Published: May 11th 2012May 2nd 2012
The Road to Tibet, ....I mean Bhutan - Part 2 April 25, Pokhara to Janakur, Nepal
After an enjoyable stay back at the Temple Tree hotel in Pokhara, we are ready to continue our journey. We have 3 long days averaging about 360 kms per day, which doesn't sound like much, but over here that is between 8 and 10 hours driving time, a long time on a motorcycle over horrendous, dusty, busy roads. The first leg is Pokhara to Janukpur.
Rabi arranged for special accommodation at a guest house located inside a Leprosy treatment center. My first encounter with leprosy was on my last visit to Nepal when we raised money for the Sewa Kendra leprosy center in Kathmandu. The chief medical officer and nurse gave us a tour of the facility. There were over 200 in-patients, and, every day over 400 outpatients. The town is not far from India, so they get many people traveling to get treatment for various skin diseases. Leprosy is contagious, but once treated is cured. Novapharm, the pharmaceutical company, provides free medicine all over the world to treat this terrible disease. More people should be aware of this.
Much of the treatment of the patients is to operate to help correct their physical deformities, and to teach them how to live on their own without the use of hands, feet, or even eyesight. April 26 Janakpur to Bagdogra, India
The next day we rode from Janukpur to Bagdogra, another long, tiring day that took us to the border crossing from Nepal into India. Surprisingly, it only took about an hour to get across the border. Two new guides, Karma and Dhoge from Bhutan joined us at this point. We had about 15kms to go to reach Marina's Motel, our first nights accomodation in India.
I know I complained about the roads in Nepal, but compared to this ride, they were wonderful. Also, I think we crossed at a particularly bad place, as the garbage and filth were disgusting. We were in the Darjeeling District of West Bengal, but I am sure there must be nicer parts, as Darjeeling is supposed to be one of the highlights of Northern India. April 27 - Bagdogra, India to Gelephu, Bhutan
One more long day to get from Bagdogra, India to Gelephu, Bhutan.
Unfortunately, we lost a lot of time in the morning due to document problems with our Nepali Guides, 2 breakdowns with Mick and Phillipa's bikes, and some miscommunication about our meeting point. It took us 4 hours to do the first 100kms! We were told we could make up the time because we were going to be getting on a new expressway. This was partially true, however, only about half of it was complete. The rest was still under construction. We eventually made it to the cutoff for the road to the border crossing to Bhutan. Only 40 km. To go. It was getting late, the sun was setting, and thunder storms moved in. It took us about 2 hours, with the last hour being in the dark. Needless to say, we were soaking wet, exhausted, and cold by the time we arrived at about 8:15pm. Fortunately, the Kuku hotel in Gelephu was only about 10 minutes from the Border crossing.
Bhutan is a unique country, where people live in harmony with nature, and have evolved a unique identity, derived largely from a religious and cultural heritage and the guiding development of Gross National Happiness (GNH). The Prime Minister
defines happiness in the context of GNH "We know that true abiding happiness cannot exist while others suffer, and comes only from serving others, living in harmony with nature and innate wisdom and the true and brilliant nature of our own minds." They actually measure GNH in 9 specific areas: psychological well-being, physical health, community vitality, work-life balance, living standards, governance, education, cultural diversity, and ecological integrity.
Bhutan is a very small country with a population of about 700,000 and is bordered by China and India. Most of the population are Buddhists. April 28 - Gelephu to Trongsa
The next morning, Martin and I, got up early and went for a walk through town. It was Sunday, and market day. We had a great time, meeting some local women who invited us to join them for pan. Pan is a local snack that is a bitter-nut wrapped in a leaf from a local plant and covered in lime. The idea is to chew it and spit it out and it gives you a bit of a buzz. We chased this down with a cup of local tea at a neighboring dhaba. After another 2
hour delay due to paperwork problems from the night before, we finally departed about 11:30 am.
We had a leisurely ride through the mountains, stopping on numerous occasions for photos, and to talk to locals. We had packed a lunch for today, as there are very few cafes or eating spots in this part of the country. We stopped at a place called the Honey Pot, where they sold snacks and tea, and made honey. A young couple ran the place and were so friendly. They invited us into there house to meet their grandparents. The house was spotless, made out of a mixture of cow dung and clay. The gardens were beautiful, and the view across the valley was breathtaking. We all commented on the peace and serenity in this country, and the friendliness of the people, compared to Nepal and India.
Bhutan only has 700,000 people, and with their philosophy of Gross National Happiness, they seemed to be living up to their reputation. After enjoying our picnic lunch, we put on our rain gear and warm weather gear, as were were heading up to 3,000m (about 10,000ft), and it looked like rain off in the distance.
It was already 4pm and we still had over 3 hours to go. It looked like another possible ride in the dark. After crossing the bridge at Tingtibi, we stopped at a police check point. While waiting for the rest of the riders, David entertained the local kids with a magic show. It was definitely a hit!
Once everyone arrived, we turned left onto the "new" road that was supposed to be a short cut, that took us up into the Himalayas. We were a little skeptical after our experience in India, and rightly so. The road ran the entire way along the edge of a mountain, at times dropping off about 1,000 m with no guard rails! To top it all off, it started to rain, we encountered mist with visibility of about 10 meters, and the temperature dropped to about 8 degrees Celsius. With about an hour to go, the sun set, and we rode the rest of the way in in the dark.
It must sound like I am complaining about the conditions. On the contrary, this is what we signed up for. This IS adventure travel at its best! Every day, every hour, every
Believe it or not, we just rode along that road!
minute brings something different. We have a great group, no complainers. Yes, we do whine a bit every once and a while, but as long as we all make it safely to our destination, we are happy. Our organizers decided we needed a rest day, so we staying in Trongsa an extra night. We spent the day sightseeing, visiting the Dzonga, which houses the Monastery and the Government offices, and the Museum high above the town. April 30 - Trongsa to Punakha, Bhutan
We had a great day of riding today. We went through 3 passes over 3,0000 meters. We were a little worried because we had met some tourists that had just come to Trongsa from Punakha, and they warned us of long stretches of sand and gravel with steep drop offs. But as it turned, compared to most of the other roads we had been on, it was a piece of cake. Martin and I had separated from the group and were having an awesome ride. Martin was in front flying through the mountainous roads, and I was struggling to keep up with him. We came around one bend, and there were several police
School kids in traditional dress
The boys wear goah's and the girls wear
cars approaching us, followed by a number of other very nice vehicles. They turned their sirens on, and we flew passed them without thinking too much about it.
A few hours later, we met up with the rest of the group and proceeded to the next police checkpoint. In Bhutan, there are many of these,as they basically keep track of tourists as they travel through their beautiful country. At the check point, the Police officer pulled our guide aside, and was obviously quit upset about something. As it turned out, the police reported that two members of our group failed to stop when the police led procession that was taking the King of Bhutan through the mountains, failed to stop. Oops! Martin and I realized that it was us, not knowing it was the King we had passed. The policeman proceeded to write out a ticket, or warning, we are not sure which, for our guide. We proceeded to our hotel, the Damchen resort for a quiet, restful evening. May 1 - Punakha to Thimpu, Bhutan
In the morning, we set off to visit the Dzong in Punahka. It is one of the
Dzong in Trongsa, Bhutan
Politivcal and Religious center
largest, and one of the most beautiful in the country. Upon entering, we met a well dressed local in formal dress-wear. We asked if we could take is photo, and then proceeded to strike up a conversation with him. It turned out the he was the Speaker of the house in the Senate for Bhutan, quit a senior political position. We had a great conversation about the political situation in Bhutan, education, foreign investment, etc. All in all, quit an honour to met him. Our guide informed us that the Lama (the most senior spiritual leader in the country) would be visiting to give a blessing to the people. We stayed around to enjoy the ceremony and to see the Lama (unfortunately, we did not meet him personally).
We were back on the bikes again about 10am, and rode to Thimpu, the capital of Bhutan, passing through the Dochula Pass (3100m), a place blessed by 108 chortons (gravesites of famous people) built in the middle of the road and strewn with prayer flags. From here there were spectacular views of the Entire Eastern Himalayan Mountain Range.
We arrived in Thimphu at a decent hour at the Hotel River
View overlooking the main town. That evening a few of us went for a stroll down the main drag. Our first stop, the Tiger Pub (recommended by one of the locals). It was a Karaoke Bar, and since there were only three of us in there (other than 3 beautiful Bhutan women that worked there), we chose some songs and sang our hearts out. Not something I would normally do if there were an audience. After dinner, we visited a few other bars to get a taste of local culture.
The next morning we did some sightseeing, We had seen enough monasteries, so we chose to visit a Takin reserve. The Takin is the national animal of Bhutan, and is rumored to be a cross between a goat and a cow, I had never heard of one before, and they were indeed a strange looking animal.
We also visited the School of Handicrafts, where students are taught the 13 arts and crafts, including, statue making, carving, thanka, and scroll painting. After choosing their main crafts, they spend 5 years to become experts.Our third stop was the National Museum.
Friday morning, May 4, we rode to Paro, a
short ride through the mountains. We stayed at the beautiful Hotel Olathang, that was built specifically for the Coronation of King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuch. He is one of the youngest Kings in the world at 32 years old, and recently married the princess at 21 years old. They are very popular and their pictures are found everywhere throughout the country.
We arrived at the hotel at 11:30 am, which gave us time to hike up to the Tigers Nest
monastery. It is probably the most famous landmark in Bhutan and is featured in most brochures, calenders and magazines. It is about 5 hours up and back, climbing about 1,000m, but well worth it.
We arrived back at the hotel just in time to hop on a bus to take us to a local farmhouse in Paro for a mineral hot bath and diner. We were a little skeptical when we first arrived because the place was in the middle of no where, appeared to be very run down, and it was very dark. However, we were very surprised upon entering how clean and organized everything was. The first stop was the Bath house - basically an outdoor
shed with 6 wooden tubs, Each tub had 2 sections, a small section to put hot rocks from the fire outside, and the second section for the person to lie in.The daughter of the owner, Tinglee, would shovel the hot rocks into the small compartment and in about 10 minutes the tub was hot. There were 5 of us in the first group, changing into our swim wear, or whatever, and stepping in to the tub, It was cool and raining outside, so as you can imagine, after a long day of biking and hiking, it felt awesome. The sixth tub contained cold water, so I had to show the rest of the group how Canadians do this. So I stepped out of the hot bath into the cold one to chill down, and then back into the hot one. We all had a good laugh over the whole scene. This was truly a highlight of the trip. Following the hot bath,we enjoyed a home cooked meal in the main farm house. Great end to a great day!
The next morning, we left the bikes behind and flew back to Kathmandu. Rabi's crew, Sabin and Ram, and a driver
loaded the bikes onto a truck and drove 36 hours straight back to home base.We had a rest day in Kathmandu. Most of us caught up with emails, did our laundry and organized for the last part of the trip. Martin, Stefan and myself decided to take a morning to golf on Nepal's finest golf course - The Gokarna Forest Golf Resort, located about 13 kms from our hotel. It was a beautiful day and we each had our own caddie. We caught up with a single, introduced as Colonel Hussein withe the Pakistan Army. He was based in Nepal for three years doing "confidential" work. Hmmm? We were entertained by the monkeys on the course. May 7 - 9 Kathmandu to Dhunche to Damon to Kathmandu
The last 3 days of our motorcycle trip took us on a circle from Kathmandu. First North to Dhunche, then southwest to Damon , then back to Kathmandu. It was great to get back on the bikes again and get out of the city into the country. Once again we rode on some very bad a and treacherous roads along the edge of a gorge. In general, we do
not ride close together, often spreading out and meeting at rest spots along the way.
Most of us had a good day, except for Martin. His first problem came when a cow ran onto the road in front of him. He hit the brakes, skidded in the sand and clipped the cow with his handle bars. No serious damage. Next we encountered a section of the road that had recently been hit with a a landslide. Martin was riding down a steep section covered with rocks and sand, riding on his pegs (as he should) when he hit a rock and the bike went out from under him. He was very close to the edge, but fortunately, only his ego was bruised. The bike had a bit of damage, but SuperRam (Our Mechanic) came along and fixed things up in no time.
We continued on and when going through a small town several young kids were waving at us, but as soon as we passed they threw rocks at us. One of them hit Martin in the head. Being very upset, he slammed on his brakes, jumped off the bike and chased the kids. In all the excitement,
he did not set his kickstand properly and his bike fell over. His tank bag landed under the exhaust pipe melting it and basically destroyed it.
Back on the bike again, we rode down into a valley and across a bridge to start the ascent up the other side. After I made the turn, I looked in my rear view mirror, only to see Martin catch the sand with his front wheel and lose control of the bike. He went over the bike landing on his head and shoulders. I jumped off my back and ran back to help. At the same time Mick and Lorraine arrived, and we helped him up and righted his bike. Thank goodness for his protective gear! He had a sore neck, shoulder and arm, but was OK to ride. We straightened his peddles and roll bar and after a brief rest continued on. We arrived at the Buddha Guest House and enjoyed a drink after a long and grueling day, especially for Martin.
It was David's 72 Birthday, so Phillipa and Sonam had arranged a Birthday party for David. Also a few of us bought gifts, including something that he could use
and also reflected the area - the Kama Sutra for Nepal. I am sure his wife will appreciate it. After dinner, we enjoyed home-made cake, and entertainment from the locals. Most of the locals were Tibetans as we were only 10 minutes from the border to Tibet.
The next day we had to retrace our steps back down the mountain. Somehow, it seemed a little easier going back, I guess because we knew what to expect. We arrived in Damon about 5:30 in the pouring rain. Really, the only reason to go to Damon is because of the spectacular panoramic views of the Himalayas. Unfortunately we were not as lucky as on my last visit when the conditions were perfect. This time due to the overcast sky's, we were unable to see anything. Oh well.
The next morning three of us, Stefan, Martin and myself left before the rest of the group. Our route took us down the mountain though some beautiful scenery with perfect weather conditions. Stefan was in front of me. As we left a small town, He approached a small bridge with some potholes on the road. Two locals were coming the other way own
their motorbike, and crossed over onto Stefan's side. Stefan swerved, clipping the other bike and he headed into the bridge abutment. Both bikes were down and the locals started to gather around. Stefan was OK, thanks to his BMW gear. The other rider and his passenger were scratched up. SuperRam arrived after a few minutes and fixed the bike up in no time, and off we went before problems broke out with the locals.
After lunch, we were about 25kms outside of the city and it started to rain, together with lightning and thunder. It took about an hour to get to the Kathmandu Guest house, but we all made it in one piece. We congratulated each other, took a few photos, and checked in for a nice hot shower.
The farewell dinner was held at Cafe Mitra. We made speeches, exchanged gifts, and re-hashed stories about out 24 day adventure together.
Even though we didn't make it to Tibet, as planned, it was still a great trip. As they say in the motorcycling world, "It's not the destination, it's the journey!".
'til next time, ... Mike
There are more photos below