After I was done with all the touristy business, after the mountain experience from last blogpost, I went back to Pokhara to find an apartment and start my new ‚internship’ as a bullet mechanic.

I’d thought about the opportunity of Raju’s offer for a while since it’d mean quite a lot for my trip, staying for an additional 3 months in Nepal. No matter how I looked at it, it kept feeling as the greatest thing to do and I thought; if an awesome opportunity crosses your path, don’t go and NOT do it, seize it! I thought that was a very grown-up way of looking at things, if I dare say so.

Besides learning a useful skill, especially for the rest of my trip on the bike, I’d also get the opportunity to learn more about everyday life in Nepal. That was also a factor that excited me, as it gives you an extra perspective on how you experience and learn from a foreign country. Valuable stuff, people.

So all was set, after some negotiating (Raju wanted me to stay for 5 months and commit to partner up after I got back home, with me starting up a Royal Enfield workshop in Holland, so rich dutch people could pay for him to come over to fix their bikes. Well played Raju.) I would stay in Pokhara for 3 months, working at the workshop every day of the week. After that we’d see how things go.

We seemed a good match

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I spend my first days in Pokhara looking for an apartment, which I found fairly soon and where I got kicked out off just as quick. It seemed I didn’t follow the family rules close enough. The landlord’s family lived one floor down from my apartment and things went bad from the start. They didn’t do well with me having a girl as a roommate. On top of that, we dared coming home and squeak with the fences to get in after 9 pm (I know, we were on a rampage..) and sometimes there was a second bike parked in the apartments parking lot, instead of one. Obviously, there was something very wrong with our approach to living somewhere. So me and the landlord didn’t get along very well.
We hit the final straw when a girl dropped the only apartment key in a bar’s toilet, the first night she was house-sitting when I was away for a couple of days. She got caught red-handed by the landlord, who had no idea who she was, when trying to break in to the place. Something that he, strangely enough, did not take well either.
I had few arguments against his disapproval of what had happened, so we decided it would be for the best if I moved out.
Fortunately, by that time I had befriended Matt and Ian, two great guys from Australia and the UK, who were sharing an apartment and had a room to spare which I could move into. All was settled and we had a great laugh about all that had happened.

In the beginning of me spending everyday at Raju’s, we had to get used to each other for a bit. I had to learn how he ran things in and although his english was fairly good, there was still a bit of a language and cultural barrier we had to break in order to get comfortable with each others presence.
I soon found out that he had no system whatsoever in his doings in the workshop and tea drinking was one of the more important daily tasks. Soon enough, Raju proved to be a very chilled out dude who wouldn’t take any stress from anyone.
He’d pick up jobs when he felt like it, was a master in postponing jobs he didn’t like and never did more in one day than his mood allowed for. But he loved the bikes, if he fixed them they got fixed (although sometimes very slow) good, the workshop was his life and love and you could really feel that in the way he treated the bikes. The workshop was a relaxed place to be, except for the occasional complaining customer who was waiting for his bike to be fixed but who no-one really listened to, Raju proved to be a great teacher and we got along very well!

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Over time I learned that Raju really was one of the best Royal Enfield mechanics in Nepal and that I found the right spot for learning myself. I still think this is the case, but due to the severe trouble I’ve had on the road since I left on the trip home, I also think there’s not much of a sense of long distance travel in Nepal. Fixes often lack precision and quality due to the absence of proper equipment and tools in the country.
For example, when a bike with bend shocks came in, they would get straightened by eye and touch instead of with appropriate measuring tools. The same goes for cylinder borings, wheel alignment, etc. These fixes are good enough for the bumpy, winding roads in Nepal and for the relatively short distances people travel, but are not sufficient for long distance solutions. I think a lot of my troubles underway are related to these sub-optimal fixes we did before I set off.

Anyway, my work started with spending most of my time watching Raju work, following his instructions without really knowing what I was doing or cleaning parts before re-assembly. The cleaning-stuff-with-petrol were my most common jobs in the start and not very interesting, but it’s a good way to learn how things fit together.

Yup, these are circles
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The Bullet’s were very good subjects for learning the mechanical principles of motorcycles. They’re amazingly basic, there’s only one cylinder and carburator, there’s plenty of room to reach everything without having to take the whole thing apart and everything is bolted together in a very basic way.
I quickly picked up on how to tighten the chain, replace wheels and bearings, fix brakes and so on. After a short while I would help customers with these type of problems without Raju’s help and was making him money while he could drink more tea or sleep of his hangover (which I will tell more about soon).

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From there I moved on to clutch rebuilds, the electric system and everything regarding the engine head. We also did a couple of full engine rebuilds while I was there which also taught me a basic understanding of how the bottom part of the engine and timing all fit together.

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It’s interesting to see how fixing bikes is approached in a relatively poor country such as Nepal. The major differences, besides working in the dirt outside, with creatively welded together tools, in a shed that is so dirty and full of junk you wouldn’t believe anyone could get anything done in there, is that they really try to fix things instead of replacing malfunctioning parts with new ones.
Back home, I’m used to getting parts replaced when I bring my bike in for repairs. In Nepal, they really put in an effort to fix the parts that are broken to try to prolong its life. The reason is that there’s no such thing as an hourly rate for mechanics and that people cannot afford to just swop for a new part whenever there’s something wrong. Instead of in the western society, where a mechanics charge is crazy expensive, it’s cheaper to spend time fixing a part than to buy and install a new one.

Another thing I found very interesting, cute almost, was that there’s a specific shop for pretty much every job that needed done on a bike. There was a shop for getting stuff welded, there was a shop to get bikes washed, there was a shop to get parts, there was a shop where metalwork could be done, etc etc. So we ended up running around Pokhara, from shop to shop, in order to get stuff done.
If felt a little bit like how thing must’ve been in the early days and it had something charming to it; everyone had their own specific trade and practiced it in a network of people with other trades, useful to them.

There were a lot of good times at the workshop. Raju was useful to me in teaching me about bikes, I was useful to Raju with helping him around the workshop and attracting tourists as customers, who trusted the place due to my white face hanging around.
In Nepal, there’s quite a bit of a drinking culture going on. There’s only 5 hours of electricity available per day in Pokhara so there’s not much to do in the evenings, and during my stay in wintertime, people start drinking in the evening to ‚stay warm’.
Raju didn’t have electricity at all in his workshop but very much liked to listen to everything between rock and reggae, to techno and drum ‚n bass, so I’d given him a battery charged speaker as a gift for being my bike-teacher. The combination of alcohol, having music around and his Nepali friends and my white friends showing up at the workshop everyday around 5 pm often resulted in either casual get-togethers or crazy parties. Candle-lit evenings started with local food and drinks, delivered to us by the surrounding restaurants, while more and more people dropped by, and ended up in full on dance parties outside of the workshop, with the occasional broken furniture, Raju desperately trying to hook up with white girls and the police breaking up the party.

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This also resulted in very work in-efficient hangovers the next day.

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During this time I had bought my very own Bullet: Dolly. An old classic 350cc model from 1979. I had bought the bike off my roommate Matt, who ran a Royal Enfield touring company, and therefore able to make a good deal. After that, the hassle of dealing with Nepali government offices for bike registration started, and the challenge of obtaining a Carnet de Passages from within Nepal.

My own Bullet!

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I’ll keep it short; but only trying to find a working printer, with ink, while there’s electricity AND while the power is, to start the Carnet application, on took me two weeks. And don’t even get me started on trying to register a bike on your name in Nepal, let’s just say I got it done after about 4 weeks going back and forth between Pokhara and Kathmandu, ‚giving’ the right people some money and having the right people in your network…

While dealing with all this, Raju and me were working on doing a complete engine rebuild to make Dolly long-distance ready. We spent several weeks rebuilding the engine and gearbox, replacing the cylinder and piston, refurbishing the head, replacing all bearings and oil seals, etc etc. We basically replaced all parts that wear for new ones.

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The whole process took longer than I expected, mostly due to the Nepali approach of ‚do first and then think’. There was not much planning ahead involved since this would create ‚tension’, something which Nepali’s are pretty much allergic to. This, although, resulted in a lot of ,tension’ for me, as everything took more and more time to get done and my scheduled departure on the 1st of february was approaching quickly. This created some friction between me and Raju. I tried to get the message across that I had to maintain my schedule and we had to try to speed things up, but he would have nothing of it because that would mean ‚tension’ or stress.

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Luckely, we got things done a couple of days prior to my departure. I took Dolly for a couple of 100 km’s to set the engine and all seemed fine. Although I hadn’t ran into problems, I did feel that the bike was missing some power and I was a little bit concerned about the amount of oil that got spat out through the oil dispense pipe under the cylinder. I had it checked by Raju and double checked by another mechanic, and they both said it was fine, so I decided to let it go and not worry about it. (Ha! Little did I know of the trouble up ahead!) I was all set to start cruising’, just a little bit behind on schedule due to Indian visa processing times, on the 5th of february. Yippee!

Till the next one,

Geert