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