Where can Chris and I go next? Bhutan seems to be a mystical place trapped between India and China, its off the beaten track and hasn’t been open to foreigners for that long, so a perfect place to go.
We decided on a “Ferris Wheels Motorcycle Tour” and went with
Huw & Elina, Sheryl & Mick (Chilli) from the ACT and
Tony from NSW, as well as Mike and Denise Ferris who own and run
It involves riding Royal Enfields on a 2700km ride through
three countries, Nepal, India and Bhutan. We’d ridden the bikes
before on a trip through the Himalayas in north-western India
and thoroughly enjoyed it.
We flew from Perth to Kathmandu in Nepal to start our
adventure. Huw & Elina and Chris & I arrived a few days
before the others to have a look around Kathmandu, and Elina had
a conference to go to with her work.
Kathmandu is a dusty place, plenty of rubbish and narrow
streets, but the locals were great and we didn’t get hassled too
much. Our hotel was situated in the centre of Kathmandu and was
close to everything. Power cuts are normal, some they let you
know about, others just happen.
The cafes/pubs were excellent. It was quite cold at night, so
windcheater and beanie were necessary. The outdoor cafes all had
open wood fires which adds to the atmosphere, and the beer
One bar we went to, “Rum Doodle Bar” was a place where the mountaineering expeditions used to have a drink. Edmund Hilary had been there and signed a “Yeti” foot!
We had a good look around Kathmandu including Durbar Square
which has fabulous old buildings, a Monkey Temple, a huge
Buddhist Stupa and the Bagmati River where the Hindus burn the
bodies and float them down the river. I was a bit taken aback
seeing a foot sticking out.
While we were in Kathmandu we took a small plane over the Himalayas and Everest. Only about 20 people and everyone had a window seat and the chance to go to the cockpit and have a pilot's view as well. A great experience and the views were amazing.
By this time the others on the trip had arrived, the bikes were
lined up outside the hotel, we had a back-up vehicle, mechanic,
spares and guide.
We were off, Enfields rumbling away early in the morning to
avoid the Kathmandu traffic (didn’t really work), then heading
west towards Pokhara.
We were riding through the mountains on pot-holed roads full of trucks heading to India, but by lunch-time we branched off towards Pokhara, the traffic eased off and the road was a bit better. It was a great day’s ride with steep gorges, terraced hills and the Himalayas in the distance.
A lot of trekkers start their trip from Pokhara, so there were
plenty of little shops, restaurants and souvenirs, but much
smaller and quieter than Kathmandu. The lake is stunning, and
the Himalayan mountains looked fabulous wherever you were in the
Huw and I rode the bikes to an Enfield tavern and had a couple
of beers there. Great place, bikes outside, one hanging from the
ceiling in the bar. The table legs were made of truck
crankshafts and ashtrays (remember them) were brake hubs.
We met a girl there who had ridden overland from the UK
travelling across Europe, Turkey, Iran, the Stans, including
Pakistan and India, by herself on a trail bike, she’s on her way
to Australia. The workshop next to the bar was interesting with
a Triumph Cub tucked away at the end of it.
Huw and Elina and a couple of the others decided to do a bit of
paragliding, Huw was getting a bit queasy and turned around to
the guy he was paragliding with and said, “I think I’m going to
be sick”. He grabbed Huw’s head and turned it away so as he
wasn’t going to be covered in breakfast.
Elina “The Brave” went up 18,500ft, amazing. Chris and I rode
up the mountain to have a look, making sure Huw wasn’t above us
We stayed two nights in Pokhara, it was most enjoyable. We were
now heading south through the mountains to the lowlands of
Nepal. Fabulous ride with magnificent scenery.
We would stop for a cup of chai tea when we wanted using the
same places as the locals, I reckon that’s part of the charm of
riding a bike, I don’t think I could stand being in a bus. Where
we were going wasn’t on the tourist track either and we saw no
other “Westerners” the rest of the time in Nepal.
We spent the night in a place called Lumbini, which is the
birthplace of Buddha, which was very interesting.
We spent several days crossing the Plains, sometimes only 100m above sea level. It was a very poor and primitive area, but again the people were very friendly and welcoming.
Having said that wherever we stopped a crowd would gather to
have a look at us, I guess we looked a bit like aliens as we
were well and truly out in the back-blocks.
The only drawback riding was the fog in the morning, it was
quite thick and would hang around for hours as there is no wind.
A city called Biratnagar was interesting. It was very dusty, so
leaving there in the morning was a combination of dust from the
trucks and fog - couldn’t see a thing - and they couldn’t see
By the way it seemed normal in our hotels to wonder if the hot
water was going to be hot, or if the power was going to be on,
and wonder at the electric sockets hanging by their bare wires -
which seemed more common in the bathroom any other room. But it
was all part of the experience and you wouldn’t have it any
By now our small group had got to know each other very well and
we all got on like we’d known each other for years, we had
plenty of laughs and chatted whenever we stopped. As it
was only a small group if someone didn’t fit in it would have
put a damper on the trip so I think we were grateful that we did
get on so well.
After several days riding, sometimes though dense forests we
came to the border of India. Nepal can be chaotic enough, India
is another league of its own.
The locals travel (walk, ride or drive) from Nepal to India without worrying about borders, but we needed stamps in our passports. After a while we found the passport office and a soldier in full military gear, old style bolt-action rifle and sneakers, he found an immigration officer and we were writing forms out before being stamped and back on our bikes.
The amount of traffic (especially trucks) had increased
enormously in India so we took the back roads to Darjeeling -
our destination for the night. The road was shocking, very
pot-holed, narrow but with little traffic.
We were climbing all the time so the views were fabulous and
later in the day tea plantations were the norm - on steep hills
too, I always thought they were on the flat, wrong, they were
We came across a place to park the bikes and stare at the Himalayan mountains in front of us including the third-highest peak in the world, Mt Kangchenjunga - it was stunning, snowcapped with a back-drop of blue sky. Actually we hadn’t seen a cloud since we left Albany.
It was Christmas Eve when we arrived at Darjeeling. It had been
a dusty day and we were covered in it. The hotel where we were
staying was fabulous, a relic from the colonial days. It was
something you might imagine in a movie, we were greeted with
white scarves and sherry, the place was overrun with porters,
waiters etc and the rooms had “coal” fires, hadn’t seen them
since I lived in Wales in the 60’s. It did get very cold at
We had Christmas drinks out on the verandah with fires blazing,
a local band, dancers and for a short time they had me dressed
as Santa Claus - a rehearsal for tomorrow.
We then had a Christmas meal in this fabulous hotel. Next
morning was Christmas Day, it was the first Christmas we had
been away, and even though our daughters had their own families
we still missed them.
But the day we had planned was pretty full. Firstly it was to
the famous (small) Darjeeling Zoo, with Bengal tigers, snow
leopards and other local identities, then to the Everest museum
adjoining the zoo which was very interesting and full of
memorabilia from expeditions throughout the century.
After heading into the main square we went to the shops buying presents for some of the under-
privileged we were to meet that afternoon. Then it was back to the hotel where I dressed up as Father Christmas. Together with my elf and five other bikes we rode (no helmet for me, just a red hat with a white ball - great safety feature) to the local Mother Teresa Refuge.
On the way the locals were waving and shouting out “Father
Christmas” as we rode by - great fun. The refuge is for people
with nowhere else to go, often mentally or physically
handicapped. Some had been there since childhood, so it was
great to be able to give them presents, party hats etc and to
give them a break from the monotony of life in these grim
Carols and music was played, dancing with a lot of laughter. A
local teenage band arrived and started playing, after a while it
was time for us to return to the hotel. Had a ball riding back
too. Then more drinks and another great meal.
Next morning we were heading out of Darjeeling on our way to Bhutan. Remembering we were high up, and the nights were cold, on the outskirts of town on a hill was black ice, the first we had come across - Sheryl came off and Tony a bit close behind had no choice but to run over her bike. They were both OK and our mechanic fixed up Sheryl’s bike.
After that we were very cautious riding through the mountains
especially on bends where the sun had not shone. Having said
that the views were again spectacular, the Himalayas again
bathed in sunshine, we were certainly lucky with the weather -
just look out for the ice.
All day we rode through the mountains till we eventually came
back to the Plains (the Great Gangetic Plateau) we crossed some
huge riverbeds where, when the monsoon is occuring, the rivers
flood the land before crossing into the deltas of Bangladash.
As we rode closer to Bhutan we had to ride along the worst road
we’ve ever ridden. It was 25 kms of dirt with the worst and
biggest pot-holes I’d ever seen, and there was no wind so the
dust clouds caused by trucks would hang around for ages. It was
a relief to come to the end of it.
We reached Bhutan just on dark having gone through more customs
formalities. It was a smart hotel with great food. It was also
our 40th wedding anniversary and we were surprised and delighted
by the presents given to us - Huw & Elina, Mike & Denise
and Amar (our Indian guide) in particular and a card signed by
everyone on the trip.
In each country we visited we had a different back-up vehicle
and driver. Bhutan was no different, but here we also got a
Bhutanese guide, which is part of the condition of travelling
though the country. You also have to pay $US250 tariff a day
each. The number of tourists are restricted as well.
First thing that strikes you about Bhutan is its cleaner and
there’s very little traffic (or people). Also cigarette smoking
in Bhutan is banned - I wonder if it’s the only country in the
As soon as we rode out of the hotel we were climbing, and this
was to be how it was for the next 10 days - either going up, or
down. There are no straight roads and I reckon they average 15
bends per kilometre most of the time.
The road for the first morning was brilliant - good bitumen, bend after bend and fabulous views as we went up and up - and no traffic. After lunch the road narrowed and had more than the occasional pot-hole, this and road works was to be the norm for the next 10 days in Bhutan.
We made our way to Paro, the third largest town in Bhutan. It
was small though, the population being less than Albany, a
lovely place with a river running through the middle, 3000m
above sea level.
One of the striking things about the houses and other buildings in Bhutan was the amount of gigantic penises painted on the outside walls. The penis was excited, shall we say, and it was generally complete with balls and a decorative bow. It was a sign of fertility and strength - obviously held in high regard.
There were sometimes flying ones attached to the corner of buildings. We thought about hanging a couple in Albany ha ha. And Gross National Happiness is a decree given to the people by the King - what a great place to live.
The hotels we had in Bhutan were top
class, the one in Paro was 5 star plus. Huge bedroom/lounge with
heated floor, even the bathroom had a heated floor and the hotel
itself was spectacular, from wherever you looked was views of
fabulous snow-covered mountains.
Having said that the nights were now getting much colder with
heavy frost and ice on the ground in the morning. Paro is close
to the “Tigers Nest” a famous Buddhist monastery build on the
side of a steep hill on a rocky ledge. A lot of Buddhists go
there as a pilgrimage.
It was one of the must things to do - climb up to the “Tigers
Nest”, everyone was keen including Chris of course, so I had
better join them. I had read that it was 750 steps, I thought I
could manage that OK, but that wasn’t quite right. You had to
climb for hours to get to the 750 steps first, all up it took
5½ hours there and back.
The views were fantastic and the monastery well worth looking
at. The pilgrims were giving donations and saying prayers at the
shrines of Buddha, so I thought it was a good idea to donate
something to make sure we got back down in one piece.
Our next stop was Thimphu the
capital, the road there was brilliant, although it was cold. We
passed a giant Buddha on the way into town.
As it wasn’t that far we were there by lunch-time. Ferris
Wheels are very generous in letting you use the bike any time
you want. A lot of other companies don’t do this, so Chris and I
rode through town. We managed to find an Italian/Bhutanese cafe
that sold great coffee - we went back twice.
This was one of the few places that had the internet and ATM machines. Nice clean town though, again with a river through the middle. I realised later that Bhutan is really a country of valleys running from north to south, so when riding across the country we would climb over one pass and into a valley and over another etc, which is why there are so few straight roads and such brilliant scenery. Most passes we crossed were around 3500m, with the highest being nearly 3900m or 12,800ft.
This also means that the roads were narrow and had long drops down the side of the road. If you went off you had no chance, so you were always very aware and looking out for trucks or buses coming towards you on the narrow roads. Having said that most truck drivers were very courteous and patient, pulling over to let us pass when they could.
More next issue.