Vinod Kumar Menon and Rajaneesh Shanmugham share their experience travelling across Bhutan on their motorbikes
For IT professionals and colleagues Vinod Kumar Menon and Rajaneesh Shanmugham, who work at a multinational company in Technopark, the thrill is in the ride. The duo is just back from a two-week motorcycling odyssey across Bhutan, travelling roughly 1,500 km on a circuitous route starting from Siliguri in Darjeeling all the way to Guwahati, Assam.
They entered Bhutan at the border town of Phuntsholing and then on to picturesque Paro valley and the nearby Tiger’s Nest (a.k.a. Taktsang Palphug Monastery, perched on a sheer cliff) to the capital city Thimpu. From there they took the road less travelled onto Punakha, Wangdue, Phobjika Valley, Bhumthang, Ura valley, Trongsa, and finally Galephu. While Vinod rode his trusty Honda Unicorn, Rajaneesh was on a Bajaj Avenger (both bikes were shipped via road to Jalpaiguri near Siliguri). “We were one of the few bikers to have got the privilege to travel the Trongsa - Galephu route, for which tourists rarely get permission,” says Vinod, who can’t stop gushing about the unspoiled terrain that is Bhutan.
“The landscape is simply gorgeous. The mountains are in my blood. In fact, my first memory is of the mountains of Kasauli, Himachal Pradesh, where I spent the early part of my childhood, and where my father, P. Madhavan, an Air Force Officer, was posted. Bhutan in entirety was a feast on the eyes, especially the scrub forests of Phobjika valley, where black-necked cranes from the Tibetan Plateau migrate during winter to roost. It somehow reminded me of Ladakh valley, even though the landscape is entirely different. We were also fascinated by the architecture of the Dzongs (fortress), particularly the majestic one at Punakha,” says the 32-year-old keen traveller and avid biker who had earlier journeyed the arduous Ladakh-Jammu route. “Long distance biking, especially in the mountain regions, is as tough, hard and as painful as trekking. Here it’s the time that counts not the distance. For example, a 200 km journey on winding mountain roads can take up to eight hours,” he adds.
However, more than the landscape, the duo says that they were charmed by the “friendliness, graciousness and helpfulness” of the people of Bhutan. “No wonder they call Bhutan the land of happiness, for everywhere we went the people went out of their way to help us. If one friendly customs officer at Phuntsholing helped us fill out permit applications even before the office opened, many others helped out with directions – always with a smile even if they didn’t understand us. We felt very safe there and at ease there. This is why I think biking is the best way to get up close and personal with a country, its people and its culture.”