The Land of the Thunder Dragon. The Valley of the Black Neck Crane. The Tiger’s Nest. Buddhist principles. Clean air, blue skies, almost no traffic, the eastern Himalayas. Delicious beef and pork as the staple diet (at least on this ride).
Welcome to Bhutan. Small Himalayan kingdom. Less populated than Bandra. Over here, GDP can take a hike; Bhutan measures its wealth on the GNH scale. It stands for Gross National Happiness. The king is a biker. He rides a Triumph Bonneville. What’s not to like about the place.
I’m at absolute peace. The Royal Enfield Continental GT is sitting at around 3500rpm in fifth gear and we’re purring along, man and machine, over some of the best roads I have ever had the pleasure to ride on. Perfect tarmac, miles of it, wrapping itself sinuously over mountains.
I’m torn. It’s so beautiful, I want to stop and take pictures of everything, but the road eggs me on. Lean left, lean right, throttle, brake, spark the pegs on every corner, leave no place for chicken strips on the Pirelli Sport Demons. Mesmerising. You can ride like this for hours in Bhutan. Paradise for the biker’s soul.
The minute you cross the border at Phuentsholing into Bhutan, the road starts to climb, the garbage disappears and the air is cooler and cleaner. Five kilometres down the road, your soul feels uplifted, it feels free from the dust, the pollution and the chaos of India.
I kid you not, that’s exactly what happened to me. When we do happen upon traffic, you’ll find every driver civilised. People are trained to watch their rearview mirrors, so when they see a fast-moving bike, they pull over and let you pass at the first opportunity. It’s the same with trucks. People know what lane discipline is. They don’t like honking unless absolutely necessary. It’s what makes riding in Bhutan a pleasure. Know that speed limits are enforced strictly in towns and cities. In Thimpu, you can get pulled over for overtaking from the left.
We’re on the Royal Enfield Tour of Bhutan. It’s 1,400km from Siliguri to Guwahati through the Himalayan kingdom. West to East. That’s the plan. The Tour of Bhutan is in its third edition and it seems that every year they come here, the roads get better. When we went, they were still dynamiting mountainsides to make wider roads, so next year will be even better. If you plan to go there alone, go in September – the weather is best then.
The highlight of the trip for me, apart from the riding of course, was the killer, two-hour, steep walk up to the Taktsang monastery at 10,000ft. The climb almost killed me thrice, but once I got my overworked lungs up there, the peace and calm and the tremendous views made it worth the effort.
The nightlife at Thimphu – go to Mojo Park, they’ve got great live music and talented musicians. Grab a Yak burger next door at The Zone and when everything shuts, head to one of the underground parties that go on into the wee hours of the morning.
The beauty of the forests of Eastern Bhutan. The beautiful women of Bhumtang. The whole country is a treat for the eyes! The icing on the cake is the fact that the Bhutanese are incredibly friendly and open like only people who are truly happy can be. You must go there, it rubs off on you as well.
And it’s easy to go there. If you’re Indian, all you need is your passport or voter’s ID and, if you’re driving or riding in, the original documents of your car. You don’t need a visa and you don’t need a carnet. The currency is the same. One Indian Rupee is the same as one Ngultrum. And most of Bhutan, at least the western part, accepts the Indian rupees.
You need at least 10 days there to really get a feel of the place and its beautiful people. The Land of the Thunder Dragon. If there’s a heaven on earth, this must be close.