First Poker Run in Nepal

This poker run had an international flavour with riders and pillions from Switzerland, England, Canada, India, France, Nepal, and of course, Australia.

I WAS IN Kathmandu, Nepal, doing some planning for a future trip, when my friend Rabi informed me that a few of the local riders were going for a Royal Enfield overnight run to The Last Resort, about a 100 km north of Kathmandu near the Tibetan border.

They had planned to be up there on 13 April for the Nepali New Year. Now the Nepalese are up to 2066 on their calendar. Their months/days are slightly out of kilter with the rest of the world so the differences in dates have compounded over the centuries. The calendar New Year is still celebrated at the start of the year like us; they just seem to be up for as many other celebrations and festivals throughout the year.

As I had a bit of free time I suggested running a poker run as well.

Binod, another friend of mine from Nepal, whom I had ridden with on many adventures, had often talked about organising a poker run in Kathmandu. Binod had unfortunately passed away from a heart attack last year so this seemed a good opportunity to organise the run we had discussed.

The concept of a poker run had to be explained to all and sundry as no one had ever heard of it before. Even a couple of Yanks and various expats from England and Europe were nonplussed. A bit of explanation was in order — that no, we didn’t actually play cards while riding! Poker runs must be an Australian invention — up there with rotary clotheslines and motor mowers!

Sponsors were eager to come on board for lucky prizes along the way as well. Soon the prizes included a two-day jungle safari at a top resort, a Mt Everest mountain flight, a bungee jump, and many dinner vouchers for two. Even Dugar Brothers, the Royal Enfield distributor in Nepal, was supportive. A couple of the local beer companies also donated a few slabs. All too easy — it just goes to show that you don’t have to re-invent the wheel, just provide a new audience.

A few trophies were rustled up for Best Hand, Best Bike and Hard Luck awards. The Hard Luck award wasn’t required as all the Enfields completed the trip. Now where are all those stories about classic bikes and Lucas electrics! Mind you, most of the bikes were fairly new or looked like they had been rewired locally at some stage — so maybe components from India are more reliable.

So the plan was set — it should take about four hours riding time to get to The Last Resort for the overnight stay. Add in a couple of extra hours for stops, so we planned to get out of Kathmandu at 9 am.

The start point was in Thamel, a touristy market area. The guys commandeered a section of the taxi rank to line up all the bikes, and as happens, the traffic police took an interest — but officialdom are a bit laissez faire, or as the Nepalese say “bholi bholi”, and soon we are explaining about poker runs while they admire the bikes. Most of the locals ride 125 cc Hondas or cheap Chinese scooters. Bikes are mainly used for transport and the enthusiast rider is a small but growing market.

There are some traffic lights in Kathmandu but it would be foolish to believe that anyone was going to obey them. The best way to describe the traffic congestion would be to describe it as forgiving — no road rage, just a blending of traffic as they merge from one side of the intersection to the other.

Breathalysers are unheard of and beer and spirits are sold at nearly every store, so combined with the sponsor’s beer, you can well imagine the more than happy pack of riders who cruised into our lunch stop on the riverside at Dolalghat.

A Nepali dish, dahl bhat, consisting of rice and curries, fried fish and complementary beers, made for an extended rest break with the riders speculating on their chances — they had just been issued with their third cards. It was also time to draw some free prizes.

On the road again and it was swervery heaven as we followed the river valley north. A couple of short road-work sections and floodways to watch out for, and we soon stopped in Barabise. Another card and more prize draws before the final section of the ride.

When we arrived at The Last Resort there is a small lockup parking section off the road and we have to carry our gear across a very high suspension bridge to a small oasis on the other side of the gorge. Lovely cool manicured gardens and hot showers await us in the tented style accommodation resort. But getting our priorities right, it was into the Esky for longnecks of sponsored beer.

Final cards are drawn and three aces scores the jungle safari prize. A free bungee jump is also drawn and we all wander over to the vantage point to watch one of the chicks drop from what is reputedly the second highest bungee in the world. It takes about 45 minutes to walk back up so I decide not to bother! That’s my story, anyway. Best Bike is awarded to a modified Enfield with a spiderweb paint job.

The evening was spent enjoying a very lazy BBQ meal around a campfire. We filled in the time to midnight and the New Year amicably imbibing and discussing bike related stories from several continents. Several bottles had emerged from luggage and a bottle of Grey Goose vodka didn’t stand a chance.

The next day sees a late and subdued start for the return ride back to Kathmandu, and as it is public holiday, the light traffic is welcome.

We regroup at a local bar in Kathmandu for a couple of cold ones and discuss being part of the First Poker Run in Nepal.

Words & pics by Stewie from Albury

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