sridhar39

Active Member
It started one night in 2014, when I was sitting up late in office. On a coffee break, with no one around to talk to, I happened to glance at the huge world map behind the reception desk. It was a really big map occupying the entire 15’ X 12’ wall, big enough to show details of even smaller countries and states. Though it stood there forever, I had never paused to look at- till that night.
Looking at the map I started wondering where in the Himalayas should I go on the next motorcycle ride. Till then I had done just one motorbike trip in the Himalayas (to Kumaon), and since then the call of the mountains had been relentless. I realized that the places I used to think as far away and inaccessible, like the North Eastern states (wonder why cant they just be called the Eastern states) were actually not as far. While looking at Sikkim and Arunachal, for the first I noticed Bhutan, nestled quietly between these two. I had always thought of Bhutan as an exotic, faraway place. It didn’t seem so far, especially if I could ship my motorcycle to a railhead near Bhutan. A plan was taking shape.

I pored over the map on the weekend. It seems I could ship the motorbikes to Siliguri (New Jalpaiguri railway station) take a flight to Sliliguri, collect the bikes from the railway parcel room and proceed to Jayanagar/ Phuentsholing, 3 hours away at the Bhutan border.
Even more exciting was the to travel beyond Thimphu deeper inside Bhutan. Every further piece of information suggested that the really beautiful parts of Bhutan lay further East of Thimphu. Not only are Punakha (famous monastery), Phobjika (beautiful valley) and Bumthang (highest place in Bhutan, nearly alpine in its beauty) immensely beautiful, they celebrate festivals through the whole year. Be it the festival to celebrate the arrival of Black-necked cranes, the Kings birthday, or the Harvest season, they celebrate nearly everything in life. This would be charming trip, if only I could make to the Eastern sectors of Bhutan, and make it back to Siliguri in a week. The idea of backtracking on the same path from which I had come never did appeal to me, so I zoomed in further in google maps, and lo and behold, what I thought as a dead end at Trashigang turned out to be the start of a narrow and less used road going South to another border with India, at Sandrup Jhonkhar, with Guwahati just 3 hours from the border. This was splendid. Both Siliguri and Guwahati had railheads and airports.
Now to convince my better half. She had been riding off and on, especially since she got her Duke 200, she had been enjoying it too. Her concern would be the safety of just the three of us (me, better half, 7yr old daughter) bushwhacking it through Bhutan and Bengal on bikes. Time to call reinforcements. And I called the best of the best. My comrades in all things exciting and stupid, Jaya’s cousins Sushant and Rohan. Like Crash and Eddy in Ice Age-2, they are always ready for adventure (and are usually the cause of most of them). Crash and Eddy were excited, especially as I have promised them that no other Indian bikers do the entire West-East crossing of Bhutan (which wasn’t true). My research says (incorrectly so) that the best season to see Bhutan is November. So it was that November 2014 was to be our tryst with Bhutan.
Ten Interesting Facts about Bhutan | Blog Posts | WWF
Bhutan: The people, the culture, the mountains
Riders (youngest to oldest):
  1. Mehr– Jaya & Avi’s daughter, 7 yrs old, 2nd grade. Loves outdoors (pillion)
  2. Sushant– Sportsperson, movie buff. Riding his new 2014 Bullet Electra.
  3. Rohan– Loves movies, music, foodie. Riding his trusty Thunderbird 350.
  4. Avi– Traveller, auto enthusiast. Riding the oldest bike in the lot, 2001 Electra 350.
  5. Jaya– Traveller, music enthusiast. Riding Duke 200.


Schedule: 11 days, 8th to 18th Nov 2014
Day-0: Reach Siliguri, collect bikes from Railway station, rendezvous with Rohan.
Day-1: Siliguri – Paro (~ 300km, 8 hrs)
Day-2: Paro-Paro
Day-3: Paro- Thimphu (~ 50km, 1.5 hr)
Day-4: Thimphu- Thimphu
Day-5: Thimphu- Punakha (~ 85km, 2.5hrs)
Day-6: Punakha- Phobjika (~ 80km, 3 hrs)
Day-7: Phobjika- Jakar (~ 150km, 4.5 hrs)
Day-8: Jakar- Mongar (~ 170km, 6 hrs)
Day-9: Mongar- Trashigang (~ 75km, 2.5 hrs)
Day-10: Trashigang- Guwahati (~ 270km, 8 hrs)
Day-11: Pack the bikes and handover at railway station, take flight back to Delhi.
Relevant to note that we did not hold to the plan on any of the days, barring the last days ride.
Three bikes would be shipped from Delhi to Siliguri by train beforehand. We would reach Siliguri by flight on Day-0. Rohan’s plan was to put himself and his bike in a train from Bhopal (where he lives) and rendezvous with us at Siliguri on Day-0. And so the adventure began.
Day-0:
Having successfully dispatched our bikes earlier by train, we took an early day off from office to catch the flight to Bagdogra (IXB). Rohan had already managed to train hop his way to Siliguri earlier in the day, but tragedy befell as the train’s cargo compartment door got jammed, and did not open. Consequently his bike continued with the train to Guwahati. Cursing him on his poor planning, we got off the flight and reached New Jalpaiguri station. On reaching the parcel room, the attendant (a middle aged cranky Bengali whom we labelled Uncle Scrooge) asked for the deposit receipt (colloquially known as Bilti) for the bikes. And we did not have it! I claimed I had given it to Jaya, and she did not remember my giving it to her, or her carrying it with her for the trip. We tried pleading & bribing, but to no avail. This was Bengal, and average Joe could either not be corrupted, or was too afraid to accept a bribe from a non-native. Rohan bhai had arranged for his bike to be carted back from Guwahati to New Jalpaiguri by next morning by the returning train, and here we sat with no Bilti, and hence, no Bikes. We could see our bikes, prove that they were our bikes, but we could not get them. The only option was to get a duplicate Bilti from New Delhi. So we called the kind agent (Sodan Singh) in Delhi who had got our bikes onto the train in the first place.

It was 9 pm when we called him, so naturally we found Sodan Singh sitting with mates drinking. After much wangling and charging Rs 2000 for the favour, Sodan Singh agreed to get a duplicate Bilti and send it by way of next day’s (Day-1) Rajdhani trains attendant. The Rajdhani would reach the day after (Day-2) by around 11am. This was a huge setback. We were now put back by 1.5 day. Nevertheless, with nothing to do we found a lodge close the station and settled down.
Day-1 was spent exploring Siliguri. Being November the weather was pleasant, and we discovered the most awesome melt-in-mouth panipuris right outside our lodge. We also went about the bazaar picking up warm clothes and bungee cords for Rohan bhai (Eddy) who- being a true Bhopali- had decided one jacket and 2 large shoulder bags that he could wear simultaneously, one at the back and one at the front, would do just fine for a 9 days Bhutan bike trip.

Day-2:
11:00 am at the Rly station, the Rajdhani rolls into view, trundles onto the platform, and we make a beeline for B2 coach. We find the coach attendant who looks at us like your Labrador who’s chewed off your best Moccasins, and tells us that he has lost the Bilti alongwith his wallet. I so wanted to beat him up, shake him by his shirt collar and yell, but he looked so innocent. He was barely 20 yrs old, and was nearly in tears himself. So there we sat, dejected and teary eyed, on the second day of our 11 day trip- with no bikes. While this drama was unfolding, ‘Uncle Scrooge’ (parcel room attendant) – who, we had collectively decided was corrupt as well as gutless- had been watching us. He realized what had transpired- he had been seeing us for the past 2 days- and became livid at our predicament. He took me by the elbow and without a word walked me to the Station Masters office. We had met the station master (SM) on Day-1, and had pleaded with him to allow us to take the bikes. He marched us into the Station Masters office, who was barely 32 years old. And then this 50 yr old ‘Uncle Scrooge’ proceeded to berate the SM in Bangali, with the righteousness that only an upright and honest man can possess, about making the five of us suffer for a simple administrative issue, on why being the station master he was so timid, and couldn’t take a simple decision to release the bikes basis a letter of undertaking. It was a spectacle, and in front of our eyes we saw the poor young SM melt down. He said something to his admonisher in Bengali, then turned to us and sheepishly asked us to furnish an affidavit, take our bikes, and send the Bilti by courier!!! We were free. I mean, our bikes were free, but it did feel like we were the ones in jail for the last 2 days.

Finishing the paperwork took till afternoon, the bikes were released by 6pm. We could not thank ‘Uncle Scrooge’ enough. It was too late to make a run for Phuentsholing, so we went looking for street food for dinner. Our exploration took us to Sevoke road in an electric rickshaw, which I could not resist having a go at. The young rickshaw driver was game, and let me drive along the backroads of Siliguri, holding all 5 ½ of us, and it was surprisingly fun. Sevoke road would seem to a visitor to be the hub for every kind of salable and eatable item in Siliguri. An assortment of street foods – from the awesome mutton cutlets, rolls and chaat – later we retired for the night.
Bikes filled up, bags packed, and dreaming of the riding in the mountains of Bhutan.

(The Bikes are Free! And so are we!)

Day-3:
We were up early, refreshed and rolling by 6:30am. As soon as you leave Siliguri, there’s an Army camp and then the road is bordered by tall trees. Sushant was in the lead. We soon crossed Sevoke and reached the Coronation bridge on the Teesta river, and took the opportunity to take a few pictures. We crossed the bridge and proceeded towards Phuentsholing (Bhutan border), aiming to reach by noon, completing the paperwork and crossing the border by 1pm and proceeding to Paro, which was another 140km from Phuentsholing.


(On the road at last)

Having crossed Nagrakata and Birpara by 11 am, we were satisfied with the progress. Crash (Sushant), always the first to feel hungry, found a local dhaba that promised Mutton and Roti. That did it for Crash, he refused to go further without food. After waiting for a while, we realized that mutton was being prepared from scratch. I was concerned about the time, but by now I could smell the spices and the mutton being cooked, and basic instincts lead me astray. Having eaten our full, we thanked the ‘dada’ -who was from Samastipur, Bihar- for an amazingly well cooked mutton, we promised to come back again someday (one does say some fairly stupid stuff on a full stomach) and started off. It was 1pm. We rushed along and reached Jayanagar (Indian side of the border).



(Laying down the law at Teesta crossing- Coronation Bridge)

To our surprise, the entry into Bhutan was just a big open gate with Dragons astride them, with traffic and people passing through without any check. We crossed the gate, and a few hundred meters on, on the right found the permit office. We were told to fill a form. Crash and Eddy had not showed up yet. We filled up the form and waited, and after 20 minutes the intrepid bikers strolled in. They had decided to stop over for some photographs to remember the first day of the ride. We filled out the forms, and were escorted to an immigration officer for kind of an interview. He was a kind man, and was surprised and happy to know that we as a family were going to travel across Bhutan on 2 wheels. He signed our papers quickly, and told us to rush to the transport office to get the permits for our bikes. By the time we reached it was 2:30pm and the office was closed. We had no option but to put up in Phuentsholing for the night, paying the price for the superbly tender Samastipur mutton.
We checked into a reasonable hotel, which offered us a single big room with 4 beds. Having rested, we headed to the market (actually, the whole town was like a single big market) to get our first feel of Bhutan. Being a border town, there is a free flow of Indians. The town was absolutely clean, with no waste lying around. In comparison with Jayanagar market just across a fence, Phuentsholing was clean and welcoming. I have never seen such a contrast separated by just a chicken mesh.

(Mehr finds something she likes in Phuentsholing market)

We had an early dinner, accompanied by Bhutanese alcohol (which was surprisingly reasonable and effective) and went back to our hotel to retire for the night. We were awaken a couple of times that night due to shouting & commotion between some local girls and guests, but were told by the hotel staff that this wasn’t anything unusual, although it did seem pretty nasty and serious to us. A little taken aback by this experience, we grabbed as much sleep as possible to be ready for the next day’s ride.

Day-4:
The transport office opened at 10:30, and by 11:30 we had the permits for our bikes and were packed and ready to go. These permits would allow us to be in Bhutan for 7 days, and travel till Thimphu. At Thimphu we had to get another permit to travel to Punakha and beyond. The days ride would be ~ 140km, and take about 4 hrs.
We had by now developed the discipline to ride in a particular order, separated by 100-150mts intervals allowing sufficient braking distance, yet keeping everyone in view. We also learnt to keep a lookout for the person behind in the rearview mirrors, lest he/ she fell behind or stopped. We also decided the signals to ask the person in front to stop or slow down. We were evolving into a pack.
An interesting tidbit is that we had made no advance bookings, and with the positivity with which we travel within India – kuch na kuch to mil jayega- here we were in Bhutan. It was Jaya’s plan to just wing it with regard to accommodation rather than to plan the stops, and it played out beautifully.

(Crash and Eddy celebrating entry into Bhutan)

Although it was just 145 km to Paro, we made a meal of it yet again, stopping to have breakfast, other snacks, sightseeing, visiting a small monastery and ringing the really big gong by pushing it round and round while walking around it. I think we had the natural talent to slow things down. It started getting dark, and colder by 4pm. We had not realized as yet that sunset is earlier by around 45 minutes in Bhutan. Not having ridden in mountains in November, we had to stop more than once to put on layers of warm clothes.

(Taking a break to turn the big prayer wheel)


(Making new friends. Of the best type.)

The afternoon exposed another peculiar issue. We had been riding for about two hours when I felt the visor of Mehrs helmet nudge my back. I didn’t think much of it, but after a few minutes, it nudged me again, albeit a little harder this time. That’s when I realized that she was dozing off in the comfort of the afternoon sun, lulled by the wind. She was safely ensconced on the sides by the backpacks strapped to the bike, the big backrest at the back, and me in the front, but I did not want her dozing. The only way I figured was to keep her interested in the scenery, hence the afternoons on the entire trip were spent pointing out objects of interest in the landscape to Mehr. Some real, some imaginary. The imaginary ones kept her more occupied.
We had been riding North from Phuentsholing since morning, and finally at 6pm we turned left into Paro valley at the confluence of Paro and Thimphu rivers. The road quality went up quite a few notches suddenly. We covered the remaining distance quickly and rolled into a deserted looking Paro at about 7.30pm, with just one grocery store open and the cold seeping into our bones. This was to become a template for the coming days, starting by 10:30am, and stopping the ride a couple of hours after sundown.
A little bit of enquiry got us pointed in the right direction, and we found a suitable hotel that offered us rooms for Rs 800 a night. The rooms were clean, warm and wood paneled, which was just brilliant considering the weather. We were so famished and tired that we decided to have dinner without changing, in our riding gear. The hotel offered an assortment of Bhutanese food, and we instantly fell in love with Ema Datshi, a staple dish made from Red Chilli Peppers and Yak Cheese. And we also fell in love with Bhutanese alcohol, notably Black Mountain whiskey and Honeybee rum. Together, Ema Datshi and Honeybee were the perfect combination for travelers who came riding in the cold of the night.

(Ema Datshi and Black Mountain after a numbing ride in the cold)

Day-5:
We woke to the pleasant sounds of gongs and singing. We looked out of the window to find little school children practicing some songs and dance, which we understood later was in preparation for the Bhutanese Kings birthday the next day. The king- Namgyel Wangchuk- is revered across Bhutan. Every household and establishment has his image on a wall. As we got out and got a better look at Paro in daylight, we found that all the houses were made with a traditional wooden roof, carved like the roof of a monastery. It was beautiful to see a town full of traditionally made and decorated houses.

(Kids: The best brand ambassadors for any culture)

We had planned to stay the day in Paro, and visit Tigers nest monastery. On the way to Tigers Nest, we decided to stop over and see Drukgyel Dzong, which was built half a millennia ago to celebrate the victory of Bhutanese over Tibetan forces. Surprisingly, we were the only ones at the Dzong along with a Bhutanese family of Birendra Rai. Birendra was the manager at a resort in Paro, and he was very kind to explain the history of the Dzong. When he learnt that we intended to travel East from Thimpu the next day, he pointed out that the next day being the Kings birthday, all offices would be closed. If we wanted to get our permit for travel beyond Thimphu, we would have to get it the same day.

(L to R: Avi, Rohan and Sushant @ Drukgyek Dzong, Paro Valley)


(Avi, Mehr, Birendra Rai, Jaya: Drukgyel Dzong)

That put paid to Tigers Nest. We thanked Birendra, hopped onto our bikes and rushed off to pack our bags and ride to Thimphu. On the way we passed the Paro airport and saw a jet taking off. Being able to stand right next to the airstrip, we wondered whether the jet would clear the tall peaks surrounding the valley. Paro airport is one of the more difficult airports to land and take off from, I later learnt.
The road from Paro to Thimphu is made like a highway. It runs along Paro Chu and Thimphu Chu (Chu=River in Bhutanese) all the way to Thimphu. We entered Thimphu at about 1 pm, and quickly got our personal travel permits. Then we made our way to the transport office with some difficulty. Thimphu is a big city, with a network of one ways, but with extremely disciplined traffic. The officials were in a holiday mood, and turned up at 3pm just to close the office without issuing permits. This incensed Jaya, who refused to let the official close the office without issuing permits. Had it not been for Jaya, the rest of us would not have stood up and fought and would have settled for coming back 2 days later for the permit. This would not be the last time on this trip that Jaya’s presence of mind and conviction would save the day for us!
With the permits in hand, and with plenty of daylight remaining, we decided to ride around Thimphu and take in the sights. We tried riding up to the big Buddha statue at the top of the mountain, but somewhere along the way we lost Eddy. We spent the next 2 hours trying to find him, and having Bhutanese snacks and Tea at different shops. The things that we immediately noticed in Thimphu traffic were 1) nobody honked, there was silence on the fairly busy streets of Thimphu 2) Drivers were always polite and gave way to other drivers and pedestrians. The second point was sometimes unnerving, as we were not used to big SUV’s stopping to let pedestrians cross the road. In Delhi, if a big SUV stops near you, it’s something to be alarmed about. Rohan bhai found us at last, and we found a place to settle for the night. It was a small apartment with 2 rooms, which we took up for Rs 1500 a night. It served the purpose, and was reasonably clean, it had no windows and didn’t have positive vibe to it. During the entire trip, we always found a better accommodation at lesser price.
We went out for a long walk and dinner. We found an umpteen number of Soup vendors in the streets, who sell the same soup. It tasted like porridge soup, with a lot herbs, and a good dose of Ginger. Pretty good stuff to keep the cold out. Crash and Eddy vetoed my plan to continue East from Thimphu towards Punakha the next day, insisting that a trip to Bhutan warranted a full day in Thimphu. Which, I realized later, was the best decision, since the next day was the Kings birthday.

DAY-6:
In Thimphu, the Kings birthday is celebrated with day long events at the national stadium. We spent a lot of time watching traditional dances, songs, recitals and music. I also realized an issue with my bike, that the oversized jets (in Carburettor) I was using in the Electra were running too rich for the thin air. At higher altitude the mixture would become too rich, and foul the plugs, not allowing me use high rpm which I would require to cross the high passes. Good thing I changed the jets to the standard size ones I was carrying, as I later discovered when riding up Thrumshig La in 1st gear at high rpm. Crash and Eddy went to visit the giant Buddha statue overlooking Thimphu from an adjacent mountain top.

(King’s birthday celebrations in Thimphu)


(Subjects came from far for the Kings birthday)



(Making new friends)



May the force be with you!!


(The Mountaintop Buddha at Thimphu)

We roamed around the streets of Thimphu, taking in the atmosphere, gathering a few souvenirs for friends. Meanwhile, Jaya got it in her head that she wanted to taste Chang, the local brew of Bhutan. It was easily available, sold in re-used 1L plastic bottles. I can say that Chang is an acquired taste, but it was smooth. We managed to finish the bottle, and that should be counted as a success. When we settled for dinner, we realized a particular trait of Rohan. We could be at the best Bhutanese restaurant with a smorgasbord of Bhutanese dishes, but Rohan would make sure he order a Chicken Chowmien. That was the dish he loved and felt safe with, and I realized the wisdom of ordering this “hard to get wrong dish” over the duration of the trip.
Walking down various boulevards we ended up in a shady part of the town, where most buildings looked boarded up, but one had a brightly lit entrance which decreed it to be a Karaoke bar. The contrast between the atmosphere outside, and the atmosphere inside was stark. Neon lighting, couples lounging on couches, all the beers and cocktails one could wish for, and a proper Karaoke set-up. We all got our drinks, and sat down to enjoy the evening. The host was an enthusiastic chap who pulled up me and Jaya and got us to sing Hotel California. I think we damned near scared away all the couples lounging there!

We retired really early, as we had a long ride ahead of us the next day. We were aiming to cross Dochu La, enter Punakha valley and visit Punakha monastery, which has one of the most beautiful ones in Bhutan, and then continue to Trongsa. It was 10 hr ride necessitated due to compressing of the planned 5 days of ride into 4 days, and this was the day that would test our endurance. We went to sleep knowing we had a big day ahead.

Day-7:
The plan for the day was to ride East from Thimphu to Wamdue Phodrang, crossing Dochu La on the way, turn North into Punakha valley to see the namesake monastery, return to Wamdue Phodrang, and resume on the eastward axis towards Trongsa. Distance was 225km, about 8 hours of riding. We got moving by 6am. It was bitterly cold, and the extremities (fingers and toes) stayed cold in spite of our carefully planned riding gear. We were supposed to stop at a checkpost a little outside Thimphu, where our permits would be verified. With Sushant leading the way out of Thimphu, we never saw the checkpost. When Sushant rides, he only sees the road, and how quickly he can cover the distance. A little out of Thimphu is Dochu La, a decently high pass, but with the roads being good and wide, the bikes never felt the strain and we reached there quickly.
Dochu La was terribly cold at 7:30am in the morning. We were shivering when we got off the bikes. The last bit of climb had happened so quickly, that before we could realize the drop in temperature, we had gone really cold. The beauty of Dochu La, with the 100 odd Chortens was surreal, especially in the morning light. Luckily, there was a café with a warm Bukhari. We went inside and had tea and breakfast. Mehr was shivering with cold, which was observed by a kind Japanese lady. She came over and talked to Mehr, and gave her a chemical warmer pouch. This she attached to the inside of Mehr’s shirt, and it quickly warmed her up and made her really cheerful.

(The holy Chortens at Dochu La)
2019- There is no dearth of idiots in India, and one such climbed on top of one these Chortens to get a photo clicked. That repulsive the Bhutanese enough to put restrictions on Indian tourists to Bhutan. Sometimes I feel there should an IQ test before we let people out of India.


(Big Chief)


(The Chomolhari just hid behind them clouds. Front to Back: Mehr, Jaya, Avi, Crash)

Meanwhile we learnt that the road ahead was closed till 10am due to road construction. In mountains, road construction means moving mountains by blasting, so no traffic can move. This gave us a welcome respite from riding in the cold. We spent time gazing at the spectacular Chomaldhari, which was visible from there.
When the road opened, it was a 3 hour ride to Punakha monastery due to some road closures. Punakha valley opens up slowly into a beautiful wide valley, with the monastery standing at the confluence of two rivers, which endows it with some special mythical significance. While we loved the place, we had very little time to spend. We stood on the wooden bridge that crosses the river and leads to the monastery, with the wind blowing along the river and carrying prayers from the Buddhist prayer flags fluttering in the wind. It was like meditating.

(The most serene place in Bhutan, Punakha)


(Leaving Punakha, with the Dzong and river confluence in the backdrop)

By 2:30pm we mounted our bikes and left the achingly beautiful Punakha monastery to ride towards Wandue Phodrang. At Wandue Phodrang the road forks East and West. The West branch goes back to Thimphu, and we took East fork towards Trongsa, our stop for the night. The ride to Trongsa was uneventful, and we reached there by our standard 7:30pm time. We found a suitable lodge right on the side of the river that flows at start of the town. I would think that we had our most sumptuous and satisfying dinner at Trongsa, accompanied by a variety of alcohol, including some special scotch called Kings V, which had been created especially for the coronation of the present King. I think we Indians can learn a thing a two about celebrating from Bhutanese. Dinners were always special in Bhutan, because on riding days (which means most days) we would usually not have time for a hearty breakfast or lunch.

(Celebrating our first climb up a nominal pass. Thrumshing La must be smiling.)

We had had a good day. We had kept to the schedule despite setbacks due to roadwork, and we had reached in time to get a good night’s rest. We discussed the next days ride. We were going to cross the highest pass in Bhutan, Thrumshing La, and cross Bumthang province, which being at high altitude had alpine flora.

Day-8:
The plan for the day was to reach Mongar, which was 230km, or approximately 8 hours of riding. In retrospect, it was quite ambitious considering the terrain that awaited us. We started at a reasonable time, 9am, as we had to pass through the forests of Bumthang and clear Thrumshing La, and then do another 90km to Mongar.
It was an overcast day and we somehow got strung out in a longer file than we ever had earlier. Rohan- as was his habit- was bringing up the rear. I was riding 3rd, and a couple of hours of riding I could not locate him in my mirrors. I signaled Jaya -who was just ahead of me- to slow down, and when I caught up with her I told her about Rohan. Meanwhile Sushant continued to ride at his normal speed and was out of sight. We were not sure whether to try to catch Sushant or to go back for Rohan. We decided to chase down Sushant first since we were wary that he might not realize that no one was following him anymore. A little distance down the flat open valley we were in, we came to a fork in the road. Normally you can see and tell which fork is the main road, but in this case we could not. We stood there wondering which would be correct fork, and which one would Sushant have taken, and were faced with prospect of the pack being broken in multiple parts for the first time in the trip.

(The Alpine autumn of Bumthang)

The weather had turned quite cold, in what was just around noontime. Blustery cold winds howling through the flat valley floor drove needles of cold through the open helmet visors as we talked. And then we saw Sushant coming back from the right hand fork -which I felt was the correct road- and told us that it wasn’t! We were all hungry and cold, and I am sure so was Rohan, wherever he was. So we decided that Sushant will rush back to find Rohan and help him, while I and Jaya would ride on ahead to the next village, find an eating place order some nourishment. We rode sedately, somberly aware that if Rohan had an issue with his bike, the ambitious ride plan for the day was skewered.
About 10-15km on the road climbed up the valley, and at a higher outcrop we found a solitary wooden house, with the chimney trailing smoke. When we stopped to ask for directions to the next village, through the narrow entrance door we saw tables and chairs laid out like in an eating place. The place looked warm and inviting inside, and a moment later we were sitting, taking off our gloves and helmet, exchanging greetings and enquiring about the menu. The old lady in charge said that we could have all forms of Thukpa, and we ordered three for us. From the rear window we could see the road we had come on snaking out into the flat valley below for kilometers. After 10 min or so, I saw 2 motorbikes winding their way along the road, and I ordered 2 more Thukpas. Rohan had been having some issues with the throttle, and the engine would not move beyond idling. A little bit of fiddling fixed the issue, and by that time Sushant had reached him.

(Steeds waiting while we warmed up on the best Thukpa in Bhutan, Bunthang province.)

Feeling warm and strong with the Thukpa inside us, we hopped onto the bikes again. It was only 12:30pm, and we were getting ready for the climb up to Thrumshing La. But the road decided to get decidedly bumpy, and after a good hour of riding through the beautiful alpine forests of Bumhtang on a fairly long dirt track, we stopped for tea and snacks at a family run place just before the ominously tall and dark mountains that were home to the Thrumshing La. It was a beautifully made log café, sitting alone along the forested road. Famished as we were, we took a longish break and recharged ourselves for the final climb up the pass.

When we restarted, the climb was more difficult. Having food in the tummy made the road feel more bumpy, and the inclines increased considerably. On my Electra I had all the luggage for my family, and Mehr wedged between the backpacks on her sides, and a tall backrest behind her. All of us together weighed about 340 kgs. Soon my Electra was climbing in 1st gear half the time, and in 2nd the rest of the time. After a while I looked ahead to see where the pack was. They were not on the same straight as me. The road took a right turn onto the adjoining mountain face, where I could see it snaking up the mountain in a series of hairpin bends. Looking up I spotted the three bikes 3 hairpin bends further ahead. This incident really drove home the horsepower handicap I suffered on this trip.

(At worlds end)

Another half an hours climb, and we could sense that we were close to Thrumshing la. Not only could we could see clouds below us, pushed by the wind the clouds were climbing up the mountain and passing over us. It was a magical experience. We pushed on, and in 10 min of riding we reached the top of the pass. In those 10 min, the weather had gone from sunny to cloudy, with a lot of mist and bitingly cold on fingers and toes. We really celebrated reaching the top of this difficult pass, which unlike some of the Indian passes was difficult to climb not because of pathetic roads, slush or traffic, but because of the sheer incline we had to encounter for an extended duration. But at the back of our minds was the fact that it was 3pm, and the sun would go down at 4pm, it was already bitterly cold, and we had another 90 kms to reach our planned destination. Thrumshing La is in the middle of a forest, which makes it even colder. There was no traffic either, it seemed we had the forest to ourselves.

(Crash & Eddy at Thrumshing La: It was foggy & cold, and a steep climb.)

Spurred by this knowledge, we started our descent quickly, hairpin after hairpin dispatched fast. My 340kg leviathan was slow on the climb, but going down it could dance its own dance. Some 10-15 km of descent later, leaning into a right hand curve, from the corner of my eye I saw something that looked like smoke and embers. Instinct taking over, I braked hard and turned back. Someone had lit a fire which they had left, and it was not completely extinguished. By the time the rest of gang came, I had already added leaves and twigs to the embers and was fanning it. In a few minutes we had a nice little fire going, in the middle of a forest, at 3500 mtrs altitude. It was so comforting to sit beside the fire and warm our bitterly cold hands and feet that we forgot about the time. I reminded folks that we had a long distance to go, but Crash, Eddy and Mehr revolted and said no. Jaya didn’t want to move either.

(I think I am a lucky guy: Finding a warm fire at 3500 mts, close to sunset, in the middle of a forest.)

By the time we got up, it was 4.30pm, it was dark and cold. Luckily, the altitude dropped quickly thereafter, although the road condition didn’t improve. I kept egging the pack to go a little faster, but it was pitch dark, and with the given road condition and narrow road, no one was particularly keen to go any faster. Sushant in particular was advocating safety at the cost of going incredibly slow, a hangover from an incredibly stupid, dangerous and -retrospectively- hilarious incident he had had earlier that year. The best we could do was to put Rohan on his Thuderbird up ahead, as his bike had the best headlight and gave superb illumination for close on half a km.
By 7pm, with 45 km to go to Mongar, we saw a lights from a big solitary house. Jaya declared that she was stopping for the day, at that house. I couldn’t understand how that would happen, as it was a house, not hotel or a lodge. That wouldn’t stop Jaya, and she just parked her bike, walked up to the door, knocked and started talking to the person who appeared at the door. She came back a few minutes later, triumphant. It turned out that the big house belonged to the local Zamindar (landlord), and he had a couple of empty rooms on the 1st floor, which he happily let out to us for the night. And his wife made us a piping hot, sumptuous Bhutanese dinner. This was an amazing stroke of luck, bone tired as we were after the jarring and tiring climb and descent. The rooms were cozy and comfortable, and I don’t even remember climbing into the bed after dinner.

Day-9:
Only when we woke up the next morning did we understand where we were, and saw the place we had spent our night. We were in small place called Yongko-la. The place we spent the night was a house with multiple wings, and it seemed that it was made a few generations back, with a newer wing and an old wing. The landlord operated a grocery store from the ground floor, which would always have a few locals milling around. The landlady was a very hospitable person, and enjoyed talking to Mehr. She used to work on the loom making fabric from wool, which she informed us most households in Bhutan keep to weave clothes.

(The best place we stayed at in the trip- Yongko La)

This was also when we realized that even the remotest Bhutanese family could converse in Hindi. When I commended them for speaking Hindi so fluently, she told us that they watch a lot Hindi movies and serials as they get all Indian channels on cable. Talk of cultural exchange, we don’t even know till where the influence of our pop culture extends. Even their children travel to India to study, and we came to know that their daughter was studying in Lovely University, Punjab.

(Mehr in the traditional Kira)


(With the kind Yongko La family: L to R- Sushant, Avi, Mehr, Daughter, Landlady, Household help, Jovial Man Friday, Rohan)


(Happiness is a purring Kitten)


(The packs only picture together in the trip)

We had a light breakfast and tea, but spent a long time just sitting in the sun in front of their grocery store. Spending time in the grocery store was a nice experience. The store stocked a variety of cereal grains, small farming equipment, kitchen utensils and implements, and even clothes. We bought a traditional Bhutanese dress for Mehr. It is somewhat like a Kimono, and is known as Kira. A similar traditional dress worn by men is called Gho. The landlady was so delighted to dress Mehr up in the Kira, tucking it with safety pins, as is she was dressing up her own grandchild. Like many other places in trip, Mehr found a kitten and had a great time playing with it. When we left the place close to noon, it felt as if we were leaving a family behind.
The plan for the day was to continue east to Trashigang prefecture, then take the Southwards axis towards Indian border. We had not decided where we would stay, but the general target was to reach Wamrong, ~200km away. We started off decently, gaining altitude from the valley floor. After a while of riding, Crash/ came riding up from behind and crossed all of us, and proceeded to ride out of view. We rode on sedately, hoping to see him in a while, when we would slow down after letting off some steam. As things would turn out, we would not see Sushant for the large part of the morning. Since we had not bothered to get local SIM cards, there was no way of calling or tracking Sushant. We kept riding not knowing where Sushant was, and whether he was OK. It was a ride tinged with a little apprehension, as I did not expect Sushant to just ride off way ahead of us. After all, we were a pack, and a pack stays together.



(Along the Dangme river we rode for 2 hours)


(Chazam Bridge, crossing into Trashigang prefecture)


(“I got it” says Mehr)

After what seemed like an eternity (really about 3 hours), we caught sight of Sushant riding on the opposite mountain face, some 8-10km ahead. Finally we caught up with him at Chazam bridge on Dangme river, where the police at the checkpost had stopped him to check the permits, which were with me. We took a break to take some photographs of the Chazam bridge, which turned out to be iconic of this part of the trip. We quickly climbed up the valley to Trashigang, where we took a break for a quick bite and to refuel. The stop at Trashigang cost an hour and half, with the restaurant having painfully slow service, with us being the only patrons. When we started towards Wamrong at about 4.30pm, we had another 80km to go for the day. Just out of Trashigang we ran into onging roadwork, which slowed us down considerably. It was already dark and the road became incredibly muddy, with the motorbikes slipping and the spinning wheels struggling to find traction. After an hour and half of riding in mud, interspersed by road rollers, bulldozers and graders, we realized that we had covered just 15km, and we had another 55km to go to Wamrong. The mood turned cold, as the prospect of a further 3 hours of ride through mud and slush loomed.
We were in a catch-22 situation. As far as we knew, and had seen in the last few, besides the towns marked on the map there would be no small towns or villages that could provide accommodation. And the next town on map- Wamrong- was a daunting 55km, or 3 hours away. If we tuned back, we could reach Trashigang in an hour and 15 min. But then we would have to re-do the same mud and slush we had already come through, turning the next days ride into an ordeal of 10 hrs. Talk of being stuck between the devil and the deep blue sea!
We decided to push on. The gods must look after their craziest subjects. Half an hour on, we saw the lights of a town, and rode into a small market full of young children who were crowding around a row of food shops. These looked like college kids, and there were a whole bunch of them. As we stopped, quite a few of them came over to talk to us. It turned out that this place was the famed Sherubtse University- the largest and most important one in Bhutan. And these kids studied and lived at the university. They told us that there was no hotel or lodge in the vicinity, just the university and the few shops. At this point, Jaya once again rose to the occasion. Eldest as she was, she declared to the pack “Kids, this is where we make our camp tonight, there will be no discussion on this”. As we watched in amazement, she got talking to some of those helpful kids, one of whom called the admin head of the university, to whom she patiently explained our predicament- bikes, cold, bad roads, long ride, small kid- and when she finished her call, she told us that the kind gentleman had allotted us two guest rooms at the university for the night. What a relief it was, to realize that we could rest immediately, have a leisurely dinner, sleep on time, and fight out the mud & slush with a refreshed body the next day!
Sherubtse University is set in a picturesque and huge campus. We only got a brief lay of the place as we parked our bikes, carried our luggage to the rooms, refreshed and went out for dinner. Some of the kids told that there was a nice diner a km down the road, which I faintly recall was called Tigers nest, or Tigers den. It turned out to be a cozy little place, with an awesome enthusiastic and warm host. He made sure that he ordered for us, getting us the best dishes on the house. In a while we got discussing the local spirits and he was very happy to know that we had tried and liked Chang. He quickly arranged for some Honeybee rum for us, which really got us in good spirits. We had a heartwarming dinner and conversation, and retired to the University guest room, steeling ourselves for tackling the bad roads that awaited us the next day.

Day-10:
We got up really early the next day. There was no plan. We had to make sure we reached Guwahati by nightfall as all of us had return tickets for the next day. The border was 160km from Sherubtse, and Guwahati was another 100km.
We started at about 6:30am. It took us the promised 3 hours to cover the 59km to Wamrong. We stopped for snacks and tea. Wamrong was small place, with some 25-30 stores and eating places along the main road. There was hardly any place to park our bikes, so we had to park them in a tight line- one behind the other- besides the road. While we were having breakfast, we met a young Japanese couple, who were as surprised to see us there, as we were to see them. They had been staying in Bhutan for a year, teaching. We chatted for a while, exchanged contact details, and said goodbye to be on our way again.

(The steeds wait at Wamrong)

The road surface began to deteriorate, and in a while we were riding on a bumpy dirt road. It seemed as if the surface had been taken off for relaying, except that the relaying had not happened. We endured the next 40 km of this surface, bumping along.

(Some moments take your breath away)

When we were getting really tired with the bumps, we rounded a corner and came upon freshly laid butter smooth tarmac. The tarmac was so good, and we were so rattled that we actually stopped to take a photograph at the junction.

(Thank you, Lord, for the good tarmac.)

Our euphoria was short-lived, as barely half an hour later the skies darkened further and big fat drops of rain greeted our descent from the Bhutanese mountains. We quickly stopped and took shelter under an overhang and put on our raincoats. Although I was not willing to ride in the rain (I never am), after a while Jaya decided that we should move, saying that the rain will stop if we move and continue if we stayed still. Very reluctantly I got back on the bike, and for sure, after a 8-10 km in the rain, the sun broke out and warmed us up.

(Waiting for one of the inevitable landslides to open)

We knew we were going to be in the plains soon, close to the border, but we were surprised by the abruptness of it. One moment we were negotiating corners, and suddenly the road straightened out into a village, and barely half a km down we saw the border gate.

Bhutan truly is the mountain kingdom, with its borders defined by the terrain so exactly, that there isn’t even 500 mts of plains before the border begins anywhere along the Bhutan-India border. We were not ready to cross the border yet. We wanted one last taste of Bhutanese food, and wanted to savor a Black Mountain and Kings-V to have a memory of our trip for a few months. We backtracked to the market in the village that was Samdrup Jhonkhar and sat down for a light snack.

Finally we were exiting Bhutan after 8 days of riding through the most picturesque of Himalayas, received the hospitality of and came to know some of the nicest and most contented people we had ever met. We enjoyed the Bhutanese food and wine, and discovered in each other our truer selves, what we are when we are not having to do anything through compulsion. It was a trip of discovery, within and outside us. And we came back much richer, and closer.

The rest of the ride to Guwahati was uneventful. We duly packed our bikes and handed them over to parcel office at the station, and this time kept the Bilti carefully. That’s the end. Nearly. We had to send the old Bilti to New Jalpaiguri station master when we got back, but we could not find it at home. Turns out, Jaya had very carefully kept it in the secret inner pocket of her handbag, and we had it with us the entire trip :)
 

sridhar39

Active Member
It started one night in 2014, when I was sitting up late in office. On a coffee break, with no one around to talk to, I happened to glance at the huge world map behind the reception desk. It was a really big map occupying the entire 15’ X 12’ wall, big enough to show details of even smaller countries and states. Though it stood there forever, I had never paused to look at- till that night.
Looking at the map I started wondering where in the Himalayas should I go on the next motorcycle ride. Till then I had done just one motorbike trip in the Himalayas (to Kumaon), and since then the call of the mountains had been relentless. I realized that the places I used to think as far away and inaccessible, like the North Eastern states (wonder why cant they just be called the Eastern states) were actually not as far. While looking at Sikkim and Arunachal, for the first I noticed Bhutan, nestled quietly between these two. I had always thought of Bhutan as an exotic, faraway place. It didn’t seem so far, especially if I could ship my motorcycle to a railhead near Bhutan. A plan was taking shape.

I pored over the map on the weekend. It seems I could ship the motorbikes to Siliguri (New Jalpaiguri railway station) take a flight to Sliliguri, collect the bikes from the railway parcel room and proceed to Jayanagar/ Phuentsholing, 3 hours away at the Bhutan border.
Even more exciting was the to travel beyond Thimphu deeper inside Bhutan. Every further piece of information suggested that the really beautiful parts of Bhutan lay further East of Thimphu. Not only are Punakha (famous monastery), Phobjika (beautiful valley) and Bumthang (highest place in Bhutan, nearly alpine in its beauty) immensely beautiful, they celebrate festivals through the whole year. Be it the festival to celebrate the arrival of Black-necked cranes, the Kings birthday, or the Harvest season, they celebrate nearly everything in life. This would be charming trip, if only I could make to the Eastern sectors of Bhutan, and make it back to Siliguri in a week. The idea of backtracking on the same path from which I had come never did appeal to me, so I zoomed in further in google maps, and lo and behold, what I thought as a dead end at Trashigang turned out to be the start of a narrow and less used road going South to another border with India, at Sandrup Jhonkhar, with Guwahati just 3 hours from the border. This was splendid. Both Siliguri and Guwahati had railheads and airports.
Now to convince my better half. She had been riding off and on, especially since she got her Duke 200, she had been enjoying it too. Her concern would be the safety of just the three of us (me, better half, 7yr old daughter) bushwhacking it through Bhutan and Bengal on bikes. Time to call reinforcements. And I called the best of the best. My comrades in all things exciting and stupid, Jaya’s cousins Sushant and Rohan. Like Crash and Eddy in Ice Age-2, they are always ready for adventure (and are usually the cause of most of them). Crash and Eddy were excited, especially as I have promised them that no other Indian bikers do the entire West-East crossing of Bhutan (which wasn’t true). My research says (incorrectly so) that the best season to see Bhutan is November. So it was that November 2014 was to be our tryst with Bhutan.
Ten Interesting Facts about Bhutan | Blog Posts | WWF
Bhutan: The people, the culture, the mountains
Riders (youngest to oldest):
  1. Mehr– Jaya & Avi’s daughter, 7 yrs old, 2nd grade. Loves outdoors (pillion)
  2. Sushant– Sportsperson, movie buff. Riding his new 2014 Bullet Electra.
  3. Rohan– Loves movies, music, foodie. Riding his trusty Thunderbird 350.
  4. Avi– Traveller, auto enthusiast. Riding the oldest bike in the lot, 2001 Electra 350.
  5. Jaya– Traveller, music enthusiast. Riding Duke 200.


Schedule: 11 days, 8th to 18th Nov 2014
Day-0: Reach Siliguri, collect bikes from Railway station, rendezvous with Rohan.
Day-1: Siliguri – Paro (~ 300km, 8 hrs)
Day-2: Paro-Paro
Day-3: Paro- Thimphu (~ 50km, 1.5 hr)
Day-4: Thimphu- Thimphu
Day-5: Thimphu- Punakha (~ 85km, 2.5hrs)
Day-6: Punakha- Phobjika (~ 80km, 3 hrs)
Day-7: Phobjika- Jakar (~ 150km, 4.5 hrs)
Day-8: Jakar- Mongar (~ 170km, 6 hrs)
Day-9: Mongar- Trashigang (~ 75km, 2.5 hrs)
Day-10: Trashigang- Guwahati (~ 270km, 8 hrs)
Day-11: Pack the bikes and handover at railway station, take flight back to Delhi.
Relevant to note that we did not hold to the plan on any of the days, barring the last days ride.
Three bikes would be shipped from Delhi to Siliguri by train beforehand. We would reach Siliguri by flight on Day-0. Rohan’s plan was to put himself and his bike in a train from Bhopal (where he lives) and rendezvous with us at Siliguri on Day-0. And so the adventure began.
Day-0:
Having successfully dispatched our bikes earlier by train, we took an early day off from office to catch the flight to Bagdogra (IXB). Rohan had already managed to train hop his way to Siliguri earlier in the day, but tragedy befell as the train’s cargo compartment door got jammed, and did not open. Consequently his bike continued with the train to Guwahati. Cursing him on his poor planning, we got off the flight and reached New Jalpaiguri station. On reaching the parcel room, the attendant (a middle aged cranky Bengali whom we labelled Uncle Scrooge) asked for the deposit receipt (colloquially known as Bilti) for the bikes. And we did not have it! I claimed I had given it to Jaya, and she did not remember my giving it to her, or her carrying it with her for the trip. We tried pleading & bribing, but to no avail. This was Bengal, and average Joe could either not be corrupted, or was too afraid to accept a bribe from a non-native. Rohan bhai had arranged for his bike to be carted back from Guwahati to New Jalpaiguri by next morning by the returning train, and here we sat with no Bilti, and hence, no Bikes. We could see our bikes, prove that they were our bikes, but we could not get them. The only option was to get a duplicate Bilti from New Delhi. So we called the kind agent (Sodan Singh) in Delhi who had got our bikes onto the train in the first place.

It was 9 pm when we called him, so naturally we found Sodan Singh sitting with mates drinking. After much wangling and charging Rs 2000 for the favour, Sodan Singh agreed to get a duplicate Bilti and send it by way of next day’s (Day-1) Rajdhani trains attendant. The Rajdhani would reach the day after (Day-2) by around 11am. This was a huge setback. We were now put back by 1.5 day. Nevertheless, with nothing to do we found a lodge close the station and settled down.
Day-1 was spent exploring Siliguri. Being November the weather was pleasant, and we discovered the most awesome melt-in-mouth panipuris right outside our lodge. We also went about the bazaar picking up warm clothes and bungee cords for Rohan bhai (Eddy) who- being a true Bhopali- had decided one jacket and 2 large shoulder bags that he could wear simultaneously, one at the back and one at the front, would do just fine for a 9 days Bhutan bike trip.

Day-2:
11:00 am at the Rly station, the Rajdhani rolls into view, trundles onto the platform, and we make a beeline for B2 coach. We find the coach attendant who looks at us like your Labrador who’s chewed off your best Moccasins, and tells us that he has lost the Bilti alongwith his wallet. I so wanted to beat him up, shake him by his shirt collar and yell, but he looked so innocent. He was barely 20 yrs old, and was nearly in tears himself. So there we sat, dejected and teary eyed, on the second day of our 11 day trip- with no bikes. While this drama was unfolding, ‘Uncle Scrooge’ (parcel room attendant) – who, we had collectively decided was corrupt as well as gutless- had been watching us. He realized what had transpired- he had been seeing us for the past 2 days- and became livid at our predicament. He took me by the elbow and without a word walked me to the Station Masters office. We had met the station master (SM) on Day-1, and had pleaded with him to allow us to take the bikes. He marched us into the Station Masters office, who was barely 32 years old. And then this 50 yr old ‘Uncle Scrooge’ proceeded to berate the SM in Bangali, with the righteousness that only an upright and honest man can possess, about making the five of us suffer for a simple administrative issue, on why being the station master he was so timid, and couldn’t take a simple decision to release the bikes basis a letter of undertaking. It was a spectacle, and in front of our eyes we saw the poor young SM melt down. He said something to his admonisher in Bengali, then turned to us and sheepishly asked us to furnish an affidavit, take our bikes, and send the Bilti by courier!!! We were free. I mean, our bikes were free, but it did feel like we were the ones in jail for the last 2 days.

Finishing the paperwork took till afternoon, the bikes were released by 6pm. We could not thank ‘Uncle Scrooge’ enough. It was too late to make a run for Phuentsholing, so we went looking for street food for dinner. Our exploration took us to Sevoke road in an electric rickshaw, which I could not resist having a go at. The young rickshaw driver was game, and let me drive along the backroads of Siliguri, holding all 5 ½ of us, and it was surprisingly fun. Sevoke road would seem to a visitor to be the hub for every kind of salable and eatable item in Siliguri. An assortment of street foods – from the awesome mutton cutlets, rolls and chaat – later we retired for the night.
Bikes filled up, bags packed, and dreaming of the riding in the mountains of Bhutan.

(The Bikes are Free! And so are we!)

Day-3:
We were up early, refreshed and rolling by 6:30am. As soon as you leave Siliguri, there’s an Army camp and then the road is bordered by tall trees. Sushant was in the lead. We soon crossed Sevoke and reached the Coronation bridge on the Teesta river, and took the opportunity to take a few pictures. We crossed the bridge and proceeded towards Phuentsholing (Bhutan border), aiming to reach by noon, completing the paperwork and crossing the border by 1pm and proceeding to Paro, which was another 140km from Phuentsholing.


(On the road at last)

Having crossed Nagrakata and Birpara by 11 am, we were satisfied with the progress. Crash (Sushant), always the first to feel hungry, found a local dhaba that promised Mutton and Roti. That did it for Crash, he refused to go further without food. After waiting for a while, we realized that mutton was being prepared from scratch. I was concerned about the time, but by now I could smell the spices and the mutton being cooked, and basic instincts lead me astray. Having eaten our full, we thanked the ‘dada’ -who was from Samastipur, Bihar- for an amazingly well cooked mutton, we promised to come back again someday (one does say some fairly stupid stuff on a full stomach) and started off. It was 1pm. We rushed along and reached Jayanagar (Indian side of the border).



(Laying down the law at Teesta crossing- Coronation Bridge)

To our surprise, the entry into Bhutan was just a big open gate with Dragons astride them, with traffic and people passing through without any check. We crossed the gate, and a few hundred meters on, on the right found the permit office. We were told to fill a form. Crash and Eddy had not showed up yet. We filled up the form and waited, and after 20 minutes the intrepid bikers strolled in. They had decided to stop over for some photographs to remember the first day of the ride. We filled out the forms, and were escorted to an immigration officer for kind of an interview. He was a kind man, and was surprised and happy to know that we as a family were going to travel across Bhutan on 2 wheels. He signed our papers quickly, and told us to rush to the transport office to get the permits for our bikes. By the time we reached it was 2:30pm and the office was closed. We had no option but to put up in Phuentsholing for the night, paying the price for the superbly tender Samastipur mutton.
We checked into a reasonable hotel, which offered us a single big room with 4 beds. Having rested, we headed to the market (actually, the whole town was like a single big market) to get our first feel of Bhutan. Being a border town, there is a free flow of Indians. The town was absolutely clean, with no waste lying around. In comparison with Jayanagar market just across a fence, Phuentsholing was clean and welcoming. I have never seen such a contrast separated by just a chicken mesh.

(Mehr finds something she likes in Phuentsholing market)

We had an early dinner, accompanied by Bhutanese alcohol (which was surprisingly reasonable and effective) and went back to our hotel to retire for the night. We were awaken a couple of times that night due to shouting & commotion between some local girls and guests, but were told by the hotel staff that this wasn’t anything unusual, although it did seem pretty nasty and serious to us. A little taken aback by this experience, we grabbed as much sleep as possible to be ready for the next day’s ride.

Day-4:
The transport office opened at 10:30, and by 11:30 we had the permits for our bikes and were packed and ready to go. These permits would allow us to be in Bhutan for 7 days, and travel till Thimphu. At Thimphu we had to get another permit to travel to Punakha and beyond. The days ride would be ~ 140km, and take about 4 hrs.
We had by now developed the discipline to ride in a particular order, separated by 100-150mts intervals allowing sufficient braking distance, yet keeping everyone in view. We also learnt to keep a lookout for the person behind in the rearview mirrors, lest he/ she fell behind or stopped. We also decided the signals to ask the person in front to stop or slow down. We were evolving into a pack.
An interesting tidbit is that we had made no advance bookings, and with the positivity with which we travel within India – kuch na kuch to mil jayega- here we were in Bhutan. It was Jaya’s plan to just wing it with regard to accommodation rather than to plan the stops, and it played out beautifully.

(Crash and Eddy celebrating entry into Bhutan)

Although it was just 145 km to Paro, we made a meal of it yet again, stopping to have breakfast, other snacks, sightseeing, visiting a small monastery and ringing the really big gong by pushing it round and round while walking around it. I think we had the natural talent to slow things down. It started getting dark, and colder by 4pm. We had not realized as yet that sunset is earlier by around 45 minutes in Bhutan. Not having ridden in mountains in November, we had to stop more than once to put on layers of warm clothes.

(Taking a break to turn the big prayer wheel)


(Making new friends. Of the best type.)

The afternoon exposed another peculiar issue. We had been riding for about two hours when I felt the visor of Mehrs helmet nudge my back. I didn’t think much of it, but after a few minutes, it nudged me again, albeit a little harder this time. That’s when I realized that she was dozing off in the comfort of the afternoon sun, lulled by the wind. She was safely ensconced on the sides by the backpacks strapped to the bike, the big backrest at the back, and me in the front, but I did not want her dozing. The only way I figured was to keep her interested in the scenery, hence the afternoons on the entire trip were spent pointing out objects of interest in the landscape to Mehr. Some real, some imaginary. The imaginary ones kept her more occupied.
We had been riding North from Phuentsholing since morning, and finally at 6pm we turned left into Paro valley at the confluence of Paro and Thimphu rivers. The road quality went up quite a few notches suddenly. We covered the remaining distance quickly and rolled into a deserted looking Paro at about 7.30pm, with just one grocery store open and the cold seeping into our bones. This was to become a template for the coming days, starting by 10:30am, and stopping the ride a couple of hours after sundown.
A little bit of enquiry got us pointed in the right direction, and we found a suitable hotel that offered us rooms for Rs 800 a night. The rooms were clean, warm and wood paneled, which was just brilliant considering the weather. We were so famished and tired that we decided to have dinner without changing, in our riding gear. The hotel offered an assortment of Bhutanese food, and we instantly fell in love with Ema Datshi, a staple dish made from Red Chilli Peppers and Yak Cheese. And we also fell in love with Bhutanese alcohol, notably Black Mountain whiskey and Honeybee rum. Together, Ema Datshi and Honeybee were the perfect combination for travelers who came riding in the cold of the night.

(Ema Datshi and Black Mountain after a numbing ride in the cold)

Day-5:
We woke to the pleasant sounds of gongs and singing. We looked out of the window to find little school children practicing some songs and dance, which we understood later was in preparation for the Bhutanese Kings birthday the next day. The king- Namgyel Wangchuk- is revered across Bhutan. Every household and establishment has his image on a wall. As we got out and got a better look at Paro in daylight, we found that all the houses were made with a traditional wooden roof, carved like the roof of a monastery. It was beautiful to see a town full of traditionally made and decorated houses.

(Kids: The best brand ambassadors for any culture)

We had planned to stay the day in Paro, and visit Tigers nest monastery. On the way to Tigers Nest, we decided to stop over and see Drukgyel Dzong, which was built half a millennia ago to celebrate the victory of Bhutanese over Tibetan forces. Surprisingly, we were the only ones at the Dzong along with a Bhutanese family of Birendra Rai. Birendra was the manager at a resort in Paro, and he was very kind to explain the history of the Dzong. When he learnt that we intended to travel East from Thimpu the next day, he pointed out that the next day being the Kings birthday, all offices would be closed. If we wanted to get our permit for travel beyond Thimphu, we would have to get it the same day.

(L to R: Avi, Rohan and Sushant @ Drukgyek Dzong, Paro Valley)


(Avi, Mehr, Birendra Rai, Jaya: Drukgyel Dzong)

That put paid to Tigers Nest. We thanked Birendra, hopped onto our bikes and rushed off to pack our bags and ride to Thimphu. On the way we passed the Paro airport and saw a jet taking off. Being able to stand right next to the airstrip, we wondered whether the jet would clear the tall peaks surrounding the valley. Paro airport is one of the more difficult airports to land and take off from, I later learnt.
The road from Paro to Thimphu is made like a highway. It runs along Paro Chu and Thimphu Chu (Chu=River in Bhutanese) all the way to Thimphu. We entered Thimphu at about 1 pm, and quickly got our personal travel permits. Then we made our way to the transport office with some difficulty. Thimphu is a big city, with a network of one ways, but with extremely disciplined traffic. The officials were in a holiday mood, and turned up at 3pm just to close the office without issuing permits. This incensed Jaya, who refused to let the official close the office without issuing permits. Had it not been for Jaya, the rest of us would not have stood up and fought and would have settled for coming back 2 days later for the permit. This would not be the last time on this trip that Jaya’s presence of mind and conviction would save the day for us!
With the permits in hand, and with plenty of daylight remaining, we decided to ride around Thimphu and take in the sights. We tried riding up to the big Buddha statue at the top of the mountain, but somewhere along the way we lost Eddy. We spent the next 2 hours trying to find him, and having Bhutanese snacks and Tea at different shops. The things that we immediately noticed in Thimphu traffic were 1) nobody honked, there was silence on the fairly busy streets of Thimphu 2) Drivers were always polite and gave way to other drivers and pedestrians. The second point was sometimes unnerving, as we were not used to big SUV’s stopping to let pedestrians cross the road. In Delhi, if a big SUV stops near you, it’s something to be alarmed about. Rohan bhai found us at last, and we found a place to settle for the night. It was a small apartment with 2 rooms, which we took up for Rs 1500 a night. It served the purpose, and was reasonably clean, it had no windows and didn’t have positive vibe to it. During the entire trip, we always found a better accommodation at lesser price.
We went out for a long walk and dinner. We found an umpteen number of Soup vendors in the streets, who sell the same soup. It tasted like porridge soup, with a lot herbs, and a good dose of Ginger. Pretty good stuff to keep the cold out. Crash and Eddy vetoed my plan to continue East from Thimphu towards Punakha the next day, insisting that a trip to Bhutan warranted a full day in Thimphu. Which, I realized later, was the best decision, since the next day was the Kings birthday.

DAY-6:
In Thimphu, the Kings birthday is celebrated with day long events at the national stadium. We spent a lot of time watching traditional dances, songs, recitals and music. I also realized an issue with my bike, that the oversized jets (in Carburettor) I was using in the Electra were running too rich for the thin air. At higher altitude the mixture would become too rich, and foul the plugs, not allowing me use high rpm which I would require to cross the high passes. Good thing I changed the jets to the standard size ones I was carrying, as I later discovered when riding up Thrumshig La in 1st gear at high rpm. Crash and Eddy went to visit the giant Buddha statue overlooking Thimphu from an adjacent mountain top.

(King’s birthday celebrations in Thimphu)


(Subjects came from far for the Kings birthday)



(Making new friends)



May the force be with you!!


(The Mountaintop Buddha at Thimphu)

We roamed around the streets of Thimphu, taking in the atmosphere, gathering a few souvenirs for friends. Meanwhile, Jaya got it in her head that she wanted to taste Chang, the local brew of Bhutan. It was easily available, sold in re-used 1L plastic bottles. I can say that Chang is an acquired taste, but it was smooth. We managed to finish the bottle, and that should be counted as a success. When we settled for dinner, we realized a particular trait of Rohan. We could be at the best Bhutanese restaurant with a smorgasbord of Bhutanese dishes, but Rohan would make sure he order a Chicken Chowmien. That was the dish he loved and felt safe with, and I realized the wisdom of ordering this “hard to get wrong dish” over the duration of the trip.
Walking down various boulevards we ended up in a shady part of the town, where most buildings looked boarded up, but one had a brightly lit entrance which decreed it to be a Karaoke bar. The contrast between the atmosphere outside, and the atmosphere inside was stark. Neon lighting, couples lounging on couches, all the beers and cocktails one could wish for, and a proper Karaoke set-up. We all got our drinks, and sat down to enjoy the evening. The host was an enthusiastic chap who pulled up me and Jaya and got us to sing Hotel California. I think we damned near scared away all the couples lounging there!

We retired really early, as we had a long ride ahead of us the next day. We were aiming to cross Dochu La, enter Punakha valley and visit Punakha monastery, which has one of the most beautiful ones in Bhutan, and then continue to Trongsa. It was 10 hr ride necessitated due to compressing of the planned 5 days of ride into 4 days, and this was the day that would test our endurance. We went to sleep knowing we had a big day ahead.

Day-7:
The plan for the day was to ride East from Thimphu to Wamdue Phodrang, crossing Dochu La on the way, turn North into Punakha valley to see the namesake monastery, return to Wamdue Phodrang, and resume on the eastward axis towards Trongsa. Distance was 225km, about 8 hours of riding. We got moving by 6am. It was bitterly cold, and the extremities (fingers and toes) stayed cold in spite of our carefully planned riding gear. We were supposed to stop at a checkpost a little outside Thimphu, where our permits would be verified. With Sushant leading the way out of Thimphu, we never saw the checkpost. When Sushant rides, he only sees the road, and how quickly he can cover the distance. A little out of Thimphu is Dochu La, a decently high pass, but with the roads being good and wide, the bikes never felt the strain and we reached there quickly.
Dochu La was terribly cold at 7:30am in the morning. We were shivering when we got off the bikes. The last bit of climb had happened so quickly, that before we could realize the drop in temperature, we had gone really cold. The beauty of Dochu La, with the 100 odd Chortens was surreal, especially in the morning light. Luckily, there was a café with a warm Bukhari. We went inside and had tea and breakfast. Mehr was shivering with cold, which was observed by a kind Japanese lady. She came over and talked to Mehr, and gave her a chemical warmer pouch. This she attached to the inside of Mehr’s shirt, and it quickly warmed her up and made her really cheerful.

(The holy Chortens at Dochu La)
2019- There is no dearth of idiots in India, and one such climbed on top of one these Chortens to get a photo clicked. That repulsive the Bhutanese enough to put restrictions on Indian tourists to Bhutan. Sometimes I feel there should an IQ test before we let people out of India.


(Big Chief)


(The Chomolhari just hid behind them clouds. Front to Back: Mehr, Jaya, Avi, Crash)

Meanwhile we learnt that the road ahead was closed till 10am due to road construction. In mountains, road construction means moving mountains by blasting, so no traffic can move. This gave us a welcome respite from riding in the cold. We spent time gazing at the spectacular Chomaldhari, which was visible from there.
When the road opened, it was a 3 hour ride to Punakha monastery due to some road closures. Punakha valley opens up slowly into a beautiful wide valley, with the monastery standing at the confluence of two rivers, which endows it with some special mythical significance. While we loved the place, we had very little time to spend. We stood on the wooden bridge that crosses the river and leads to the monastery, with the wind blowing along the river and carrying prayers from the Buddhist prayer flags fluttering in the wind. It was like meditating.

(The most serene place in Bhutan, Punakha)


(Leaving Punakha, with the Dzong and river confluence in the backdrop)

By 2:30pm we mounted our bikes and left the achingly beautiful Punakha monastery to ride towards Wandue Phodrang. At Wandue Phodrang the road forks East and West. The West branch goes back to Thimphu, and we took East fork towards Trongsa, our stop for the night. The ride to Trongsa was uneventful, and we reached there by our standard 7:30pm time. We found a suitable lodge right on the side of the river that flows at start of the town. I would think that we had our most sumptuous and satisfying dinner at Trongsa, accompanied by a variety of alcohol, including some special scotch called Kings V, which had been created especially for the coronation of the present King. I think we Indians can learn a thing a two about celebrating from Bhutanese. Dinners were always special in Bhutan, because on riding days (which means most days) we would usually not have time for a hearty breakfast or lunch.

(Celebrating our first climb up a nominal pass. Thrumshing La must be smiling.)

We had had a good day. We had kept to the schedule despite setbacks due to roadwork, and we had reached in time to get a good night’s rest. We discussed the next days ride. We were going to cross the highest pass in Bhutan, Thrumshing La, and cross Bumthang province, which being at high altitude had alpine flora.

Day-8:
The plan for the day was to reach Mongar, which was 230km, or approximately 8 hours of riding. In retrospect, it was quite ambitious considering the terrain that awaited us. We started at a reasonable time, 9am, as we had to pass through the forests of Bumthang and clear Thrumshing La, and then do another 90km to Mongar.
It was an overcast day and we somehow got strung out in a longer file than we ever had earlier. Rohan- as was his habit- was bringing up the rear. I was riding 3rd, and a couple of hours of riding I could not locate him in my mirrors. I signaled Jaya -who was just ahead of me- to slow down, and when I caught up with her I told her about Rohan. Meanwhile Sushant continued to ride at his normal speed and was out of sight. We were not sure whether to try to catch Sushant or to go back for Rohan. We decided to chase down Sushant first since we were wary that he might not realize that no one was following him anymore. A little distance down the flat open valley we were in, we came to a fork in the road. Normally you can see and tell which fork is the main road, but in this case we could not. We stood there wondering which would be correct fork, and which one would Sushant have taken, and were faced with prospect of the pack being broken in multiple parts for the first time in the trip.

(The Alpine autumn of Bumthang)

The weather had turned quite cold, in what was just around noontime. Blustery cold winds howling through the flat valley floor drove needles of cold through the open helmet visors as we talked. And then we saw Sushant coming back from the right hand fork -which I felt was the correct road- and told us that it wasn’t! We were all hungry and cold, and I am sure so was Rohan, wherever he was. So we decided that Sushant will rush back to find Rohan and help him, while I and Jaya would ride on ahead to the next village, find an eating place order some nourishment. We rode sedately, somberly aware that if Rohan had an issue with his bike, the ambitious ride plan for the day was skewered.
About 10-15km on the road climbed up the valley, and at a higher outcrop we found a solitary wooden house, with the chimney trailing smoke. When we stopped to ask for directions to the next village, through the narrow entrance door we saw tables and chairs laid out like in an eating place. The place looked warm and inviting inside, and a moment later we were sitting, taking off our gloves and helmet, exchanging greetings and enquiring about the menu. The old lady in charge said that we could have all forms of Thukpa, and we ordered three for us. From the rear window we could see the road we had come on snaking out into the flat valley below for kilometers. After 10 min or so, I saw 2 motorbikes winding their way along the road, and I ordered 2 more Thukpas. Rohan had been having some issues with the throttle, and the engine would not move beyond idling. A little bit of fiddling fixed the issue, and by that time Sushant had reached him.

(Steeds waiting while we warmed up on the best Thukpa in Bhutan, Bunthang province.)

Feeling warm and strong with the Thukpa inside us, we hopped onto the bikes again. It was only 12:30pm, and we were getting ready for the climb up to Thrumshing La. But the road decided to get decidedly bumpy, and after a good hour of riding through the beautiful alpine forests of Bumhtang on a fairly long dirt track, we stopped for tea and snacks at a family run place just before the ominously tall and dark mountains that were home to the Thrumshing La. It was a beautifully made log café, sitting alone along the forested road. Famished as we were, we took a longish break and recharged ourselves for the final climb up the pass.

When we restarted, the climb was more difficult. Having food in the tummy made the road feel more bumpy, and the inclines increased considerably. On my Electra I had all the luggage for my family, and Mehr wedged between the backpacks on her sides, and a tall backrest behind her. All of us together weighed about 340 kgs. Soon my Electra was climbing in 1st gear half the time, and in 2nd the rest of the time. After a while I looked ahead to see where the pack was. They were not on the same straight as me. The road took a right turn onto the adjoining mountain face, where I could see it snaking up the mountain in a series of hairpin bends. Looking up I spotted the three bikes 3 hairpin bends further ahead. This incident really drove home the horsepower handicap I suffered on this trip.

(At worlds end)

Another half an hours climb, and we could sense that we were close to Thrumshing la. Not only could we could see clouds below us, pushed by the wind the clouds were climbing up the mountain and passing over us. It was a magical experience. We pushed on, and in 10 min of riding we reached the top of the pass. In those 10 min, the weather had gone from sunny to cloudy, with a lot of mist and bitingly cold on fingers and toes. We really celebrated reaching the top of this difficult pass, which unlike some of the Indian passes was difficult to climb not because of pathetic roads, slush or traffic, but because of the sheer incline we had to encounter for an extended duration. But at the back of our minds was the fact that it was 3pm, and the sun would go down at 4pm, it was already bitterly cold, and we had another 90 kms to reach our planned destination. Thrumshing La is in the middle of a forest, which makes it even colder. There was no traffic either, it seemed we had the forest to ourselves.

(Crash & Eddy at Thrumshing La: It was foggy & cold, and a steep climb.)

Spurred by this knowledge, we started our descent quickly, hairpin after hairpin dispatched fast. My 340kg leviathan was slow on the climb, but going down it could dance its own dance. Some 10-15 km of descent later, leaning into a right hand curve, from the corner of my eye I saw something that looked like smoke and embers. Instinct taking over, I braked hard and turned back. Someone had lit a fire which they had left, and it was not completely extinguished. By the time the rest of gang came, I had already added leaves and twigs to the embers and was fanning it. In a few minutes we had a nice little fire going, in the middle of a forest, at 3500 mtrs altitude. It was so comforting to sit beside the fire and warm our bitterly cold hands and feet that we forgot about the time. I reminded folks that we had a long distance to go, but Crash, Eddy and Mehr revolted and said no. Jaya didn’t want to move either.

(I think I am a lucky guy: Finding a warm fire at 3500 mts, close to sunset, in the middle of a forest.)

By the time we got up, it was 4.30pm, it was dark and cold. Luckily, the altitude dropped quickly thereafter, although the road condition didn’t improve. I kept egging the pack to go a little faster, but it was pitch dark, and with the given road condition and narrow road, no one was particularly keen to go any faster. Sushant in particular was advocating safety at the cost of going incredibly slow, a hangover from an incredibly stupid, dangerous and -retrospectively- hilarious incident he had had earlier that year. The best we could do was to put Rohan on his Thuderbird up ahead, as his bike had the best headlight and gave superb illumination for close on half a km.
By 7pm, with 45 km to go to Mongar, we saw a lights from a big solitary house. Jaya declared that she was stopping for the day, at that house. I couldn’t understand how that would happen, as it was a house, not hotel or a lodge. That wouldn’t stop Jaya, and she just parked her bike, walked up to the door, knocked and started talking to the person who appeared at the door. She came back a few minutes later, triumphant. It turned out that the big house belonged to the local Zamindar (landlord), and he had a couple of empty rooms on the 1st floor, which he happily let out to us for the night. And his wife made us a piping hot, sumptuous Bhutanese dinner. This was an amazing stroke of luck, bone tired as we were after the jarring and tiring climb and descent. The rooms were cozy and comfortable, and I don’t even remember climbing into the bed after dinner.

Day-9:
Only when we woke up the next morning did we understand where we were, and saw the place we had spent our night. We were in small place called Yongko-la. The place we spent the night was a house with multiple wings, and it seemed that it was made a few generations back, with a newer wing and an old wing. The landlord operated a grocery store from the ground floor, which would always have a few locals milling around. The landlady was a very hospitable person, and enjoyed talking to Mehr. She used to work on the loom making fabric from wool, which she informed us most households in Bhutan keep to weave clothes.

(The best place we stayed at in the trip- Yongko La)

This was also when we realized that even the remotest Bhutanese family could converse in Hindi. When I commended them for speaking Hindi so fluently, she told us that they watch a lot Hindi movies and serials as they get all Indian channels on cable. Talk of cultural exchange, we don’t even know till where the influence of our pop culture extends. Even their children travel to India to study, and we came to know that their daughter was studying in Lovely University, Punjab.

(Mehr in the traditional Kira)


(With the kind Yongko La family: L to R- Sushant, Avi, Mehr, Daughter, Landlady, Household help, Jovial Man Friday, Rohan)


(Happiness is a purring Kitten)


(The packs only picture together in the trip)

We had a light breakfast and tea, but spent a long time just sitting in the sun in front of their grocery store. Spending time in the grocery store was a nice experience. The store stocked a variety of cereal grains, small farming equipment, kitchen utensils and implements, and even clothes. We bought a traditional Bhutanese dress for Mehr. It is somewhat like a Kimono, and is known as Kira. A similar traditional dress worn by men is called Gho. The landlady was so delighted to dress Mehr up in the Kira, tucking it with safety pins, as is she was dressing up her own grandchild. Like many other places in trip, Mehr found a kitten and had a great time playing with it. When we left the place close to noon, it felt as if we were leaving a family behind.
The plan for the day was to continue east to Trashigang prefecture, then take the Southwards axis towards Indian border. We had not decided where we would stay, but the general target was to reach Wamrong, ~200km away. We started off decently, gaining altitude from the valley floor. After a while of riding, Crash/ came riding up from behind and crossed all of us, and proceeded to ride out of view. We rode on sedately, hoping to see him in a while, when we would slow down after letting off some steam. As things would turn out, we would not see Sushant for the large part of the morning. Since we had not bothered to get local SIM cards, there was no way of calling or tracking Sushant. We kept riding not knowing where Sushant was, and whether he was OK. It was a ride tinged with a little apprehension, as I did not expect Sushant to just ride off way ahead of us. After all, we were a pack, and a pack stays together.



(Along the Dangme river we rode for 2 hours)


(Chazam Bridge, crossing into Trashigang prefecture)


(“I got it” says Mehr)

After what seemed like an eternity (really about 3 hours), we caught sight of Sushant riding on the opposite mountain face, some 8-10km ahead. Finally we caught up with him at Chazam bridge on Dangme river, where the police at the checkpost had stopped him to check the permits, which were with me. We took a break to take some photographs of the Chazam bridge, which turned out to be iconic of this part of the trip. We quickly climbed up the valley to Trashigang, where we took a break for a quick bite and to refuel. The stop at Trashigang cost an hour and half, with the restaurant having painfully slow service, with us being the only patrons. When we started towards Wamrong at about 4.30pm, we had another 80km to go for the day. Just out of Trashigang we ran into onging roadwork, which slowed us down considerably. It was already dark and the road became incredibly muddy, with the motorbikes slipping and the spinning wheels struggling to find traction. After an hour and half of riding in mud, interspersed by road rollers, bulldozers and graders, we realized that we had covered just 15km, and we had another 55km to go to Wamrong. The mood turned cold, as the prospect of a further 3 hours of ride through mud and slush loomed.
We were in a catch-22 situation. As far as we knew, and had seen in the last few, besides the towns marked on the map there would be no small towns or villages that could provide accommodation. And the next town on map- Wamrong- was a daunting 55km, or 3 hours away. If we tuned back, we could reach Trashigang in an hour and 15 min. But then we would have to re-do the same mud and slush we had already come through, turning the next days ride into an ordeal of 10 hrs. Talk of being stuck between the devil and the deep blue sea!
We decided to push on. The gods must look after their craziest subjects. Half an hour on, we saw the lights of a town, and rode into a small market full of young children who were crowding around a row of food shops. These looked like college kids, and there were a whole bunch of them. As we stopped, quite a few of them came over to talk to us. It turned out that this place was the famed Sherubtse University- the largest and most important one in Bhutan. And these kids studied and lived at the university. They told us that there was no hotel or lodge in the vicinity, just the university and the few shops. At this point, Jaya once again rose to the occasion. Eldest as she was, she declared to the pack “Kids, this is where we make our camp tonight, there will be no discussion on this”. As we watched in amazement, she got talking to some of those helpful kids, one of whom called the admin head of the university, to whom she patiently explained our predicament- bikes, cold, bad roads, long ride, small kid- and when she finished her call, she told us that the kind gentleman had allotted us two guest rooms at the university for the night. What a relief it was, to realize that we could rest immediately, have a leisurely dinner, sleep on time, and fight out the mud & slush with a refreshed body the next day!
Sherubtse University is set in a picturesque and huge campus. We only got a brief lay of the place as we parked our bikes, carried our luggage to the rooms, refreshed and went out for dinner. Some of the kids told that there was a nice diner a km down the road, which I faintly recall was called Tigers nest, or Tigers den. It turned out to be a cozy little place, with an awesome enthusiastic and warm host. He made sure that he ordered for us, getting us the best dishes on the house. In a while we got discussing the local spirits and he was very happy to know that we had tried and liked Chang. He quickly arranged for some Honeybee rum for us, which really got us in good spirits. We had a heartwarming dinner and conversation, and retired to the University guest room, steeling ourselves for tackling the bad roads that awaited us the next day.

Day-10:
We got up really early the next day. There was no plan. We had to make sure we reached Guwahati by nightfall as all of us had return tickets for the next day. The border was 160km from Sherubtse, and Guwahati was another 100km.
We started at about 6:30am. It took us the promised 3 hours to cover the 59km to Wamrong. We stopped for snacks and tea. Wamrong was small place, with some 25-30 stores and eating places along the main road. There was hardly any place to park our bikes, so we had to park them in a tight line- one behind the other- besides the road. While we were having breakfast, we met a young Japanese couple, who were as surprised to see us there, as we were to see them. They had been staying in Bhutan for a year, teaching. We chatted for a while, exchanged contact details, and said goodbye to be on our way again.

(The steeds wait at Wamrong)

The road surface began to deteriorate, and in a while we were riding on a bumpy dirt road. It seemed as if the surface had been taken off for relaying, except that the relaying had not happened. We endured the next 40 km of this surface, bumping along.

(Some moments take your breath away)

When we were getting really tired with the bumps, we rounded a corner and came upon freshly laid butter smooth tarmac. The tarmac was so good, and we were so rattled that we actually stopped to take a photograph at the junction.

(Thank you, Lord, for the good tarmac.)

Our euphoria was short-lived, as barely half an hour later the skies darkened further and big fat drops of rain greeted our descent from the Bhutanese mountains. We quickly stopped and took shelter under an overhang and put on our raincoats. Although I was not willing to ride in the rain (I never am), after a while Jaya decided that we should move, saying that the rain will stop if we move and continue if we stayed still. Very reluctantly I got back on the bike, and for sure, after a 8-10 km in the rain, the sun broke out and warmed us up.

(Waiting for one of the inevitable landslides to open)

We knew we were going to be in the plains soon, close to the border, but we were surprised by the abruptness of it. One moment we were negotiating corners, and suddenly the road straightened out into a village, and barely half a km down we saw the border gate.

Bhutan truly is the mountain kingdom, with its borders defined by the terrain so exactly, that there isn’t even 500 mts of plains before the border begins anywhere along the Bhutan-India border. We were not ready to cross the border yet. We wanted one last taste of Bhutanese food, and wanted to savor a Black Mountain and Kings-V to have a memory of our trip for a few months. We backtracked to the market in the village that was Samdrup Jhonkhar and sat down for a light snack.

Finally we were exiting Bhutan after 8 days of riding through the most picturesque of Himalayas, received the hospitality of and came to know some of the nicest and most contented people we had ever met. We enjoyed the Bhutanese food and wine, and discovered in each other our truer selves, what we are when we are not having to do anything through compulsion. It was a trip of discovery, within and outside us. And we came back much richer, and closer.

The rest of the ride to Guwahati was uneventful. We duly packed our bikes and handed them over to parcel office at the station, and this time kept the Bilti carefully. That’s the end. Nearly. We had to send the old Bilti to New Jalpaiguri station master when we got back, but we could not find it at home. Turns out, Jaya had very carefully kept it in the secret inner pocket of her handbag, and we had it with us the entire trip :)
Wow!! What a great trip and what a travelogue !! Fantastic! I salute you. Keep it up.
 
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