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June 2013 Club News

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Nepal, India and Bhutan

By Bob Rees

Yaks are still used to carry
          goods in Bhutan.
When we left Thimpu we turned left at a junction and the back wheel slid a little with fingers of ice on the road, a wake-up call to be careful when the sun hasn’t been shining on any part of a road. Once again riding through fabulous scenery we eventually came to a dzong or monastery set in between where two rivers meet.

It was stunning and we were lucky enough to be there when a three-week religious ceremony was happening, so this huge monastery was decked out with all the trimmings, there were thousands of monks and pilgrims there which made quite a sight.

We were welcome to look through the monastery which we did and our Bhutanese guide gave us a good insight into life in these places - it all feels very medieval, actually a lot of the country did. It was back to the hotel beer garden which was by the side of another river, what a life.

Our mechanic fixed a local policeman’s Enfield while we were there, he was very grateful. The bikes had been going very well, with only minor problems which were fixed straight away. Huw had a broken spring in the gearbox which was fixed by the side of the road in minutes and there were a few punctures, and other minor problems, but all up the bikes were going well.

12,400ft up in Bhutan.
The following days were more high passes, great roads and fabulous scenery, even Yaks by the side of the road - one being a bit aggressive. All the hotels were excellent. Often the road would turn to dirt with roadworks, this could go for kilometres and I think the road would stay in that condition for years.

The nights were cold but the days sunny and clear which is the advantage of riding at this time of the year, otherwise the mountains (and views) might be obscured with clouds. Except for Thimpu, the capital, we hadn’t seen any Westerners at all and the further east we went the only people we met were the ones who lived there, they were all very friendly with broad smiles.

Trongsa was a fabulous place, where we stayed we had cabins overlooking valleys, mountains and monasteries. It was Cheryl’s 50th birthday which we celebrated in the dining room complete with huge wood fire and cold beer - brilliant.

At the end of another day we ended up in the Bumthang Valley at a place called Jakar with magnificent hotel overlooking the small town. It was a rough road up to the hotel, but the rooms were huge, very old fashioned. Although it was midday the pipes in the hotel were mostly frozen and a lot of the rooms didn’t have hot water - luckily ours did, great view over the valley too.

Some of these towns, this one included, looked very old, sometimes I felt like we were riding motorbikes in the 17th century. This hotel had a great bar with a pool table, so a competition took place - good fun.

Snow and black Ice makes for
          interesting riding.
Next morning the bikes were covered in thick ice which had to be scraped off, it had been -6C. Riding down the road the ice was cracking under the wheels of the bike as we rode through frozen pot-holes. This was our coldest morning on the bikes, you needed the lot on to keep warm. Crossing one bridge - I waited for a 4WD to come down - put it into 1st gear, let the clutch out and nothing happened, throttle wide open and the back wheel spinning.

The road was covered in thick ice, so I rolled it backwards till there was a bit more grip and then managed to get going again. Mike and Denise had ridden ahead and were waving madly to tell me to get over to the side of the road into the snow where traction was better. It was difficult crossing from one wheel track to the other, but finally made it. It was unbelievable how thick the ice was, but we all made it without falling off.

Streams and rivers were frozen as we rode along. We passed two large herds of Yaks, one herd carrying goods - they were decorated and looked great. The other was a larger herd being driven down the road.
It was a very remote area but beautiful, we were lucky to be riding there.

Archery is the national sport.
We came to another small town called Trashigang - on the side of a mountain of course. As luck would have it they had an annual district archery competition that day, archery being one of the country’s main sports. They have to make the (long) bow out of local trees to use in the competition. The target is 135m away and very small - bullseye being about 150mm. There were 4 teams of 6 archers, when one hit a bullseye they would do a dance - very entertaining. They seemed to be enjoying the local whisky when they were shooting too!

Spectacular waterfalls.Most people throughout Bhutan wore traditional dress by the way, which made these spectacles even more colourful. Had a look in a snooker hall (one table) and watched a game - interesting. I went to one in Kathmandu as well, 2 guys playing on one table and I think a deal going down on the other.

Having travelled across west to the east it was now time to head south. It took a day of riding to get us close to India and the plains. The road was pretty bad for more than 100kms, a dusty narrow dirt road, with plenty of pot-holes and steep drop-offs if you went over the edge. As we were descending we were often riding through clouds, especially later in the day.

The last 25kms of road leading to our hotel (just inside the border) was brilliant, all sweeping bends on a smooth, wide bitumen road, no traffic - best ever. Spent our last night in Bhutan having a drink and a laugh before dinner. We also said goodbye to our Bhutanese guide and driver.

Another back-up vehicle and driver from India arrived to take us on the last leg of our journey. Once again we had to find an official to stamp the passports in a very small office, everything hand-written in his book.

We were back in India, with the traffic, noise, horns and people - it was also much warmer. The road was shocking for the first part of the morning, pot-holed, dirt, and dusty with lots of other traffic. It was a very poor area, which a lot of eastern India seemed to be, but it is always interesting.

We eventually made it to Guwahati, a city of 2 million people which was our final destination for the bikes and where they would be trucked to Delhi (it would take them five days). Traffic was heavy and Guwahati seemed very spread out, Cheryl and Tony took a wrong turn, which can lead to a lot of problems, but we eventually regrouped and found our hotel, which was very smart.

We parked the bikes and congratulated ourselves on having made it in one piece. Gave the bikes a pat and headed to the bar to celebrate, time for a shower later. The hotel had a glass lift attached to the outside of the building which went as far as the 8th floor. Huw and Elina and Chris and I were in it when the power went out - in between floors. Manual mode set in and it took us slowly down to the next floor, I was a bit wary of that lift after that.

We had a farewell dinner that night in the hotel, it had been a great ride and we had enjoyed each others company very much. Next day we had a look around the city in Tuk Tuks before we boarded the plane for the domestic flight to Calcutta - not much room between rows of seats, so we were jammed in.

Slums, railway line, market and
          rubbish in Kolkatta (Calcutta).
Arriving in Calcutta (or Kolkatta) late afternoon Huw and Elina, Chris and I organised a yellow taxi (they are the same as Morris Oxford’s of the 1950’s). Once we were crammed in with our luggage we headed for the “Bodhi Tree” Guest House where we were staying for 3 nights.

Interesting trip - to fit us all in Elina sat in the front next to the driver sitting cross-legged on the seat as a suitcase had taken up the legroom space. Also the driver didn’t know where he was going, and neither did most people he stopped and asked, but with Elina’s help he managed to find it.

The “Bodhi Tree” was a fabulous place, much different to the hotels we were used too - Google it and have a look. Next day we had arranged to meet Cheryl and Chilli (from Canberra) at the main Calcutta Train Station. It was a huge place, very interesting, with thousands of people inside and hundreds of yellow taxis outside. But amazingly we found them.

We walked across the Howrah Bridge (which is huge) with thousands more people before having a look at the famous flower market - interesting shall we say. We were in downtown Calcutta and it felt like it, but at least you get a feel for the place and you’re not pestered by people trying to sell you stuff.

We had lunch in a small cafe before heading back to a famous old Colonial hotel where we had a farewell drink with Cheryl and Chilli. Plenty of history in this place and amazing photos on the walls. Then a taxi back to where we were staying - he didn’t know where to go either, but they’re not worried so why should we be?

Next day we hired a driver and air conditioned car to see the sights of Calcutta - the population including suburbs is around 15 million. I think they were all out and about. But we did see some very interesting places including the Victoria Memorial, which is fabulous and visited a Mother Therese orphanage and Hindu temple.

That evening we had our most expensive meal in the flashiest restaurant, but still cheaper than an average restaurant in Australia. Next day it was time to say goodbye to Huw and Elina as they were headed for Delhi and the Taj Mahal. Chris and I had been there before and instead flew home.

The Enfield and us.
Great holiday and company, and the weather had been perfect, sunny every day. “Ferris Wheels” were very professional - now where next Chris?

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