VIKTORIANZ L TO R: BOBBY, BHANU PRATAP, PRITHVI CHAUHAN, NEELIMA JASWAL, SHIV JASWAL, PARAG NIKAM AND MANOJ KESHWAR
1. Seven heavenly days, thrilling, challenging and thoroughly satisfying. We were six bikers, and my wife who toured North Thailand with the Viktorianz. Col Manoj Keshwar, a Bombay Sapper, and an old friend, we had served together at Kota, was our leader. Bob the charming Irishman and mobike expert would set the pace and lead us through hill and dale. The very spirited Col Prithvi Chauhan presently posted at Mount Abu and his nephew Bhanu Pratap, from the Film Industry, and young Parag Nikam a computer engineer from Pune, comprised the the bikers, with Neelima who would follow in a car. Parag has driven on his bike a Honda 650 from Pune to Leh.
06 NOVEMBER 2014
RECEIVED AT CHIANG MAI INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT, AND BELOW OUR BIKES
2. We were, on arrival, received at Chiang Mai International Airport by Manoj, and drivento the Sheik Istana Hotel. At about four in the afternoon we were introduced to our bikes, which were a mix of Hondas and Kawasakis. Manoj had a Kawasaki 650 cc, Bob a Honda 750 cc, Prithvi a Honda 800cc, Parag and Bhanu both had Honda 650 cc bikes, while I had opted for a Honda 400cc. I have been driving a Royal Enfield Bullet for over 46 years, where the brakes areon the left and the gear lever on the right. My Honda NV400 Custom, (twin cylinder, shaft driven) bike had the gear lever on the left and the brake pedal on the right. Whereas in theBullet the first gear is engaged by lifting the gear lever to the highest position and as you shift to higher gears the lever is pressed down. In the Honda it was the other way round. Fortunatelyin Thialand traffic drove on the left side of the road, as in India.
MANOJ READY FOR TAKE OFF
3. We went for a familiarisation drive of about 20 kms. It was a cloudy day and no soonerhad we started it rained. The drive gave us considerable confidence. My Honda, bike, I found was responsive and ran very smoothly. (No offence meant to my loyal, Royal Enfield, backhome, at Gorakhpur.)
In the evening was a festival, of Lights. Pretty floats had been prepared and sent downthe river. After our train journey from Gorakhpur to Kolkata, we boarded a flight to Bangkok, followed by an hours drive to Don Meung International Airport at Bangkok itself, and then thelast leg of our journey, a connecting flight to Chiang Mai. By the time we reached Chiang Mai we were quite tired, so turned in early. In the bargain we missed the better part of the Festivalof Lights. To add to our woes, I had in a hurry left my mobile back at Kolkata at a relative’s house, the mobile had all the important numbers. We now had to bank on Neelima’s mobile which did not have the numbers, I specifically required for this trip. Manoj got us a local SIMwhich was a help. I went off to sleep with the nagging thought of the gear lever and brakepedal. During normal driving it would be OK, but in an emergency when reflexes take over, I would have to be very careful. Photographs below are of the bike fimiliarisation drive.
TOPPING UP AND BOB GIVING SOME TIPS, BELOW GOT CAUGHT IN LIGHT RAIN
FESTIVAL OF LIGHTS
07 NOVEMBER 2014
MY FIRST BIKE THE HONDA 400 NV CUSTOM
Manoj briefed us on the trip, our destinations for the six days. Traffic rules and action incase of an emergency. A new one for me was that in Thailand, motorcycles have to keep their headlights on always, even during the daytime. Infact the Kawasaki ER6N, that I drove from thesecond day had no headlight switch, the lights come on, the moment the bike is started. The trip planned, was a happy mix of adventure, the thrill of biking on hill and level roads and anopportunity to get glimpses of the rich culture of Thailand. We loaded our essential baggage in Mr Deshvats Toyota, Vios, the follow up car. Neelima would also travel in this car. The Tripcommenced with a visit to the beautiful Buddha temples at Chiang Mai. Neat and clean, thronging with devotees, some chanting, some listening to sermons while others just sat quietly, meditating or day dreaming. While we waited for the bikers to form up, before literally “taking off”, Prithviand nephew Bhanu got themselves photographed with a charming younglass, also on a visit to the temple. So smitten, and swept away by the moment was Prithvi, that he dropped down on one knee on the pavement and proposed to her. She rewarded him with a cute smile. The mood was set.
STATUE OF A MONK AT THE CHIANG MAI TEMPLE
With Bob in the lead, Manoj bringing up the rear and the backup car to follow, we tookoff. Once outside the city on the open road, the first four got into rally mode with their Superbikes. I drove cautiously at a conservative speed of 60, just occasionally touching 80 kmph, and quickly pulling back to around 60. Manoj stayed behind and drove at my pace. After getting off the main road and onto the hill section, the countryside turned lush green, thevillages were very clean and the roads well marked and in an excellent state. Every single turnwas prominently indicated. There was light traffic and the going good. We stopped en route for lunch, fried rice, with prawns or chicken were the favorite. Soon the climb got steeper, therewere hairpin bends and unlike what we are used to in India where after a hairpin bend the road generally levels out, here the climb occasionally got even steeper. It was important to change to an appropriate lower gear before negotiating the hairpin bends. Short of Pai we took a turn,heading for the Lod Caves. The climb continued, at the summit, is a picturesque open patch of grass, here we stopped for a refreshing cup of coffee.
BOBBY DEEP IN THOUGHT, BELOW BHANU AND PRITHVI WITH THE MONKS
A BREAK FOR LUNCH EN ROUTE TO LOD CAVES AND BELOW ENJOYING THE ENVIRONMENT
AT COFFEE POINT
PARAG AND PRITHVI SHARE A JOKE AND BELOW READY TO LEAVE COFFEE POINT
ENTRY TO LOD CAVES
7. A word on the Lod Caves, also referred to as the Spirit Caves of Mae Hong Son. They are limestone caves and we got to see massive stalactites and stalagmites. We entered the cave by crossing a short stretch of river on a bamboo raft. The caves are massive about 30 to 40 feet high, our guides carried a patromax each. One guide per three visitors, for that is the capacity of the raft. Every evening, thousands of birds fly in to shelter for the night. The top of the cave was full of bats. After a tour of the cave we got back onto our bamboo rafts and were paddled downstream for about 50 to 60 meters. We had been given some grain to feed the fish, they were large fellows, fearlessly grabbing the grain we threw at them. While returning the boatmen, stepped out onto the shallow river bed and manually pulled the boats back upstream. I marveled at their strength and energy. We were all very impressed by the cleanliness around. The lawns at the visitors’ area were very well manicured. The guides were very polite, even though we communicated in sign language. We learnt that the villages here are all self sufficient and offer good employment to their inhabitants, so very few leave their homes, in turn the cities are not over crowded.
8. A couple of kms away, from the Lod Caves, is the Lod Caves Lodge, where we stayed. Itis run by the legendary John Spies, founder of most of the caves. The Lod Caves Lodge has several pretty Log Huts, and it is very well managed. There were about a dozen other tourists,all enjoying their stay at the quiet, picturesque and comfortable location. Even in that wilderness, of the rainforest, electricity and WiFi connectivity was available. During dinner weexchanged notes, Prithvi enthralled us with many interesting incidents. There was a young Thai couple, with a guitar, who on request, sang some old English numbers for us. Next morning atbreakfast I got to play my trumpet too.
VIEW OF HE LOD CAVES (DOWNLOADED FROM THE INTERNET)
OUR LOG HUT
MANOJ AND PARAG AT BREAKFAST
TRUMPET AT BREAKFAST TIME
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