A Bike Trip into Bhutan

Avi Pratap Singh

New Member
Spurred by this knowledge, we started our descent quickly, hairpin after hairpin dispatched fast. My 340 kg leviathan was slow on the climb, but going down it could dance its own dance. Some 10-15 km of descent later, leaning into a right-hand curve, from the corner of my eye I saw something that looked like smoke and embers. Instinct taking over, I braked hard and turned back. Someone had lit a fire which they had left, and it was not completely extinguished. By the time the rest of the gang came, I had already added leaves and twigs to the embers and was fanning it. In a few minutes, we had a nice little fire going, in the middle of a forest, at 3500 meters altitude. It was so comforting to sit beside the fire and warm our bitterly cold hands and feet that we forgot about the time. I reminded folks that we had a long-distance to go, but Crash, Eddy, and Mehr revolted and said no. Jaya didn’t want to move either.

A warm fire at 3500 meters, close to sunset, in the middle of a forest.

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By the time we got up, it was 4.30 pm, it was dark and cold. Luckily, the altitude dropped quickly thereafter, although the road condition didn’t improve. I kept egging the pack to go a little faster, but it was pitch dark, and with the given road condition and narrow road, no one was particularly keen to go any faster. Sushant in particular was advocating safety at the cost of going incredibly slow, a hangover from an incredibly stupid, dangerous, and retrospectively hilarious incident he had had earlier that year. The best we could do was to put Rohan on his Thuderbird up ahead, as his bike had the best headlight and gave superb illumination for close to half a km.

By 7 pm, with 45 km to go to Mongar, we saw lights from a big solitary house. Jaya declared that she was stopping for the day, at that house. I couldn’t understand how that would happen, as it was a house, not a hotel or a lodge. That wouldn’t stop Jaya, and she just parked her bike, walked up to the door, knocked, and started talking to the person who appeared at the door. She came back a few minutes later, triumphant. It turned out that the big house belonged to the local Zamindar (landlord), and he had a couple of empty rooms on the 1st floor, which he happily let out to us for the night. And his wife made us a piping hot, sumptuous Bhutanese dinner. This was an amazing stroke of luck, bone-tired as we were after the jarring and tiring climb and descent. The rooms were cozy and comfortable, and I don’t even remember climbing into the bed after dinner.
 
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Avi Pratap Singh

New Member

Day 9: Yongko La to Sherubtse University Campus


Only when we woke up the next morning did we understand where we were and saw the place we had spent our night. We were in a small place called Yongko La. The place we spent the night was a house with multiple wings, and it seemed that it was made a few generations back, with a newer wing and an old wing. The landlord operated a grocery store from the ground floor, which would always have a few locals milling around. The landlady was a very hospitable person and enjoyed talking to Mehr. She used to work on the loom making fabric from wool, which she informed us most households in Bhutan keep to weave clothes.


The place we stayed at- Yongko La

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This was also when we realized that even the remotest Bhutanese family could converse in Hindi. When I commended them for speaking Hindi so fluently, she told us that they watch a lot of Hindi movies and serials as they get all Indian channels on cable. Talk of cultural exchange, we don’t even know where the influence of our pop culture extends. Even their children travel to India to study, and we came to know that their daughter was studying at Lovely University, Punjab.


Mehr in the traditional Kira

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With the kind Yongko La family


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Happiness is a purring Kitten

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The packs only picture together in the trip

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We had a light breakfast and tea but spent a long time just sitting in the sun in front of their grocery store. Spending time in the grocery store was a nice experience. The store stocked a variety of cereal grains, small farming equipment, kitchen utensils and implements, and even clothes. We bought a traditional Bhutanese dress for Mehr. It is somewhat like a Kimono and is known as Kira. A similar traditional dress worn by men is called Gho. The landlady was so delighted to dress Mehr up in the Kira, tucking it with safety pins, as is she was dressing up her own grandchild. Like many other places on the trip, Mehr found a kitten and had a great time playing with it. When we left the place close to noon, it felt as if we were leaving a family behind.

The plan for the day was to continue east to Trashigang prefecture, then take the Southwards axis towards the Indian border. We had not decided where we would stay, but the general target was to reach Wamrong, ~200km away. We started off decently, gaining altitude from the valley floor. After a while of riding, Crash/ came riding up from behind and crossed all of us, and proceeded to ride out of view. We rode on sedately, hoping to see him in a while when we would slow down after letting off some steam. As things would turn out, we would not see Sushant for a large part of the morning. Since we had not bothered to get local SIM cards, there was no way of calling or tracking Sushant. We kept riding not knowing where Sushant was, and whether he was OK. It was a ride tinged with a little apprehension, as I did not expect Sushant to just ride off way ahead of us. After all, we were a pack, and a pack stays together.

Along the Dangme river, we rode for 2 hours

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Chazam Bridge, crossing into Trashigang prefecture

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“I got it,” says Mehr

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After what seemed like an eternity (really about 3 hours), we caught sight of Sushant riding on the opposite mountain face, some 8-10km ahead. Finally, we caught up with him at Chazam bridge on Dangme river, where the police at the check post had stopped him to check the permits, which were with me. We took a break to take some photographs of the Chazam bridge, which turned out to be iconic of this part of the trip. We quickly climbed up the valley to Trashigang, where we took a break for a quick bite and to refuel. The stop at Trashigang cost an hour and a half, with the restaurant having painfully slow service, with us being the only patrons. When we started towards Wamrong at about 4.30 pm, we had another 80km to go for the day. Just out of Trashigang we ran into ongoing roadwork, which slowed us down considerably. It was already dark and the road became incredibly muddy, with the motorbikes slipping and the spinning wheels struggling to find traction. After an hour and half of riding in mud, interspersed by road rollers, bulldozers, and graders, we realized that we had covered just 15km, and we had another 55km to go to Wamrong. The mood turned cold, as the prospect of a further 3 hours of a ride through mud and slush loomed.

We were in a catch-22 situation. As far as we knew, and had seen in the last few, besides the towns marked on the map there would be no small towns or villages that could provide accommodation. And the next town on the map- Wamrong- was a daunting 55km, or 3 hours away. If we turned back, we could reach Trashigang in an hour and 15 min. But then we would have to re-do the same mud and slush we had already come through, turning the next day's ride into an ordeal of 10 hrs. Talk of being stuck between the devil and the deep blue sea!

We decided to push on. The gods must look after their craziest subjects. Half an hour on, we saw the lights of a town and rode into a small market full of young children who were crowding around a row of food shops. These looked like college kids, and there were a whole bunch of them. As we stopped, quite a few of them came over to talk to us. It turned out that this place was the famed Sherubtse University- the largest and most important one in Bhutan. And these kids studied and lived at the university. They told us that there was no hotel or lodge in the vicinity, just the university, and the few shops. At this point, Jaya once again rose to the occasion. Eldest as she was, she declared to the pack “Kids, this is where we make our camp tonight, there will be no discussion on this”. As we watched in amazement, she got talking to some of those helpful kids, one of whom called the admin head of the university, to whom she patiently explained our predicament- bikes, cold, bad roads, long ride, small kid- and when she finished her call, she told us that the kind gentleman had allotted us two guest rooms at the university for the night. What a relief it was, to realize that we could rest immediately, have a leisurely dinner, sleep on time, and fight out the mud & slush with a refreshed body the next day!

Sherubtse University is set in a picturesque and huge campus. We only got a brief lay of the place as we parked our bikes, carried our luggage to the rooms, refreshed, and went out for dinner. Some of the kids told that there was a nice diner a km down the road, which I faintly recall was called Tigers nest, or Tigers den. It turned out to be a cozy little place, with an awesome enthusiastic, and warm host. He made sure that he ordered for us, getting us the best dishes on the house. In a while, we got discussing the local spirits and he was very happy to know that we had tried and liked Chang. He quickly arranged for some Honeybee rum for us, which really got us in good spirits. We had a heartwarming dinner and conversation, and retired to the University guest room, steeling ourselves for tackling the bad roads that awaited us the next day.
 

Avi Pratap Singh

New Member

Day 9: Sherubtse University Campus to Guwahati


We got up really early the next day. There was no plan. We had to make sure we reached Guwahati by nightfall as all of us had return tickets for the next day. The border was 160 km from Sherubtse, and Guwahati was another 100 km.

We started at about 6:30 am. It took us the promised 3 hours to cover the 59 km to Wamrong. We stopped for snacks and tea. Wamrong was a small place, with some 25-30 stores and eating places along the main road. There was hardly any place to park our bikes, so we had to park them in a tight line - one behind the other - by the road. While we were having breakfast, we met a young Japanese couple, who were as surprised to see us there, as we were to see them. They had been staying in Bhutan for a year, teaching. We chatted for a while, exchanged contact details, and said goodbye to be on our way again.

The steeds wait at Wamrong

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The road surface began to deteriorate, and in a while, we were riding on a bumpy dirt road. It seemed as if the surface had been taken off for relaying, except that the relaying had not happened. We endured the next 40 km of this surface, bumping along.


Some moments take your breath away

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When we were getting really tired of the bumps, we rounded a corner and came upon freshly laid butter smooth tarmac. The tarmac was so good, and we were so rattled that we actually stopped to take a photograph at the junction.

Thank you, Lord, for the good tarmac.

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Our euphoria was short-lived, as barely half an hour later the skies darkened further and big fat drops of rain greeted our descent from the Bhutanese mountains. We quickly stopped and took shelter under an overhang and put on our raincoats. Although I was not willing to ride in the rain (I never am), after a while Jaya decided that we should move, saying that the rain will stop if we move and continue if we stayed still. Very reluctantly I got back on the bike, and for sure, after 8-10 km in the rain, the sun broke out and warmed us up.


Waiting for one of the inevitable landslides to open

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We knew we were going to be in the plains soon, close to the border, but we were surprised by the abruptness of it. One moment we were negotiating corners, and suddenly the road straightened out into a village, and barely half a km down we saw the border gate.

Bhutan truly is the mountain kingdom, with its borders defined by the terrain so exactly, that there aren’t even 500 meters of plains before the border begins anywhere along the Bhutan-India border. We were not ready to cross the border yet. We wanted one last taste of Bhutanese food and wanted to savor a Black Mountain and Kings-V to have a memory of our trip for a few months. We backtracked to the market in the village that was Samdrup Jhonkhar and sat down for a light snack.

Finally, we were exiting Bhutan after 8 days of riding through the most picturesque of Himalayas, received the hospitality of and came to know some of the nicest and most contented people we had ever met. We enjoyed the Bhutanese food and wine and discovered in each other our truer selves, what we are when we are not having to do anything through compulsion. It was a trip of discovery, within and outside us. And we came back much richer, and closer.

The rest of the ride to Guwahati was uneventful. We duly packed our bikes and handed them over to the parcel office at the station, and this time kept the Bilti carefully. That’s the end. Nearly. We had to send the old Bilti to the New Jalpaiguri station master when we got back, but we could not find it at home. Turns out, Jaya had very carefully kept it in the secret inner pocket of her handbag, and we had it with us the entire trip.
 

rajkumar. r

Member
A very nice Trip and the beautiful pictures added charm to the log. Wonderful . We liked the most especially the twist at the end lines.:p:p:p:p:p
 
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