Monday, November 20, 2017

Phuentsholing - Gedu - Chukha - Tshimasham.

5th Oct morning, we loaded our bikes & headed straight to RTO office. By 11 we were ready to head north, having completed all the formalities to wander in Bhutan. The terrain here in Bhutan is exceptionally mountainous. From the start itself we were climbing up the gradient. This tour was such that we didn't have any plans of travelling point to point, or the fix places of stay. Hence, it was just like we ride & enjoy the tour. Before sunset, find some suitable place to either camp or home stay or hotel. We topped up the fuel tank of our bikes up to its neck. Here again we were so surprised to check the rates of petrol in Bhutan. Its almost less by 10 bucks a liter. Its really beyond my economics knowledge that how come the petrol or petroleum products are refined in the western part of India (specifically Mumbai High & Gujrath) are sold at higher price in this part where as same thing having incurred much transport cost, is sold at cheaper rates in far east. Taking these calculations in my little brain we started our Bhutan ride. There's no other way than to take a highway from Phuentsholing to Thimphu, which takes you to places of interest in Bhutan. About 5 kms from the start, we came across a check post. Here we need to show them all the permits like Stay permit & RTO permit, along with our driving license. We need to keep all these documents handy as those are required at many such check posts. From nowhere it started drizzling. In few minutes it started pouring heavily. Harshad & Avinash waited at the check post for the rain to stop. Me, Vikram & Rohit started further with all the rain gear like rain suit, plastic bags on our feet & all the luggage. A beautiful,  scenic, tar & curvy road goes through woods. Its the joy of life to ride through it. It rained for about 15 minutes & folks waiting started their journey too. By 12 noon we stopped at a restaurant cum motel which was placed at very beautiful location. The clouds or may be fog was such that it was hitting the road. The food here was very delicious with variety of meat & very little of veg food. The veggies opted for our own humble Maggie but Rohit feasted on all types of meat. In the motels, restaurants, stores of Bhutan, all types of liquor is sold. The drinks are cheap & free flowing.
We planned going to Paro first. Which is about 200kms from Phuentsholing. By now we were treading through beautiful highway. On the way we had coffee 

Friday, November 29, 2013

Darjeeling-Phuentsholing Bhutan

Dudes in formation.
 Descending through dense forest & beautiful tea gardens, we reached Kalijoda a village on Sikkim Highway.  This track was so beautiful that everybody of us were overwhelmed with the ride. In between, Harshad lost one of his mobile phone, which he was carrying in his track pants pocket.There was not point in going back to search for it. We just had a tea halt, inquired with the locals & got the plan forward. 
Beautiful road through Pines

Super Ride

Left Kalijoda reached Sevok, where a highway goes straight to Silliguri & turning left crossing Tishta River over a Coronation Bridge, we headed east towards Mal Bazar. Tishta river is massive & this very bridge seems to be only connection between two ends. Sevok is an army base & have very good roads. 
Tishta gorging under Coronation bridge
The watch ticked 5.30pm here. It has already started to darken. But road being in very good condition here, we took hardly 45 minutes to reach Malbazar which was about 50-55kms. Travelling ahead in dark was not at all a good idea. Hence we zeroed upon an idea to stay back at Malbazar. This is a small town having just few hotels to lodge. Fortunately we got one with a parking space on ground floor. It has now been a ritual where ever we stay, to unload all the luggage from bikes put it in the room & next day reload the same. It actually is a very tiring job when you have rode for whole day.

Coronation Bridge

Green Everywhere!!

Rain Suits are must.
Next day that is 3rd of October 2013, Vikram had still not recovered. Infact he was in a mood to abandon the expedition & go back. Last night, we all had discussion on this & decided that lets wait for a day or two & then if he doesn't feel OK, he will go back & we four would continue. He already was on antibiotic dose. Malbazar to Phuentsholing was about 110kms towards east. Finally it was decided that Vikram would stay back at Malbazar & take proper rest & Rohit would accompany him. Me, Harshad & Avinash loaded our bikes & headed towards Phuentsholing. From Malbazar you have to travel around 50kms & you reach at Balipara National Highway (NH 31). Here we took left & headed towards Alipurduar. We rode about 36kms where you will see a Petroleum storage depot. Here you should leave NH31 & take left towards Hashimara. From Hashimara it is just about 25kms up to Jaigaon the Indian side of border to Bhutan. Through out this route, you will find Tea gardens on both the sides of the road. These tea gardens of Assam being on low lands are different than Darjeeling Tea gardens. Climate here is highly hot & humid.

Tea Gardens of Assam.

Delicious Ragda
The funny part of this journey was that we found a road side food vendor who was selling a dish which was very much similar to our own Maharashtrian Misal. We were so delighted that we all savoured upon the dish. This dish was more similar to our own ragda of Ragda Pattice. One more instance missed to mention that you will find caution boards across the roads that Elephants cross the road hence let them pass. 

Look at him

Fortunately Avinash spotted three elephants in the fields which he showed to Harshad too. My bad luck, I was not near by. (While I write this blog, I understood that it was a prank played on me. None of them saw any live tusker)

Prado across border

We reached Jaigaon sometime by 1.00pm. Although quite a busy town, it is in really bad shape. Roads are so muddy that while you cross the town a layer of mud settles on your body. Ultimately you face a arch which welcomes you to Bhutan. Other side is Phuentsholing & this side is Jaigaon. We entered Bhutan & immediately found immigration office of Bhutan govt.

First sight of Bhutanese

Punjab National Bank of Bhutan

We were informed that it takes hours together to get the permits at the immigration. Hence as planned we three were supposed to get the formalities of immigration done. The difference in everything was so evident & significant that we were just awestruck. The quality of roads were so good. The traffic sense was at perfect ten. People were well dressed whatever it may be in traditional Bhutanese or western wear. "No smoking in public places" is so strictly followed that none of the smoker was in sight anywhere.

Law is alert.

Immigration Office

Avinash took the lead & went to the immigration office to inquire about the permit. He came back with the forms & said that every person who wants to take the permit should be personally present at the immigration office. Hence the purpose of we reaching early to take the permits of all was ruled out. Same was conveyed back to Rohit & Vikram. We three applied for the permit where in we have to mention the places in Bhutan where we wish to visit. But the permit is given only up to Paro & Thimpu that too for 7 days. It is not necessary to carry passport, the Indians get the permit on the basis of Voter's ID too. But yeah these two (passport & Voter's ID) are the only valid document on which any Indian citizen can get the permit. There are many hotels in Phuentsholing to stay & dine. We checked in to the hotel exactly opposite to the immigration office. Had nothing to do other than roam around in Phuentsholing. This town is really beautiful & particularly seems to be business point for Bhutanese. Indian currency is accepted across the establishments & most sought after. The exchange rate is almost the same as Indian currency. Hence its easy or less of trouble of carrying exchange. In the evening we had a good Bhutanese dinner which included Emma Datshi ( Green/Red Chillies in cheese curry) & a good mellow Bhutanese Whiskey. To describe about Bhutanese Whiskey, I would say its nothing less than our good ol' scotch. 
Next day i.e. 4th of October, we just waited for Rohit & Vikram to reach Phuentsholing. They reached by 11 am I suppose. Straight away we all headed to Immigration office to get their permits. We got those permits & got them rested for few hours in our hotel room. As we had read a notice at RTO office that it will be open for 3pm to 4pm, after taking a rest Rohit went ahead to RTO office by 3.30 but to our surprise the office had already closed by 3. This made the things really hard for us. As there was no option but to stay back till next day while the RTO office opens in the morning. We three already had our pie of Phuentsholing & were not so excited to stay back. From here, self opinions started flowing in. How on earth could we three read that the RTO office is open till 4 where as the notice now clearly read, its up to 3. This was unanswereable as we three were very much sure bout 3-4pm notice. Ultimately we decided upon staying back & get the road permits of these two vehicles done on 5th October. 

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Mumbai-Bagdogra-New Jalpaigudi/Silliguri-Darjeeling

We were five enthusiast bikers namely
1. Vikram Phalke. Bike - Royal Enfield Classic 500.
2. Harshad Takle. Bike - Bajaj Auto Avenger 220.
3. Rohit Gokhale. Bike - Royal Enfield Thunderbird 350
4. Avinash Vidhate. Bike - Honda Unicorn 150.
5. Me, Mukesh Bhatia. Bike - Royal Enfield Classic 500.

Planned at the tip of the moment to get going. Jotted a total 22 days expedition which included Bhutan & Meghalay.
On 29th Sept 2013 Left Mumbai by Indigo Airlines to Bagdogra. This is the nearest airport to enter Bhutan through the best ever entry point. Our bikes were already on their way to New Jalpaigudi (NJP) Railway Station. As per the plan, the bikes were to reach NJP a day before we land at Bagdogra. Here I am so very glad to mention the help & co-operation of our good friend Mr. Vishwajit Shinde who came as a very nice resource to book & upload our bikes in railway. His help made it sure that bikes get in to the luggage compartment of the train on the scheduled date. We all were there to get the bikes packed properly along with other luggage like camping gears, helmets, vehicle spares, etc.
Enthusiasm is overflowing

Bird's eye view of Silliguri
The flight being scheduled to take off at 8 in the morning, we reached Mumbai airport by 6.30. It so happened that we thought of having a coffee & then check in. Eventually we ended up by munching upon whatever the coffee shop has us to offer. Eventually we boarded the flight & it took off as scheduled. We landed at Bagdogra by about 4pm. A very lengthy flight, which took us through Delhi, Guwahati & then Bagdogra. Private taxis are available here which drop you to NJP or Silligudi, that is about 15-18kms. The very first job here was to check whether our bikes has been unloaded. We just checked in some clumsy hotel at NJP (You wont find decent hotel in NJP, may be in Silligudi you would find few). Headed straight to the railway station & were very much delighted to know that our bikes had been unloaded. Actually the bikes had landed a day ago, hence we had to pay demerage charges & get our bikes released. Lading & unloading the vehicles is truly time consuming job. It may take from couple to more than 5 hours to do this. Most of the bikes were in good shape baring Rohit's & Harshad's. Rohit's bike conked off due to some caustic being spilled over the fuel tank, dripping down to carburetor & downwards. Harshad's bike has few dents & a broken side indicator.

I just missed to mention that we are in West Bengal whilst we are in Bagdogra/Silligudi/NJP. So at every verge we were facing & tasting the bengaly babus. Need not to mention the personalities. Rohit got is bike checked & repaired by a local mechanic in NJP.
Harshad taking a close look
That night we all had a nice bengally food which has lot of rice, fresh water fish, some type of vegetable & dal. For desert we had Mishti Dohi & other bengaly sweets. Here Harshad came up with the idea that, as we are so near to Darjeeling we should visit there & then head towards Bhutan. "Being the first day of our expedition everybody was in fine mood with least amount of self opinions". So all of us agreed to for Darjeeling first, which was about 75kms from Silligudi.
This hotel has an appreciative parking space in the basement. Here we were able to pack & load our bikes with all the camping, travelling & personal stuffs. We three Royal Enfielders had been fitted with big carriers which we named it as Ladakh carriers.
All Geared up
Much of the stuff had been loaded on these three bikes. Where as other two bikes of Harshad & Avinash had been loaded with saddle bags which hang on to either sides of the bike. Ultimately at 4780 kms odo on my bike we started our ride from NJP. Just before we could reach a meager 5-10kms in Siligudi, Rohit's bike started to show off. It either was getting off or was draining fuel through overflow pipe. Fortunately there was an authorised Royal Enfield Dealer, where we got the bike repaired. The streets of siliguri were bustling & would say it was not endearing to cross through siliguri.


Taking Tips

Here a passing by Royal Enfielder saw us & stopped to have a word with us. It appeared he was pleased to meet us when he got to know our expedition plan. He himself had a group of bikers in Siliguri & made us talk to his group leader who has been our good source of information till entering Bhutan.
Ultimately we started towards Darjeeling by 3.30-4pm. There are three routes to Darjeeling from Siliguri. We decided to go via Rohini, cause as per the info, there were landslide on other routes. Heading hardly 4-5 kms you have to take a prominent right turn.
Very beautiful, scenic & awesome road starts here. This route goes through lot n lots of tea estates/gardens. The road quality is good & goes through dense forest area. As planned Rohit was supposed to lead the route & Vikram would be at the tail. We had a perfect plan that on every 15-20 kms, all of us would halt & take the account of every nuances of our mates. 
Me, Harshad & Rohit halted at a place called RongTong.
Avinash explaining his mishap

Why me God!!!
A nice tea joint on the left namely Hamno Restuarant. This was the first place to taste world renowned Darjeeling Tea. I would be true to heart to say that the tea they served was really tasty & aromatic. After 10-15 minutes remaining two Vikram & Avinash arrived. Here we got informed that Avinash had bumped upon a pickup van & was slightly injured. God forbidden, the injury was not major & the bike too was in shape. But it definitely gave a sense of fear that this could happen to any of us. Three sincere of us, Vikram, Rohit & Harshad were in safety gears like Knee guard, elbow guard & the helmet. We, Avinash & me the dudes felt that helmet is enough. Which proved when Avinash was injured on his knee. 
After half hour break, the voyage started towards Darjeeling. The curvy roads with jungle all along took us to a town called Kurseong. We all were awestruck as we entered this town. It was a picture perfect town with a small railway station (Toy Train meter gauge which runs between Darjeeling & Silliguri), beautiful houses & very beautiful gals with modern outfits just moving around through shop lined alleys. Through out the route, the Toy Train track were either along the road & crossing at various occasions. Further we reached a small town called Ghoom. Even this town has nice people & nice shops around. A beautiful railway station at the left. The skin tone, the body structure of men & women in these hills are significantly different from that we saw in West Bengal merely 30-40 kms down. These people are very fare & faces are rounded up, most of them are slim & skinny. Average height of the people here must be 5'-5.5". 
Here it was 5pm in our watches & sun had already started to set. By 5.30 it was getting dark. We had to put on our head lamps soon.
A Tea Joint
Vikram had fitted two large LED lamps in addition to the head lamp. This helped us a lot, as it made the vision very clear. We took a short tea halt afterwards. By around 8pm we reached Darjeeling in pitch dark. Fortunately we got a good hotel which we eventually got to know about. Hotel Tourist, which was just renovated. Had a clean upholstery, clean bathrooms, etc. Although bit expensive, it amounted to Rs. 700/- per head. The room tarif was Rs. 3500/day.
It took us tiring 4 hours to cover the distance of 80kms & all of us were exhausted. A hot shower & a drink afterwards was all that was needed at that hour. We had it by all means. It was the pre birthday night of Harshad. Till the clock ticked 12 in the midnight we kept on going with our chat n glasses. Had a true blast on the occasion of his birthday. Vikram was feeling low & had bit temperature, hence he dozed off. Me n Avinash too were off in another half n hour. Next day morning I came to know that Rohit & Harshad had a very long discussion through out the night & were alive till 5 in the morning. In between they even tried to shave off the mustache of Vikram while he was sleeping, but failed to do so. They had a lot of fun & lots of discussion.
On the morning of 1st of Oct, Vikram was still down with fever, these two dudes had to sleep, me & Avinash were only free n fresh to move around. We just put on our helmets & rode around Darjeeling. Darjeeling in the morning is so very beautiful & serene, its beyond explanation.

We went around & saw some popular schools, the historical railway station, tea gardens & talked with the locals. People here live a hard life. Need to to tread hills for every needs & provisions. A hill town, the alleys are always going up & down with curves at every 50 meters. Homes are built on the slopes having the essence of good old British architecture.
Beautiful School in Darjeeling
Cut out pose

Need not to mention very beautiful gals in modern outfits strolling the streets. For lunch, we had both veg & non veg on the roof top restaurant of our hotel. For dinner we all decided upon to go to some happening place in Darjeeling.

Tea Gardens in Darjeeling

Darjeeling Railway Station

Engine Workshop

Beauty of Darjeeling

Reel Porter in real

Mall road is one where you get every type of food. The restaurants are lined up the Mall road with nice ambiance. We hit upon a Chinese joint for some noodles & chowmeins. 

Next morning we planned to leave Darjeeling by 9am but understood that the town & roads were blocked by the Free Gorkhaland Organisation for there demands. This organisation seems to be quite active in this region to get separate state of Gorkhaland from West Bengal & part of Sikkim too. We met the local police head & enquired about the safety of our transit. We were informed to either leave early morning by 5 or in the afternoon. Taking in to consideration Vikram's health & Avinash's too (He too got feverish that night), we finalised to leave in the afternoon. On 2nd October 2013, we cranked our bikes, started our descend heading towards Jaigaon (Indian entry point of Bhutan). The map, the biker of Silliguri & locals had informed us to go via Sevok to Jaigaon. This whole stretch was about 200kms. After crossing Kurseong, we understood that theres one diversion at Daliram Airforce Station which takes us down to Kalijoda & Sevok eventually. This diversion is about 20-25kms from Darjeeling, hence we travelled back about 10kms from Kurseong & took this route. This descend was awesome. With thick pine forest around, the steep road was taking us down with few hamlets in between for a halt.