Apologies for the absence and lack of posts, since Kathmandu there’s been a lot of riding to make it to Thailand for Christmas and visits from family. Hopefully now there’s some beach time coming up it’ll give chance to catch up. So without further ado.
The tyres were on route to Kathmandu and the desire to get the hell out of India was strong. Compared to the Wagha where I’d entered India, I expected my exit to be much more straight forward with significantly less patriotic fanfare, what I hadn’t bargained for was getting a mile into Nepal before realising I’d crossed an international border. If it wasn’t for the change in army uniform prompting the question to a soldier ‘what country is this?’ I could have ridden all the way to Kathmandu unchecked. No signs, no barriers just hundreds of 125cc bikes buzzing across the bridge separating Raxual and Birgunj. Temptation was to just keep going and see how far an illegal immigrant on a bright yellow bike could make it but sense prevailed and I turned the bike around and rode back into India to leave officially, again no one stopped me.
It was surprising how easy it was to zip across unnoticed because at the time that very border was the heart of a political standoff with an ever worsening humanitarian consequence. I mentioned in the last post that Nepal was in the grips of a fuel crisis. Around 25 days before the government had voted in a new constitution splitting the country into a number of new districts, the large population of Madheshi which inhabit the low lands along the border with close social and cultural ties to India did not agree with this new constitution. The government of Nepal accused India of imposing an undeclared blockade in support for the Madheshi while India denied the allegations, stating the supply shortages have been imposed by Madheshi protesters within Nepal, and that India has no role in it. Either way it had spilled on to the streets of the border towns with protests, violent and sometimes deadly clashes. From my point of view, talking to people on the ground, India were strong arming Nepal to veto the constitutional changes knowing full well Nepal depends 100% on them for their fuel. A rather short-sighted move by the Nepalease government. It all gets a very messy and somewhat complicated (read more here) as these political pissing matches always do, but the people it hurts are the ones trying to survive. Only 8 months after the devastating earthquake, surviving is exactly what they are trying to do. By the time I rolled into town things were getting difficult, the road to the border was marked by 15miles of dusty tankers backed up on either side, queues several streets long from every fuel less petrol station waiting for the rations when a tanker did arrive, but strangely the streets of Kathmandu were still busy with traffic fuelled on black market juice, a mix of smuggled petrol and god know what. But where things were getting really desperate was the lack of cooking gas, restaurants were running restricted menus, things they could cook on wood fires, modern kitchens rolled back a few hundred years with windows wide open to let out the smoke. Improvised wood stoves on the street outside homes to boil up a pan of Dal. A few streets back from Patan Durba Sqaure alongside the neatly piled crumbled remains of an earthquake toppled temple I witnessed a moving show down between an old man and young woman, the woman filling a bag with fire wood, intricately carved ancient wood from the temple remains, the man demanding she preserve the history that lay in a pile on the floor. This brought home to me the predicament both natural and man made Nepal had found it’s self in and if this was the situation in the capital city, you can only guess at how it must be in the remote mountains where winter was fast approaching.
From the moment I’d crossed the border into Nepal it had a different feel to India, the place was cleaner, the crowds didn’t gather, the people who approached engaged in conversation and everything had generally more tranquil feel . It was exactly what I’d been hoping for and needed. Unfortunately even with a full tank and 10lts of petrol strapped to the bike there was still only just enough to ride from the border post to Kathmandu and back, with a little in reserve. Without fuel to explore, Nepal or more precisely Kathmandu became just a strategic stopover, a place to get the Myanmar and Thai visa, pick up the tyres and get some work done on the bike. The front pads were shot, the oil needed changing, just before the border the battery had begun running flat while riding and at low revs the bike was bucking like a bronco. Thousands of miles of crap fuel had taken its toll on the carb. My mechanical knowledge is average and my confidence changes day to day, the oil and the pads are easy and if I really had to with time and the manual I’m sure I could work on the carb, but fortunately I didn’t need to as a garage came highly recommended. Pushpa Narayan motorcycle workshop, a god send and haven for anyone riding through this part of the world. Softly spoken Pushpa, his sons and his brother are a great team and run an immaculate garage with the most care and attention I’ve ever seen, so I decided to let them take care of all the work and fit the tyres too while I was off visiting the embassy’s. When I picked the bike up it was in better condition that the day I left home, they’d even fixed some of the little bits I hadn’t mentioned and given the bike its first wash of the trip. For a long time I’d suspected the muck was holding things together. A good mechanic really is worth his weight in gold. The only thing which they couldn’t sort was the battery that they suspected was dying but couldn’t replace, fully charged it would last me 3 or 4 full days riding, a problem for another day.
Prior to picking up the tyres from customs in Kathmandu I’d scoured the net for where to go, what to do and how much I’d likely have to pay. I didn’t find much, just the official 2015 duty listings – 20% for pneumatic rubber motorcycle tyres. So here’s something back, this is my experience and as I’ll explain depending on the courier service used the process can be different. If you’re not planning on shipping anything to Kathmandu you can probably skip over this bit.
The tyres were shipped DHL express and held at the airport, DHL sent a note via courier to the hotel address listed on the shipment telling me they were ready for pickup. There was no real address for the DHL office so I just rode to the airport and asked around, this lead me into both the domestic and international departures building, it isn’t in either. I did however get befriended by a couple of guys who claimed to be customs officials / brokers telling me there was a DHL building to the south of the airport, they offered to come with me on the bike and help get the tyres released at a good price, they had no ID and the tyres were sent DHL so this all seemed a little unofficial for my liking and I continued on alone out of the airport and to the south where I discovered the DHL office. Here they recognised the code on the note and I expected that would be that, pay the 20% and get the tyres. Not so. Firsts of they quoted 30% duty, I had a copy of the duty listings so that dropped to the official 20% almost straight away, add to that 10% tax which wasn’t unexpected but then here’s where it got a little confusing – the shipment was valued at £150 and weighed 13.5kg, apparently 5 of the whatever the export currency is must be added to the value for every kg of weight, meaning the shipment becomes value adjusted at £217.50. This to me made no sense, seemed utter bullshit and I told them this. For the additional cost to be calculated in the export currency has no bearing on the value or type of a commodity and is only related to the strength or denomination of a foreign currency, those with a strong currency or low denomination are being penalised, if for example I’d shipped the tyres from Uzbekistan where there’s 6000som to the pound, the adjusted value would be £150.01. You get my point. Unfortunately DHL man didn’t, but he did understand I wasn’t going to pay the £67.25 fee (30% on £217.50 plus £2 insurance). I told him there must be another way, he agreed and called his friend and so arrived an insurance broker, not one of the same from earlier but a broker non the less.
This is when I discovered that the tyres weren’t at the DHL office as I’d believed but somewhere in the bowels of the cargo / customs building just down the road. We climbed on his scooter, headed there and I was lead into a small office of utter chaos, a row of 10 computers down either side, each surrounded by a scrum of guys holding import paperwork and fiddling the numbers on the system. It would take over 2 hours but he could get the price down if the payment was cash and I didn’t want a receipt, all very legitimate. I left in search of a cash machine and water, the hangover from the night before was beginning to kick in. Returning an hour later there was bad news, it would take 3 hours and apparently the numbers had been wrong, it was 10 random currencies per kg, the value had just increased to £285 and therefore a fee of £87.50, bollocks. By this point I’d been in the room long enough to know the duty on all kinds of chemicals, swimming caps and Spectre the new bond film but more importantly how the ’brokerage’ worked. I told him I wouldn’t pay more than 10,000 Nepalese Rupees (£62.50) and if I had the tyres in the next 30min would add 1000Rupees, it worked, me £68.75 lighter and the tyres were out the door half an hour later.
In all it was a cluster feck of a setup which really didn’t make much sense, I’m pretty sure the 5 or 10 random currency thing isn’t legit and the DHL lad and the broker were in cahoots, maybe it’s 10 Rupees per kg and they bend the figures to milk unsuspecting foreigners, but eventually I just wanted to get the tyres and get out of there. It took about 3 hours in total and I left paying £1.50 more than originally quoted so I can’t exactly mark it down as a victory but I had the tyres.
Frank and Petra had also arrived in town to pick up tyres but had used DHL standard delivery meaning their package had been sent to the central post office. They didn’t get any delivery notification but just went straight there regardless based on the tracking information. They came back 2 hours later with both tyres and looking relaxed. They hadn’t had to go through all the brokerage bollocks and with minimal hassle had been charged 30% duty and tax and a negligible handling fee. I felt a little had.
Anyway that’s enough about that. With a smooth running bike, a battery full of charge, fresh rubber on the ground and Frank and Petra back by my side we were all ready to leave, but not quite ready again for India. We decided if we could to pick up some black market fuel near the border and take the straight road through eastern Nepal and into Western Bengal, not only was it quicker but gave a few more days rest bite from the madness south of the border. Outside of Birgunj we managed to get 40lts of half decent black market juice for a good price, the bikes ran a little funky but it saved us 3 extra days in India so it was a worthwhile trade off. Almost as straight as the crow flies the road out east runs north of the boarder through Madeshi country all the way to Siliguri in India. Here were the people who were blockading the fuel, they were openly selling petrol on the streets and few burnt out buses and cars gave us a clear sign of what had been happening.
Nepal was a bit of a funny one really, I didn’t get chance to explore the place at all so my impression is almost solely based on Kathmandu, but what I did see I liked and I’ll certainly be back to take a proper look around and hopefully by then they’ll have fuel.
The wait won’t be as long for the next post I promise.