Across Bhutan On Mo’bikes: 22 To 30 September 2015... Part1

by Shiv Jaswal on 26 November 2015


1. We rode on wide and smooth roads, over narrow roads, unpaved roads, over landslide rubble, through deep slush, skidding, crawling ahead, balancing with both feet in slush, sometimes squeezing between the mountain side and heavy load carrier trucks. We wound our way up steep climbs and down sharp descents, around blind corners and hairpin bends. All the while we drank in and savoured the beauty of wondrous Bhutan, its abundant greenery, swift rivers, waterfalls and best of all the very relaxed, courteous and cheerful people. If I could I would do this ride again.

2. We were ten bikers. Col Manoj Keshwar (Mike), of the Viktorians, our leader. Col Ashish Raisinghania posted at Bhatinda, Sunit Fenn and Manoj Sankar, from Trivandrum. Rana from Bangalore, Avinash Bavkar and Shreyash Kulkarni from Sholapur and Pune respectively. Rajwinder Dosanjh (Raju) from Chandigarh, Vikas Juneja from Noida, and Neelima and self from Gorakhpur. Mike, Ashish, Vikas, Avinash, Shreyash, and self drove Royal Enfields. Vikas, Ashish and I had our own bikes. Ashish had a Thunderbird 350cc, Vikas a Bullet 500cc, and I had my faithful 1968 Bullet 350cc. The other Royal Enfields were 500cc bikes. Sunit, Rana and Raju rode KTMs, while Manoj chose to drive a Pulsar. Ashish's wife and infant daughter were with us till Paro. My wife Neelima travelled in a four wheeler. Mr. Batra was the bike expert who ensured that all bike repair and maintenance tasks were swiftly completed. Pema drove the backup vehicle, a Toyota Pickup truck. All riders were experienced and avid bikers.

3. The bikers RV'd at Siliguri on the 21st of September. Sunit, Manoj, my wife and I fetched up a day earlier. While we relaxed, Manoj and Sunit made a quick visit to Darjeeling. Evening 21st we were briefed and necessary documentation completed. This was followed by a sumptuous dinner. Col Amandeep Sengor, organized an enjoyable evening for us. Brig and Mrs MJ Kumar, and Mrs Ruby Sengor with their son, also graced the occasion.

Day Destination Distance
(Kms)
Remarks
  Siliguri - Start Point
1 Phuntsholing. 155 -
2 Paro 143 -
3 Thimpu-Paro-Thimpu 65 Witnessed Thimpu Festival
4 Wangdue 135 Wangdue to Punaka is 13 kms
5 Wangdue - extra day at Wangdue owing to a landslide and road being closed
6 Jhakar 197 -
7 Mongar 198 -
8 Trashigang 91 -
9 Guwahati 290 Trashigang to border at Somdrup Dzong 180 kms

 

22 September: Siliguri to Phuntsholing (Bhutan)

4. On the first day of the Trip, we got together at around 10 a.m. Learnt that in Bhutan Indian Debit/Credit cards are not functional. I quickly drove to an ATM in the vicinity, parked my bike, the ground was soft and the bike toppled to one side breaking the rear left indicator that I had recently got fitted, as my model bikes did not come with blinkers. I was able to start the Trip with a bang!! Back at the RV our bikes were topped up, we posed for a few photographs and then headed for Phuntsholing in Bhutan. Driving through Siliguri town was slow owing to heavy traffic. On the open road which was wide and with light traffic we were able to pick up speed. We stopped en route for a refreshing cup of tea.

5. At Binaguri about 100 kms from Siliguri, we were hosted to Lunch by a Bombay Sapper Regiment. Watered and fed we bade farewell to our hosts and headed for Bhutan.

6. Next important bound was Hashimara near the Indo-Bhutan border. On branching off from the main highway for Hashimara the road condition deteriorated. At the last Indian township of Jaigaon we got caught in pouring rain. Within moments the road was submerged in about six inches of water. The situation was tricky as the road had many jaw breaking potholes, invisible under the muddy water. We gingerly pressed on bouncing in and out of them. Most of us followed a local auto rickshaw or scooter, as they were familiar with the contours of the road and perhaps helped us to avoid the bigger "Khuddas". At a bifurcation within the town, we joined the bikers who had fetched up earlier and waited for a few who were still on their way.

7. Jaigaon seemed to be a flourishing township with heavy traffic despite the pouring rain. After a head count we drove to our Hotel, at Phuntsholing. A quick wash and change we trooped across to the Immigration Office to be photographed for issue of permits for entry to Bhutan. Thanks to Ashish with his course-mate in the Border Roads, the formalities were done with speed. No visa is required for Indian nationals, a passport or voter ID serves the purpose. An important aspect to be remembered is that the Entry Permit is required to be stamped at all the Check Posts along the route, and if per chance one of them is missed out the authorities demand you go back to the previous Check Post and get the Permit endorsed. In all we encountered five or maybe six Check Posts. After the Entry Permit formalities were completed we located a good restaurant and had dinner. By the time we'd finished our meal we were all quite tired, so returned to our rooms and fell into a blissful sleep.

23 September: Phuntsholing to Paro

8. Morning saw us up bright and early, we still had to get our bike permits. The Transport Office was close by, documentation for the vehicles took a little over an hour. It was around 1100 h when we started our drive for Paro. On the outskirts of Phuntshlong was the first Check Post where entries were made. The road was fair to good and mostly uphill. We automatically got grouped based on our driving speed. I was generally among the last. Raju was kind enough to accept bringing up the rear, and to ensure that no one got left behind. The backup vehicle with Neelima, Batraji and Pema followed the bikers. All of us had waterproof jackets and trousers, since clear weather had been predicted some of us chose not to wear them. A little after midday, a light drizzle started, which really did not warrant our stopping to wear our rain gear. Vikas while making a left turn around a sharp bend was hit on the right side by an Alto car, speeding downhill from the opposite direction. He was thrown off the bike onto the hill side and sustained bruises on his arm, leg and back. His bike footbrake took the major impact, and was bent backwards, the footrest also went off alignment. Vikas boldly got up, hobbled for a while and declared that he was alright. The bike it seemed would have to be carried piggy-back on a vehicle. After Batraji arrived, he examined the damage to the bike, got his tool box, then wrestled with the foot brake, straightening it and made the bike drivable. Hats off to brave heart Vikas, despite the injuries he drove his damaged bike, with only the front brakes functional. We stopped for tea at a place, I think it was Chhukha. In Bhutan sale and purchase of cigarettes is a crime. At the tea shop a smart young policeman politely cautioned us that smoking was not permitted, but the die hard, found out that one could sneak in to the rear of the restaurant, away from the public gaze and have a quiet puff. Fortunately at Chhukha, there was a bike mechanic with welding facilities. Vikas and Batraji, with Neelima in attendance got the bike repaired.

9. We moved on, the rain too had picked up. We were soon quite famished too. Our lunch was planned at a Border Roads Canteen en route. It seemed to take ages before we reached the Canteen. The Canteen Manager was a "Thambi" who served delicious Idli Dosa. We took this opportunity to dry our feet and peel off the layers of wet clothing. It was a field day for "leeches", that lay lurkinjg around in the Canteen waiting for the days catch. Many of us were "Leeched", we resorted to the "Salt" treatment to remove and kill the parasite. There was no time to lose as it would soon be dark, and we still had a long way to go. We pressed on, the sun had set and in a while it became dark, only the roar of the bikes was heard and tail lights of the bike ahead, visible. The road was narrow. Drizzle soon turned into rain, to add to the woes, clouds closed in around us, it was misty and foggy, visibility drastically reduced. I was personally finding the going quite difficult, had to remove my spectacles because of the rain. Mike gauged my plight and drove ahead of me. I followed him and behind me was Manoj. Three of us moved in close formation. I would slow down to a crawl and even stop when crossing a vehicle coming from the opposite direction, overtaking was out of question. There was no protective parapet on the open side of the road and a slip could be dangerous. This stretch of about 40 kms I found to be mentally the toughest, requiring complete concentration. We finally reached the next Check Post where our entry was recorded. All Check Posts are connected via the net. While waiting for the rest to fetch up, I requested that owing to my slower driving I should start early. Out of seven present, six of us mounted and recommenced our drive for Paro.

10. Mike stayed back for the remaining three to join up. Ashish led the pack, I behind him. From the word go he took off at a scorching pace, scorching as per my standards, I managed to keep up. After about 10 kms of driving, the rain stopped and the mist also cleared. Closer to the Fork near Chinakha where the road goes North to Thimpu, we branched left crossing a bridge on the Thimpu River, and on towards Paro. The road to Paro was smooth, and aglow in the moonlight. We thundered on, my bike exhaust occasionally delivering a flash of light followed by loud backfiring. Don't whether it was expressing its joy at being able to drive on a smooth road or showing its grudge at being pushed hard. All the while I thought the backfiring was either from the bike ahead or behind me. Ashish maintained the fast pace, occasionally asked for directions and brought us bang on, at the Hotel where we were to stay. We parked our bikes entered the reception and scurried off to our rooms, wet, cold and hungry. Mercifully the blower in the room was on, making it nice and cosy. Paro is at an altitude of 7,300 ft. Neelima with the back up vehicle, which also had our baggage was still an hour away. I had a hot water bath, wrapped myself in the towels available and got under the quilt. Meanwhile Neelima fetched up. With everyone having freshened up our dinner was brought. We had all collected in one of the four room blocks, warmed ourselves with some "daru", and then enjoyed the dinner. Vikas was re-administered first aid for the second time. His injuries on the arm and back were still raw. He had faced the injury and its pain with a great deal of fortitude. Day two had been tough.

Our Hotel and below Rooms

24 September: Paro-Thimpu-Paro

11. Drive from Paro to Thimpu was a song, smooth broad road with light traffic. Official speed limit is 60 kmph, most didn't seem to remember it. Generally speaking the dogs and cattle, too seemed quite relaxed. No dog chased us. The few cattle that we saw didn't bother while we roared past, they just looked at us with mild curiosity. We stopped en route for some photographs and met a group of Indian tourists form Tripura

12. Before entering Thimpu we rode as a group. Thimpu is a modern metropolis, good roads, with disciplined traffic. All the swank cars, and SUVs, that I know were there, though cars popular in India were a common site. Modern show rooms and restaurants lined the main road along which we drove. Above all, the people appeared relaxed, cheerful and were very polite.

13. We were fortunate to be in Bhutan to witness the Thimpu festival. Dromchoe is an annual festival introduced by Zhabdrung, the founder of united Bhutan to commemorate the victories over the Tibetans. During the festival, the "pazaps" or local militia men, dressed in battle gear showcase a battle scene of this distant past recalling the days when in the absence of a standing army, men from the village blocks of Thimphu came forward and managed to expel the Tibetan forces out of the country ushering in a new-found internal peace and stability. The queue to enter the arena to witness the dances was long and serpentine. There was no impatience from the general public, just a couple of individuals managed the crowds. Men, women and children dressed in their traditional colourful attire, created an atmosphere of excitement and celebration.

14. Their dancing is slow and very rhythmic, face masks and very bright and colourful attire, the low sonorous sound of the horns and the drum beat, all put together are enchanting. The arena was packed with a continuous stream of visitors moving in or out of the area. At the entrance a police check post had been established and routine frisking done.

15. Rana, Manoj, Mike, Sunit and Ashish took photographs with hi-tech cameras, while most of us clicked away using our mobile phones. The better photographs in this write up, are theirs.

16. Having witnessed the dances, we drove to the main shopping complex for lunch. After tucking in a tasty meal and sampling some complimentary local wine we left for the local zoo to see Bhutan's National Animal, the "Takin". The Takin is a mix of a goat and antelope. Its body is covered with dense yellow and brown hair. It has short stocky legs, with two toed hoofs. After making eye contact with the Takin, and seeing all that was to be seen there, we felt it was time to return to Paro, about 40 kms away. We were an hour away from sunset. Bhutan time is half an hour ahead of IST. After assembling and a head count the leading lot took off and somewhere we lost contact with each other. We navigated our way through Thimpu streets back to the highway and on to Paro.

17. A relaxed day, well spent, an early dinner and off to sleep, as the next day was going to be a strenuous one.


Outskirts of Thimpu

Click here > to explore Part 2 of Across Bhutan On Mo’bikes: 22 To 30 September 2015.