pokhara, Nepal
« Reply #6 on: March 18, 2014, 03:39:07 PM »

you forgot to refer to Bob Seger; other than that congratulations and I hope you have an excellent journey!

btw, did you manage to get the fares for under 1000?  it's a good data point for me... I might go somewhere like that in the medium-distant future.  I've got New Zealand '14 and Bolivia '15 lined up, and am considering Tajikistan (the most mountainous country on Earth!) in '17 or '18.
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berberry

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Re: Highways around Kathmandu and Pokhara, Nepal
« Reply #7 on: March 18, 2014, 03:43:15 PM »

Yes, with the overnight layover each way in Abu Dhabi, the fare was just under $1000 round trip from Chicago.  Next best route is through Delhi, India, also overnight, for just over $1200.  The Delhi route has the advantage of a shorter flight to Kathmandu.
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berberry

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Re: Highways around Kathmandu and Pokhara, Nepal
« Reply #8 on: March 18, 2014, 03:44:43 PM »

Hehe!  That's right.  " I think I'm going to Kathmandu!"
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Re: Highways around Kathmandu and Pokhara, Nepal
« Reply #9 on: March 18, 2014, 03:47:59 PM »

Tajikistan (the most mountainous country on Earth!)
You sure Bhutan's not more mountainous (however that's defined)? Or Andorra?
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Grzrd

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Re: Highways around Kathmandu and Pokhara, Nepal
« Reply #10 on: March 18, 2014, 04:19:53 PM »

Grzrd, just how difficult is the Annapurna Base Camp trek, and how long?  I have seen the pictures, it's so beautiful!  I can usually handle relatively vigorous hikes in the Appalachians, but the Himalayas are a whole 'nother thing.  Way down in the valley, Kathmandu sits at about 4,500' above sea level, and just about all of the rest of Nepal is higher I think.  But I may try to do it.

Caveat: I went there 34 years ago at age 22.  I seem to remember it taking about 7 days to get to Base Camp and back out (and 21 days to go around the Sanctuary).  It looks like online guides today allow for 10 days.  It was not difficult; back then one needed to rent a tent to overnight at Base Camp.  My understanding is that today there is a lodge at Base Camp with meals, etc.  I would do some thorough research to see how quickly it can be done.

In my opinion, hiking in the Appalachians is more rigorous (growing up in NE GA I hiked a lot on AT in GA & NC) because you typically have to pack a tent and food for several days.  The Himalayan trails are truly "roads" that connect communities; in other words, you have food & lodging provided by someone else every night (and you support the local economy in doing so; at the risk of repeating myself, the trail to Base Camp was an exception to that rule back then, but I do not think it is today.)

If it is still in print, Stan Armington's Trekking in the Himalayas provides a day-by-day itinerary that I relied upon.

I did go into Mustang and particularly enjoyed Muktinath (elevation is roughly 12,000 feet).  Muktinath is built into the mountainside and has a network of small "canals" that provide the optical illusion that they are flowing uphill.  There is also a small temple with both a water spring and natural gas in which the four elements: air, fire, water & earth, simultaneously exist. Entertaining. I did not drink the local chang; there was a risk of hepatitis associated with it back then.

By visiting in the Spring, you should see some amazing wild flower scenery chock full of color.  Have a great trip!!!
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agentsteel53

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Re: Highways around Kathmandu and Pokhara, Nepal
« Reply #11 on: March 18, 2014, 04:38:50 PM »

Tajikistan (the most mountainous country on Earth!)
You sure Bhutan's not more mountainous (however that's defined)? Or Andorra?

probably depends on the definition, yes, but I've seen photos from Tajikistan so I insist on going there.
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Re: Highways around Kathmandu and Pokhara, Nepal
« Reply #12 on: March 18, 2014, 04:52:21 PM »

Hehe!  That's right.  " I think I'm going to Kathmandu!"

Obligatory.

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Re: Highways around Kathmandu and Pokhara, Nepal
« Reply #13 on: March 18, 2014, 06:54:59 PM »

I think I might have heard one time that Kathmandu's airport is kind of scary. Does Nepal happen to speak English by any chance?
In your case hopefully the roads in Nepal have guardrails unlike the million dollar highway (US 550) in Colorado.
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berberry

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Re: Highways around Kathmandu and Pokhara, Nepal
« Reply #14 on: March 19, 2014, 02:16:23 AM »

Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu has an interesting history, yes.  My grandmother was a travel agent, and I can remember her telling me about her trip there, I think in the 1950s, a few years after Queen Elizabeth's famous tour.  My grandmother's plane had to circle overhead while the landing crew cleared cattle off the runway!  The runway was unpaved and dangerously short.

That has changed.  Tribhuvan is now a modern airport, though passengers still deplane or board directly from the tarmac, which is rare at int'l airports today.  The runways are longer, paved, and protected by fencing.  The runway approach, for pilots, is still difficult as I understand, but not extremely so.  Only a couple months ago, Nepal began issuing travel visas by mail.  Before, a visa had to be obtained immediately upon arrival at the airport.  This was hectic and time-consuming.  Under the new policy, from what I have read, it is much easier and quicker to get through the checkpoints.

Based only on what I have learned from my facebook friends in Nepal, the Prithvi Highway between Kathmandu and Pokhara is not too scary in terms of extreme drop-offs, but does have a few white-knuckle suspension bridges.  If I decide to do the Annapurna Base Camp trek, then I will probably fly from Ktm to Pok in order to save time.  However, I may instead decide to take a white-water rafting trip and visit Chitwan National Park to ride the elephants on safari.  Any of these things would be the experience of a lifetime, so it will be hard for me to decide.  One absolute MUST is paragliding over Fewa Lake.  That I intend to do if nothing else!

One nice thing, from what I hear, is that reservations for hotels, treks and such do not need to be made far in advance.  So I don't have to decide right away.

If you want to know why paragliding at Pokhara is a MUST, here:

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Re: Highways around Kathmandu and Pokhara, Nepal
« Reply #15 on: March 25, 2014, 04:33:04 AM »

One more thing you might want to know, agentsteel:  I am finding the fare as low as sub-$900 now.  One BIG detail I missed before is that this is a refundable fare!  When I first began considering this trip a few months ago, the fares I was finding were non-refundable, so this was a bit of a surprise.  The airline with the lowest fares right now is Etonia, which is based in Abu Dhabi.  I searched out some reviews of Etonia and like most other airlines they're mixed.  Some people like the food, some don't.  Food and delayed flights were the most cited complaints, while many travelers profusely praised the comfortable seating, entertainment options and electrical and USB plugs located at every seat on trans-oceanic flights, including coach seats.

I keep finding more and more to do in Nepal, which I suppose isn't surprising since the nation is consistently ranked as one of the most naturally beautiful countries anywhere.  My latest discovery is one of the world's finest bird-watching sites, Koshi Tappu Wildlife Reserve in East Nepal, home to nearly 500 unique species.  Just look at the beautiful birds and other wildlife found there!
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agentsteel53

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Re: Highways around Kathmandu and Pokhara, Nepal
« Reply #16 on: March 27, 2014, 01:24:28 PM »

passengers still deplane or board directly from the tarmac, which is rare at int'l airports today

it seems to be common practice at Cabo San Lucas, at least as of October, 2012.

I always thought it was a "hey, the weather's nice, why bring out the jet bridge?" rationale.  they do have them, but I saw most of them sitting idle as passengers were loaded via staircases, or occasionally via a "semi-bridge", which was an open set of ramps intended for wheelchair access.
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Re: Highways around Kathmandu and Pokhara, Nepal
« Reply #17 on: March 27, 2014, 01:36:56 PM »

One more thing you might want to know, agentsteel:  I am finding the fare as low as sub-$900 now.  One BIG detail I missed before is that this is a refundable fare!  When I first began considering this trip a few months ago, the fares I was finding were non-refundable, so this was a bit of a surprise.  The airline with the lowest fares right now is Etonia, which is based in Abu Dhabi.  I searched out some reviews of Etonia and like most other airlines they're mixed.  Some people like the food, some don't.  Food and delayed flights were the most cited complaints, while many travelers profusely praised the comfortable seating, entertainment options and electrical and USB plugs located at every seat on trans-oceanic flights, including coach seats.

very interesting!  my experience with refundable fares has been domestic travel, and it's seemed to be a 2-3x price difference!  so refundable for $900 appears to be very worthwhile. 

alas, I do not have it in the schedule to go there any time soon, but I will keep it in mind for planning my 2017 trip, which is so completely preliminary an idea right now that it may very well change from "Tajikistan" to "Nepal" (or even "both").  because mountains.

btw, I had no luck finding Etonia via google: they consistently were suggesting a country name with a very similar spelling.  can you give me their website?
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berberry

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Re: Highways around Kathmandu and Pokhara, Nepal
« Reply #18 on: March 31, 2014, 05:40:16 PM »

I'm sorry, Etihad Airways!  Not Etonia, don't know where I got that.
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berberry

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Re: Highways around Kathmandu and Pokhara, Nepal
« Reply #19 on: March 31, 2014, 05:47:49 PM »

passengers still deplane or board directly from the tarmac, which is rare at int'l airports today

it seems to be common practice at Cabo San Lucas, at least as of October, 2012.

I always thought it was a "hey, the weather's nice, why bring out the jet bridge?" rationale.  they do have them, but I saw most of them sitting idle as passengers were loaded via staircases, or occasionally via a "semi-bridge", which was an open set of ramps intended for wheelchair access.

I can only once remember ever getting off a commercial airliner that way; happened at Sioux City, or SUX, back in the early 80s.  As I understand, security people don't like it, and it's often security concerns that prompt airports to make this upgrade.
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Re: Highways around Kathmandu and Pokhara, Nepal
« Reply #20 on: March 31, 2014, 06:05:35 PM »

Since this thread seems to have generated a little interest, I thought I might share my friend Bikash Singh's latest blog post, about mountain biking in Nepal.

The closest thing to extreme bicycling I've ever done would be navigating the I-20 and Terry Road interchange in Jackson at rush hour.  Unfortunately, there are no Himalayas to look at there, so was it ever even worth it? 

The English is broken, but the fun and adventure of mountain biking in the world's highest mountains is all there.  Lots of photos, too.
« Last Edit: March 31, 2014, 06:17:08 PM by berberry »
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Re: Highways around Kathmandu and Pokhara, Nepal
« Reply #21 on: June 01, 2014, 05:56:18 AM »

I have learned a few things in booking this trip, about online booking in general and about Google Maps and Turkish Airlines in particular.

I booked the flight on Turkish after noticing the "flexible dates" checkbox in the fare-request form, which by default was unchecked on kayak.com.  When I checked that box, the Turkish fare leaving and returning one day sooner was priced just a few bucks higher than the Etihad, without an overnight layover.  Instead, the layover is four hours and occurs in Istanbul rather than Abu Dhabi.  I like this much better, but I messed up one thing:

If you have a layover at Istanbul's Attaturk Int'l Airport exceeding six hours, Turkish Airlines will give you a free tour of the city while you wait.  I wish I had known this, as one of my return flight options included a layover of just less than seven hours there.  Instanbul is easily one off the world's most beautiful cities.  If you don't know why, look at it on a map.

Speaking of maps, there is a rather alarming error on the Google map of East Nepal:  the main East-West route, called the East-West or Mahendra Highway, appears to cross the border into India for some distance before crossing back into Nepal.  This occurs just to the south of Koshi Tapou WR on route to Dharan.  I was very concerned because I would need an Indian visa, and I could find no information about whether one was in fact needed nor whether it could be obtained at this border crossing.

Turns out that Google Maps is wrong.  The highway goes right up to the border and runs along it for a short distance, but never actually crosses into India.  Bing Maps, I have learned, is much more accurate in rendering Nepal.

This highway, and the one that connects Kathmandu and Pokhara, are considered among the world's most dangerous for extreme heights and heavy traffic.  I am looking forward to it with equal amounts of excitement and fear.
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Re: Highways around Kathmandu and Pokhara, Nepal
« Reply #22 on: June 01, 2014, 03:19:03 PM »

passengers still deplane or board directly from the tarmac, which is rare at int'l airports today

it seems to be common practice at Cabo San Lucas, at least as of October, 2012.

I was on a flight last August from Brasília to São Paulo (Guarulhos) that deplaned onto the tarmac, into a bus that came to pick us up. That's the largest international airport in a BRIC (medium-development) country! It really surprised me.
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Re: Highways around Kathmandu and Pokhara, Nepal
« Reply #23 on: June 01, 2014, 07:41:10 PM »

Turns out that Google Maps is wrong.  The highway goes right up to the border and runs along it for a short distance, but never actually crosses into India.  Bing Maps, I have learned, is much more accurate in rendering Nepal.
Google's maps in Asia leave a lot to be desired.  Their ones in China, particularly near internal borders (like mainland/Hong Kong), are so inaccurate that I suspect government censoring.
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Re: Highways around Kathmandu and Pokhara, Nepal
« Reply #24 on: April 29, 2015, 12:42:19 PM »

I remembered this thread after the horrific earthquake that struck Nepal last week. I've really felt sick about it because I did go there last year and I saw many of the ancient temples that are now destroyed. Some of my friends there are suffering greatly; there are two I did not know well who are still unaccounted for, but most of my people are at least safe.

I had said I would come back here and tell what I saw on the highways in that country, so here I am. I made the trip last September, and due to bad weather, an avalanche and cancelled flights, I never was able to visit Pokhara, so I did not see that highway. I did travel extensively through the eastern part of the country and through the Kathmandu Valley.

Most of the major highways are comparable to our old US Highway system, before the interstates. The roads and bridges tended to be mostly at about the same level of repair as our rural roads in Mississippi. There are very few divided highways, but there is at least one expressway running between Kathmandu and Bhaktapur. There are service roads along both sides for most of the distance, and traffic lights are rare. There was nothing even remotely similar to an interchange.

That expressway and all of the other highways feature as much non-motorized traffic as they do motorized. One drives on the left, but that seems to be more of a suggestion than a law. In Kathmandu and Biratnagar in particular, I think most Americans would be very frightened by the traffic. Personally, I found it exhilarating, although I do not know why. It was certainly very dangerous.

I traveled through the eastern part of Nepal, through the cities and towns of Biratnagar (the only polluted city outside Kathmandu that I saw), Itahari, Dharan, Vedetar, Jhapa and Ilam. The road from Damak to Jhapa was absolutely the WORST highway I have ever ridden on! It looks to have been paved to welcome the first automobile to Nepal, in (I think) 1947, and has not been repaired since.

But other than that the roads were in better condition than I had expected. The only other really bad place was at the top of the mountains near Ilam, where the road is extremely narrow and mostly unpaved. The gravel is slippery, and this is one of those stretches of mountain road where there is no shoulder and extreme drop-offs. The elevation reaches about 18000 feet. Oddly, I found that such heights are not as frightening on a motorcycle as they are in a car or bus.

Nepal is going to need tourist dollars to recover and rebuild after the devastating earthquake. I would urge anyone reading this to consider a vacation there. The US dollar is quite strong there, so prices are very low for almost everything. The natural beauty of the Himalayas is simply stunning, and there is no better nor less expensive way to see them than by visiting Nepal.
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