Thank you very much for reading Part 1. This Part 2 of my Bhutan Ride has more pictures & events……Safe Journey
All three of us had kept the alarm for 05:00 in the morning, but we ended up waking at 06:00. We quickly got ready and left the hotel at 06:30. We had to tie our luggage and make sure it sat peacefully without any movements! Thanks to our bike provider who had given us few extra bungee cords which was very useful and that ensured the safety of our luggage. Once we were done with our luggage, it was time to kick start our bikes. The moment the bike started, it woke up all the attenders of the hotel who came out rushing, thanks to the modified silencer! I feel the name silencer is highly misleading and inappropriate in our case!
It was very cold and there was a thick blanket of fog which was scary, added to that the roads were new to us. But none of them actually bothered me expect for one thing, and that was the permit. As per the festival calendar of Bhutan, today was Druk Wangyel Tschechu and also it was Saturday. I wasn’t sure if the government officials will be working and we would get our permits. If we didn’t get our permits, then it meant two more days wasted and we had to cut short our plan/places of visit. With fingers crossed we left our hotels and what was unfolding in front of us was a scenic and picturesque ride. The stretch from Siliguri to Phuentsholing via Binnagudi is an amazing experience with lush greenery awaiting you. Coronation Bridge, was our landmark to ensure that we were on course. If you miss the right turn here and proceed straight then you will be headed to Guwahati.
As you continue your ride towards Binnagudi, you come across many tea estates which run parallel to the roads and the entire ride becomes a wonderful experience. The cold breeze hitting your face with rays of sun shining on you and the greenery along the stretch is a bike rider’s treat.
And then you are greeted by numerous army posts along the stretch, which meant that the roads will be well maintained. After we crossed 100 km, we kept asking the locals about the border road. As you ride, there is a place called Hasimara where one has to take left. Be careful, it is possible that you might as well miss this and continue to ride!
It was 10:30 in the morning when I saw the signboard which excited all of us and I finally saw one image which was haunting me for many months. This image was the entrance to Bhutan and was seen in umpteen blogs, articles and websites. There was a great sense of happiness that we finally made it after all the ups & downs and for a moment I just stood there to feel Bhutan!!!
Then immediately I enquired about the permit office and to our luck, it was right in front of us! And finally when we went in, the officials greeted us and gave the permit form to fill (download from my Bhutan Planner). It was a working day and there were many tourists like us who had come to apply for permit. The permit was issued in no time, 20 minutes to be precise and then we headed to RSTA (Road Safety and Transport Authority) to get permits for our vehicles. The RSTA office is just few meters from the permit office and can be reached in 5 minutes. I guess the lady luck was on our side and we were just in time at the RSTA. If we were late even by 30 minutes, then we had to wait in Phuentsholing till Monday. The officer was a good person and apparently had worked in India for few years. He also had visited Bangalore and was happy to see us come from that far. A nominal amount of Rs.70 is charged per bike…. Oops, Ng. 70 it is! From here onwards it is Ngultrum, the currency of Bhutan which is pegged on par with INR.
It was 13:00 and the sun was right on top of us. I felt a sense of achievement, as everything went as per plan and we were able to get the critical documents to continue our ride to The Last Shangri-La. We were hungry and badly wanted to have lunch but before that it was important to feed our bikes! Always make it a habit to fill your bike to the fullest and then think of others especially on these long unknown expeditions…
The nearest petrol bunk was at some distance and after filling the fuel tank, we enquired the attender about a good restaurant. He said after few kilometers there is a restaurant on the left and good food is served. Just few meters and I started to get an idea about the roads. The roads are well-maintained and very few potholes are visible but it was hilly road with steep gradient all along the stretch. As we continued to climb, we were stopped by the check-post officials who check for the permits. We showed our permits which was in order and then we were allowed to go. Towards the right side you can a giant digital clock displaying the local time. It was +30 minutes when compared to my wristwatch and I said, yes it is Bhutan indeed!!!
As we struggled to climb the steep gradient on the Bhutan roads en route Thimphu, one of the bike’s kick start lever came out. We couldn’t fix it as the nut had worn out and the closest garage was 60 km. that is when we employed the old and tested method of starting the vehicle. Go downhill in neutral and then shift to first gear. Girish turned around and continued his ride when I saw a small cute monk! I couldn’t resist my temptation of taking a picture with him and this picture continues to be DP of my Facebook profile.
Right behind this location we found a good restaurant and we had rice with fish curry. The fish was cooked nicely and tasted very good. We rested for some time at this spot and also it was time to take out Manjesh’s DSLR. I could see at least 10-15 SUVs in just 5 minutes at that spot and all were high end cars like Santa-Fe, Prado. And I said, Royal Bhutan…..
It was time to start our bikes and head for Thimphu. Before that we checked with few truck drivers who briefed us that the roads are very steep for close to 60 – 70 km and then remaining 100 km is downhill. They also said that the time to reach Thimphu should not take more than 5 hours. I agreed with them because from Siliguri to Phuentsholing which is close to 170 km we made it in 5 hours. But what was in store for us is something totally unexpected and we were tested to our limits. Meanwhile the kick start lever kept falling off and was becoming a pain in the butt. It was time for some juggad and I tied the lever with a thread which in turn was tied to the centre stand. This kept the lever from falling and we could continue our ride. The gradient was very steep and with our luggage it was becoming difficult to push the bikes. Somehow we reached a small village where we tightened our brakes and also the kick start lever with a new nut. It was 15:00 and we still had around 120 km to cover. I and Manjesh left from the garage and Girish was to follow us. We went ahead for close to 5 km and Girish was nowhere to be seen, which made me stop my bike and pull over. We waited patiently for him and hoped he will be coming anytime. Even after 20 minutes there was no sign of him nor the sound of the bike which was a matter of concern. I made Manjesh stand there and turned around to find Girish. At every corner I checked if he was stranded or his bike broke down, but to my bad luck there was no sign of him. Now I started getting tensed and my pulse rate was increasing. My heart started to pump more blood so that my mind could imagine all sorts of possibilities!!!
As I reached the same garage, I found Girish and he was trying to kick start the bike. I was relieved and so did my heart. The whole of garage members and Girish failed to kick start the bike. That is when I, a Mechanical Engineer, a biker, a pro in bullet riding stepped to take charge of the situation. Just few kicks and the bike shouted with the silencer crying and it’s echoes where heard in the mountains. Everybody around me were puzzled and looked as if I was Drukpa Kunley, ‘The Divine Madman’ who had tamed the demon Docula……….The problem was a small switch, (ignition switch) which Girish had accidently pressed it and forgot!!! My bike provider had modified the bike and he had provided the kill switch right below the fuel tank. Only I and Manjesh knew about this because we both had received the bikes on day one. I didn’t tell Girish for some time and basked in the glory! Ignore my above self-eulogy and poetic explanation.
In this whole melee we lost close to an hour’s time and the 17:00 phenomenon started to creep in. Just like in Kolkata and Siliguri where one finds pitch black surroundings at 17:00 in the evening, similar situation was at hand. Added to that the cold weather and the temperatures dropped drastically as we continued. Every kilometer from there was a challenge and it started to take a toll on us. And as if this wasn’t sufficient, the fox came in to bite us! The fog made it near impossible and we could barely see anything. There are no barricades, no lights and no vehicles in front of you so that you can follow. It was just pure gut feeling and mental stamina that pushed us through those dangerous roads. I say dangerous because one small slip/slide and you will find yourself hundreds of feet into the valley! And it is funny that the same roads we loved when coming back and it is while returning back we realized how dangerously we had managed to push ourselves without knowing what was on our right ride…
As if to shake us a bit more, we came across a signboard which read ‘Thimphu – 100 km’. I pulled over and badly wanted to answer nature’s call (it was very cold). Once I was done, we decided that it isn’t safe to continue like this and sooner or later we will run out of our luck. As we were discussing, a person came and we briefed him about our situation asking his help to find us some accommodation. To our luck he was an army man and that too from BRO (Border Roads Organization). He said that after few kilometers there is a small village where one can find accommodation and if we didn’t get then we were free to stay at his small tented accommodation. We continued our ride and after few kilometers, we asked a lady about this village. She said it is close-by and raised her hand pointing towards a cluster of lights. And this small distance was a cool 20 km!!!!
It was 18:30 with the cold becoming unbearable and any time we could have given up. I and Girish were ripping at 70 – 80 kmph and accidently missed a check post where we had to get our permits stamped. And just few meters we could see a street with lights all along the stretch. We enquired one restaurant guy and he said there are no rooms. I was gutted and felt like breaking into his car to sleep, which was standing outside. As we turned, he asked us to try the next building which was restaurant cum hotel. We three were staring at his mouth to see what he would utter! To our surprise he said YESSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS. He quickly showed us the rooms, which wasn’t the best neither was the cleanliness. But we did not have the luxury of saying NO and opting for another hotel. I was apprehensive about my friends and wondered if they will stay but they too were highly adjusting.
We quickly unloaded our bikes and dumped all our luggage in the rooms before coming down for dinner. The dinner was chicken fried rice which was nicely cooked and to be frank, we would have eaten literally anything under those circumstances. The hotel had a heater which pulled us like magnet.
During dinner we had a small chat with the family and it was nice to know that almost everything comes from India. The warmth and friendliness offered by the family was palpable, thanks to the India-Bhutan relations.
Our bodies were crying, especially the back and knee. We were so tired that we did not even bother to change our clothes. And none of us dared to touch the water to wash or even rinse, nor did we remove our socks! It was 22:00 when we plunged into the beds but after few minutes I woke because of the whistling sound. I wondered if the demon, Dochula was back! I pulled the curtain and found a small hole in the window glass! And I said to myself, ‘the ride is not yet over……………