An amazing motorcycle experience in Bhutan
The first stage of the journey started when my plane touched down in Delhi after an eight hour flight from London Heathrow. After progressing through immigration I started to meet other members of the tour group as we assembled, waiting to be picked up and taken to the Metropolitan Hotel. After freshening up at hotel, the group decided to organise a sight seeing trip around Delhi via taxi. We visited the various parts of the Red Fort, whilst stopping at other attractions along the journey.
Delhi was blanketed by hazy smog, which cleared slightly towards the outskirts but was still very noticeable as we headed back the hotel for an evening meal with the tour group and our guide Alam.
The following day we left the hotel for Delhi airport to catch a flight to Siliguri, and the start of our road trip. The flight was delayed due to the smog hanging over Delhi, but we eventually got underway and after two hours in the air we arrived at Siliguri airport. After a short taxi ride we arrived at our hotel for the evening, and also our first test ride of the Enfield Bullet Classic motorcycle.
After a comfortable evening at out hotel it was time to hit the road and head towards Phuntsholing. The original route had planned to stop at Darjeeling for the evening, but due to a local dispute the route was closed and an extra day in Bhutan was added.
The group left the hotel just after breakfast, which enabled us to avoid most of the local traffic before hitting the less busy roads through rich countryside, passing by farms and tea plantations.
Before entering Bhutan we needed to officially exit India and deal with the immigration paperwork prior to officially entering Bhutan. The process was very quick and efficient, aided by our Bhutanese guide Karma who would be with us throughout Bhutan.
The traffic entering Phuntsholing would be our first introduction to close combat congestion riding, where the horn is the most important feature of the motorcycle. We arrived at our hotel in the late afternoon, and after unpacking we headed to the Bhutan immigration office to validate our visas in readiness for heading to Paro the following morning.
After an early breakfast it was to time to get packed up and ready to ride to Paro. It was already noticeable that traffic was much lighter as we headed out of Phuntsholing, and the landscape started to change as the roads started wind up through the mountains.
Today’s ride is approximate 260 kilometres, and provided plenty of time to get more familiar with the Royal Enfield on the mountain roads. It was also an opportunity to experience how the how the bike handled on unmade and difficult roads. Bhutan was undertaking a redevelopment of the main road across the country, which could lead to some challenging surfaces on a road bike.
We reached Paro in the late afternoon, and checked in at the Gangtey Palace Hotel. I was suffering with chesty cough, and decided to treat myself to a hot stone bath, which is supposed to be good for your health and wellbeing. It was an experience, but unsure if it helped with my cough.
The following morning we left the hotel very early to visit the Tiger’s Nest Monastery, which is very challenging walk. We left the bikes at the hotel and travelled to the start of the trail by taxi with our Bhutanese guide, planning to return to hotel around lunchtime before the short ride to Thimpu.
I found the walk up the mountain tough going, partly due to my chesty cough and partly due to some long standing health problems, so I decided to stop at the halfway point for tea and crackers whilst the rest of the group headed up to the Monastery. The tea shop also provided a great opportunity to take some pictures of Monastery nestled in the mountain.
I rejoined the group an hour or so later at the start of the trail, before we headed back for a fantastic lunch at the hotel. Suitably refreshed we all geared up and headed for Thimpu. We reached Thimpu as the sun was starting to set, and had a narrow escape from a truck which ran a few of the group off the road (09:55 in the video below). A few beers were consumed to calm our nerves in the evening!
Before heading to Wangdi we had time for some sight seeing in Thimpu, visiting a monastery, wildlife park and the giant Buddha statue which overlooks Thimpu.
It was an important national day of worship in Bhutan, so the monastery and areas around giant Buddha were very busy with families and friend who’d made the journey. The giant Buddha was very impressive, and there was a really positive and friendly atmosphere.
We also visited the Takin National Preserve which has several Takins (the national animal of Bhutan) in captivity. The Takin is an unusual looking animal, which we lucky enough to see during our short visit.
We arrived back at the hotel before lunch, and got geared up ready for the ride to Wangdi. The road to Wangdi provided some amazing opportunities to stop for pictures of the Himalayas and the impressive monastery at Punakha.
After another amazing day we arrived at our hotel in Wangdi before sunset, and exchanged experiences of day over another great meal.
After a comfortable night in Wangdi, we had an early breakfast in preparation for a long ride to Trongsa. The route to Trongsa provided an opportunity to stop at Black Necked Crane Visitor Centre, and was a great stop off point after a great early morning ride.
The visitor centre had some binoculars already setup, and I was lucky enough to see a black necked crane within a clearing. Today was turning out to be another amazing day in Bhutan, with great weather, amazing views and some challenging roads.
We were often reminded that Bhutan was undergoing a major road rebuilding program, and good road could suddenly become muddy, sandy, rocky or gravel.
We reached Trongsa in the late afternoon, and checked in to a friendly guest house. The temperature felt much cooler evening, and a great freshly prepare dinner help everyone relax after a long day.
After breakfast we had a short walk to the monastery, before we headed to Bumthang. The monastery was undergoing some restoration, which provided an opportunity to see some traditional building techniques.
We also had an opportunity to see trainee monks going about their daily lives, where our guide Karma also explained the options for trainees when they reach the age of maturity.
After an enjoyable work around the monastery it was time to hit the road again and head for Bumthang. The route to Bumthang was challenging in places, with lots of rough road surfaces, but we were often treated to amazing views along the journey.
We reached our hotel in the Bumthang valley during the late afternoon, and after some tough roads were glad to be greeted by smiling hotel staff ready to provide Drukk beer.
It was a very cold evening, and I was glad of the additional heat provided by the wood burning stove in my hotel room.
Today would an early start in order to reach our destination in Mongar before dark. When we went to start the bikes they were covered in frost and some proved difficult to start, and required some attention from our mechanic Raul.
The route today provide some more amazing views across the mountains, and amazing passes which slowly lead down to a lower altitude where the climate felt subtropical. The road was still variable in places, the whole group had become more confident when the going got tough. We were also treated water run off on the road from small waterfalls as headed towards Mongar.
Due to a couple of breakdowns we started to fall behind on our timetable, and as the sun started to fall behind the mountains it was clear that we’d probably need to ride the last sections of road in the dark. I’m fairly happy riding in the dark, but on roads with variable surfaces and minimal light, it took all of my focus when I had to catch up with the group after stopping to check my front tire.
After a long but very enjoyable day we reached our hotel in Mongar, and tucked into another great meal before getting some well deserved sleep.
After breakfast we had some time to have a quick walk around Mongar, and walk off another great meal from the previous evening. The view from the hotel was amazing, with a view over the local houses reaching out to the lower valleys.
Feeling refreshed after a morning it was time to head to Tashigang. The road felt a little easier today, and once again we were treated to some amazing scenery, with plenty of opportunities for photos as we headed further down in to the valleys, The lunch stop was once again picturesque, with lovely food served by amazingly friendly people.
Before reaching the hotel, we had an opportunity to stop in the town and were greeted by lots of smiling children. The town center is surrounded by lots of general stores, selling everything from food to televisions.
The final road up to hotel was very steep and rocky (interesting to ride down in the morning!), but the view was amazing when we reached the top. We had arrived after another great ride at an amazing location, in good time for another great meal and a few well deserved beers.
Today started with mixed feelings, a tricky ride down to the main road from the hotel and our final evening in Bhutan. We all took a slow and steady approach riding down to the main road, and without incident. The road to Sumdruk was mostly in good condition, which allowed me to enjoy much more of the amazing scenery and twisty roads.
We also had an opportunity to visit another monastery, where trainee monks were busy with studies whilst enjoying the fresh mountain air. After leaving the monastery we experience a couple of breakdowns, which resulted in a longer than expected stay on the roadside.
Fortunately out guide Karma had a prepacked field lunch in the support vehicle, so whilst Raul set about fixing the bikes we tucked in to a great meal from Karma’s Cafe.
We reached Sumdruk in the late afternoon, a noticeably busier from the previous few days, and had the feeling of town linking to the border with India. During the evening we wrapped up the border exit process for Bhutan, and enjoyed an evening meal followed by a few beers. Some mixed emotions that evening as we all realise that our road trip is nearing the end.
Today would be our last day on the bikes as headed for the Indian border before reaching Guwahati. The border crossing was conducted in a small hut, with all the formality and bureaucracy you expect with border officials would rather be sitting in an air condition booth at Delhi airport. With all papers stamped and boxes ticked, we were back in India. The roads were initially open and calm, with lots of vibrant colourful clothes being worn by the women on the way to work.
Upon reaching Guwahati we decided to stop at the local Royal Enfield dealership, where we are enjoyed tea and an opportunity to review the latest models. After an enjoyable time at the dealership, we headed out back in to the crazy traffic to our hotel for evening.
As we all rolled in to the hotel car park, it was a strange feeling knowing that I’ll not be riding the bike again the next day. The Royal Enfield had been a quirky but good companion on my trip, and managed to deal with all the tough roads. The hotel was once again very welcoming, and the evening meal was well supported by some good Indian beers.
Back to Delhi
After a hearty breakfast we all assembled to travel to Guwahati airport to catch our place back to Delhi. The airport security was more intense than expected, but the flight was pleasant and we back in Delhi to fresher air than expected due to the recent rainfall. We headed back to the same hotel in Delhi we used on our arrival, and freshened up before heading out for an evening meal in Delhi, celebrating a great adventure.
After a restful sleep we were shuttled to Delhi airport to catch our various flights back to the UK, and the chilly November weather! Time look back at the amazing pictures, videos and experiences in India and Bhutan.
Special thanks to Alam, Karma and Raul for looking after us during journey. I’m sure that I’ll be back for another adventure in India some time in the future.