Day 4: Thimphu
We had good sleep and it was about time that we finally reach Thimphu, capital city of Bhutan. I and Girish loaded the baggage and bid adieu to the family at Chukha, especially the little boy who was so adorable. Due to the cold climate our bikes needed too many kicks to start and after many attempts the bikes finally cried out aloud.
What was in store with regards to the road, is unimaginable. The roads are scary with space only for one vehicle! To say the least. And as we kept moving, managing to drive slowly with cloud covered mountains surrounding us, we came across one spot. We had to pull over after seeing this place and it was as if we were above the clouds and staring at the earth. It was time for our photographer aka Manjesh to take out his SLR for some amazing clicks. He is one hell of a photographer and the images speak for themselves.
One thing which I kept praying for the whole ride was that nobody should get hurt or rather fall from bike. Because the only thing common between Girish & Manjesh was Raja Hussain! If anything happens, it’s on my head and I will be the person held responsible. Because this whole crazy ride was my plan and on my insistence, these buddies agreed to come. So I constantly kept praying silently just like the prayer flags in Bhutan! And I guess there was something wrong with my prayers or maybe because of the clouds my prayers were not transmitting to the top…. Girish had a nasty and scary fall especially when the roads were wet. At one of the blind corner, Girish lost control of the bike due to the onward Bhutanese local car. The car did not give room to Girish and veered towards him and in course of saving himself, Girish pulled to left with a hard brake. The result, a nasty fall on the left side of the road. To our luck and much to my relief the fall scrapped only the bike and did not hurt Girish. I have a very bad habit of not going slow (comparatively) and tend to miss out on watching my fellow partners on a ride. Yes, I know it was not good on my part but at times the roads and stretch make you to just keep going and it becomes difficult to maintain the speed with your fellow riders. I am equally responsible for this and to be blamed for the incident.
After few minutes I turned my bike hoping that nothing had happened. When I saw Girish standing at a distant, I knew something bad had happened. Girish was ok after the fall and the only damage to the bike was a dent on the fuel tank. To our luck the dent was not that deep, else it would have been very dangerous had there been a hole in the tank!!! From there it was SLOW mode for me and I made sure that ‘objects in the mirror are closer than they appear’! And for me the object was Girish.
Few things guys, for all those avid or wannabe riders:
- At the corners or hairpin bends make sure you honk as much as you can
- Avoid using your front brake too much especially when in a bad situation like above.
- Make sure you stick to the left as much as possible.
- Always ensure your fellow riders are there, either front or behind you.
After few kilometers we were stopped at a check post, where the permits and bike documents are checked. If you remember the Part 2, we had missed out on a check post and apparently that miss will cost you Rs. 1650 fine. The lady officer, hmm lady officer!!!! I haven’t seen a beautiful and gracious lady as her. Nothing more I will tell about her because I won’t do justice to her beauty with my limited English vocabulary.
OK coming back to the permit, we did not have the required seal at the last check post and as a result had to pay fine or go back to the check post to get it stamped. Well the first option was comparatively ok but the second option?? Especially after the nasty fall and I just blurted out a word which pissed off the lady officer! I said the roads are ganda (bad) and there is no way that we will go back madam. She got infuriated at me for using the word and that too coming from a different country. I was little worried for having blurted out that word (it is nothing actually compared to what we Mech guys usually speak) but then it was time for me to convince her that I did not mean anything bad per se. After explaining her my story about the last night and the fall, she was slightly adjusting and after some talk with her senior officials she was ok with us. And finally she added, ‘sir aap India se aaye hai is liye hum aapko chod dete hai iss bar, bina fine’ (sir, you are from India and I am letting you go without fine this time). I just said, Thank you India and I Love my India!!!
On a serious note, it was a lesson learnt especially when you are in somebody’s backyard. It wasn’t right on my part to use a word, which if not derogatory but at least was not good in the given context. To be frank, all I meant was ‘a bad ride and bad experience’ which translated to something else. So be careful with your words my friends or let the talking be done by somebody else, if you are very tired. Unfortunately in my case, I had to do the talking part due to my Hindi which was comparatively better.
They say, after bad there is always good times ahead. And it was indeed true for us. From here the ride was smooth and almost till we exited the borders our stay was turning out be wonderful each and every day. The roads are excellent from here which can accommodate at least 4 trucks! And after few kilometers I got reminded of my Leh Ride because of the wonderful, scenic stretch which run parallel to those mesmerizing mountains. The other similarity between Bhutan and Leh roads is India’s BRO (Border Roads Organization) which maintains the road under project Dantak. Just like project Himank in Ladakh this work of BRO in Bhutan is commendable and 1000000 salute to our soldiers.
It was 17:00 in the evening and we finally reached Thimphu, the capital city of Bhutan. There was a sense of happiness and it was palpable among all three of us. One thing that strikes you immediately about Thimphu is the neat and clean roads maintained all across the city. For a second, any Bangalorean will be reminded of our very own MG Road. We checked into one of the hotel which is quite famous among Indian tourists (check out my Bhutan Planner for more details about accommodation). As we checked-in, I could hear something familiar and it was our very own local language, Kannada. After so many days I was hearing Kannada and it was music to my ears. I quickly checked to see who it was. A couple from Bangalore (Bannerghatta) had come for their honeymoon and planned to stay for a week. I said, good choice bro!!!!
We had dinner at the hotel and wanted to taste the national dish of Bhutan, Ema Datsi. After the dinner we did some shopping and a Bangladeshi citizen also joined in. He had come to Thimphu for some banking conference and was staying at our hotel. After talking to him and having a conversation on various aspects we realized that in Asia, the Indians and India are respected a lot. We sat in a local night club for few minutes and then it was time to sleep.
Day 5: Punakha
First thing we had to do was get our permits for Punakha. One needs to take permit if you plan to visit Punakha and this can be obtained very easily at the immigration office. The office was at a close distance from our hotel and we were the first to reach the office. After applying for the permit we had to wait for an hour as the officer was busy in meeting. Usually it takes few minutes to issue the permit. We had to wait and decided to take a walk along the beautiful stretch of Thimphu city. The people are so proud of their culture, that everybody is seen wearing their national dress, Gho and Kira.
As we were waiting for the permit to be issued, one of the travel agent who was outside the immigration office got into conversation. And he was happy to know we had come from Bangalore and that too on bikes. He advised us about the places to see and how to go about it. When we informed about our Punakha visit, he said that the roads are under repair and it is difficult to take the bikes. It was a bolt for us and Manjesh suggested that we do the local sightseeing rather than Punakha.
I was gutted and soooooo not happy. To be frank more than not seeing Punakha, I was heart-broken that I will miss out on Chimi Lhakhang which was synonymous with The Divine Madman! And even Girish was equally disappointed, as he too wanted to visit Drukpa Kunley’s temple!!!! It was me who had said the stories about The Divine Madman to Girish, and how he managed to tame the dangerous demon, Dochula by his sexual powers. The people in and around Chimi Lhakhang worshipped him and his symbol, phallus! I am sure anybody after hearing this, will be curious to see the wooden phallus which is used to bless the ladies who are devoid of conceiving. The other interesting thing about this place is the paintings on the house. Well at first it is definitely an eye popper but when you think of it, you actually start appreciating the Bhutanese who take pride in maintaining their culture. Even in India, Lingaa which is a symbol of Lord Shiva is worshipped! See the similarities between India and Bhutan? No wonder Indians love to visit Bhutan and feel at home!
Well I am sure, by now many of you would have Googled about ‘The Divine Madman’ and Chimi Lhakhang!!! So don’t you think, it will be cruel on our part and grave injustice to the whole ride if we miss out on visiting Punakha? Sorry, Chimi Lhakhang….
My head was bursting and thinking of all possibilities/plans/strategies to visit Punakha. That is when I decided to hire a taxi. The advantage being, we will visit the place and a local driver will be in a better position to cover the distance and also explain us a little bit about the places. Added to that the comfort that our bums will get after the past couple of days tiring ride! Definitely a win-win situation for all of us and we instantly hired a taxi for the visit. And as I said that the good time had started, we ended up having one of the best driver who became really close to us. I chat with him even now on WeChat! In Bhutan WeChat is more famous and widely used than WhatsApp.
From a distance we could see the Buddha point and also the Semtokha Dzong which is apparently the first dzong to be built in Bhutan.
En route to Punakha you come across the famous Dochula Pass. This place is quite famous for the cold breeze and extreme winters with snowfall. The place is also famous for the chortens which are built amidst the mighty Himalayas. This forms a wonderful backdrop for a perfect picture. I was told by my driver that behind those mountains, one can see China! I badly wanted to trek and have a glimpse but then reality hit me hard.
I have a habit of getting into conversation with people to know more about the culture, practices, history and what not. And it was my driver’s turn to be bugged by me. It was interesting to know some of the things which he said. I will list them and not go into details:
- One has to be a class 10 pass out to get the permit for taxi
- Bhutan has stopped registering the local taxis as the number of taxis plying are more
- Tuesday is a dry day! (No drinks)
- You can’t open the rear right door in city limits
- No smoking!
- Only on Thursday, Friday & Saturday the clubs are open and people can enjoy late night parties
- India is a major source of help for almost everything!! (Almost all vehicles on the roads were from Indian OEMs)
Just when the conversation had become silent I could see one painting on the walls which literally kicked me out of my seat. And I said, Chimi Lhakhang! As you enter the small village which is on the right side, en route to Punakha you can see the paintings of phallus on walls. Due to obvious reasons, I cannot upload those pictures. But you can as well Google and see the pictures online!!!! Yes I have the same pictures as other websites. As you enter the temple, one can see the little monks reciting the prayers sitting underneath a tree. The scene is so soothing and you immediately wish to go there and join them.
When we entered the temple I could see the wooden phallus sitting there and few foreigners were blessed with it. Outside the temple I took two wooden replicas as gift to my friends! We had to leave Chimi Lhakhang and it was 15:00 when we left for Punakha. I was a happy man, not because I finally saw the wooden phallus! But I had finally visited the place which was haunting me before this ride. This place along with Punakha and Tiger’s Nest were right there on my list.
The road to Punakha from Chimi Lhakhang is amazing and when you are about to reach, at a distance you can see the glorious Punakha Dzong sitting calmly at the confluence of Mo Chhu and Pho Chhu rivers.
As I mentioned in the Part 1 about how Mr. Sameer inspired me for this ride and it was this picture which he had sent me. I had made this as my group picture on WhatsApp when the ride was planned. Now this picture sits peacefully on my laptop staring at me and reminding me of the wonderful time I spent in Bhutan.
This is a marvelous structure and it is was the capital city before Thimphu. Now this continues to be the administrative center for Bhutan. As we entered the Dzong, a team of local Bhutanese girls were practicing for upcoming festival. It was a treat to watch the local dance and the traditional music in the background. We also ended up seeing the monks meditate and especially with the trademark music which was played by some of the junior monks.
My heart and body was refusing to go from Punakha and wanted to stay there for as much time as I could but one voice kept calling me and did not allow, my friends!
Our driver zipped as if he was Michael Schumacher on those dangerous roads!!! And we reached Thimphu around 20:00. We did one more round of shopping and purchased few souvenirs. The hotel luckily had Wi-Fi and I wanted to update my status along with wonderful pictures. It was 23:00 and my eyes were burning as I kept staring at the pictures again and again.
Day 6: Paro
Today was a big day for all of us, because we had the Tiger’s Nest on our list. This is one place which was right there on our list after Chimi Lhakhang, Punakha Dzong and was synonymous with Bhutan trip. The great Guru Rinpoche flew on the back of a tigress and built this mega structure on a cliff hanging in the air. The height is a cool 900 meters (2700 feet) where the Tiger’s Nest is perched comfortably and is occasionally covered by clouds. Usually one can see the Tigers Nest from a distance but that day was different due to heavy fog and even our driver, Kenzing said ‘what will u see?’ But we were determined to see this master piece which had some unbelievable story to its credit. One can opt for the horse ride which costs Ng. 1000 but we decided to trek. What awaited us was an unforgivable experience!!
As we started our trek it started to snow and the trek became more fun as two of my other friends were witnessing snowfall for the first time in their life!! (In Bengaluru or South India, one doesn’t find snow…). On the way up, we met a South Indian guy from Kerala who had come alone on his bike! Also the previous day at Punakha a young lady from US had come alone! That’s the travel kheeda (bug) I suppose.
As if strategically placed, we find a cafeteria halfway through the trek. It was like finding an oasis in the middle of desert for me. I was literally panting like Po from the movie Kung-Fu Panda! (Sorry I still haven’t lost weight and hence using this analogy again after Harley Ride). After a short break we continued our trek amidst the snow covered trees and few other tourists. It was shocking and also heartening to see an 80 year old granny trek to the Tiger’s Nest. Added to that she had knee replacements for both her legs, her spirit and travel enthusiasm was a sight to behold. And then one more granny who was 66 years old was coming after having completed the trek. It was definitely a Granny’s Day!
Finally we reached to a distance from where we could see the Tiger’s Nest but the Sun God was not in a good mood! But we lost no hopes and knew if we waited then the Sun God (Suryadev, in Hindi) would shine on the Tiger’s Nest. And it indeed happen after a patient waiting period of 20 minutes! The view especially with sun rays falling on the Tiger’s Nest is transcendental and no amount of write-up can describe it.
As we were climbing, we met a local Bhutanese guide with foreigners who was humming a song and I said let’s sing a Hindi song. We opted for ‘Yeh dosti hum nahi’ from the famous movie Sholay! Everybody around us was happy to see even though they did not understand Hindi. My friend Vibhas aka Drugs Baba who is a pro-singer would have thrown me from that cliff for my singing but the people there were accommodating!
As you reach the entrance, you are checked and all the electronic items are to be deposited after a due entry in the register. Just the way we welcome our guests with tea-coffee and biscuits, the monks at Taktsang have made a provision for the same. It is a well thought of and caring gesture by the people. We could actually see the real meaning of Atithi Devo Bhavah (in Sanskrit it means the guest is God) which is the slogan for the tourism department in India. We sat there for few minutes and it was real soothing. For a minute we forgot everything, such is the ambience of the Taktsang monastery.
The walk down from the Tiger’s Nest is an easy one and it just took 50 minutes as compared to the 2 hours of onward trek. As you walk down, one can see the youngest ranges of the Himalayas from a distance.
From there on it was all but over for us, the Bhutan trip. Luckily we also saw the Tashichho dzong, upon the insistence of my friend. The scene from the top is a beautiful one especially the red and white combination of the Dzong. Think of beauty in the dark and you can as well think of Tashichho dzong.
On our way back the driver, Kenzing had played some beautiful Bhutanese songs. Girish and I liked it very much and asked him if I could borrow the CD? He immediately gave and took nothing in return. He had to leave early as his son was not well and had got too many calls from his wife. We took a picture with him and bid adieu to a wonderful person.
Our bikes were sleeping for past two days and it was time to wake them up for the long ride ahead. We kick started and checked if all was ok. We had to struggle with too many kicks before it actually started. We came back to our room and started to pack the bags. Some local currencies was left with me and we decided to have it as souvenir. All three of us took a hot shower as we had to leave early morning to reach Phuentsholing.
We left Thimphu or rather Bhutan at 07.30 on our bikes and from there it was Tashi Telek. The ride back was nostalgic and the prayer flags were still staring at us and telling Kaadinchhey La for visiting our country!!!
For a moment I will risk to sound cocky/Proud Peacock! Because on our way to Thimphu due to the 5-9 issue we didn’t realize what sort of roads we were riding but this morning with sun shining, I just said kudos to myself and Girish. We skipped our lunch and wanted to reach Siliguri at any cost the same day. The reason being, Darjeeling! Since we had one more day at hand, we thought why not visit Darjeeling after having come all the way from down south. Thanks to Girish who suggested we push a little more rather than staying at Phuentsholing & try Darjeeling the next day. I knew it was possible but the 5-9 was on my mind and also the heavy fog at this time of the year.
Around 16:30 we reached border and the moment we crossed it was like somebody hit us with a hammer and woke up! Back to India and the paradise was gone. With a kid’s face I had to say bye to Druk Yul. The Last Shangri-La was at a distant staring us…..
With the steep down and tight turns my brakes needed tightening which I got it done at the border town. From there we had to cover 160+km and it got really dark. I and Girish decided to take it slow and try to reach by 21:00 without pushing ourselves too hard. We wanted to follow the same route via Binnagudi and Coronation Bridge to avoid heavy traffic. Once you take a right turn from Binnagudi you are welcomed by wonderful roads and HEAVY Fox!!!! Aka fog. High and low beam switch was the only thing I had to worry on these roads. At times you see no roads and only thick blanket of fog where you got to believe there is road ahead and just drive!!!! Beware of the localite who use their cycles and are almost invisible till you reach very close to them. You will also find people crossing at regular intervals and don’t mistake them to be ghosts!!! From nowhere they will appear. This was one new and weird experience which I and Girish shall proudly boast of.
We decided not to exceed above 100 kmph on these roads. Just 40 km before you reach Siliguri the roads are little scary with almost zero visibility, no reflectors, no markings and tight turns. You got to be very careful! 10 km to go and we had to stop for a local train to cross. That gave us some time to stretch and also to our Bethal, my friend Manjesh! He was quietly sitting and cursing me and Girish. But I am sure, he too would have loved this whole new experience.
It was 22:00 and we finally reached Siliguri. We had dinner at the same hotel as day one because of its taste. They quickly identified as and gave special parking place for our bikes. The scene at the table was no less than the Satte Pe Satta movie scene! Where all the brothers will be looking at Big B (Amitabh Bachchan) to start and then all hell breaks loose!!!
We ordered kebabs and ended up getting the local kebab which is actually meat ball. Be careful while ordering and better take the description of the food!!! It was 23:00 we checked-in at different hotel though our bodies cried to stay back there. As soon as I entered the hotel, at the newspaper stand I find Tashi Delek, DrukAir’s inflight magazine!!! I requested the receptionist and took it to my room. After some time I made few calls back home and updated my FB. It was 00.30 and I finally jumped into my bed. But just minutes into the bed, I woke up to make sure the flights were operating and I checked the past few days’ flight status. There were few delayed take offs but it was flying!
Day 8: Darjeeling
I woke up at 07:00 in the morning and immediately started to flip through the pictures on my IPhone. Those pictures made me to kick start my bike and head to Bhutan again. As I was checking out the pictures, I get a call from Mr. Sameer! First thing I said him was Thank You Sameerji!!!! If it wasn’t for him I would not have planned this trip. He also briefed me about his next adventure and wanted to know if I can join. But I doubt if I can make it. It was 13:00 and we left for Darjeeling as we still had one day left with bike. But on our way Mr. Noel, the bike owner saw and we had to stop at least for courtesy and added to that he was seeing his bike after 7 days. The only worry we had or rather Girish was the dent on bike which was not looking good, more so that being a dear bike for Noel.
Girish literally had the guilt face and, decided not to come Darjeeling and stay back at the hotel. That is when I had to step in and do the counseling part! He owns a XUV500 and runs a business which surely keeps him rich with Vitamin M but here Girish was concerned more about our names and Noel’s bike. Innocent fellow he forgot that at the end of the day it is a mechanical damage and can be fixed. Somehow I convinced him and we continued our ride to Darjeeling.
We had to take the Sukna-Rohini route which had elephant warning signboards all along. Just before you start climbing the challenging mountainous road you are greeted by toll plaza. Usually down south we do not pay toll for bikes but here we had to and it was very nominal. Once we crossed the toll plaza and started the ascent, our bikes cried like a baby till we reached Darjeeling station. Like a small kid refusing to go school and yet forced by parents, our bikes were pushed on those dangerous roads. Dangerous because it is a narrow and bumpy road with vehicles coming at high speeds! Just one small slip and you take a short cut to Paradise!! Or maybe Yamlok (hell) depending on your karmic accounts! I am not building up this for the sake of it but I swear it is a different and difficult ride, at least for us. Added to that the famous UNESCO World Heritage DHR (Darjeeling Himalayan Railway) runs parallel to the small road. One has to be careful with the tracks as your wheels tend to slip when you cross them. And the temperatures kept dropping as we took the ascent.
With great difficulty and pain we reached Darjeeling station around 18:00 and it was a wonderful view with the toy train and snow covered Himalayas in the backdrop. For a moment you forget everything and straight away take out your camera for the pictures! This reminded me of my Shimla trip with similar experience of the toy train from Kalka.
It was biting cold and we badly wanted a cup of tea before leaving. Manjesh doesn’t drink tea/coffee, he prefers milk. When I asked the lady at the tea stall she said milk is not available. The other ladies around us started giggling!!! Humor, we badly needed this and I was happy to know that somebody else also belongs to this club apart from Mechanical guys.
The ride back to Siliguri from Darjeeling was one hell of a ride which is a challenge for any rider doing it for the first time on those roads. My situation was even worse because of the old model, 5-9 phenomenon and Manjesh sitting behind. And added to that the dogs run at you, thanks to RE sounds more so the modified sound of Noel’s bike. Each turn was like a death trap waiting for us with no lights, no reflectors and speeding vehicles coming head on with high beam. And worst part the canters and trucks take up the whole space and leave you standing on the edge of the road!
Don’t know how I and Girish managed to come down, and reach the toll plaza. We probably thanked all Gods that we could remember for getting us down in one single piece. After the toll plaza we still had to cross the elephant zone. We could hear the gun shots fired from the toll plaza and that wasn’t encouraging at all. I sat very close to fuel tank and used high/low beam switch for numerous time. Even a shadow of the tree scared shit out of me. To our luck, we crossed without any sights of elephants. Mr. Noel was waiting for us and we had to return the bikes which were the workhorse for 7 days on those dangerous roads. Kudos to these bikes which did the job especially after seeing them on day one! We paid for the tank damage and bid bye to Noel. He is a good chap and I would have given him 5 stars had he given me the newer RE. Not that I can’t manage with the old ones, which we did for 7 days but the confidence level is definitely high minus the worry/tension. Nonetheless, all is well that ends well!
We decided to have dinner and went to same hotel where the guy at the counter was happy to see us. The fish was ultimate and the best I tasted so far. We paid the bill for one last time and took a walk back to our lodge. Next one hour I was busy with packing my bag and tabulating the expenses. The final figure was ok-ok and we had expected this, especially for the kind of adventure we had. (Check out my Bhutan Planner for more details)
It was all but over and we just prayed that our flight is not cancelled. We left early for the Bagdogra airport which had a deserted look, thanks to our early visit. At the corner near the entrance you get good chicken puffs and I suggest you taste it. It was 12:10 and we checked in. Once inside I saw a Bhutanese old man who was headed to Bangalore. I walked up to him and asked will you swap my Bangalore with your Bhutan. He burst with laughter and the answer as expected, No Thanks!!!
We were flying through the clouds for past few days and now it was time to fly over the clouds on Airbus 320. It was 12.30 and our flight took off for Bangalore via Kolkata. It is so funny and ironical to see that we reached Kolkata in less than an hour’s time as compared to our 23 hour ride on Rajdhani bus (Part 1). I said to myself, weather Gods no doubt are like our girlfriends. You always need them to be smiling!! 18:00 and we were back to busy bustling Bangalore, I switched off the airplane mode and was greeted by WhatsApp, FB, GMail, Docomo welcome messages!!! And my first full-fledged, self-planned international trip was over.
I just said Tashi Delek…
I feel it is better to follow, ‘save for a year and spend in a week’ philosophy for such lifetime experiences.
*** Do checkout my Bhutan Planner for all the information regarding Visa, Bike rentals, accommodation and food.
If you wish to partake similar ride, feel FREE to contact me.
Kindly leave your valuable suggestions/comments and I will be happy to work on them…..