A Bike Trip into Bhutan

Avi Pratap Singh

New Member
It started one night in 2014 when I was sitting up late in the office. On a coffee break, with no one around to talk to, I happened to glance at the huge world map behind the reception desk. It was a really big map occupying the entire 15’ X 12’ wall, big enough to show details of even smaller countries and states. Though it stood there forever, I had never paused to look at, till that night.

Looking at the map I started wondering where in the Himalayas should I go for the next motorcycle ride. Till then I had done just one motorbike trip in the Himalayas (to Kumaon), and since then the call of the mountains had been relentless. I realized that the places I used to think of as far away and inaccessible, like the North-Eastern states (wonder why can't they just be called the Eastern states) were actually not as far. While looking at Sikkim and Arunachal, for the first I noticed Bhutan, nestled quietly between these two. I had always thought of Bhutan as an exotic, faraway place. It didn’t seem so far, especially if I could ship my motorcycle to a railhead near Bhutan. A plan was taking shape.

I poured over the map on the weekend. It seems I could ship the motorbikes to Siliguri (New Jalpaiguri railway station) take a flight to Siliguri, collect the bikes from the railway parcel room and proceed to Jayanagar/ Phuentsholing, 3 hours away at the Bhutan border.

Even more exciting was the idea to travel beyond Thimphu deeper inside Bhutan. Every further piece of information suggested that the really beautiful parts of Bhutan lay further East of Thimphu. Not only are Punakha (famous monastery), Phobjika (beautiful valley), and Bumthang (highest place in Bhutan, nearly alpine in its beauty) immensely beautiful, they celebrate festivals throughout the whole year. Be it the festival to celebrate the arrival of Black-necked cranes, the Kings birthday, or the Harvest season, they celebrate nearly everything in life. This would be a charming trip; if only I could make it to the Eastern sectors of Bhutan, and make it back to Siliguri in a week. The idea of backtracking on the same path from which I had come never did appeal to me, so I zoomed in further in google maps, and lo and behold, what I thought as a dead end at Trashigang turned out to be the start of a narrow and less used road going South to another border with India, at Sandrup Jhonkhar, with Guwahati just 3 hours from the border. This was splendid. Both Siliguri and Guwahati had railheads and airports.

Now it was time to convince my better half, my wife Jaya. She had been riding off and on, especially since she got her Duke 200. She had been enjoying it too. Her concern would be the safety of just the three of us - me, better half, 7yr old daughter) bushwhacking it through Bhutan and Bengal on bikes. Hence it was also time to call reinforcements and I called the best of the best. They were my comrades in all things exciting and stupid, Jaya’s cousins Sushant and Rohan. Like Crash and Eddy of Ice Age, they are always ready for adventure (and are usually the cause of most of them). Crash and Eddy were excited, especially as I have promised them that no other Indian bikers do the entire West-East crossing of Bhutan (which wasn’t true). My research says (incorrectly so) that the best season to see Bhutan is in November. So it was that November 2014 was to be our tryst with Bhutan.
 

Avi Pratap Singh

New Member
Riders (Youngest to Oldest):

Mehr - Jaya & Avi’s daughter, 7 yrs old, 2nd grade. Loves outdoors (pillion).

Sushant - Sportsperson, movie buff. Riding his new Bullet Electra.

Rohan - Loves movies, music, foodie. Riding his trusty Thunderbird 350.

Avi - Traveller, auto enthusiast. Riding the oldest bike in the lot, 2001 Electra 350.

Jaya - Traveller, music enthusiast. Riding Duke 200.

Schedule: 11 days, 8th to 18th Nov

Bhutan Bike Trip Itinerary

Day 1: Reach Siliguri, collect bikes from Railway station, rendezvous with Rohan.

Day 2: Siliguri to Paro (~ 300km, 8 hrs)

Day 3: Paro

Day 4: Paro to Thimphu (~ 50km, 1.5 hr)

Day 5: Thimphu

Day 6: Thimphu to Punakha (~ 85km, 2.5hrs)

Day 7: Punakha to Phobjika (~ 80km, 3 hrs)

Day 8: Phobjika to Jakar (~ 150km, 4.5 hrs)

Day 9: Jakar to Mongar (~ 170km, 6 hrs)

Day 10: Mongar to Trashigang (~ 75km, 2.5 hrs)

Day 11: Trashigang to Guwahati (~ 270km, 8 hrs)

Day 12: Pack the bikes and handover at the railway station, take a flight back to Delhi.

This was however just the initial itinerary. We did not really hold to the plan on any of the days, barring the last days' ride.

As per the plan, three bikes would be shipped from Delhi to Siliguri by train beforehand. We would reach Siliguri by flight on Day 0. Rohan’s plan was to put himself and his bike on a train from Bhopal (where he lives) and rendezvous with us at Siliguri on Day 0. And so the adventure began.
 

Avi Pratap Singh

New Member

Day 1: Delhi to Siliguri


Having successfully dispatched our bikes earlier by train, we took an early day off from the office to catch the flight to Bagdogra (IXB). Rohan had already managed to train hop his way to Siliguri earlier in the day, but tragedy befell as the train’s cargo compartment door got jammed, and did not open. Consequently, his bike continued with the train to Guwahati. Cursing him on his poor planning, we got off the flight and reached New Jalpaiguri station.

On reaching the parcel room, the attendant (a middle-aged cranky Bengali whom we labeled Uncle Scrooge) asked for the deposit receipt (colloquially known as Bilti) for the bikes. And we did not have it! I claimed I had given it to Jaya, and she did not remember my giving it to her, or her carrying it with her for the trip. We tried pleading & bribing, but to no avail. This was Bengal, and average Joe could either not be corrupted or was too afraid to accept a bribe from a non-native. Rohan Bhai had arranged for his bike to be carted back from Guwahati to New Jalpaiguri by the next morning by the returning train, and here we sat with no Bilti, and hence, no Bikes. We could see our bikes, prove that they were our bikes, but we could not get them.

The only option was to get a duplicate Bilti from New Delhi. So we called the kind agent (Sodan Singh) in Delhi who had got our bikes onto the train in the first place. It was 9 pm when we called him, so naturally, we found Sodan Singh sitting with mates drinking. After much wrangling and charging Rs 2000 for the favor, Sodan Singh agreed to get a duplicate Bilti and send it with the next day’s (Day 2) Rajdhani trains attendant. The Rajdhani would reach the day after (Day 3) by around 11 am. This was a huge setback. We were now put back by 1.5 days. Nevertheless, with nothing to do, we found a lodge close to the station and settled down.

Day 2 - Siliguri


Day 2 was spent exploring Siliguri. Being November the weather was pleasant, and we discovered the most awesome melt-in-mouth panipuris right outside our lodge. We also went about the bazaar picking up warm clothes and bungee cords for Rohan Bhai (Eddy) who- being a true Bhopali- had decided that one jacket and 2 large shoulder bags that he could wear simultaneously, one at the back and one at the front, would do just fine for a 9 days Bhutan bike trip.
 

Avi Pratap Singh

New Member

Day 3 - Siliguri


11:00 am at the Rly station, the Rajdhani rolls into view, trundles onto the platform, and we make a beeline for the B2 coach. We find the coach attendant who looks at us like your Labrador who’s chewed off your best Moccasins and tells us that he has lost the Bilti along with his wallet.

I so wanted to beat him up, shake him by his shirt collar and yell, but he looked so innocent. He was barely 20 yrs old and was nearly in tears himself. So there we sat, dejected and teary-eyed, on the second day of our 11-days trip with no bikes.

While this drama was unfolding, ‘Uncle Scrooge’ (parcel room attendant) – who, we had collectively decided was corrupt as well as gutless - had been watching us. He realized what had transpired. He had been seeing us for the past 2 days and became livid at our predicament. He took me by the elbow and without a word walked me to the Station Masters office.

We had met the station master (SM) on Day 1 and had pleaded with him to allow us to take the bikes. He marched us into the Station Masters office, who was barely 32 years old. And then this 50 yr old ‘Uncle Scrooge’ proceeded to berate the SM in Bangali, with the righteousness that only an upright and honest man can possess, about making the five of us suffer for a simple administrative issue, on why being the station master he was so timid, and couldn’t take a simple decision to release the bikes basis a letter of undertaking. It was a spectacle, and in front of our eyes, we saw the poor young SM meltdown. He said something to his admonisher in Bengali, then turned to us and sheepishly asked us to furnish an affidavit, take our bikes, and send the Bilti by courier!!! We were free. I mean, our bikes were free, but it did feel like we were the ones in jail for the last 2 days.

Finishing the paperwork took till afternoon, the bikes were released by 6 pm. We could not thank ‘Uncle Scrooge’ enough. It was too late to make a run for Phuentsholing, so we went looking for street food for dinner. Our exploration took us to Sevoke road in an electric rickshaw, which I could not resist having a go at. The young rickshaw driver was game, and let me drive along the backroads of Siliguri, holding all 5 ½ of us, and it was surprisingly fun. Sevoke road would seem to a visitor to be the hub for every kind of salable and eatable item in Siliguri. An assortment of street foods – from the awesome mutton cutlets, rolls and chaat – later we retired for the night.

Bikes filled up, bags packed, and dreaming of riding in the mountains of Bhutan, we called it a day.

The bikes are free, and so are we!


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Avi Pratap Singh

New Member

Day 3: Siliguri to Phuntsholing


We were up early, refreshed, and were rolling by 6:30 am. As soon as you leave Siliguri, there’s an Army camp and then the road is bordered by tall trees. Sushant was in the lead. We soon crossed Sevoke and reached the Coronation bridge on the Teesta River, and took the opportunity to take a few pictures. We crossed the bridge and proceeded towards Phuntsholing (Bhutan border), aiming to reach there by noon. After completing the paperwork, all of us crossed the border by 1 pm and proceeded to Paro, which was another 140km from Phuntsholing.

On the road at last

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Having crossed Nagrakata and Birpara by 11 am, we were satisfied with the progress. Crash (Sushant), always the first to feel hungry, found a local dhaba that promised Mutton and Roti. That did it for Crash, he refused to go further without food. After waiting for a while, we realized that mutton was being prepared from scratch. I was concerned about the time, but by now I could smell the spices and the mutton being cooked and basic instincts lead me astray. Having eaten our fill, we thanked the ‘dada’ -who was from Samastipur, Bihar- for amazingly well-cooked mutton. We promised to come back again someday (one does say some fairly stupid stuff on a full stomach) and started off. It was 1 pm. We rushed along and reached Jayanagar (the Indian side of the border).

Laying down the law at Teesta crossing- Coronation Bridge


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To our surprise, the entry into Bhutan was just a big open gate with Dragons astride them, with traffic and people passing through without any check. We crossed the gate, and a few hundred meters on, on the right found the permit office. We were told to fill a form. Crash and Eddy had not shown up yet. We filled up the form and waited, and after 20 minutes the intrepid bikers strolled in. They had decided to stop over for some photographs to remember the first day of the ride. We filled out the forms and were escorted to an immigration officer for kind of an interview. He was a kind man and was surprised and happy to know that we as a family were going to travel across Bhutan on 2 wheels. He signed our papers quickly and told us to rush to the transport office to get the permits for our bikes. By the time we reached it was 2:30 pm and the office was closed. We had no option but to put up in Phuntsholing for the night, paying the price for the superbly tender Samastipur mutton.

We checked into a reasonable hotel, which offered us a single big room with 4 beds. Having rested, we headed to the market (actually, the whole town was like a single big market) to get our first feel of Bhutan. Being a border town, there is a free flow of Indians. The town was absolutely clean, with no waste lying around. In comparison with the Jayanagar market just across a fence, Phuentsholing was clean and welcoming. I have never seen such a contrast separated by just a chicken mesh.


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We had an early dinner, accompanied by Bhutanese alcohol (which was surprisingly reasonable and effective), and went back to our hotel to retire for the night. We were awakened a couple of times that night due to shouting & commotion between some local girls and guests but were told by the hotel staff that this wasn’t anything unusual, although it did seem pretty nasty and serious to us. A little taken aback by this experience, we grabbed as much sleep as possible to be ready for the next day’s ride.
 

Avi Pratap Singh

New Member

Day 4: Phuntsholing to Paro


The transport office opened at 10:30 am and we were there on time. By 11:30 am, we had the permits for our bikes and were packed and ready to go. These permits would allow us to be in Bhutan for 7 days and travel to Thimphu. At Thimphu, we had to get another permit to travel to Punakha and beyond.

The day's ride would be ~ 140 km and take about 4 hrs. We had by now developed the discipline to ride in a particular order, separated by 100 - 150 meters intervals allowing sufficient braking distance, yet keeping everyone in view. We also learned to keep a lookout for the person behind in the rearview mirrors, lest he/ she fell behind or stopped.

We also decided on the signals to ask the person in front to stop or slow down. We were evolving into a pack.

An interesting tidbit is that we had made no advance bookings, and with the positivity with which we travel within India – kuchh na kuchh to mil jaayega - here we were in Bhutan. It was Jaya’s plan to just wing it with regard to the accommodation rather than to plan the stops, and it played out beautifully.


Crash and Eddy celebrating the entry into Bhutan


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Although it was just 145 km to Paro, we made a meal of it yet again, stopping to have breakfast, other snacks, sightseeing, visiting a small monastery, and ringing the really big gong by pushing it round and round while walking around it. I think we had the natural talent to slow things down. It started getting dark, and colder by 4 pm. We had not realized as yet that sunset is earlier by around 45 minutes in Bhutan. Not having ridden in the mountains in November, we had to stop more than once to put on layers of warm clothes.

Taking a break to ring the big Gong

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Making new friends. Of the best type.


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The afternoon exposed another peculiar issue. We had been riding for about two hours when I felt the visor of Mehr's helmet nudge my back. I didn’t think much of it, but after a few minutes, it nudged me again, albeit a little harder this time. That’s when I realized that she was dozing off in the comfort of the afternoon sun, lulled by the wind. She was safely ensconced on the sides by the backpacks strapped to the bike, the big backrest at the back, and me in the front, but I did not want her dozing. The only way I figured was to keep her interested in the scenery; hence the afternoons on the entire trip were spent pointing out objects of interest in the landscape to Mehr; some real and some imaginary. The imaginary ones kept her more occupied.

We had been riding North from Phuntsholing since morning, and finally, at 6 pm we turned left into Paro valley at the confluence of Paro and Thimphu rivers. The road quality went up quite a few notches suddenly. We covered the remaining distance quickly and rolled into a deserted looking Paro at about 7.30 pm, with just one grocery store open and the cold seeping into our bones. This was to become a template for the coming days, starting by 10:30 am, and stopping the ride a couple of hours after sundown.

A little bit of inquiry got us pointed in the right direction, and we found a suitable hotel that offered us rooms for Rs 800 a night. The rooms were clean, warm, and wood panel, which was just brilliant considering the weather. We were so famished and tired that we decided to have dinner without changing, in our riding gear only. The hotel offered an assortment of Bhutanese food, and we instantly fell in love with Ema Datshi, a staple dish made from Red Chilli Peppers and Yak Cheese. And we also fell in love with Bhutanese alcohol, notably Black Mountain whiskey and Honeybee rum. Together, Ema Datshi and Honeybee were the perfect combinations for travelers who came riding in the cold of the night.


Ema Datshi and Black Mountain after a numbing ride


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Avi Pratap Singh

New Member

Day 5: Paro to Thimpu


We woke to the pleasant sounds of gongs and singing. We looked out of the window to find little school children practicing some songs and dance, which we understood later was in preparation for the Bhutanese King's birthday the next day. The king - Namgyel Wangchuk - is revered across Bhutan. Every household and establishment has his image on a wall. As we got out and got a better look at Paro in daylight, we found that all the houses were made with a traditional wooden roof, carved like the roof of a monastery. It was beautiful to see a town full of traditionally made and decorated houses.

Kids: The best brand ambassadors for any culture

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We had planned to stay the day in Paro, and visit Tigers nest monastery. On the way to Tigers Nest, we decided to stop over and see Drukgyel Dzong, which was built half a millennia ago to celebrate the victory of Bhutanese over Tibetan forces. Surprisingly, we were the only ones at the Dzong along with a Bhutanese family of Birendra Rai. Birendra was the manager at a resort in Paro, and he was very kind to explain the history of the Dzong. When he learned that we intended to travel east from Thimpu the next day, he pointed out that the next day being the King's birthday, all offices would be closed. If we wanted to get our permit for travel beyond Thimphu, we would have to get it the same day.


L to R: Avi, Rohan and Sushant @ Drukgyek Dzong

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Avi, Mehr, Birendra Rai, Jaya


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That put paid to Tigers Nest. We thanked Birendra, hopped onto our bikes, and rushed off to pack our bags and ride to Thimphu. On the way, we passed the Paro airport and saw a jet taking off. Being able to stand right next to the airstrip, we wondered whether the jet would clear the tall peaks surrounding the valley. Paro airport is one of the more difficult airports to land and take off from, I later learned.

The road from Paro to Thimphu is made like a highway. It runs along with Paro Chu and Thimphu Chu (Chu=River in Bhutanese) all the way to Thimphu. We entered Thimphu at about 1 pm and quickly got our personal travel permits. Then we made our way to the transport office with some difficulty. Thimphu is a big city, with a network of one-way roads, but with extremely disciplined traffic. The officials were in a holiday mood and turned up at 3 pm just to close the office without issuing permits. This incensed Jaya, who refused to let the official close the office without issuing permits. Had it not been for Jaya, the rest of us would not have stood up and fought and would have settled for coming back 2 days later for the permit. This would not be the last time on this trip that Jaya’s presence of mind and conviction would save the day for us!

With the permits in hand, and with plenty of daylight remaining, we decided to ride around Thimphu and take in the sights. We tried riding up to the big Buddha statue at the top of the mountain, but somewhere along the way, we lost Eddy. We spent the next 2 hours trying to find him and having Bhutanese snacks and Tea at different shops. The things that we immediately noticed in Thimphu traffic were

1) nobody honked, there was silence on the fairly busy streets of Thimphu

2) Drivers were always polite and gave way to other drivers and pedestrians.

The second point was sometimes unnerving, as we were not used to big SUV’s stopping to let pedestrians cross the road. In Delhi, if a big SUV stops near you, it’s something to be alarmed about. Rohan Bhai found us at last, and we found a place to settle for the night. It was a small apartment with 2 rooms, which we took up for Rs 1500 a night. It served the purpose and was reasonably clean. It had no windows and didn’t have a positive vibe to it. During the entire trip, we always found better accommodation at a lesser price.

We went out for a long walk and dinner. We found an umpteen number of Soup vendors in the streets, who sell the same soup. It tasted like porridge soup, with a lot of herbs, and a good dose of Ginger. Pretty good stuff to keep the cold out. Crash and Eddy vetoed my plan to continue east from Thimphu towards Punakha the next day, insisting that a trip to Bhutan warranted a full day in Thimphu. This, I realized later, was the best decision, since the next day was the King's birthday.
 

Avi Pratap Singh

New Member

Day 6: Thimpu


In Thimphu, the King's birthday is celebrated with day-long events at the national stadium. We spent a lot of time watching traditional dances, songs, recitals, and music. I also realized an issue with my bike, that the oversized jets (in Carburettor) I was using in the Electra were running too rich for the thin air. At higher altitude the mixture would become too rich, and foul the plugs, not allowing me to use high rpm which I would require to cross the high passes. Good thing I changed the jets to the standard size ones I was carrying, as I later discovered when riding up Thrumshig La in the first gear at high rpm. Crash and Eddy went to visit the giant Buddha statue overlooking Thimphu from an adjacent mountain top.


King’s birthday celebrations in Thimphu

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People came from far


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Making new friends- I


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May you be blessed

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The Mountaintop Buddha at Thimphu

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We roamed around the streets of Thimphu, taking in the atmosphere, gathering a few souvenirs for friends. Meanwhile, Jaya got it in her head that she wanted to taste Chhang, the local brew of Bhutan. It was easily available, sold in re-used 1-liter plastic bottles. I can say that Chhang is an acquired taste, but it was smooth. We managed to finish the bottle, and that should be counted as a success. When we settled for dinner, we realized a particular trait of Rohan. We could be at the best Bhutanese restaurant with a smorgasbord of Bhutanese dishes, but Rohan would make sure he orders a Chicken Chowmien. That was the dish he loved and felt safe with, and I realized the wisdom of ordering this “hard to get wrong dish” over the duration of the trip.

Walking down various boulevards, we ended up in a shady part of the town, where most buildings looked boarded up, but one had a brightly lit entrance which decreed it to be a Karaoke bar. The contrast between the atmosphere outside and the atmosphere inside was stark. Neon lighting, couples lounging on couches, all the beers and cocktails one could wish for, and a proper Karaoke set-up. We all got our drinks and sat down to enjoy the evening. The host was an enthusiastic chap who pulled up me and Jaya and got us to sing Hotel California. I think we damned near scared away all the couples lounging there!

We retired really early, as we had a long ride ahead of us the next day. We were aiming to cross Dochu La, enter Punakha valley, and visit Punakha monastery, which has one of the most beautiful ones in Bhutan, and then continue to Trongsa. It was a 10-hour ride necessitated due to compressing the planned 5 days of a ride into 4 days, and this was the day that would test our endurance. We went to sleep knowing we had a big day ahead.
 

Avi Pratap Singh

New Member

Day 7: Thimphu to Punakha​


The plan for the day was to ride East from Thimphu to Wamdue Phodrang, crossing Dochu La on the way, turn North into Punakha valley to see the namesake monastery, return to Wamdue Phodrang, and resume on the eastward axis towards Trongsa. The distance was 225 km, about 8 hours of riding. We got moving by 6 am. It was bitterly cold, and the extremities (fingers and toes) stayed cold in spite of our carefully planned riding gear. We were supposed to stop at a checkpoint a little outside Thimphu, where our permits would be verified. With Sushant leading the way out of Thimphu, we never saw the checkpoint. When Sushant rides, he only sees the road, and how quickly he can cover the distance. A little out of Thimphu is DochuLa Pass, a decently high pass, but with the roads being good and wide, the bikes never felt the strain and we reached there quickly.

Dochu La was terribly cold at 7:30 am in the morning. We were shivering when we got off the bikes. The last bit of climb had happened so quickly, that before we could realize the drop in temperature, we had gone really cold. The beauty of Dochu La, with the 100 odd Chortens was surreal, especially in the morning light. Luckily, there was a cafe with warm Bukhari. We went inside and had tea and breakfast. Mehr was shivering with cold, which was observed by a kind Japanese lady. She came over and talked to Mehr, and gave her a chemical warmer pouch. This she attached to the inside of Mehr’s shirt, and it quickly warmed her up and made her really cheerful.


The Chortens at Dochu La

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Big chief.

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The Chomolhari just hid behind the clouds

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Meanwhile, we learned that the road ahead was closed till 10 am due to road construction. In mountains, road construction means moving mountains by blasting, so no traffic can move. This gave us a welcome respite from riding in the cold. We spent time gazing at the spectacular Chomaldhari, which was visible from there.

When the road opened, it was a 3-hour ride to Punakha monastery due to some road closures. Punakha valley opens up slowly into a beautiful wide valley, with the monastery standing at the confluence of two rivers, which endows it with some special mythical significance. While we loved the place, we had very little time to spend. We stood on the wooden bridge that crosses the river and leads to the monastery, with the wind blowing along the river and carrying prayers from the Buddhist prayer flags fluttering in the wind. It was like meditating.


The most serene place in Bhutan, Punakha.

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Leaving Punakha, with the Dzong and river confluence in the backdrop


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By 2:30 pm we mounted our bikes and left the achingly beautiful Punakha monastery to ride towards Wangdue Phodrang. At Wangdue Phodrang the road forks East and West. The West branch goes back to Thimphu, and we took the East fork towards Trongsa, our stop for the night. The ride to Trongsa was uneventful. We reached there by our standard 7:30 pm time. We found a suitable lodge right on the side of the river that flows at the start of the town. I would think that we had our most sumptuous and satisfying dinner at Trongsa, accompanied by a variety of alcohol, including some special scotch called Kings V, which had been created especially for the coronation of the present King. I think we Indians can learn a thing a two about celebrating from Bhutanese. Dinners were always special in Bhutan because on riding days (which means most days) we would usually not have time for a hearty breakfast or lunch.


Celebrating our first climb up a nominal pass. Thrumshing La must be smiling.

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We had had a good day. We had kept to the schedule despite setbacks due to roadwork, and we had reached in time to get a good night’s rest. We discussed the next day's ride. We were going to cross the highest pass in Bhutan, Thrumshing La, and cross Bumthang province, which being at high altitude had alpine flora.
 

Avi Pratap Singh

New Member

Day 8: Trongsa to Thrumshing La


The plan for the day was to reach Mongar, which was 230 km, or approximately 8 hours of riding. In retrospect, it was quite ambitious considering the terrain that awaited us. We started at a reasonable time, 9 am, as we had to pass through the forests of Bumthang and clear Thrumshing La, and then do another 90 km to Mongar.

It was an overcast day and we somehow got strung out in a longer file than we ever had earlier. Rohan, as was his habit, was bringing up the rear. I was riding 3rd, and after a couple of hours of riding, I could not locate him in my mirrors. I signaled Jaya who was just ahead of me to slow down, and when I caught up with her I told her about Rohan. Meanwhile, Sushant continued to ride at his normal speed and was out of sight. We were not sure whether to try to catch Sushant or to go back for Rohan. We decided to chase down Sushant first since we were wary that he might not realize that no one was following him anymore. A little distance down the flat open valley we were in, we came to a fork in the road. Normally you can see and tell which fork is the main road, but in this case, we could not. We stood there wondering which would be the correct fork, and which one would Sushant have taken, and were faced with the prospect of the pack being broken into multiple parts for the first time in the trip.

The Alpine autumn of Bumthang


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The weather had turned quite cold, in what was just around noontime. Blustery cold winds howling through the flat valley floor drove needles of cold through the open helmet visors as we talked. And then we saw Sushant coming back from the right-hand fork which I felt was the correct road. He instead told us that it wasn’t! We were all hungry and cold, and I am sure so was Rohan, wherever he was. So we decided that Sushant will rush back to find Rohan and help him, while I and Jaya would ride on ahead to the next village, find an eating place order some nourishment. We rode sedately, somberly aware that if Rohan had an issue with his bike, the ambitious ride plan for the day was skewered.

About 10-15km on the road climbed up the valley, and at a higher outcrop, we found a solitary wooden house, with the chimney trailing smoke. When we stopped to ask for directions to the next village, through the narrow entrance door we saw tables and chairs laid out like in an eating place. The place looked warm and inviting inside, and a moment later we were sitting, taking off our gloves and helmet, exchanging greetings, and enquiring about the menu. The old lady in charge said that we could have all forms of Thukpa, and we ordered three for us. From the rear window, we could see the road we had come on snaking out into the flat valley below for kilometers. After 10 min or so, I saw 2 motorbikes winding their way along the road, and I ordered 2 more Thukpas. Rohan had been having some issues with the throttle, and the engine would not move beyond idling. A little bit of fiddling fixed the issue, and by that time Sushant had reached him.

Steeds waiting while we warmed up on the best Thukpa in Bhutan, Bumthang province.


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Feeling warm and strong with the Thukpa inside us, we hopped onto the bikes again. It was only 12:30 pm, and we were getting ready for the climb up to Thrumshing La. But the road decided to get decidedly bumpy, and after a good hour of riding through the beautiful alpine forests of Bumhtang on a fairly long dirt track, we stopped for tea and snacks at a family-run place just before the ominously tall and dark mountains that were home to the Thrumshing La. It was a beautifully made log café, sitting alone along the forested road. Famished as we were, we took a longish break and recharged ourselves for the final climb up the pass.

When we restarted, the climb was more difficult. Having food in the tummy made the road feel bumpier, and the inclines increased considerably. On my Electra, I had all the luggage for my family, and Mehr wedged between the backpacks on her sides and a tall backrest behind her. All of us together weighed about 340 kgs. Soon my Electra was climbing in 1st gear half the time and in 2nd the rest of the time. After a while, I looked ahead to see where the pack was. They were not on the same straight as me. The road took a right turn onto the adjoining mountain face, where I could see it snaking up the mountain in a series of hairpin bends. Looking up I spotted the three bikes 3 hairpin bends further ahead. This incident really drove home the horsepower handicap I suffered on this trip.

At worlds end

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Another half an hour's climb and we could sense that we were close to Thrumshing la. Not only could we could see clouds below us, pushed by the wind, but the clouds were also climbing up the mountain and passing over us. It was a magical experience. We pushed on, and in 10 min of riding, we reached the top of the pass. In those 10 mins, the weather had gone from sunny to cloudy, with a lot of mist and bitingly cold on fingers and toes. We really celebrated reaching the top of this difficult pass, which unlike some of the Indian passes was difficult to climb not because of pathetic roads, slush, or traffic, but because of the sheer incline, we had to encounter for an extended duration. But at the back of our minds was the fact that it was 3 pm, and the sun would go down at 4 pm, it was already bitterly cold, and we had another 90 km to reach our planned destination. Threshing La is in the middle of a forest, which makes it even colder. There was no traffic either, it seemed we had the forest to ourselves.


Thrumshing La: It was cold, and a steep climb.


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