33. We passed a large open field where half a dozen competitors were participating in an archery contest. The target was about 150 meters, and all the archers we saw had got their arrows within the target area. It was a competition on a large scale, about twenty teams with four competitors each. They had been competing for over a month with the finals scheduled on the Queens wedding anniversary, 13 October. Mike and I took a briefing on how to aim and release the arrow.
A short Break and another waterfall
34. By evening we had reached Jhakar, a large town with all the amenities, and a fairly modern shopping area, where we waited for the ride to assemble. We were at the Hotel by last light. All Hotels we stayed in were excellent, and so was this. The owner was a retired fauji of the Bhutan Army, Maj Dasho (Dasho means knighted) Gasey Lhendup. He had done his Staff College at Wellington as also the Senior Command Course at Mhow. We exchanged notes and realised that we had both studied at Nainital, at about the same time, though in different schools, he at Birla Vidya Mandir, while I at St Joseph's College. Indeed a small world. We had an enjoyable evening, followed by a sumptous dinner. Todays drive though long and tiring was quite comfortable, being able to get to our destination during daylight hours was a relief.
28 September: Jhakar to Mongar
35. The distance to Mongar is about 200 kms. After a hearty and very tasty breakfast, and bidding goodbye to Major Lhendup of the Bhutan Army, we set out to explore Jhakar. First to see the cheese factory and then the beer factory. These are both small scale cottage industries. The beer factory was a nice neat two room affair, 20 ft by 20 ft factory, with an office and store room. We were briefed on the process of manufacturing beer. Most listened to it with rapt attention. We all rceived a complimentary bottle of "Panda", beer. For good measure we purchased an extra crate to celebrate in the evening.
36. The cheese factory was closed, however there was a factory outlet where we could buy it. The cheese was reputed to taste like Swiss cheese. We were told that the cheese would last for 14 days without spoiling. Some of us did purchase it. I put the cheese in the tool bag of my bike and carted it around for the next three days. On reaching Guwahati I put it in my suitcase. At home I ceremoniously took the cheese out of its packet, declaring that it was swiss cheese. There was a moment's silence, of expectation, we all love cheese. The aroma of the cheese once out of its wrapping hit our nostrils, with a gut wrenching stink. The cheese smelt awful, like a ton of rotten fish. I was not sure whether swiss cheese was meant to smell that way, so for good measure I nibbled at a bit of it. It was bitter and horrible. Had to go and bury it out in the backyard. Should have taken better care of it while travelling.
37. Next was a visit to a famous temple, some got to see it while I Iost my way and returned to base. Seems to happen to me all the time. At the RV I took a snap of some folks waiting for a bus. I asked if I could take their photograph, they were kind enough not to say "No". One of them giggled shyly, which I took as an approval.
38. Meanwhile Sunit decided he would concentrate on photography, and hired a taxi to enable him to stop where he wanted, and capture the beauty of that place. He was very gracious to offer Neelima to travel with him. It was a great relief, and the trip became more comfortable for her.
39. After a head count the drive to Mongar commenced. The road was wide and smooth, we sped along. A little later a gentle climb started, my bike seemed to be loosing power, I continued, not sure why the compression had reduced. After 10 kms or so it regained its vitality and energetically moved on. I have a feeling the decompression lever had not closed fully. That was the only little worry my bike gave me, otherwise she was as spirited as a young colt. Two other minor problems that I had was that the ignition switch and a little later the dipper switch went defective. With Batraji's help the connections were made "direct", and that was that.
40. As we thundered on, the pretty countryside became prettier. We had to stop to soak in the beauty of the place. After a short break, I pressed on alone, and thoroughly enjoyed the solitude, just the bike and I, driving up the steep road. We were heading for the highest motorable pass of Bhutan, the Thrumshingla Pass at 12,400 ft. The Pass separates Bhumthang District of Central Bhutan from Mongar in Eastern Bhutan. There was next to no traffic, I counted a total of twelve vehicles that crossed us in the 175 kms or so. Of these four were tippers on road maintenance work. I wanted to confirm whether I was on the correct road, stopped where a family of three were basking in the sun and keeping an eye on their grazing cattle. Mongar! Mongar!! I said a couple of times, pointing ahead, the response was a blank look. On my repeating the name of the destination, they comprehended, and nodded pointing ahead. The elder among them very kindly invited me to share a "Paan". There was a large bundle of it in a polythene bag and each one was chewing paan. I smiled, and thanked them, though they could not have noticed my polite smile of gratitude, concealed by the helmet.
41. Mike drove up alongside a few kms before we reached the Pass. On crossing the Pass, we had officially entered Eastern Bhutan. The road descends very steeply it is narrow and a cliff hanger. Beyond Sengor the road widened, the steep descent continued down to the Kuri Chu Valley. From 12,000 ft at the Pass we climbed down to about 1,700 ft at the Kuri Chu. From the Valley the road is uphill again, to Mongar a distance of about 25 kms. We were at Mongar by six in the evening. At the hotel I waited for Neelima. We spent some time in the lobby as the range of the wifi was restricted. After a quick wash and change we collected at the bar. "Panda", beer from Jhakar was waiting to be gulped. Full marks to the beer, it was good, mild and tasty with no potential for giving a hang over. We could afford to have a late night as the next destination, Trashigang was only 90 kms away.
29 September: Mongar to Trashigang
42. Trashigang is at an altitude of 3,500 ft, 91 kms east of Mongar. We left the Hotel at around 0930 h, had our fuel tanks topped up and then began our leisurely drive for the day. It was initially down hill and then the road levelled out. The road was good and we were able to maintain a fast pace slowing down where road repair was in progress. We crossed the Drangme Chu, River, and stopped at the Check Post. Entries made a couple of photographs taken, and we raced off to our Hotel.
Bridge on the Drangme Chu, short of Trashigang, & its Check Post below
43. The Hotel at Trashigang was again very comfortable and located on our route out to India. Young ladies carried our baggage to the rooms. At every Hotel it was women who did the luggage carrying. After lunch I got busy with Batra ji and had a few adjustments done on my bike. He related some interesting stories of the challenging repairs and modifications that he had done to motorbikes, and gave us some inside information about, Smt Indra Gandhi, whose PA, was known to a cousin of a friend of his respected father. A little later Rana also joined us and we exchanged notes on the day's drive. Rested a while and then we got together for the last evening at Bhutan. The boisterousness appeared a bit subdued perhaps because in our subconscience, an enjoyable event was coming to an end. We had established bonds of frienship. We turned in early as the home run from Trashigang to Guwhati was 300 kms. 180 kms within Bhutan and the remaining in Assam.
Rana "clicking-in", the scene
30 September 15: TRASHIGANG TO GUWHATI
Leaving Trashigang for Guwhati
44. From Trashigang, we headed due south for Somdrup Dzong, we needed to sign out from the last check post and enter India. Initially the road was quite rough and steep, we encountered some hairpin bends before it kind of evened out.
45. A quick break for breakfast and we headed for the border. As usual I started a little earlier than the rest. The road was good and we raced on to Samdrup Jhonkar. Once all had collected our entries at the check post recorded, we hit the road for Guwahati.
46. Across the border into India the road passes through Tamulpur and Rangia. 40 years ago I, a young Capt was posted as the Aide-de-Camp at Rangia. My wife and I were keen to visit our old location. Unfortunately my wife could not join me as her vehicle was way behind, so I went alone. General Mohanty was very gracious, he drove me around the Headquarters. There were many changes, of course, but the basic infrastructure was the same, it was a nostalgic visit, wish Neelima too could have seen the location.
47. I was now on the last lap of the journey. We were to RV at a Restaurant about three kms short of the Brahamaputra Rivier. After lunch we handed over our bikes to the care of Batra ji, who would have them transported back to Siliguri, Gorakhpur and Delhi. Mike had organised taxis to take us to the Hotel at Guwhati. Col and Mrs Shaily Rawat, kindly invited us Sappers to dinner. Mike, Ashish, Neelima and self spent a relaxed and enjoyable evening with them. Next morning we headed for our respective home towns, and back to work, not me I'm retired. Rana made a visit to Shillong, Neelima and I stayed on for another two days at Col Shaily Rawat's location.
48. The icing of the Bhutan Mo'bike Trip was the opportunithy I got to do water skiing on the Brahamaputra River. Thanks to Shaily, he had a boat rigged up, with a powerful 90 hp, outboard motor and experienced operators, to conduct the water skiing. With the safety arrangements in place, I went ahead. A couple of men from the Regiment and, and I had a thrilling time water skiing.
Water Skiing on the Brahamaputra River at Guwhati
49. The mobike trip was a memorable experience. Driving through varied terrain, in bright sunshine, rain and fog, during day and at night. It was challenging for man and machine. Seeing the quiet and regal beauty of Bhutan and its people was enchanting. Getting to know members of the Team, and forging a good friendship, has enhanced our happiness. Thank you, Mike for organising the Trip so well, and thank you my good friends for making the Trip really worthwhile. And most of all, I thank Neelima for being on the trip and accepting the tough times, sportingly.