Wednesday, November 23, 2011

And we rode through happiness ....

One of the most beautiful rides of Bhutan. To Tiger's Nest monastery.
Ever since we made our motorbike trip to Ladakh and Kashmir, my buddy, Chris, had been itchy to do one too. After many months of planning we zeroed down on exploring our neighbouring country, Bhutan. It had been a long time since Chris and I did a trip by ourselves and wanted to spend some quality time with each other and this seemed like the perfect opportunity. Away from civilization, discussing life, travelling through unending roads, exploring a new land, meeting new people and just being ourselves.

In order to realize this trip we had to organize a few things, namely:

  1. A Motorbike, a Royal Enfield. 
  2. Indian citizenship papers for Chris as he was an Australian citizen with a PIO (person of Indian origin) card and that would mean that he'd have to pay USD 250 per day - which his wife would only agree to if he bought her a LV bag - every day. So pretty much out of question.
The bike we wanted was a newly launched Classic 350 with drop dead gorgeous retro looks and a smooth hassle free engine that would go for thousands of kilometers without a glitch. This motorbike has a 6 month long waiting list as they were handcrafted in Chennai and the company could only produce so many. Through my contacts in Calcutta - namely a trusty old mechanic called Salim bhai - I managed to get it within a couple of days. 

The second part was a little tricky and could only be realized after Chris had landed in Calcutta which he did a good 15 days before the trip. 

Together we made a trip to Calcutta Motor Vehicles department and saw a bunch of guys sitting outside selling forms. Upon inquiry we were told that getting a license, that too within a week, before the place closes for the Durga Puja holidays was almost an impossibility. Not ones to be daunted easily we tried every single person sitting there and finally came across a young seemingly inexperienced lad called Pappu. Pappu promised us that he'd get us the license provided we make a drama in front of all the others that Pappu was unable to get us the license on time or he'd have to share the booty with everyone. We agreed, as both Chris and I, love this kind of drama and were happy to do anything as long as we got Chris' drivers' license on time. Which we did after paying a hefty fee and displaying our theatrics.

Finally by the 4th of October we were ready to leave at the crack of dawn. But things were not meant to be smooth and Chris' wife, Suman, had a sudden gastric attack which brought our plans to a standstill. After nursing her all morning we were ready to leave in the afternoon. 

We had got ourselves Cramster saddlebags and tankbag which was enough together to hold our luggage for the next ten days. And also a good enough excuse to tell the others that we could not buy anything for anyone as we had no space left. I tell you these Cramster guys think of everything. By about 2 pm we left with good wishes and a heart brimming with excitement at what lay ahead for us. 

In all great trips the first thing that goes awry is the plan. And we were not expecting this to be any different and hence Chris and I had agreed that we will simply go ahead and let life throw at us whatever it did and see how me make the most of it. I made the mistake of consulting Google Maps for our road from Calcutta to our first halt, Jalpaiguri. Therefore instead of just taking us directly on NH34 it took us all the way around Shaktigarh (with it's delicious lenchas), Santiniketan and onwards to Behrampore. It's only when we touched NH34 did we realise why Google Maps had avoided this road. It was the worst road imaginable to mankind - the moon's surface would be an understatement. Let's just suffice to say that we were royally NH34'ed and were in the end quite sympathetic to the Gorkhaland agitators as we though that that one road was reason enough for them to demand a separate state. 

We reached Siliguri after 24 straight hours on the road, short sessions of shut-eye in two dhabas, severely sore butts and a badly beaten spirit. Upon reaching Siliguri we checked out the newly opened City Center there and ambled like zombies to lunch at the food court. After some refreshment we made our way to Chris' uncle who had invited us to stay at the tea garden that he worked at. Upon reaching the Danguajhar tea Garden we were greeted with the warmest Chinese family I've ever met. They had prepared hot water for our baths and a sumptuous dinner for our famished selves. That night we slept the most peaceful sleep in days as our broken backs had got exactly the kind of hospitality it needed. Never before did we know that we'd be so comforted by humanity. 

Early next morning we were up and ready to cross the border into Bhutan. After thanking our hosts with all our hearts we left for a wonderful ride crossing the Jaldapara forest on one side and wonderful tea gardens on the other. Upon reaching the border towns of Jaigaon on the Indian side and Phuentsholing on the Bhutan side we saw the difference between a poor but huge nation like ours and a small but well off nation like theirs. And having a small population seemed to make all the difference in their favour. We had to go through many formalities to get into Bhutan, formalities that included bureaucracy and bribing, but we didn't care as long as we got to get in and do our long awaited trip. 

By the time we were done it was already 2pm and we still had to make the long journey all the way up to Thimphu - which was a good 6 hours away. Some of the road between Phuentsholing and Thimphu was bad but we had been on NH34 and everything else seemed like a cakewalk to us - and we glided our way into Thimphu by nightfall. So far we had only been travelling and did not get a chance to stop, breathe and enjoy our holiday yet. And the problem was compounded with a tyre puncture but thankfully it happened just as we'd reached Norzin Lam - the main street of the capital city. We simply parked our bike and checked into a nearby hotel - a place which was almost brimming with other tourists from Bengal. We grabbed dinner from a Nepali restaurant nearby where young boys were drinking and watching a Bollywood movie and went back to hotel for the night. We had made our super hectic journey so far and were ready to be treated to the beauty of Bhutan from next morning onward. 

.... to be continued.

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