This is not a Travelogue, It is more like a running commentary of the day to day events that happened during my Solo ride to Bhutan from Kollam, Kerala.
As always, Kumar Sir, was there when ever i needed the most to guide & help me. I can say with a shame that I have not paid a penny for the help and assistance that Kumar Sir have given to us, Let it be our Nepal, Sikkim or Bhutan Ride, He has guided us always without any monetary benefits and i am sure he will be doing the same forever. Respect Sir !!!
The Bhutan Odyssey
â€œOnce a year go someplace you have never been beforeâ€- Dalai Lama
One of the most difficult things of being a Biker is staying away for a long period from your bike and the roads that you love to travel. Well, thatâ€™s the case for almost everyone and I am no different. Working in a country (Oman) which does not Issue Motorcycle driving license to expats (from April 2015), the most difficult part was walking on the road in the hot sun while looking at weekend Bikers having a blast out.
This continued for almost eleven months and then came the Oasis in the desert in the form of a 30 days Annual Leave. Without any hesitation we (I, my wife & our baby girl) packed our bags and flew home to Calicut, Kerala on the 23rd of November 2016. The clock started ticking and I knew I had to make my moves fast. Without wasting anytime I reached my hometown (Kollam, Kerala) met my Parents and my new bike (a secondhand Pulsar 200AS) and spend a few days there with them. After meeting up with family and friends I rode back to Calicut, stopping at a friendâ€™s store in Thrissur to purchase a Riding jacket & a luggage bag. The next day I took the bike to a SVC and changed the chain sprockets along with a regular service. Reached back home, my wife was assisting in packing my luggage and suddenly I had a question to answer, where am I heading to? Well, it was not sorted out then, so I could only reply that â€œI will keep you posted on my plans after a few days on the roadâ€ to which a smile came in return. I have had my talks with Kumar Sir regarding travelling to North East or even Bhutan, but he suggested finalizing about a plan once I reach back home.
I went to sleep late that night and suddenly noticed that itâ€™s already December 2nd (meaning that I have already lost 9 days out of the 30)After seeing the date I was quite skeptic about my Ride plans, however I left all that aside and slept peacefully.
Day -1- December 3rd 2016-
I had planned for an early morning start, but as usual I could start only by 9.30am, however after bidding good bye to the my family I started my Ride, It was the peak time after the demonetization, so I was quite tensed about the cash transactions, but I sorted it out well by mostly exchanging currencies in the Petrol Bunks. The roads from Calicut to Palakkad were completely new to me, I reached Palakkad bye pass towards Coimbatore at around 12.30pm. It was hot & humid all the way through Coimbatore; I had Ambatur Biryani enroute Salem, and kept rolling without any long breaks after that. I reached Krishnagiri by 5.30pm, and decided to ride till vellore for the day, but I reached vellore quite fast such that I decided to stop at Tirupathi for the day. I reached Tirupathi at around 9.30pm and roamed around the city to get a room, finally some good Samaritans helped me to a hotel which charged me Rs.1150/- for a single stay. I was too tired to bargain, so checked into the room, and slept peacefully.
Fuel- 1250, Room-1150/-
Day -2-December 4th
Woke up around 7 in the morning, and was ready to ride within 40 minutes, but when I opened the door it was raining very heavily and there were more clouds coming In, I was constantly following the IMD weather report, and understood that there will be more rains due to the depression over the Bay of Bengal. So I decided to ride in the rain, and at around 10 am I started from the hotel. Riding through the torrential downpour alongside some heavy trucks, I lost my way towards Sri Kalahasti and rode towards Kadappa. After a few kilometers I decided to stop and ask someone for direction but the bike was not stopping, oops! But I somehow managed to stop the bike and upon inspection I realized that my Brake master cylinder was not working properly. However I decided to ride further and got back on route towards Nellore, I tried my luck in Nellore but nothing happened as it was a Sunday, having lost 3 hours searching for a workshop I decided to ride further. The Brake was working, but not fully. However I was riding slowly and suddenly found a workshop on the road side with a cow sitting inside, I waited outside the shop for some time and then the mechanic came and did some minor adjustments so that I can ride till Vijayawada for the day. The clock was ticking and I did not want to ride the bike with a faulty brake in the night, so I rode carefully and reached Vijayawada, took a room without much bargaining and settled in for the day.
I checked out of the room very early so that I can reach the service center on time to get the Brake repaired, suddenly I found out that the bungee cords which I was using to tie the luggage has been stolen from the bike, with no other option I kept the bag simply on the seat and rode through the mad Monday morning traffic of Vijayawada, once again with the help of a good Samaritan, this time an RC 390 biker helped me find the way to the SVC. Perhaps I reached there too early such that only the security was there, after sometime the gates were opened and I gave the bike to the senior service manager. He said to me that I have to replace the Brake Master cylinder which will cost around Rs.900/-. With no other option left, I asked them to go forward, but the delivery time mentioned in the job card was around 2pm. I had ample time to walk around and see the nearby places, so I went exploring the neighborhood only to be chased by some stray dogs. So I returned to the svc and watched a full Telegu movie, starring Chiranjeevi. Around 12.30pm, they finished the works on the bike and handed over to me, the total bill was around Rs.1200/-. I packed all my stuff and rode towards the main highway, but my saddle bag kept on sliding around, so I bought a nylon rope and tied it strongly. In between I was in contact with Lalu Varghese and Team who was driving back from Tawang, they informed me that they have settled in Vizag for the day and will meet me once I reach there. So around 8.00pm I reached Vizag and met Lalu chettan and Varun, sadly couldnâ€™t meet Dhanush Menon due to some urgent engagements. After the conversation I had with them, my mind was settling towards Bhutan, and I did fix on it. Bhutan it is. So I left from there with a fixed plan on my mind. I reached Srikakulam around 10.30pm and settled in on a cozy room.
Route done- Vijayawada-Vizag-Srikakulam
Petrol- 800, Room 700
Day -4- December 6th
Started off the ride at around 9am, the bike was feeling very good, and the cruising was at ease. Brahmapur, Bhubaneshwar and Cuttack passed by and finally around 8pm I exited the highway and entered towards Balasore town, the roads have been scrapped off for the road widening/ROB flyover works, and somehow I stopped at the first lodge on the left side and checked In. Took a hot water bath and boy I was relieved and refreshed.
Route done- Srikakulam-Bhubaneshwar-Cuttack-Balasore
Petrol -950, Room-900
Today is supposed to be the fun day of riding through 4 states, Odisha, WB, Jharkhand, Bihar and back to WB. (At least it was the plan) Started off early from Balasore and cruised through Kharagpur and reached the outskirts of Kolkota, it was very humid, so I took a short nap. I continued further towards Burduwan and around 1.30pm I was able to reach Durgapur, there is road construction works going on from Durgapur town onwards, it delayed my plans to reach Siliguri for the day, I was happy atleast I can make it to Purnea and meet my good old friend Mr.Sheel Priye.
Finally around 3.15pm I was able to exit to the road that leads to Dumka from Asansol, the roads were familiar, so there was not much confusion. After 30 odd kilometers I was riding through the Jharkhand sector where road relaying works are progressing, there was police checking and after routine questions they let me go. I was carefully riding through the unpaved roads and suddenly I felt that my bike was moving much slower to my acceleration, and then it happened. My accelerator cable gave up in the middle of nowhere. It was around 4.30pm, and light was fading fast. There were only few big trucks plying around with occasional tractors and Bikers. I had asked for help to some people who were passing by, but none of them came back. It got dark after 4.50pm and I was standing in the middle of nowhere, quite far away from any homes or humans. All creepy thoughts of naxals and dacoits started to haunt me, to top that my phone was getting switched off continuously and no data connectivity too. Once again, a Good Samaritan went to the nearest village and brought a mechanic who came and said he cannot do anything. Before leaving they said to reach the nearest village for safety reasons which is 5 kms away :O Pushing the bike through unpaved roads was quite a fun :P then I decided to ride the bike in first gear, after sometime I reached a village, and some people asked to take the bike in a truck to Bhagalpur, but the issue was the village had only one truck and the driver was not willing to come with me, (for obvious safety issues), later one person suggested that there is another village junction a few kilometers ahead, so I decided to try my luck there, and boy, my lucky charm was sitting inside a Bar there, I went inside the only building with tube light and there was a guy who came with me to check what the issue was. He immediately called up some of his friends and within half an hour there was a huge crowd around me and the bike, later 2 mechanics came with an accelerator cable of a HH splendor and somehow fixed it after 2 hours of work on the bike. I left from there after paying Rs.350/- for the effort and support they have done, I couldnâ€™t turn the bike much because of the length of the cable, I said thanks to the entire people and left for Dumka, I was the only one on the road for almost the entire stretch, I thanked the projector lights of my bike because it gave me a sense of security with a sufficient long distance view. Finally around 10.30pm I reached Dumka town, went to the first place where I saw a Rooms available signage, kept my bike safely under a stair. Here comes another fun, they have only 1 room, but the lock doesnâ€™t work, and another room I have to sleep with the Manager, I preferred the room without the lock :D
There were countless mosquitoes waiting to attack me in the room, the room was unclean, nothing to mention about the toilets :D
Finally I was on the bed, and slept off within minutes after a rather eventful day.
Route done- Balasore- Burdwan-Asansol-Dumka
Fuel -700, Room-900
I got up very early in the morning because I wanted to reach the Bhutan border by evening, so I packed everything in a hurry and came out, and I found out that there is another twist in the tale, there is thick fog with bone chilling cold weather, having no other option I decided to move further towards Bhagalpur thinking that fog will clear soon, besides the dreadful stretch of Bhagalpur was in my mind, (least year it took us 5 hours to reach from Dumka till Bhagalpur, with 2 broken spokes, a bend in the rim, multiple damages to the Luggage carrier too) so I rode very cautiously and there was no signs of improvement of both the roads and the weather. However the moment I entered Bihar border, things changed, the dreadful stretch has almost been completely re-laid and the road is in excellent condition.
With tears in my eyes I rode forward and then there was kilometers long block, (few days back my friends encountered serious issues in this route)I was wondering what could be the issue and suddenly I came across an accident scene, a school truck and a multiaxle truck had a side on collision due to thick fog. On enquiry a policeman said there were no casualties and the bus did not have school kids, thank God. Slowly I crossed the area and reached Bhagalpur, soon I found a Bajaj showroom, I wanted to change the accelerator cable but they did not have the stock, so I went to a store named Kalyani autospares which sells all parts of Bajaj Motorcyles,(In Bhagalpur town, hardly a kilometer after crossing the railway bridge, the store is on the left side of the road) I got the spare for 200ns which Is a direct fit for my bike, I waited for hours, still the work was very slow, finally I asked them to do a full service and they were happy. It was very cold outside, so I was sitting in the untidy service center. Around 3.45pm, they finally gave me the bike, and I started from there to Purnea, around 4.50pm I reached Purnea, but to my bad luck Mr.Sheel had an urgent meeting and we couldnâ€™t meet. It is then that I decided to ride till Siliguri which was around 212kilometers away. Fighting the cold, I rode and all the way and reached Siliguri around 9.00pm.
I checked into a hotel and was waiting for the next day, the adrenaline was pumping, and riding into another country is always special to anyone.
Route done- Dumka-Bhagalpur-Purnea-Dalkhola-Siliguri
Day -7- December 9th
I wanted to start early so that I can reach the Border by the time the Immigration office opens, but my phone ditched me and it went to sleep, finally I woke up at 9.00am. Having lost quite some time I decided to do the best I can to reach the Border at the earliest. Rode through Sevoke, Mal Bazar, Hasimara and finally reached Jaigon, took the first official photo of the ride in front on the main entrance Gate in Phuentsholling and rode into Bhutan. The entry wasnâ€™t dramatic and to my surprise I got the feel of being in another country suddenly by looking at the road discipline and Buildings and the people. I rode to the Immigration office which is near to the Petrol Bunk on the right side of the road, mistakenly I parked my bike inside the compound (No private vehicles inside the compound) and went to enquire about the procedures/paper works, it was around 11.45pm and I was planning to reach Thimphu by the end of the day. I went upto the first floor of the Immigration building and to my shock they closed the gate just a minute before I reached there, on enquiry I understood that they have closed for the weekend and will be open only by Monday. The behavior of the clerk was quite harsh and he said to go and come on Monday morning, but Fridays are supposed to be working days, later I came to know that all the staff had some training and it was on a very short notice. I was heartbroken on hearing this because loosing 3 days in a ride with such short time span is unimaginable. I walked down the stairs thinking to call off the ride and return home, atleast I reached Phuentsholling riding from my home. Then came the second shocker, the same rude clerk has locked the main gates and my bike is inside. I requested him humbly and admitted that it was my mistake and to let me go, but nothing happened.
After an hour of waiting a contract labor came and helped me to lift the bike through a small gate on the other side of the compound, finally the bike was out and I sat near the parking for some time. It was a big setback for the ride and a very bad day for me. My phone was working and I called home and informed my wife about the things that happened, but she asked me to stay positive and re-plan the ride. So, I parked my bike in the designated area for bikes (bikes should be parked only on the allotted areas) and went searching for a room. Luckily I got a single room, I checked in, took some rest, had food and walked around Phuentsholling town, it was late evening and suddenly from the street I heard someone talking in my native language( Malayalam) I approached them with a smile and introduced myself to them. They were a group of Bikers who were on a ride to explore Bhutan, I was happy to meet them. Luckily for them they got their permits and were ready to ride to Thimphu but I was lost and stranded. Bid Good bye to them and reached back to the room, did some washing as I was running short of Tees. Later I called up Kumar Sir and updated about the situation, he suggested me to ride to somewhere than to sit there for two days. Well then the plans changed, I decided to ride to Darjeeling. Now that I have a clear plan, I took a much needed break and rejuvenated myself &had a good sleep.
Route done â€“ Siliguri-Sevoke-Mal Bazar-Hasimara-Jaigon-Phuentsholling
Fuel â€“ 650, Room -600
After a good nightâ€™s sleep and rest it was time to roll again. Started from Phuenthsolling at 7.15am, and enjoyed the ride through the tea plantations through Hasimara and soon I spotted this Rhino on the road side. I reached Jaldapara WLS and at the entrance gate stands this attractive structure of a Rhino. I enquired about the safari timings and to my bad luck the morning safari (which starts @ 8.00am) team just left and they are not sure of the second trip. The cost per person is around Rs.1500/-. With nothing left to do I took a selfie with the Rhino and rode through Birpara town where road widening works were progressing. Soon I noticed something on the far horizon above the mountains. It was not clear; as I rode further I saw a view which I couldnâ€™t believe. The Mighty Kanchenjunga Range towering high above the green mountains. I have never heard or read that we could see the Himalayan range from almost MSL.
The view became clearer as I rode further and then I rode towards Sevoke through well laid roads. After crossing the coronation bridge I took the right turn through the road that goes alongside River Teesta. Soon the steep climb started and I reached Peshoke view point (Lovers Point) for the second year in succession (this time without my partner though). After enjoying the view and having a coffee from there I rode further towards Jhor Bunglow, and then suddenly I started seeing the Kanchenjunga Range to my right side. I stopped at a view point and enjoyed the view and took some photos, I was wondering last year when we rode through this same route we did not get a glimpse of this view, but that was in October, well now I understand the advantage of travelling in the winter season, clear skies and mighty views of the Himalayas. I continued from there and reached Ghum and within sometime I reached Darjeeling town. The rates were very high (all above 2k) even for a single room. After lot of searching I found a good hotel by the main road side which charged me Rs.1200/- for a Single room. Checked into the room, got freshen up and rode around the town. The commercial streets and the Mall road are always worth a visit. Later I had some awesome food from Glennaryâ€™s and it became too cold to roam around, so I rode back to the room to sleep peacefully in the cold weather. The hotel manager was kind enough to let me park my bike inside the reception. Sadly, the whole night I couldnâ€™t sleep because of the weather and other guests who were dancing/jumping above my room (some guests who have come for a marriage ceremony). I wanted to wake up at 4.00am and ride to Tiger Hills for the sunrise, but I slept at that time and woke up around 6.00am. Knowing that I have missed the sun rise, I decided to visit Tiger Hill anyway. It is some 12 kms way from Darjeeling town and the road that leads to the Hill is at the Junction after Ghum Station. The road is very steep, but well laid, rode all the way and stopped at the meadows where I saw one the magnificent views I have ever seen in my life. The Sleeping Budha is right in front of my eyes all I could do was to sit there for some time looking at it. A small settlement can be seen on a mountain top which actually is the town of Darjeeling. After clicking few photos I went up further to another hill which offered a better view. With only a few people around I enjoyed the view at peace and suddenly to my extreme left I saw two mountain summits (none of the people bothered to look at it). I assume that the summits may be of Mt.Everest and Mt.Lhotse. (No confirmations, but I did read somewhere that on a clear day one may be able to see the same from Tiger Hill). However after sometime I rode back to the Hotel and checked out from there as the room rates may double after 11.00am. I decided to ride back the same route; however I came down on a different route through steep roads through Mangpoo, mangpu and reached Sevoke. I reached back to Phuentsholling by evening. I forgot to take a pant from my room in Darjeeling so I walked back to Reliance Trends located in India. By that time a friend had shared the contact number of his friend in Bhutan and said that they are also in Phuentsholling. So I rang them up and met them near my hotel, it was Sherab Zangmo & family. I was happy to meet them and they asked to call them if I needed any help, especially there is this thing that the Immigration permit request may be rejected if you are a Solo traveler. I went back to the room and kept all documents ready and hoped that my permit request will be approved. However I could not sleep well, may be because of the uncertainty.
Route : Darjeeling â€“ Sevoke â€“ Mal Bazar- Birpara- Hasimara â€“ Jaigon- Phuentsholling
Day -9- December 11th â€“
I left the room with a positive thought and reached the Immigration office early. After talking to some people there I understood that the chances of getting my permit request getting rejected was high, so without wasting any time I called up Sherab and asked her help. She reached the office by the time the office opened, (there was huge rush after the Friday mess & weekend). She had written a letter to the Immigration officer stating that she is fully responsible for me during my stay in the country. I was really amazed to see that a person with no prior contact or relationship took up my full responsibility. This changed my view of the Bhutanese altogether. However I got the permit in hand within two hours and Sherab left from there. I had to go to RSTA Office, located in the first floor of Phuentsholling Busstand to get permit for my Bike. I got it done within an hour and I was all set to go. I reached my hotel, packed my bags and checked out. Meanwhile I took a Tashi cell connection also for local usage.
Points to note â€“
ïƒ˜ Bhutan is 30 minutes ahead of India (IST), so one has to reach the Immigration office atleast by 8.30am (located on the first floor of the new Building on the right side of the main road after the main entrance, near the Petrol bunk)
ïƒ˜ For getting the permits, one have to submit:
1) A duly filled in Application form (includes personal details, Places of visit, which will be Thimphu & Paro only as this office only issues permit for these two places, we have to extend the Permit in Thimphu for going to any other places)
2) Copy of Photo ID CARD,
3) Hotel Reservation on your name (new rule)
4) One Passport size photo
ïƒ˜ We have to stand in the long queue, sometimes fighting with the travel Agents to reach the verification counter. Once the documents are verified the staff signs it and forwards it to another Table. We have to go the counter which calls our name for the next step.
ïƒ˜ They will scan the thumb finger and take a photo from the counter itself. Once this is done we will get our permit very soon
ïƒ˜ We will get a system generated paper with our Photo which is the immigration permit.
ïƒ˜ Once this is received, we have to go to Phuentsholling Bus stand, the RSTA office is in the first floor. We have to submit a copy of RC, Insurance, Pollution and tax to the officer there, he will verify it and give it back to us after signing it, the next step is to go to the Accounts Department in the second floor to pay the Road tax fees which is INR 100/- per day for a motorcycle. I took the permit for 7 days, after making the payment we have to return to the officer in the first floor who will collect all the documents and enter the details online. Soon we will get the Road permit. It will be signed and stamped by the Officer.
ïƒ˜ The next thing to do will be to take a Tashi Cell for Tourists, we have to submit a copy of the Immigration permit to take the sim, it will be activated from the office itself, data package comes at extra cost which is almost equal to our regular plans in India, 3g services are available in most parts of the West, Central and Eastern Bhutan.
After getting all this done, I was ready to ride to Thimphu, I started from the town at around 12.30 and soon the hill climb started, I could see the plains on the Indian side from a view point, as I rode a few kilometers further I reached the first Check Post, I had to get my Immigration and Road permit stamped here (they will also enter the details online). I took my five minutes to complete this procedure and I was on my way to Thimphu. The roads were in good enough condition except a few kilometers which had rough patches (road works are progressing).
After about 45killometers I had to face very strong cross winds, at one point the gush was so strong such that it slowed me down for a few seconds. Once I crossed that particular section, the roads were good & winding which proved to be fun and entertaining. I rode continuously for two hours and finally took a break. The moment I got down from the bike I fell on the road side due to sudden calf muscle strain which took more than 10 minutes to ease off the pain. The cold was getting stronger and the fuel level have gone down into reserve, luckily after a few kilometers I found a petrol bunk so that I was able to fill up the tank and ride peacefully thereafter.
I reached the second Check post at Tanalum, I got my Immigration & road permit stamped and set off from there, it was getting too chilly by then. After a few kilometres, I reached Chuzom confluence, the confluence of River Thimphu (Wang chu) and river Paro (Pa Chu) and the road to Paro diverts from here. Thimphu was just over 30 kilometres from that point. I rode through the well laid & beautiful roads following the River Wang chu all the way, soon I reached the Capital City of Bhutan. I headed straight to the Clock tower area and found out a room (which did not have a heater). I parked my bike in the designated area near the main junction (It is said to be the only capital city in the world without a Traffic Signal/Light) The police men are doing their best to ensure that people do not walk on the road, vehicles follow a standard and calm approach on the traffic, NO HONKING, besides all these I suddenly found out that the people are too fashionable and especially the woman in the most modern attires (only some). I ran to the room to check in, settled in and went out to enjoy the night life near the clock tower area. Itâ€™s a modern world out there, it was around 8 pm and the temperatures dropped to single digits, I couldnâ€™t bare the cold so I went and had my dinner and tried to sleep. It is then I realized that there are too many dogs around the city, and the night belongs to them. Enough said!
Route : Phuentsholling â€“ Chuzom - Thimphu
Day -10- December 12th
The first thing to do in the morning was to reach the Immigration office (it is located at the second last building by the end of the main road leading to the main Post office) I walked and reached there very early and met a clerk who looked at my documents and said that I will require a new Letter from my local guardian suggesting the places I wanted to visit. I called up Sherab and luckily she was still in Phuentsholling and had access to an Internet cafÃ©, within thirty minutes I received the new letter and within one hour I got my Immigration permit extended for Punakha-Haa valley. Without wasting time I went to the RSTA office for extending my road trip where I lost a couple hours due to the absence of the concerned officer. Only by 1 pm I got everything sorted out, then I vacated the room and headed to National Memorial Chorten and then it was time to ride and see one of the highest structures of Lord Budha. I reached the Budha point (Budha Dhordenma), the place was not crowded so I could walk around freely and see the might of the statue and also feel the peace and tranquillity that surrounds the place. After spending little time there I decided to ride to the Takin reserve; however I lost my way and finally decided to continue my ride to Dochu La. I rode out of Thimphu city and joined that highway that leads to Dochu La, after a few kilometres I reached the last check post enroute, I did the regular procedures there, and however the Immigration officer asked me to submit the original document there, but I told him that I may go to Haa Valley, so he suggested to submit the document in the last check post near Phuentsholling on my return.
The roads were bad for a few kilometres after the Check post but soon I reached Dochu La pass, and to my luck it was Dochu La festival and there was a huge crowd with lot of Dignitaries around with armed forces keeping a watch on everyone. I walked to the famous 108 Chortens, it was a dream come through to be at that place, I have been seeing this place since the time I started reading about Bhutan. Suddenly I noticed the mighty Himalayan Range towering high, with a clear view I was able to see Gangkhar Puensum, the highest mountain in Bhutan and arguably one of the highest unclimbed mountains in the world. I was getting too much exposed to sun at that height (around 10170ft) so I decided to leave from there. I started and took the turn on the main road behind the Chortens and suddenly noticed snowflakes on the road side, I remembered reading about the Black Ice phenomena, so I proceeded cautiously and there on there on the roads are awesome, winding down to the Punakha valley. I wanted to fill up my bike but thought against it (a big mistake) I took the road that leads to Punaka Dzong, and stayed in the town of Khuruthang. When I was in my bed to sleep I had someone knocking at my door, to my surprise they were a few Keraliteâ€™s who are working in the government schools and other offices there in Punakha. After spending some time with them I went back to the room not before being offered a Breakfast with the lovely people whom I met.
Route : Thimphu â€“ Dochula Pass â€“ Punakha
Day - 11-December 13th
I woke up, got ready and then walked to Mr.Rajanâ€™s house (He is a teacher), after a mouth-watering Breakfast we had a brief talk about a few things (Socio Economic reforms :P) and I bid good bye to them and left to see the Historic Punakha Dzong, the Dzong was not open for visitors by the time I reached, so I went ahead to see the longest suspension bridge in Bhutan, it was indeed scary to be there all alone, so I did not take the risk of walking across. It was too sunny, so I rode back to Punakha Dzong, on the way I noticed that the main road leads to Laya, Gasa district which is the starting point for many iconic treks like the Chomolhari trek, snow man trek etc. I did not have time to venture deep into the unexplored territories. So I rode and reached the Dzong, parked my bike and walked across the wooden bridge above the river Po Chu. The Punakha Dzong is located the confluence of rivers Po Chu & Mo chu. The rivers after the confluence flows into India to join the mighty Brahmaputra River. The feeling was all special inside the courtyard of the Dzong, the ambience was something which one cannot explain. I went inside the Dzong (which works as an administrative centre including court and govt. offices)
I agreed not to take any photos inside, so I walked around and saw a few Budhist monks engaged in prayers. I sat near the place and observed it for some time. I came out after sometime and left from the dzong and stopped at the view point where lot of tourists were gathered to take pictures of the most beautiful Dzong in Bhutan. I joined them for taking a few snaps and left from there towards Chimi Lakhang temple which has an interesting History. I went through a village which had the drawings of Phallus all around. It was an interesting visit to the temple; I had to walk/hike to the temple. Sitting below the peepal tree was mind soothing, and sat there for quite some time.
Finally I decided to move from there and head to Phobjika Valley for the day. The bike was running low on fuel so I went to refill but I got shocking news that petrol is out of stock, I tried my best to get it but in vain. Finally I rode ahead to have a glimpse of Wangdue Phodrang which was under renovation. (Renovation is not yet finished as on date) and left the plan of riding to Phobjikka valley, I took the chance of riding back to Thimphu hoping that I will get petrol somewhere, I crossed Dochula and reached the outskirts of Thimphu city. There was no stock and most bunks were closed already. Finally an uncle in a bike said to me that there is fuel available in the main petrol bunk in the city, so I followed him to the station and to my luck it was open. Even though there was a long queue, they filled my bike fast, I was a relieved man started to ride to Paro through the main highway. Paro is around 65 kilometres away from Thimphu, we can reach within one hour on a normal day, the roads are in excellent condition and in no time I reached the outskirts of Paro town. I had my host waiting for me; Sherab has arranged a room for me in her Homestay on my request. So I crossed the Paro airport and reached Dharma Lodge, Paro. There was awesome Bhutanese food waiting for me and we talked late into the night, the temperatures was in single digit and to my luck there was room heater. I was in touch with a friend whom I met in fb, Mr.Chencho Wangdi, he said he will come the next day to join me on the trek with me to the Tigers Nest. Ah ! Tigers Nest, Paro Taktsang that is one of the main reasons for me being here. I was thrilled thinking about the next day.
Route : Punakha â€“ Wangdue â€“ Dochula â€“ Thimphu â€“ Paro.
Day -12- December 14th
After a much needed warm sleep, I was fresh and ready for the hike, Checho was supposed to come in car, but his broke had some issues so he came in his bike. I was amazed to see him coming with two shoulder bags, I asked him why is he carrying two bags, he replied that its food & refreshments for both us. I was left speechless, a person meeting me for the first time with hardly a relationship for few days, he carries specially cooked food for me, nothing much to say. I went to switch on my bike and realised that the bike has gone off; it also slept with me through the chilly night. Somehow I got it to start and we reached the base camp where lot of tourist vehicles were parked. The helmets and jackets were handed over to the women who were selling gift items and we promised to purchase something on our return. The trek started easily with me leading the walk and after a few minutes it started to change, the walking became tougher and I couldnâ€™t hike for more than 10 minutes at a stretch, talking break after break (I was not carrying anything other than my jacket and a bottle of water). The general hiking time is around 2.30 to 3 hours to reach the Taktsang, however we reached the half stage by 2 hours. There we had some refreshments (hot tea & biscuits) and started to hike further. All this way we would see the Taktsang but finally we reached the point where there are steps to go down from this mountain and again hike up to the Taktsang. Finally after 3.5 hours we reached the Legendary Tigersâ€™ Nest, Paro Taktsang at 10700ft above MSL. After clearing the security checks we went inside (photography is restricted inside Taktsang). We walked through different prayers rooms and finally reached the entrance of the cave where Guru.Padmasambahav a (Guru Rimpoche) is said to have been meditated during his stay there. We offered butter candles and prayed for some time and started back from the Taktasang. On return we had a delicious lunch which was indeed prepared by Chencho for me. After the lunch we started our walk back, it was even more difficult to control my slim body while coming down, often crashing into trees. The calf muscles got a work out of a lifetime and finally we reached back to the base camp. We did a small shopping and left from there.
It was Paro festival the next day and Chencho said he will call and finalize the plans for the next day. I went to the room after thanking him for what he did; after all I would not have done the trek without him.
Day -13-December 15th
I woke up a little late in the morning and realized that there was no part in my body which was not paining. Suddenly I got a call from Chencho and he asked me to meet him outside the city. We met at the place and decided to go to Che Li La pass, but there was RSTA warning that morning about a few accidents due to black ice, so we decided to give it a try till the road becomes unmanageable. The pass is around 35kms away from Paro town, we started the climb, the roads were is average condition, and soon we were seeing snow by the road side but no signs of it on the road. As we gained altitude we started encountering snow more and finally there was a section of the road on the mountain side which indeed had snow on the road, not fully visible to the eyes though. Very cautiously we crossed that section and that was it, it was sunshine for the remaining section of the road, the bike was struggling to breathe so as my lungs. Finally we reached the highest road point in Bhutan, Che Li La pass @ 13080ft above MSL, I wanted to see the Mountain which had the name of being one of the most beautiful mountains in the world, Mt.Jomolhari (Chomolhari). The view was stunning, but suddenly I started to feel uncomfortable, so we left from there suddenly and rode towards Haa Valley. On the way back, realising that I was losing it a bit, Chencho stopped me and we took a short nap. That was the recharge I was looking for, we continued further and started seeing the beautiful Haa Valley as we rode down further. The view became stunning as we reached the Valley. On reaching the valley, we went to the main Bazar (a small street) and spend some time there. It was getting late and Chencho had some engagements back at home, so we rode back to Paro via Che Li La Pass, and stopped at the Birds eye view point of Paro Airport. That was another stunning view. An airport, in the midst of towering mountains and a river flowing besides it. Surreal. It was dark by the time we reached the town, so we rode to see Paro Dzong which looks heavenly under the lights. After snapping few pictures I left from there bidding a good bye to Chencho.
Day 14- December 16th
Knowing that it will be the last day in Bhutan, I wasnâ€™t feeling fresh neither energetic. I checked out from the long stay in Sherabâ€™s homestay, thanked Sherab for all the support she & her family did for me and left from there. I rode to Drukyel Dzong which is where the main road ends, the dzong was under renovation, still I walked a little around it, did not go inside it. I decided to ride back and called up checho, unfortunately he was travelling to Thimphu for emergency, so I left from Paro and crossed Chuzom and continued my ride. Finally I reached the last check post, submitted my Original papers and exited from the country officially. By the end of the day I reached Phuentsholling and decided to stay there for the night.
Paro â€“ Chuzom- Tanalum â€“ Chapcha â€“ Phuentsholling
Day 15- December 17th
I woke up with one new mission, to visit Bangladesh Border, I understood that there a border in Dhupgiri, so I started my ride with the intention to peep into Bangladesh. I crossed Birpara town and continued towards Dhupgiri (lot of road construction/widening works going on). On reaching Dhupgiri I was told that a new border crossing is there in Phulbari near Siliguri, so I continued my ride towards Phulbari. By afternoon I reached that place but I couldnâ€™t locate the Border, even the people whom I asked about the border were like, Bangladesh?? What Bangladesh? I went to road where road construction was progressing, meanwhile a guy in a shop said that the border is in that road and pointed me towards where I went first. I noticed a long queue of Trucks and understood that it has to be the Border. I went ahead and saw the Immigration office and suddenly I noticed a fence, paddy cultivated land and an old man working in the field. YES!! I did peep into Bangladesh. MISSION ACCOMPLISHED.
Now that the objectives of the ride is fulfilled It was time for me to return home, so I rode to NJP station to send the bike through Railway Parcel, got it done and settled in for a room nearby. I had my flight back to Bangalore via Kolkota the next day.
Day 16- December 18th
Woke up a little late, packed by Bags and went to the Airport, The flight was late however I reached Bangalore by 8 pm, I got a ticket booked in a bus towards Trivandrum. So on Day 17th, December 19th 2016 I reached back to my home, safe & sound by Godâ€™s Grace. I was back home with a lot of memories and not before making a few friends for a lifetime.