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4th Enfield Rendezvous & Poker Run

ON THE BULLET TRAIN TO POKHARA

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Ok relax! We still have ages to go before we will actually be able to board a realistic Bullet Train to Pokhara. Forgive me for being a pessimist, but I doubt if that priceless moment will arrive before I breathe my last. So the closest thing I could have to that surreal feeling was joining the 4th edition of Enfield Poker Run to Pokhara from the 12th-14th of April, 2012. The idea was to usher in the 2069 Nepali New Year in Pokhara and I couldn’t have asked for a better way to celebrate than boarding that Bullet Train on the run to Pokhara.

 

So what is THE ENFIELD POKER RUN? The Enfield Rendezvous & Poker Run is a non-competitive annual motorcycle riding event aimed at bringing together Royal Enfield and other classic vintage motorcycle riders for a ride through the Nepali countryside. No, you don’t actually play cards while riding! Riders will have to pick a card only in each pit stop to make a complete Poker hand at the final destination and the best Poker hand wins an award. In addition to that, there are also other specific awards and the check points offer free food, drinks or lucky spots prizes. Rabi Thapa (CEO of Sacred Summits Pvt. Ltd) in association with an Australian friend Stewart Mclean, had initiated the event in 2009 in memory of their riding friend late Binod Chhetri, an adventurer and a die-hard fan of the Royal Enfield motorcycles. Over the years, it has gained much popularity and has become a ‘must attend’ event for Enfielders to come together once a year to swap bike riding stories and share the road with fellow locals and international riders. While Christians waits for Christmas, Hindus for Diwali and Muslims for Id, Enfielders here in Nepal now eagerly anticipate their loudest and biggest reunion – The Enfield Poker Run.

 

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Giving continuity, Sacred Summits had organized the 4th edition of the event with their slogan – ‘Be a part of the biggest thunder ride ever. Don’t miss it or you will be talked about!’ Well, we sure didn’t want to be talked about but our only problem here was that our team neither owned a Royal Enfield nor a classic bike to be qualified to participate. Now this is where our main man Rabi Dai from Sacred Summits came in to the rescue. Over a bottle of beer at the pre-ride gathering in Kathmandu Handle Bar, he assured us the keys to a 2007 Royal Enfield Bullet Electra 500cc and as well took care of the registrations fees of Rs.4500 each for my teammate Ankit and me. Whoever quoted that there is nothing like free lunches or rides seriously need to rethink their statement. To our delight, the bike was also handed over to us two days before the event so that we could get used to the change in riding style.

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After getting our left foot braking and right foot gearing nearly perfect, we rumbled towards the meeting spot at Bagaicha Restaurant, Jawlakhel on the day. We were already behind schedule. But alas, we weren’t the only ones who religiously stuck to the ‘Nepali Time’ philosophy. Turned out that these guys swore by it and more than half of the team had yet to turn up. Jokes on the classic Royal Enfield’s having problems starting up and some of them having broken down on the way started doing the rounds as we waited for the remaining lot. Soon enough the participants turned up in hordes and the earlier spacious parking lot now seemed devoid of space to contain the total of 67 Royal Enfield motorcycles. There was a diverse selection of motorcycles, from Sherap Dai’s fine condition 1964 Bullet 350 to the new Classic 500’s and from a crazy three wheeled one to a cool American Chopper styled Enfield created by the guys from Vintage Motorcycle Club. A final registration check was done and we were handed over our free Civil Bank sponsored Poker Run T-Shirts, Flags, Stickers, etc along with some towels, badges and wrist bands that were distributed as part of one of the events aim to also promote UNICEF’s global sanitary hand washing campaign. The event co-ordinators Rabi Thapa and Sherap Sherpa then went about with the event orientation, regulations and the important safety briefings. Our heads were well fed with all that insight into the event but our empty stomachs weren’t. Thankfully, a hearty breakfast had been arranged, courtesy of Bagaicha Restaurant. After we had to our stomachs full, the first hand of Poker was drawn and it was time to rumble. What better way than to set off on a journey the cultural and religious way, with five sweet little girls signifying the auspicious ‘PanchaKanya’, blessing our foreheads with some vermillion and loads of well wishes.

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Now here comes the sweeter part. Normally, a single Royal Enfield is more than capable of completely annihilating the serene atmosphere of a quiet neighbourhood. Imagine what happens when 67 of these motorcycles are fired up together? The weather reports had predicted that it could rain during the day of our ride. But surprisingly the sun was shining in all its might and I believed it had something to do with the racket we were generating. I can’t rule out the possibilities that the Gods of Thunder might have been ashamed to confront us, as it neither showered upon us then nor during the entire three day ride. We were flagged off from the venue escorted by the Tourist Police through the capital till the valley exit point at Nagdhunga. Our sincerest apologies to all late bloomers and snoozers in the capital, for the disturbance we caused as we passed by. The thunder ride was on! As we rode down the windy 20km road towards Naubise, it was a pretty sight with the long line of Enfield’s snaking through the corners like a serpentine. We then regrouped again at a highway restaurant a few kilometres further ahead of Naubise to pick up our second hand of the Poker cards. Unfortunately, one of the participants had a small plunge down the roadside drain and had already made himself a strong contender for the Hard Luck Award. After some snacking and refreshments by the roadside, we thundered back on the highway. Since we needed to click some pictures along the way, we moved ahead of the pack overtaking the road captain Pramod ‘Goofy’ Shrestha from Himalayan Enfielders, to save time and make sure that we weren’t left behind. Goofy Dai played the perfect captain maintaining the right speed for the pack and safely signalling oncoming vehicles of the Bullet Train behind. Malekhu came by soon and we stopped by for some of the local delicacies of fried fish snacks while waiting for the group to arrive. Then we joined the pack again, making our way towards Mugling where our Yeti Airlines sponsored lunch and the third Poker Hand was awaiting us.

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The monotony that was beginning to set in due to the rising temperatures was suddenly shattered along the way to Mugling where we had a scary puncture along a straight road while cruising at a good 70km/hr. Thank god we weren’t doing high speed runs and it didn’t happen while taking a corner or with a vehicle behind or ahead. Fortunately, Ankit steadily and skilfully managed to bring the bike to a standstill after some dangerous wobbling a few metres down the road. Otherwise the page here would have been probably replaced by an obituary from the editor for the two of us. We had the puncture repaired at a nearby garage as some of the team thoughtfully waited for us sharing stories from earlier rides. We then moved towards Mugling and washed up to enjoy a heavy lunch at Rupsi Restaurant in true Nepali style.

 

We hit the road again, only to stop at Akala Highway Restaurant which lies in Manapang at a distance of 35km before Pokhara. After a brief break and regrouping, we continued in tandem towards Pokhara. All eyes were on us as we thundered towards the Lakeside District, in a disciplined two line formation ride. While some mistook us to be a part of a film shooting crew, some even went to the extent of assuming that we were rallying and lobbying for a political cause. People even flashed out their mobile phone to record our grand entry into the Lake City and I guess some of it must already be gathering views in YouTube. The thrilling Poker Run finally ended upon our arrival at The Landmark Hotel at around 6pm. We were allotted our rooms and given some time for refreshing ourselves for the gala celebration in the evening. The final Poker Hand was dealt and Prem Maharjan won the coveted ‘Best Poker Hand’ and was gifted a well packaged two-night stay at Temple Tiger Jungle Lodge for a couple. 56 other gift vouchers from various sponsors were also handed to the lucky participants. Sadly we didn’t have any prizes to our names, but merrily drank the night away with all that free chilled beer courtesy of Nepal Ice. It was of course a great hit like the previous years as some of them chanted praises in slurred accent- ‘Nepal Ice – Verry Verrry Nice!’ The celebrations continued with live music performed by ‘Boys from Pokhara’ and later in the night by our very own talented Enfielders. The evening was spent enjoying the lavish BBQ, snacks and dinner, dancing and singing to the band until the countdown to usher in the Nepali New Year 2069 BS in true adventure style. We then finally called it a night.

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Now motorcyclists are usually perceived as a hooligan lot, but the organizers had made sure that too was sorted out right. The Enfield Rendezvous & Poker Run always supports a local charity during their ride, thus adding meaning to the ride. After a hearty breakfast at the hotel, we headed towards the Amar Jyoti School in Lekhnath. It was a short ride through an amazing section of well laid winding roads. En route we also stopped by the beautifully constructed Tiger Mountain Pokhara Lodge for some complimentary refreshments. At the school, a warm welcome had been arranged with traditional folk instruments playing on loop and the happy students and villagers welcoming us into the premises. Books and stationeries were handed over to the school principal to be distributed to the school children courtesy of Millennium Publications in Lalitpur. In addition some kits promoting UNICEF’s global sanitary hand washing initiative were handed over to the children and the hygienic hand washing technique was also creatively demonstrated to the children by Sherap Dai. All present beamed with pride and happiness on having done something worthwhile. We bid farewell to the children and returned to Pokhara.

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The rest of the day was free to chill out in Pokhara and enjoy its serene beauty. With its crystal clear lakes and the unique Fishtail Mountain, Pokhara is indeed a paradise. Pokhara was abuzz with the Poker Run participants as they were engaged in a number of outdoor activities such as cycling, sightseeing, boating and paragliding at the heavily discounted rates provided courtesy of the AVIA Club Nepal. Many were also patronizing the numerous restaurants and bars in the town for Pork BBQ, Thakali meals, Beers, etc. During the evening we all gathered at the Bullet Base Camp and turned out that another Poker Run was going around here. Every single purchase at the bar entitled us to one card. So there we went about again in our quest of lady luck. Of course, getting heavily drunk in the process. As the game closed for the night, it turned out we were the winners with our four of a kind hand. The prize was the bar speciality: a full chilli Vodka; sharing the rapid swigs of which had us tipsily finding our way back to the hotel at nearly 3am in the morning in such a line that our mothers wouldn’t have been really proud of.

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The next morning we woke up pretty late to massive hangovers reminding us of the good time we had last night. It was time to return home. We went for a final visit to Bullet Base Camp where I had left my power glasses the last night and after breakfast, bid the owners Nathan Ford and Ginette Vegter adieu. We got back on the road to finally rejoin the Bullet Train that had already left us lazy bums, down at Akala Highway Restaurant. Then finally over lunch at Mugling the final prize distributions were done. Through a open voting competition, Chhedup Bomzon bagged the ‘Best Enfield Award’ for the true to originality modification on his 1991 Bullet STD 350 and was gifted a trophy and two-night stay for couple at the Tiger Mountain Pokhara Lodge with all meals. Vintage Motorcycle Club won the ‘Most Creative Design’ for their amazing three wheeled Enfield and got one night stay for a couple at the Fish Tail Lodge in Pokhara along with a 6 course complimentary dinner for two at the Krishnarpan Restaurant, Dwarika’s Hotel. Bhawesh Jha took the ‘Hard Luck Award’ trophy and was given Rs.3500 cash prize as a financial assistance for repairs. Siru Riviera was awarded the ‘Most Supportive Female Rider’ and rewarded with a two-night stay for couple at the Tigerland Safari Resort, Chitwan.

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With plenty of laughter from the many jokes by the participants, we set out for Naubise to beat the oncoming traffic all the way up to Kalanki. Unfortunately, our bike ran out of fuel a few kilometres from Naubise and we signalled the riders to continue as we expected fuel to be available just a few kilometres downhill. But it looked like we had used up all our luck the previous night at the bar and we didn’t find fuel until the next 30kms or so. Of course, we would have never reached the fuel station if one of the friendly Italian expat participant and the last in the convoy had not provided us with nearly a litre of fuel. The evening drew on as we ascended towards Kathmandu. Some of the participants had regrouped at the Kathmandu Handle Bar and our late arrival was greeted with cheers from the riders and we had even earned a nickname – Petrol Boy. It was the end of a fantastic adventure and after a few round of drinks and collecting the complimentary engine oil from BP Lubricants, all of us headed home exhausted from the long ride.

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This year’s event included as many as 97 participants on 67 Enfields, with travelling tourists, expats and riding enthusiasts from as much as eight different countries – Nepal, India, Australia, Germany, Holland, Spain, UK and USA. It was a ball to cruise alongside most of these still young at heart veteran tourers, who have been riding to various nook and corners of the country even before I learnt to spell motorcycles. In fact, some of them inspite of their age, still frequently ride all the way to exotic places like Ladakh, Bhutan and Tibet. Though we did not win anything during the run, apart from the Chilli Vodka, the bike had a souvenir for me in the form of some generous amount of engine oil splattered on my denim’s bottom half. The classic Royal Enfields are a notorious lot that goes about leaking some oil along the way like a hippopotamus who goes about flinging their poop to mark their territory and our 2007 Bullet Electra was no less. Now a thing like that really makes this experience hard to forget, when the jeans at stake is actually your favourite pair!

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