Northeast India (Assam, Nagaland, Manipur, Meghalaya)

Man and his motorbike:
There’s something about exploring the countryside on a motorbike. It’s fast enough for exploration and covering some decent area and at the same time, it’s slow enough to really soak in the experience. Plus, the motorbike engine definitely beats a bicycle when you have to ride uphill!

The destination:
Guwahati is the gateway to exploring the northeastern states of India. It has an international airport although we had to fly via Kolkata to reach Guwahati. There are seven states in northeast India and we (Hannes, Prashant and I) had budgeted 7 days of riding to explore them. Meaning, we had to choose about 3 out of the 7 states so we wouldn’t fall into the trap of covering as much ground as possible without really soaking in the place. Otherwise, that would be like cramming for an exam without understanding what is being taught

Northeastern states of India:

  • Arunachal Pradesh: Capital city: Itanagar. Good old China claims that this state belongs to them. Their map doesn’t really delineate this state as “disputed” either. It simply assumes its theirs! With any visit to a disputed region comes the trouble of arranging many permits. We couldn’t be bothered to go through all the hassle – so we decided to skip Arunchal Pradesh this time around
  • Assam: Capital city: Dispur
  • Manipur: Capital city: Imphal
  • Meghalaya: Capital city: Shillong
  • Mizoram: Capital city: Aizawl
  • Nagaland & Tripura: Capital city: Kohima and Agartala
  • Sikkim: Capital city: Gangtok. Prashant and I did a motorbike ride to Sikkim and Bhutan some years back. I remember having visited a zoo in Gangtok. Although Sikkim is in India, it feels nothing like India. (I mean the place – not the zoo! Monkey, bear, tiger = mostly same, same everywhere!) Sikkim became a separate state of India in 1975. It has a very Tibetan feel to it. North Sikkim is definitely a place to re-visit but since new places usually take precedence on a exploratory motorbike ride, we were going to skip Sikkim

The Planning:

  • Travel light and shiver at night: In the past, when we rode to Leh / Nubra valley and other high altitude places, I had a back-breaking backpack with me which would rest uncomfortably on the backseat of the motorbike. In addition to the literal pain in the rear from riding for several days, another figurative pain in the rear was definitely monkeying around with the bungee cords that fastened the backpack to the rear of the bike. Under high altitude, this was even more hard and annoying. Luckily, my kind friend Prashant would always come to help me. (All I had to do was to exaggerate my high-altitude symptoms!) This time, after becoming more mature and reading ’30 days with a Navy SEAL’ by Jesse Itzler, I decided to live right on the border of being comfortable and being uncomfortable. Meaning, “travel light, shiver at night”. During the day, it’s great and during the night, well, not so great! Especially, if it’s very cold
  • The Excel: Where to go? What to do? And, for how long? This is the not-so-enjoyable part of travel. Luckily, Prashant came to the rescue (as always). His Excel was going to be our mini Bible for the trip. Here it is. We also downloaded the maps for NE India from maps.me so we could navigate easily without the need for data on the phone (love that app). After debating which plan to follow on the Excel, we settled on Plan B. Meaning, we’d skip Mizoram but we’d have enough time to do side trips in the afternoons in Assam / Manipur / Meghalaya and Nagaland. We wrote down some of the possible side trips over here

The Dates:

  • A ticket that cost us (Hannes and I) close to HKD 9,000 took us from Hong Kong to Guwahati via Kolkata so we would arrive in Guwahati at 7am on Friday morning, 30th September 2016. We would depart on October 7th evening which meant we had around 8 days of riding to explore some of the northeastern states

The execution:
 
Thursday, 29th September 2016:

  • We took a Dragon Air flight from Hong Kong to Kolkata. Just as the plane was taxiing to take off from Hong Kong, we saw an opportunity to grab the empty “emergency exit” seats behind us. Free premium cattle class seats
  • Kolkata airport looked much better than the previous time I was there. They had many signs in the airport that announced that they were awarded “the most improved airport” in 2013

Friday, 30th September 2016:

  • We boarded a Jet Airways flight from Kolkata to Guwahati
  • We met our third partner-in-crime for this motorbike trip at Hotel Dynasty. Prashant seemed to have put on quite some serious weight since the last time I saw him. I told him that without any sugar coating but Hannes was more kind in his remarks
  • We got our ‘inner line permits’ done (Indians need them to travel in the northeast) and took a cab to Awe Rides to get our three Royal Enfield Classic 350cc motorbikes, aka Bullets
  • At about 3pm, we were riding in style towards Nagaon (140km from Guwahati) on three new Enfields
  • Both leaving Guwahati and entering Nagaon was a rather stressful activity because of the heavy traffic. We got separated in the beginning (Prashant went a different way and Hannes and I were together but went another way) but thanks to maps.me and two local phones we had for communication, we were eventually reunited. Before phones and maps.me, I am not sure what we would have done!
  • It took us around three hours to reach Nagaon. The route was alright (mainly good roads and some greenery) but the traffic in the beginning and at the end was not so enjoyable. During our heavy dinner in a hotel in Nagaon, we decided to make time by riding all the way to Kohima the next day instead of stopping at Dimapur which was the original plan. That way we would get out of the cities and traffic much sooner and ride into the hills

Saturday, 1st October 2016

  • We were all ready by 6.30am and walked down to the lobby where we met Derek, a cool looking fellow tourist who introduced himself as an ‘angler’. I didn’t know that word. (I am still not sure I got it right – need to google it). Fishing was his passion (the guys who do it seriously are called ‘anglers’) and he was explaining to us how fishing, as a sport, was actually a lot tougher than it seems. “Different fish have different sink lines and baits”, he explained. I asked him how much of good fishing was luck vs skill and his response was “100% skill”. Apparently, vegetarians go fishing too and release the fish after catching them
  • Derek also told us about Dimapur, our intended destination for the first half of the day. “Rustic” is how he described it. He also called it “a small town”
  • We set off at 7am and exited a quieter Nagaon and entered the hilly roads towards Dimapur which was a big relief from the conjested traffic of the previous day
  • Nagaland didn’t quite feel like India. (Nagaon is in the state of Assam and Dimapur is in Nagaland).  I was told that the staple food there was beef and Christianity was the most practiced religion there, not Hinduism
  • These cows below were likely headed for the slaughter house
  • The Indian democracy meant that the roads equally belonged to goats and cows and we had to always watch out for them. Sometimes I wonder how these animals can sit smack bang in the middle of the road without fearing a collision. Are they really that stupid that they cannot anticipate death from a traffic accident? Wouldn’t fast moving traffic look like predators to them? And, do animals think? What do they do sitting on that road all day long with their eyes open? How do they avoid feeling restless and useless?
  • Upon reaching Dimapur, we went to the Foreign Registration Office to register Hannes in. The lady in the office couldn’t speak Hindi but she spoke great English. Like other Naga people, she spoke with a nice Naga accent which sounded like you were talking to someone who has combined the Singaporean / Japanese / Philippino accents. Which was another thing I found very different about Nagaland. Like Bhutan, English worked everywhere and girls seemed to do most of the work! Policewoman, army women carrying AKs and M16s (no kidding! We saw many great looking women carrying machine guns. Imagine how distracting it would be to fight them! ) The army presence in the region was certainly palpable. We saw many army trucks and army jeeps. A soldier invariably stuck out from the jeeps sporting a machine gun. Looked like some sort of a scene from CNN!
  • As you can see from the photo below, the Nagaland girls don’t look Indian at all
  • Soon we found out that Derek’s definition of “rustic” to describe Dimapur didn’t exactly match ours! Dimapur was not a “small town” but more like a “city” which turned out to be very congested, polluted and dirty! We wanted to get out of there as soon as possible so we left rather quickly on our 80km ride to Kohima. We had 4 hours to do the 80km ride. (In northeast India, during the time we went at least, the sun rose early around (5am) and set early around (5.30pm) so we had to make sure we’d reach Kohima well before 6pm otherwise it would be pitch dark)
  • The road to Kohima was built by the BRO (Border Roads Organization) and they had quite a number of clever slogans on the road to impart some wisdom to those like us who use these roads
    1. Driving risky after whisky
    2. If opportunity does not knock build a door
    3. Life is a highway without a test drive
  • Kohima appeared to be much nicer compared to Dimapur. It was at an altitude of around 1400m above sea level. Again, I was surprised at how different it was to India. The theme repeated itself – very different culture, Chinese / Burmese looks, flawless English and broken Hindi! Girls seemed to do most of the work there (like Bhutan)
  • Entering Kohima
  • I saw paid toilets for the first time in India in Kohima (best way to ensure that both your bowels and your wallet will become lighter)
  • A lot of the words in Nagalese sounded Tibetan and they even had the “umlaut” in their words (the German U with the two dots on top). Pronounced ‘ah’
  • After some googling, the first place we wanted to stay at in Kohima was a place called “Hotel Majestic” which turned out to be full so we settled for a neighboring hotel called “Hotel Ura”
  • As you can see from the menu below, the local cuisines invariably included pork and chicken in Nagaland
  • I was quite pleased with Kohima so we decided to spend another day there and do a nature hike in Dzukou Valley the next day

Sunday, 2nd October 2016

  • The plan was to get up at 6am, have breakfast by 6.30am and leave for Dzukou valley by 7am for a hike that would feel like “heaven has landed upon planet Earth” according to a blog we read
  • Here’s a morning pic of Kohima from our balcony in Hotel Ura
  • We had to ride 25km to Viswema Village or 20km to Zakhama village (both on the way to Manipur) to get to the trail head. We chose to ride to Viswema village
  • More BRO signs on the way to Viswema village:
    1. Life is how to make it, it’s 90% how to take it
    2. Know safety, no injury. No safety, know injury
    3. Don’t drive fast. Otherwise you’ll have an urgent meeting with God
    4. Life is an occasion. Rise to it
    5. Stop accidents before they stop you
    6. The problem with drinking and driving is the mourning after
    7. This is not a rally. Enjoy the valley
  • Viswema village was nothing more than a collection of a few small houses. We needed directions to get to the trailhead and one lone guy we asked told us to take this road all the way to the end and pointed to a rather ominous looking “road”
  • This “road” was not one for the motorbikes – or so I thought. Gravel, puddles of water, big rocks, slushes and a threateningly uneven surface. But before I could launch my protests, Hannes and Prashant took off on their Enfields like rockets! I had no choice but to put on a brave face and copy their act
  • I almost fell off my bike several times and had to take many brief stops to calm my nerves down! Hannes was like a fish in water and Prashant seemed to be coping just fine
  • At one point, even hero Hannes thought it best to ‘park and walk’. I was already afraid of riding the bike back down and could feel the cortisol build up in my body
  • This 6km bike ride up that dirt road felt like eternity but took only 30 minutes. The walk to the trail head took another 15 minutes or so. We then started climbing some steep steps to the viewpoint
  • Prashant, who doesn’t really exercise much, needed several butt-kicks to get him up to 2700m (we started at an elevation of 2300m). It took us 90 minutes to do just 1.5km. After that, Prashant refused to go any further but in all fairness to him, for a person who doesn’t exercise at all, it was great going
  • These sort of signs promoting tree plantation and animal awareness were eveywhere
  • An “easier” section on that dirt road
  • It was 12.20pm by the time we got to the viewpoint. Prashant felt like an old man already and didn’t want to go any further. The view we got from the viewpoint was only that of clouds as the visibility was quit bad! Hannes suggested that I run to the valley from the viewpoint (another 6km or so) while Prashant and him would head back down. I had until 2pm to meet them back at the bikes. I took him up on that offer and switched to running mode
  • It took me 40 minutes to run to Dzukou valley from the viewpoint. It was quite an awesome trail run. The views were spectacular and the air was pure! The descriptions of this place on the internet kind of exaggerated its beauty but I probably feel that way because I have had the good fortune of traveling to many places around the world. This valley was certainly lush and serene and stunning but other places I’ve been to have had a deeper impact on my soul. Here are some pics of the valley
  • This was the guesthouse on top
  • “Plucking of flowers dry or fresh will be fine!” He’s missing a “d”
  • This is Dzukou Valley – look at the rolling hills
  • I ran back in about 40 minutes and completed my 10km run! Then I saw Prashant and Hannes near the end of the steep steps section
  • We concluded the hike in around 5 hours or so
  • I was very nervous about the motorbike ride back down on the dirt road but after that nice 10km trail run, my nerves were much more cool and I followed Hannes’ riding tips and also psyched myself up: think “it’s losing control that’s scary not fear itself”. I just tried to make sure I’d have control over the bike and Hannes offered me some great tips for establishing and maintaining that control
  • We concluded the day with a great meal. Prashant ended up “meditating” soon after we got back. He called it meditation but the last time I checked, snoring isn’t supposed to be a by product of meditation!

Monday, 3rd October 2016

  • The plan was to have breakfast by 6.30am and start riding to Imphal (Manipur) by 7.30am
  • I felt a little sad to leave Nagaland. Nice state, such friendly and chilled out people, beautiful Naga girls, interesting Nagalese language and good weather. The starry night view from the balcony of the hotel was a sight to remember (this iPhone pic doesn’t do justice to the sight)
  • Here’s the same view in the morning
  • After having said goodbye to the pretty Naga lady at the reception of Hotel Ura, we departed for Loktak Lake in Manipur at around 7am
  • I saw more interesting BRO signs along the way:
    1. Drivers are safer when roads are dry. Roads are safer when the driver is dry
    2. It’s a long road but it’s worth it
    3. Be soft on curves
    4. Don’t mix drinking and driving
  • Prashant had his first fall. He went over some rock and fell down. Luckily, other than some slight petrol spill, there was no further damage to him or the bike but it was sure a scary sight
  • The small petrol spill after Prashant’s fall
  • There was a big battle here back in the day in 1944
  • The ride to Imphal took us close to 4 hours on a road that was kind of ok but full of potholes. It got very hot as we left the Kohima (1400m) and rode down to Imphal (800m). Hindi replaced Nagalese and people started to look more Indian rather than Chinese / Tibetan. (Amazing what a difference 150km can make!)
  • We reached Loktak lake in Manipur after 7 hours of riding (averaging 30kmh). The lake was nice and our accommodation by the lake was great but I would choose Kohima and Nagaland over Manipur any day!
  • On the way to Loktak Lake
  • The lake
  • Hannes was extra pleased after we got hold of “Diablo” beer in the evening. The guy we bought the beer from told us that he had to smuggle them into Manipur from Bangladesh and charged us INR 200 per can
  • On the agenda for the next day was a return to Assam – a 250km ride from Loktak Lake to Silchar in Assam

Tuesday, 4th October 2016

  • As usual, we got up at 6am and had our breakfast at 6.30am
  • I headed out to put my shoes on and as I was dusting my shoes, a big frog jumped out of it!! (Lesson: never leave your shoes outside the room!)
  • The original plan was to take the highway to Imphal and then another highway (NH37) to Silchar in Assam. However to avoid the boring traffic and smoke from the vehicles, we decided to take the scenic route from Loktak lake. This scenic route was supposed to bypass the first highway and then directly connect to NH37
  • Initially on this scene route, there were just a few puddles and many rubbles to negotiate. Given the challenge we successfully undertook during the Dzukou Valley day, we thought that this scenic route would be a breeze. BIG MISTAKE
  • The photos below show the good part of the scenic route – (this river is called river Barek and it flows into Bangladesh)
  • The scenic beauty sort of went unappreciated after a while because of the very challenging road conditions! It was like riding a motorbike on a mountain trail. The slushy roads meant frequent dancing around on the motorbike just to prevent a fall. It felt like riding on ice!
  • A lot of the road was like this!
  • This uphill stretch was beyond Prashant and I. Hannes rode all our bikes up this stretch
  • Then came a nasty river crossing. It reminded me of our time in Leh, India. By this time, I had had enough! I was ready to see good roads again and really wanted to get to NH37 (National Highway 37) as soon as possible. We had been riding on this crappy road for close to 6 hours when we met this lady who told us that we would hit the NH37 highway in 6 more kilometers. In reality, it took us more like 12km and there was plenty more slush and ultra narrow trails to negotiate before we got there! Hannes got stuck two times there in the slush
  • This is the river crossing before we hit NH37
  • At about 1.30pm, we hit NH37 and celebrated with some high fives. We had 150km more to go on proper roads to reach Silchar
  • And, boy were we wrong! NH37 had certain stretches that made our recent challenge look like a walk in the park! We didn’t know this but NH37 was actually closed because of landslides! And, calling it a “highway” makes me squirm! There were some good sections but they were interspersed with potholes and slush like we had never seen before!
  • We thought we were on target to reaching Silchar at 6pm (30 minutes after sunset) but at about 4pm we got stuck in the mother of all slushes! We couldn’t get our bikes out of the slush
  • Some trucks were waiting there for 10 days for the JCB (road fixing machine) to repair the road
  • We gave up on that section after trying to help each other by pushing the bikes up as hard as we could to extricate the wheels from the mud. Eventually, we decided to pay our way out of the situation and asked a truck driver to help us in exchange for money
  • It was 6pm and already dark. Vehicles were trapped in the slush which made it harder for our bikes to get though. We even thought of spending the night there. Sweating profusely and depleted of energy, we sat down at some place by the road and pondered our options. Paying our way out wasn’t working either as the slush and the traffic stuck in it meant that there was simply no way to ride the bikes out of it
  • Riding through this wasn’t easy!
  • This truck was stuck in the mud like many other vehicles
  • Getting the bike out of this slush was a nightmare
  • We tried again but eventually, we just sat down by the side of the road tired and exhausted. We debated our options and eventually decided to walk over to the truck drivers one more time to ask them for help. Hannes guarded our bags while Prashant and I went over to try our luck again
  • The truck driver and the owner of the truck told me that “people need to help each other in moments of trouble” and asked me to not talk about money. They told me that money sullies good deeds. With that, soon after some of the stuck vehicles were extricated, the truck driver and the owner helped us get all the three bikes out to the other side of the bridge. (A bridge at the end of this slushy section supposedly delineated the good side of the road from the bad). We thanked them profusely. They didn’t want any talk of money. I was happy to note that such good people still exist. People can be good natured if they so choose. In fact, I was thankful for having had this experience just so I could witness such acts of kindness and remember them. This driver had been stuck there for 10 days and was living of INR 50 (HKD 6) a day! He had no place to stay other than a little camp by the truck – still he didn’t want any talk of money!
  • We thought that we were over the bridge (literally and figuratively) but the nightmarish slush still continued, albeit on a smaller scale. We now had to negotiate them in the dark! We had been lucky with the weather (slush aside, at least it didn’t rain! I was scared to think what our situation would have been like had it rained)
  • Several more potholes and slushy surfaces later, we reached a village at about 8pm. We then continued to ride into Silchar on rather bumpy roads and reached at around 10pm! Our longest ever ride!
  • This is was my bike looked like
  • At 10pm, Silchar looked like a dump. Luckily, I found a shoe seller there and bought a new pair of shoes! The sole of my shoes got yanked off when I was pushing the bike up that horrible slush.
  • Look at my poor old shoes! They’ve been with me for close to 10 years and have traveled to many exotic places with me but they eventually met a rather cruel demise in Sichar of all places!
  • Upon reaching Silchar, tired and exhausted as we were from the day’s unanticipated adventure, more effort was needed as we struggled to find a hotel. After roaming around for 30 minutes, we finally found one. Later we came to know that these hotels were less willing to rent out rooms to single guys as they feared that these guys would wreck the place by smoking weed and hiring hookers!
  • Hannes had to fill up some special ‘Foreigners Form’ to identify himself at the hotel we finally found. He wasn’t happy. The hotel guy told us that since Silchar was close to the Bangladesh border more checking was necessary. Hannes told the hotel guy that he was from Switzerland, not Pakistan, Bangladesh or Baramulla! The hotel guy relented and waived the requirement for all foreigners to report to the police station before they could rent a room!
  • We were super tired and decided to break the 6am wake up protocol. Instead, we chose to sleep in for another hour and got up at 7am. We decided to give off road biking a rest!

Wednesday, October 5th 2016

  • National Highway 6 to Shillong was the plan! The two words “National Highway” were enough to send a shiver down my spine. Images of extricating bikes from deep slushes and negotiating very deep potholes immediately came to mind
  • The good part of all the highways is that the BRO signs are always worth reading. Here’s another:
    1. If everything comes your way, you’re in the wrong lane
    2. (I take that to mean stop having a victim attitude in life. Change your lane instead)
  • The first half of our 290km ride from Silchar to Shillong was like watching a supposedly great movie that’s punctuated by many long, boring and annoying ads. Meaning, the views on occasion were spectacular and even certain sections of this highway were smooth as butter but around 30% of it felt like we were riding donkeys, not bikes. Each puddle sent a jolt up my butt. At one point I had simply had enough. And, that’s when I received even more butt jolts
  • After crossing into Meghalaya, the road conditions dramatically improved. In fact, we are even averaging around 50kmh! Also, Meghalaya reminded me of Nagaland and Kohima. Great weather (a pleasant 22 degrees or so), hilly area, clean and absolutely green. Tall trees, lush meadows and many rice plantations. In fact, I think this place is probably the best state to visit in northeast India
  • Meghalaya means “abode of the clouds”. Here’s why:
  • Silchar was predominantly a Muslim city (I saw many guys with beards and many mosques around). Just 100km away, after entering Meghalaya, Christianity dominated the region. Amazing how India is so secular
  • The “smooth as butter” road! What a contrast to National Highway 37!
  • Upon reaching Shillong, we put ourselves in the outskirts of the city at a resort (we went splurging on the last two days of our adventure in northeast India). The plan for the next day was to explore Cherrapunji, the wettest place on Earth!

Thursday, 6th October 2016

  • We had a lay in but I got up early to explore the greenery. As I stepped out into  the balcony, I saw Hannes was up as well
  • Our “Executive Room” in a resort in Meghalaya – Hannes offering me a “ricola”
  • The plan for the day was to explore Cherrapunji. Being the wettest place on Earth, I anticipated rain but it so happened that we luckily eluded rain all the time!
  • Prashant had a “duty call” (no, I don’t mean he needed to piss or dump, I mean he ended up having to work) so it was Hannes and I who went on a Cherrapunji exploration trip
  • The 80km ride out of our resort via Shillong city was a truly awesome ride (other than the part where we had to enter a conjested Shillong city and get out of it) but the attractions in Sohra (just beyond Cherrapunji) seemed like the work of a clever marketing guy at best. There was no substance to it. For example, we went to an Eco Park where they charged us entry tickets plus some more for the camera. The park had some puddles of water, views that were inferior to Tai Mo Shan and that’s it! The cave was also a similar “oversold” attraction!
  • What was truly an attraction was the ride itself. Riding the Enfield through pristine villages and meadows felt like THE medicine for the soul
  • The sun rays coming through (throughout this holiday), we somehow evaded the rain! It either rained before or after we got to a particular place
  • Clouds impacting the visibility
  • The first waterfalls we saw
  • A Presbyterian Church
  • This is what the Enfield looked like before we found someone to wash it for us!
  • The after picture!
  • We returned from Cherrapunji to our resort in 1 hour and 45 minutes covering 80kms rather quickly. Poor prashant was still busy with his call of duty
  • Today being the penultimate day on our holiday, we decided to party a little. The next day would be our last ride on this holiday as we would be returning to Guwahati and catching a flight back to Hong Kong

Friday, 7th October 2016

  • The last ride of the holiday was the final 90km ride from Orchid Lake Resort in the outskirts of Shillong back to Guwahati to return the bikes
  • We managed to evade rain on pretty much all the 7 days of our adventure but we ran into rain on this very last day when the ride back to Guwahati was only 2 hours long! My rain gear was buried at the bottom of the bag which didn’t help! But, luckily, it did not rain long
  • We reached Guwahati around 1230pm and returned the bikes. 1474kms was the total mileage on this adventure! The bikes were very well behaved and I was sure I’d miss riding the Enfield. I’m really glad we had zero mechanical problems with the bikes
  • We did our farewell lunch at “Hotel Delicacy” which came highly recommended by the lady at the bike shop. I think she oversold the place a little or maybe I am not such a big fan of Assamese food
  • Then it was time to head back to the airport and make the longish journey back to the hustle and bustle of Hong Kong

Miscellaneous photos:

  • I didn’t know this but the Naga people like their music! Hotel Heritage in Kohima had a rock concert going on. The place was full so we missed the chance to stay there
  • View of Kohima city from Hotel Ura
  • Look at the promises politians make before they get elected. Saw this sign board in Guwahati
  • Northeast India is famous for its rhinos. Although we weren’t able to visit Kaziranga park this time around, you see from the statue below in Guwahati airport that rhinos are a big deal there. In fact, I was thinking you could use a rhino pic in the stock market too – bull = strong market, bear = weak market, rhino = ultra bullish market because a rhino can kick a bull’s ass anytime! Or can it?
  • Here’s what I saw in Kohima – about their dream
  • A local movie poster in Kohima!
  • What is “gruffing”? And why is playing cards prohibited?
  • Shillong City – the only hill station with motorable roads to other destinations? Really?
  • My master photo of the lake from near Orchid Lake Resort on the outskirts of Shillong
  • A “reflection” photo of the lake
  • No helmet, no petrol!

 

Summary:

  • We got a taste of Assam (Guwahati, Nagaon, Silchar), Nagaland (Dimapur, Kohima), Manipur (Imphal, Loktak Lake) and Meghalaya (Shillong, Cherrapunji, Sohra) on this trip. We skipped Mizoram, Tripura and Arunachal Pradesh. Prashant and I had toured Sikkim before (both Gangtok and North Sikkim). Judging by what I’ve seen so far, I’d rank Nagaland, Sikkim and Meghalaya highly. Assam and Manipur would take the backseat. I found them to be too crowded and polluted compared to the other states
  • The inner line permits for Prashant and I and registering Hannes at the Foreigners Registration Office seemed to be a mere formality. Had someone stopped us, those things might have been needed but otherwise it was just excess baggage
  • I saw firsthand that India is really quite secular! Hinduism in Assam, Christianity in Nagaland and Meghalaya, Muslim and Hinduism in Manipur and Buddhism in Sikkim!
  • I observed that tobacco chewing seemed overly popular in Assam. Even young and otherwise attractive girls had red teeth as though they were dressed for Halloween! It’s a serious problem that Assam needs to tackle!
  • Oh, last but certainly not least, I learnt to never take NH37 again! That’s one road that’s best left untaken!

 

 

 

Kick Ass Motorbiking Adventure in Ladakh (July 2015)

After eight long years, the mountains of Ladakh, India beckoned again. The motorbikes were calling out our names. High altitude passes, river streams and meandering roads were waiting to be crossed yet another time on a motorbike — this time on Royal Enfields. And so began the planning of our motorbike trip to Ladakh from Manali. Prashant, my friend and travel mate on our two previous motorbike rides in Ladakh organized this one too. Bold Swiss motorbike rider and fellow Hong Konger, Hannes also joined us for our kick ass motorbiking adventure in Ladakh during July 2015.

Photo courtesy: Hannes (he’s a better photographer than I am). All photos are here.

Hannes’ PowerPoint collage

2015-07-13, Chennai to Manali

  1. I took a flight into Delhi from Chennai. Flight landed 5 minutes early (Go IndiGo Air!) and met Prashant and Hannes at about 1945 outside the airport
  2. Took a pretty long taxi ride (saw India Gate, Red Fort on the way) and reached a super crowded ISBT (big intercity Delhi bus stand) at about 2100. Bus stand was a cacophony of activity
  3. Took a bus to Manali. Had front row seats. Hannes even helped fix a puncture en route at 3am while Prashant and I were asleep despite the rather uncomfortable seats
At ISBT bus stand

At ISBT bus stand

15-hour bus ride. Fixing a puncture at 3am

15-hour bus ride. Fixing a puncture at 3am

2015-07-14, Getting bikes plus permits in Manali

  1. reached Manali at 1.15pm (left at 2200 the previous day) making this the longest bus ride of my lifetime. 15 hours on a bus that stopped almost everywhere and even had puncture problems
  2. got the motorbikes from the Trip Advisor rated bikerentalmanali.com. Their shop was in a place called Vashisht in Manali. Luckily, the gears on the Enfield were on the left side. I got the new Thunderbird 350cc which was only a month old. Prashant and Hannes had classic Enfield 350cc bikes. Bike guy whose name was Abhinav Sood, seemed to be running a pretty lucrative business. Reliable guy but made us sign a million forms to indemnify his company against this, that, etc (guess he needs to). Bikes were in great condition
  3. got the permits done to cross Rohtang Pass at the SDM (not sure what that stands for) but it’s a pretty dull looking bureaucratic office in Manali City by the bus stand. We then tested the bikes out and slept like a log for 8 hours to recover from the 15-hour bus ride
Room in Manali

Room in Manali

Hannes with his "Black Beauty"

Hannes with his “Black Beauty”

Prashant and his Enfield

Prashant and his Enfield

Suited and booted and ready to go

Suited and booted and ready to go

Loading up on gas

Loading up on gas

2015-07-15, Manali to Jispa

  1. set off on our kick ass bike journey at 7am in the morning. Meandering roads, slushy terrain and dust-filled air greeted us on the first half of our ride. That and plenty of careful overtaking of heavy tucks that stirred up dust straight into our faces. The challenge of riding on slushy mountainous roads blended with the magnificence of the mountain itself
  2. the new Thunderbird 350cc I was riding definitely looked old after I crossed the muddy roads of Rohtang pass (about 3800m). The shock absorbers were put to good test during and after crossing Rohtang. We averaged around 16km per hour until Sissu (after Rohtang). It was rather an amusing sight to watch tourists dressed up in full blown snow suits when there was very little snow to see! It was like wearing a raincoat for protection from a small puddle of water in the remote distance
  3. we continued on after Rohtang and eventually reached Jispa at around 4pm (9 hours later) covering about 110km on Day 1 of our kick ass riding
  4. Jispa was quite beautiful. We found tent like accommodation with a proper toilet. It started to rain as soon as we were parked and settled! I even caught a rainbow from the toilet window
On the way to Rohtang Pass

On the way to Rohtang Pass

Little but of snow en route. Tourists wore a full snow suit for this!

Little but of snow en route. Tourists wore a full snow suit for this!

Hannes enjoying a Kingfisher in Jispa

Hannes enjoying a Kingfisher in Jispa

This is Jispa

This is Jispa

2015-07-16, Jispa to Pang

  1. Quite a hard day! We left Jispa early but got stuck at Baralacha La Pass. Two vehicles got stuck in a rather ominous looking river crossing. We waited for two hours for the army to clear the road using something called a JCB (some big crane). Later, Hannes was the first one among us to attempt to cross that stream. He rode through the bouldery stream crossing like a daredevil punk and succeeded in his first attempt! I needed help and almost fell. Prashant followed suit and made a successful attempt. More such stream crossings appeared and demanded some heavy motorbiking skills
  2. The lake at Baralacha La pass at 4927 meters was dazzling. Serene and picturesque. I remembered seeing this lake 8 years back in June when it was frozen. Now it appeared vast and was quite a sight. After the lake, came two very beautiful high altitude passes. Nakeela La at 4961m and Lachung La at 5097m. I almost lost control of the bike while negotiating a slope after Lachung La. Prashant had his first fall which resulted in a minor knee injury
  3. We finally ended up at a place called Pang at 4.30pm, which was at about 4500m above sea level. Although we did not want to stay at such an altitude, we were out of time and could not continue riding. Staying at Pang was a nightmare. We had basic tent like accommodation with many others. It was super cold and noisy (I also contributed to it through my occasional snoring). All the three of us had an altitude headache. Hannes didn’t sleep a wink. The previous two times I had stayed at Pang was in 2008/2009. Both times, I vomited and felt like someone had beaten me up. This time, the lady at the place gave me some ginger tea which really helped. I managed to spend the night at Pang without puking. I even ventured out quickly during the night to look at the stars. It was quite a sight! But, my visual treat was interrupted by my olfactory senses which detected the pungent smell of human excreta nearby! I gave the stargazing a rest and went back into the tent to try and resume my sleep despite the sharp high altitude headache
Truck stuck in Barlacha La pass

Truck stuck in Barlacha La pass

We had to wait for the army JCB to clear this mess

We had to wait for the army JCB to clear this mess

Prashant and Hannes wondering what to do next

Prashant and Hannes wondering what to do next

JCB tows away the van

JCB tows away the van

Hannes readies to cross

Hannes readies to cross

Finally made it through

Finally made it through

Barlacha La pass

Barlacha La pass

This is Barlilacha Lake. Usually frozen in winter

This is Barlilacha Lake. Usually frozen in winter

Nakeela Pass

Nakeela Pass

Pang - our resting abode for the night

Pang – our resting abode for the night

2015-07-17, Pang to Leh

  1. with much difficulty, we got out of our horrible tented accommodation in Pang. I got out to look at the toilets and immediately averted my eyes! First of all, I had trouble deciding where exactly the toilet was. The pungent smell my nose detected seemed to come from pretty much everywhere! Pieces of feces lay strewn around like landmines beyond a distance which was hardly a stone’s throw away. I decided that my own excreta was best contained within the confines of my intestines. Hannes proudly announced that he had gotten a nice one out the previous day on the mountains just before we got into Pang. Anyway, we got back on the bikes, happily left Pang, and it was then one relatively fast ride into More Plains, a 50km stretch of flat roads in the high altitude plains. We then hit another high altitude pass called Tanglang La pass at 5353m. Stunning. There was a temple there but I didn’t have enough energy to remove my shoes and go in, so I skipped going inside
  2. after Tanglang La pass, there was a meandering road that took us to Rumtse (4300m). Then we hit Upshi after another 50km of riding. The roads all the way from Pang were very good
  3. riding into Leh from Upshi was such a pleasure! There was a river hugging the winding road and I managed to hit 90kmh on the Enfield on many occasions
  4. upon reaching Leh, we found good accommodation in a hotel called Grand Willow (finally had access to a good toilet again!) After checking in, showering and getting rid of intestinal waste, we walked around to try and get permits done to visit Nubra Valley and Panagong Lake. (Since these places are close to border regions, one needs to get permits). Getting permits for Hannes seemed like a struggle initially. Apparently, non Indians can only get permits if there is at least two of them traveling together! I am not sure what a solo non Indian traveler would do! Anyway, some money and a travel agent up the road solved this problem for us by combining Hannes’ permit with some other non Indians. It was funny to see that they wrote down that Hannes was from “Swaziland” and not Switzerland in the permit!
The Moray plains

The Moray plains

Tanglang La pass (5300m). Couldn't go into the temple here

Tanglang La pass (5300m). Couldn’t go into the temple here

On the way to Leh

On the way to Leh

This is in the outskirts of Leh

This is in the outskirts of Leh

Our hotel put on a cultural show in Leh

Our hotel put on a cultural show in Leh

Not sure what these two gentlemen are laughing at

Not sure what these two gentlemen are laughing at

2015-07-18, Leh to Pangong Lake (aborted Nubra Valley attempt)

  1. armed with permits, we set off for Nubra Valley at 7am. However, around 10km into the journey, we were stopped by some local punks who insisted that we could only go to Kardung La (we had to cross this 5400m pass to get to Nubra Valkey) on Jammu and Kashmir rented bikes, not Manali rented bikes. Hannes unleashed a slew of verbal abuse at the guy which made him get on the phone to his boss. (For a couple of minutes, I thought Hannes was going to get himself killed!) However, the punks won and although illegal, they managed to turn us around
  2. after having been turned around, we decided to attempt Pangong Lake, although we felt we would be turned around there too by the punks there. As we were riding, at some point during the initial ride to Pangong lake, some local punks shouted at us and asked us to stop but we continued on regardless. After several hours of hardcore biking and several stream crossings which rendered by feet numb, we reached Chang La (5378m). As usual, there was a temple there but I couldn’t summon the energy to take my shoes off in that altitude for a quick note of thanks to God!
  3. the ride into Pangong Lake wasn’t easy. Although it was only around 50km from Chang La pass, the road was super busy and we had to cross many more mini streams. There was also some occasional desert like surface, and a lot of bouldery bits which proved to be a bit of a challenge for me on the bike. Hannes seemed to have no problems and even gave his beloved Enfield a pet name, “Black Beauty”. The desert like surface sent my bike and I dancing dangerously on many occasions
  4. eventually, we reached the beautiful Pangong lake after several hours of riding and found ourselves a nice warm Swiss style hut with a proper toilet. Upon Hannes’ insistence, we took a cold shower (my butt froze)
  5. it took me a while to get myself warmed up again as I had wet feet from not wearing proper biking boots. I was wearing Gorerex running shoes and all the streams en route were no match for these shoes. I was thinking of ways to make some makeshift poncho-boots for the next day’s ride to avoid getting frozen feet again!

PS. The irony of the day was that no one had asked us for our permits! All that time we spent getting a Swaziland permit for Hannes was unnecessary!

Chang La pass - on the way to Pangong Lake

Chang La pass – on the way to Pangong Lake

On the way to Pangong Lake - a wild yak

On the way to Pangong Lake – a wild yak

Pangong Lake - where 3 Idiots was shot. There is a Rancho Cafe there

Pangong Lake – where 3 Idiots was shot. There is a Rancho Cafe there

Our Swiss style hut in Pangong Lake

Our Swiss style hut in Pangong Lake

The hut even had a couch

The hut even had a couch

Three quarters of this lake is in Tibet and 1 quarter in India

Three quarters of this lake is in Tibet and 1 quarter in India

 

2015-07-19, Pangong Lake to Nubra Valley via a challenging shortcut!

  1. we decided to take a shortcut to Nubra Valley from Pangong Lake. The shortcut was questionable as the road conditions were unknown but it promised to save us around 50km of riding as we would directly end up at Nubra Valley instead of going through Leh again
  2. the “shortcut” started off with a stream though which half the bike got submerged. Again, hero Hannes somehow managed to cross the stream without killing his engine. My bike stalled. I waited for Prashant and Hannes to rescue me. My feet got totally wet. It took me a while to get the engine going again. Then I met two army guys who told me that the road ahead was extremely bad and that it would be wise to turn back to avoid punctures. We dismissed his suggestion and rode on
  3. at some point, the “road” was non existent. Each boulder I guided the bike over felt like the next sureshot setting for a fall. And, fall I did. Two times. First one was in a stream where I misjudged the size of the boulder. Luckily, it was a minor fall. The bike was still standing although my right mirror broke. What I found harder was to gather myself and recover in the high altitude conditions after each fall!
  4. I have to say – the shortcut was beautiful no doubt but to admire the beauty was a challenge, especially when I felt like I was losing control of the bike. On serval occasions, it felt like I was on a camel, not an Enfield. Fortunately, the bike behaved and it seemed like we were somehow going to make it to Nubra Valley but just a mere 5km from Nubra, we had our first major unstoppable force of nature greeting us. A part of the road was blown away by a recent Made by Nature stream and the resulting deluge meant only two things (1) stay there and wait for the army guys to clear the stream (2) ride back!!! I definitely didn’t want to go back. No way in hell was I going to go through those boulder roads again (I had just narrowly escaped falling down more times than I could recall!) Staying there was a questionable idea as well as there was no guarantee of a foreseeable fix. The army guys couldn’t divert the stream channel as some sacred tree was in the way. So, we improvised on (2) and decided to get to Leh via a “Wari La” pass. Some random truck driver told us that the road condition to Wari La pass was “ok”
  5. I was expecting a puny 4300m pass but Wari La turned out to be the mother of all passes. At 5300m in altitude, it was snowing on top, there was ice on the road and quite some streams were pretty hard to negotiate. My hands were frozen. The views were simply superb but only when admired in hindsight! I saw two gigantic vultures but didn’t have the energy to get my camera out! Hannes managed to get some pictures of them
  6. we lost daylight and had to ride back into Leh in the dark. I was blinded by the powerful headlights of oncoming traffic in the night but it was manageable
  7. we reached Leh at 9pm and covered roughly 254km in one day and went over a 5300m pass where it was snowing! Quite a “shortcut”. We were finally back in Room 403 of Grand Willow hotel in Leh
On the way to Nubra Valley

On the way to Nubra Valley

Some of the road junctions were impossible to cross

Some of the road junctions were impossible to cross

We were stuck here! No way we could cross this stream

We were stuck here! No way we could cross this stream

Deciding on Wari La Pass while perched on this log

Deciding on Wari La Pass while perched on this log

More streams to cross

More streams to cross

A marmut

A marmut

 

Vulture on the way to Wari La Pass

Vulture on the way to Wari La Pass

It was snowing on Wari La

It was snowing on Wari La

My hands were frozen. Wari La was at 5300m above sea level

My hands were frozen. Wari La was at 5300m above sea level

2015-07-20, Leh (rest day)

  1. today being our well deserved rest day, we got up late and went on a leisurely walk to a donkey sanctuary. Some kind person set up a place for old and injured donkeys where they could spend the last few years of their lives in comfort instead of letting them die a painful death outside
  2. we then visited a rock museum which was quite impressive. I had no idea that Ladhakh was home to so many precious minerals
  3. the evening was spent watching a movie about Ladhakh. Quite a good introduction to Buddhism and the beauty of Ladhakh. Did you know that Ladakh comes from the Tibetan word “La Dags” which means Land of Passes? After the movie, I went to the market to buy rubber boots. My goretex running shoes were no match for the intense stream crossings!

DSC01605

Leh Market place

Leh Market place

Downtown Leh

Downtown Leh

Leh Marathon! Will do this someday!

Leh Marathon! Will do this someday!

2015-07-21, Leh to Manali (first attempt)
1) the plan was to get up at 6am and head back towards Manali. We did that and left at 7am. I learned that the trouser goes over my newly purchased rubber boots, not under. My boots got wet as I rode the bike through a deep puddle of water. We reached Upshi (50km from Leh) at around 9am when Murphy’s law (what can go wrong will go wrong) greeted us

2) the guy at the checkpoint told us that “Brandy” bridge near Sarchu has been washed away by the torrential downpours the day before. Hence the road was closed. We needed to turn back. We still waited. And waited. Many other bikers and cars were stopped and given similar news. What followed then was a melee of mixed messages. Some guy said that the road would open at 1pm and another guy insisted it would take three days for a new bridge to be put in place. Messages were as confusing as they were ample. Everyone had supposedly heard something. We turned back towards Leh at 1pm after being told by the police guy at the checkpoint that “there was absolutely no point in waiting”

3) having lost our backup day and without any signs of anything improving, we decided to explore buying our way out of the situation. Meaning, we had to book expensive flights out of Leh and pay our bike rental guy many more thousands to get the bikes back to Manali on trucks. We reached the airport at 3pm or so to explore buying tickets but only to discover that it was closed (all planes fly in the morning only). Murphy’s law struck again as Prashant’s bike stopped working. We then split up. We used the remaining two bikes to get to the local mechanic. The mechanic went back with Prashant to the airport to fix his bike while Hannes and I went to the sole travel agent in Leh with a working internet connection to inquire about flight prices. It was INR 25k for a fight to Delhi!

4) after lunch, we asked several more people (police headquarters, Manali taxi stand) about the road condition and eventually, there seemed to be some sort of consensus on the latest news, which was that small vehicles were now being allowed to go through!

5) with this newfound information, we decided to leave at 5.30am the next day to attempt to get to Manali one last time before considering the expensive flying option. To add to the confusion of the route being open, we had another fresh problem to deal with. Apparently, Leh was going to be on strike the next day from 6am to 8pm. No vehicles were to be allowed on the road during this time. To tiptoe around the Leh lockdown, our plan was this: we would leave at 5.30am the following day and reach Upshi by 6.30am. If the road to Manali would be open, we’d take it. If not, we would hang out outside Leh, wait for the lockdown to end, somehow book flight tickets in the interim and come back into Leh after 8pm to try and make a Thursday/Friday morning flight!

6) nature, strikes, breakdowns… We had seen it all in one day! Getting out of our room 403 at Grand Willow hotel was a challenge!

We had a hard time leaving this place

We had a hard time leaving this place

We visited the Leh Palace in the afternoon

We visited the Leh Palace in the afternoon

The old Leh palace

The old Leh palace

The Gongpa

The Gongpa

2015-07-22, Leh to Manali (second attempt)

  1. We got up not at 5.30am but even sooner, at 4.30am ready to take on the 450km ride to Manali. We said another sly goodbye to the hotel room and hoped we wouldn’t see it again anytime soon
  2. Less than 25 minutes into the ride which started at 5.20am, we saw many bikers signaling us to turn around. We eventually figured out that the guys who were striking had created a road block up ahead. No vehicle could leave Leh! It was not even 6am (the supposed beginning of the lockdown) but the striking hooligans seemed to have gotten themselves an unfair early start. About turn. Hello again Room Number 403 in Grand Willow Hotel. Looks like we’ve met before! Time: 6.15am.
  3. We had lost our contingency day and one day of our actual journey to Manali! Now, we had to do the ride to Manali in a mere two days to make our Hong Kong flight in time. And, that didn’t allow any room for error at all. A breakdown, a fall, more road blocks and we would get stuck in India! Our flight out to HK was on Saturday night and we still had to get to Delhi from Manali
  4. we thought up a series of plans. Plan B, Plan C, Plan D, etc, etc. We again opted to buy our way out of the problem by purchasing air tickets to Delhi and paying the bike guy to send someone to Leh who could take the bikes back. New challenge: there were no flights available until the week after! Our only other solution was to ride back to Manali in two days. No room for error
  5. In order to while away time, we visited Leh Palace in the afternoon
  6. Thanks to the strike, we had one less day to return to Manali

Target: Time: Two days. Distance to cover: 450km

2015-07-23, Leh to Manali (third attempt)

  1. Get up time was 0330. Departure time 0400. We were ready to kick some serious butt today. Two days of intense riding through to Manali to get us the heck out of Leh! Thirty minutes into our cold and damp morning ride, I almost got caught in a muddy section of the road and my front wheel got ensnared. I was revving my engine real hard and real loud at 0430 to extricate myself and my bike from this newly formed slush. Prashant did a dance tune on the slush while Hannes almost ran into a cow!
  2. the day seemed fine and we were all ready to do around 200-something km on the bike. We reached Upshi with bated breath and were quite surprised to see a bunch of Enfields waiting before us! They managed to get up even before 3.30! One of them told us that she had gotten up at 2am in the anticipation of a long day ahead! BUT… Nature had its final say! There are two ways out of Leh. One of them got hit by a landslide (road via Tso Moriri) and the other one had a section of the road swept away! (Road via Rumtse – the way we came). Meaning, we were once again (for the third time) stuck in Leh! The Tso Moriri route might have not been an option to begin with as it was 170km longer. Not something we could do in two days anyway!
  3. three days, three attempts. Three failures. Stuck in Leh. Stuck in Leh. Stuck in Leh. We had to come up with a Plan D to get us out of Leh and in time for our Hong Kong flights. We didn’t sit at Umshi waiting for the roads to get fixed (as we did two days back!) Instead, we rode to the airport to check for available flight tickets out of Leh. None was available. We then went back to our usual hotel where the staff once again greeted us with a smirk on their faces. “Never has someone been unsuccessful so many times”, said the hotel guy. It didn’t make us feel better. What did make us feel better was the news that Ladakh was experiencing a “cloud burst” which only happens once in about 5 years. At least, we weren’t carrying any jinx. It was not our rotten luck but it was Leh and the unique weather that was to blame for our inability to escape from our beloved hotel room!
  4. after showering and “downloading” at Room 403 of Grand Willow hotel, we went to a travel agent hoping for last minute cancelations. Finally, Lady Luck smiled at us and we got three tickets out of Leh for the next day at an exorbitant price of INR 24,000 each ticket. The price of freedom!
  5. we negotiated with our bike rental guy to send someone over to our hotel to pick up the bikes. Then we went for our final joy ride on the bike to a place called Nimmu on the national highway #1. We saw the Indus Valley river and a hill called Magnetic Hill which is somehow supposed to pull vehicles upwards against gravity, towards its peak. It seemed like a bunch of baloney
  6. we came to know later on that the landslide on the Tso Moriri route wasn’t fixed until about the evening. So, waiting at Rumtse would have been a waste of time as we would have been out of time anyway. We had made a good decision by choosing to return quickly upon discovering that the roads were closed. That way, we at least got the last few seats on the plane to Delhi the following day
  7.  we concluded what seemed like our final day in Leh (this time for real) with some sumptuous dinner in celebration of our bike ride into Leh and our three attempted rides back! Hannes added that “if I come back to this hotel room tomorrow, I will hang myself”
On the way to Village Nimmu

On the way to Village Nimmu

Indus Ruver

The Indus River

The Indus River

This river runs from Tibet to Pakistan via India

This river runs from Tibet to Pakistan via India

2015-07-24, Leh to Hong Kong, via Delhi

  1. we got up at 4.30am to catch our 7am fight out to Delhi. Hannes asked if he should leave some luggage behind just in case. We had come back 3 times in the past 3 days anyway. Would we really be able to leave Leh?
  2. I wanted to get the pilot to do a low flying pass over Upshi. If we could see both roads to Manali open, we could always parachute down to ride the bikes back to Manali
  3. all the three of us said goodbye to Room 403 at Grand Willow hotel and hoped that the plane wouldn’t get canceled! If the roads can shut two times in two days and if a strike can stop us on the third day, then a plane cancelation isn’t really far off the realm of imagination
  4. the sky was clear blue outside and the day was perfect! It probably was a good day for riding but … it was also one for flying! We were ready to fly home!
  5. we reached Delhi without incident at 8am and said bye to Prashant. Hannes and I flew out to Hong Kong in the night
Goodbye Leh, for real!

Goodbye Leh, for real!

I almost thought we wouldn't be able to leave Leh

I almost thought we wouldn’t be able to leave Leh

A nice statue of the sun in Delhi airport

A nice statue of the sun in Delhi airport

Summary:

Snow capped mountains, lakes, desert like landscape, ice, snow, high altitude passes… we had seen it all by riding 1255km around Ladakh on Royal Enfields. We’d also seen man made pollution, landslides, experienced plans being forced to change due to nature’s intervention and plans being disrupted due to man made strikes.

This trip has definitely had the hallmark of yet another kick ass adventure in our beautiful Planet Earth. The more I travel and immerse myself in the beauty of nature, the more captivated I become with what our planet has to offer! I will miss my Royal Enfield. And, next time, I think we should avoid biking in Ladakh during the July monsoons!

Thanks to Hannes for the photographs.

Julley. (That’s some kind of greeting in Ladakhi).

Vacation, 2200+ Kms motorbike tour in Northeastern India and Bhutan

Travelogue: 2200+km motorcycle road trip in Northeastern India.
August 2010

All photos are here (feel free to use them as you please). GPS plots and GPX files are also available. If you need them please drop me a line.

The plan

After having done the Manali – Leh trip (North India) two times, we thought it was time to give the Northeastern part of India and Bhutan a visit on a motorbike. I had read so many travel blogs about the beauty of Sikkim, Darjeeling and India’s neighboring country, Bhutan.

So, the plan was this. I would fly into Calcutta in West Bengal, India from Hong Kong and my friend Prashant would bring his own motorbike from Mumbai to Calutta by train. I would be renting a motorbike in Calcutta and we would start driving from there.

The execution:

Booking a plane ticket to Calcutta was simple enough. I used www.makemytrip.com which I would highly recommend. Very easy to use website for good deals. I got a ticket from HK – Bang Kok – Calcutta for HKD 3800.

The motorbike rental turned out to be a much greater challenge though. Having scoured the internet and having called many, many shops, we realized 2-3 days before the trip that getting a rental motorbike in Calcutta would be extremely difficult. The backup plan was to buy a second hand bike for 10 days and sell it back to the same shop we would buy it from for a discounted price. We weren’t sure if we could pull this off.

And this is what really happened:

Read more

Vacation, 2009-06-25 to 07-11, 1600kms Himalayan motorcycle drive

All pictures here.

June 25th 2009:

Took a cheap Air India flight (HKD 4,100) to Delhi. They were playing some movie from like 50 years back but luckily I had my Bloomberg magazine for in-flight entertainment. The flight attendants were pretty much old ladies and guys on the fringe of retiring.

Reached New Delhi at 10PM and transferred to the domestic terminal at 1AM.

June 26th 2009:
The flight we were supposed to take to Kulu was called MDLR Airlines. Completely unheard of! I was preparing myself for the strong possibility that the flight may never take off! But, much to my surprise, it took off at 7.10AM (more or less on time) and the economy seats were fantastic! The flight attendants looked as pretty as some Bollywood actresses and they even served a quick in-flight snack! The snack was tasty. At the end, they handed out some leaflet promoting MDLR’s new casino in Goa and a free admission to it! (not for me, I don’t like contributing to casino revenues).

We reached Kulu airport at 10AM and decided to avoid a INR1000 bucker taxi ride to Manali, instead choosing what we thought would be a quick 30-minute bus ride to Manali. The weather was hot (30 degrees) and the bus-stop turned out to be more than 10 minutes away. We eventually boarded a bus that started out empty but soon passengers were packed inside like sardines. I could smell sweaty armpits and a frequent and generous fart every now and then from a passenger with apparent bowel problems. Two grueling hours later, we reached Manali.

Lunch was at Swamiji South Indian restaurant and our bike hunting mission began soon after. Hardev motors, Anu Autoworks and the other bike shops did not have any bikes. Disappointed, we decided to come up with a Plan B and headed over to a juice bar. As we casually asked the “bartender” if he knew a bike shop, he immediately directed us to a buddy and our mission caught traction. We were soon acquainted with a dude called Dev who owned Bajaj Autoworks 50/50 with the mechanic called Ashok. The deal was this:

2 Pulsars @ INR 700 a day
2 Yamahas @ INR 500 a day (1 for a mechanic who was to accompany us all the way. The bike shop guy highly advised this in case we ended up with mechanical faults on the way. Roads are said to be in a very, very bad shape with some snowfall somewhere along the way).
700 a day salary for the mechanic.

Read more