The diary of a few rides and clicks!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

On 11:54 PM by Yashwanth Rao   17 comments

Here is a video done using a few of the snaps taken during our Rajasthan - Gujarat Bike Ride. We started from Bangalore and took a flight till Jaipur, from where our ride started. It eventually ended in Mumbai after 16 days, from where we took a flight back to Bangalore. Detailed travelogue to follow..



Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

On 6:56 AM by Yashwanth Rao   25 comments
So, right after getting Leh'd in July 2011, all we could think of was one more such ride, which should be bigger and better! We even thought of going to Ladakh again, as we hadn't covered Spithi, Zanskar, Tso Moriri, etc. But then we thought about exploring North East India, as we hadn't known many people who went there on bikes. We then started our research and booked tickets in April only. We booked flights from Bangalore to Bagdogra on 20th October, and the return flight from Guwahati to Bangalore on 4th November. Once the tickets were booked for our 16 day ride, the 5 of us started to talk to our managers first to ask for leaves! Every Software Engineer knows how hard it is to get leaves more than 5 days at a time! That too, I had joined Cisco just 7 months ago. However, I informed my manger about the 16 day leave, and surprisingly, as I informed him well in advance, he told me I can take it if I have sufficient leaves! So that went silky smooth, thanks to my manager! Similarly, others also got the leaves approved and once it was done, it was time to start our detailed research! 

Our actual plan after days of research was to cover Darjeeling, Sikkim, Bhutan, Arunachal Pradesh and even Meghalaya if possible, and return from Assam. Our expectations while planning was that, one can cover at least 150-200 kms everyday. Little did we know about the roads of North Sikkim!

The exchanging of mails from the outlook, browsing for all the possible good places, reading as many travelogues as possible... Our Ladakh days were back! 

On October 8th, we sent our bikes through Blue Dart. We knew the guy, as he had safely sent our bikes during our Ladakh ride. It cost us around 20,000 Rs for 4 bikes.





Time to give a little intro about us! The 5 of us were - Myself - Yashwanth ( CBR 250R) , Santhosh (Classic 500), Sharat (Thunderbird 350), Shrinath (Pulsar 180), Sandeep (Pillion). 

One will realize how much they are attached to their bikes, during times like these. We had to spend 12 long long days without our bikes!  Commuting in buses and auto rickshaws are such a headache!

I had bought my CBR just 5 months ago. So I had to get it serviced again before sending. I also had to buy a rider's jacket, cramster saddle bag, knee guard, etc. Others already had those stuffs with them from our Ladakh ride. After buying all the required things and keeping many gatorade sachets with all of us, our bags were packed and ready! 

Finally, after counting down for months, the day came, when we were about to spend 2 unforgettable weeks of our lives! October 20th! 
On 6:55 AM by Yashwanth Rao   4 comments
And finally, the big day - October 20th came after what seemed like years of waiting! Our flight was from Bangalore to Bagdogra, at 6 am. As there are no direct flights from Bangalore to Bagdogra, we had to go till Delhi first and wait there for more than an hour for the connecting flight to Bagdogra. The flight to Delhi was pretty much boring.  Then in Delhi terminal, thank god there was a Foosball table! We did nothing else but to play Foosball for the next hour, till the security check-in.  



The flight from Delhi to Bagdogra was very exciting, as we could spot many snow capped mountains throughout. Then finally, around 2 pm, we had reached Bagdogra airport. Our bikes were shipped to New Jalpaiguri, which was around 20kms from the airport and we took a cab to reach there. 

And after reaching the Blue Dart warehouse, there we saw our rides.. After nearly 2 long weeks! Packed in cardboards and bubblewraps, we took them out of the warehouse and started unwrapping them, as if they were our birthday gifts!



But sending the bikes through Blue Dart was not a better option when compared to sending in trains. Our rides did take some beating. The side stand of CBR was totally bent, and I needed bricks all the time to park it anywhere! There were some dents on the silencer cover as well. But as soon as I pressed the ignition button, it started to roar within a second!






Since the bikes were idle for a long time, it did take some time to start all the bikes, by filling some petrol. The side stand of Pulsar was also damaged. We found a garage nearby and spent the next hour getting the bikes repaired. I had to get the side stand welded, and we also got a new spring for the Pulsar side stand. 

When I was getting it welded, some people from that village started gathering around the CBR, and started asking the questions.. 
"Kitna deti hai?." 
"30-35."
"Mera Gaadi 65 deti hai!"
"Achcha.. "
"Kahaan se ho? (Takes a look at the KA number plate).. Kerala?"
"Nahin.. Karnataka.."
"Udhar se? Bike mein?" 
Then I explained to him in my bad Hindi that we parceled the bikes from Bangalore to here. Then after clearing their doubts for another 15 mins about the bike, top speed, reason for buying the bike and explaining why CBR is better than a Splendour, the bike was ready!

We didn't have time to have lunch. So we drank as much water as we can and ate some biscuits. 

Darjeeling is just around 70 kms from Siliguri. But we had decided to take the alternate route, which goes through Lake Mirik, and touches the Nepal Border. In this route, Darjeeling would be 105 kms. But by the time we filled the petrol and the bikes were all ready, it was already 4pm. When in Bangalore, 4 pm would mean direct sunlight and hot conditions. But there in West Bengal, it was already nearing sunset. It was getting dark faster! 

So, we left Siliguri at around 4.30 and started riding toward Lake Mirik, which was 65 km far. We had gone there during Dussera festival. And we could see the festive spirit all over West Bengal. 

After riding for another 2 hours, at around 6.30, we reached Lake Mirik. Mirik is a small town in West Bengal. It was already dark and it was getting colder and colder!


Since we didn't have any proper food till then, we were very hungry and were waiting to pounce on any food we get! Even though it was still 6.30pm, the place looked totally haunted. As if it was midnight. There was a small cart selling Momos and Tea. There we had the best Momos of our lives!   It was very spicy and yummy to the core! We even had tea, and were able to feel the chill of the weather. We were then feeling that the snow capped mountains would be nearby somewhere! The momo guys then warned us to be careful while taking the route to Darjeeling, as robberies happen there frequently during nights, and the road went through a jungle! We decided to stick together from there and tried to take a look at Lake Mirik, but couldn't see a thing!  Instead we took a few pics of our bikes and then left towards Darjeeling, which was 40 kms ahead.



After riding for another 10-15kms or so from Mirik, we reached the Nepal border at 8:20 pm. That place was also totally haunted and everyone in that village had slept off. We easily walked into Nepal, without any security! Took some pics of the place to boast that we walked in another country! 




From there, we took another hour to reach Darjeeling. It was also totally haunted, and we couldn't find a single person to ask for directions as well! As a result, we missed a turn which leads us into Darjeeling town, and were going straight in a wrong road for nearly 10-15 kms. Later we realized somehow that we weren't in the right track and took a U-turn. 

It was 10:30 by the time we reached Darjeeling, and everything was shut in the town. After searching a bit, we were able to find a lodge and he agreed to serve us dinner as well. After eating well, our day 1 ended. It was around 11:30 by the time we went to bed, but we knew we couldn't have a sound sleep.. As we had to get up at around 3:30 only the next morning.. To go to the famous Tiger hill at Darjeeling and see the first rays of sun falling on the mighty Mt.Kangchenjunga!  
On 6:54 AM by Yashwanth Rao   7 comments
After a pretty sound sleep for 4 hours, we got up and left from our lodge at early morning 3.30 or so, to the Tiger hill, where one can see the first rays of sun falling on the Mt.Kangchenjunga! We left all our luggage at the lodge only, and the 5 of us left in 3 bikes, carrying just cameras with us. Since it was a Sunday morning, there were many tourists that day and it was already nearing sunrise at around 4 only! However we were not too late also. We secured a place to take proper pics of the kangchenjunga, and it was so tough to even get a place with the view, when it was nearing sunrise, as the place was so crowded!  Finally, the sunrise occurred at around 4.30 or 5.. And we had one of the best views of our lives there. The snow capped Kangchenjunga, shining!




After taking so many photos, we left back to Darjeeling. We visited Samten Choling monastery on the way back. It was a pretty good monastery, but all the places were crowded on that day. We had some biscuits and tea there. 



The streets of the town were totally empty. And just like we saw in the movie 'Barfi', the town had the toy train tracks everywhere.. 



From there, we went to a place called the Batasia loops. It was a small garden plus a war memorial. We could see Kangchenjunga from there as well. And also, there were some telescopes, from which some people explained and showed us the important places in Darjeeling for some 20 bucks.





From there, we went to the biggest monastery in Darjeeling - Ghoom monastery. And it was some sort of festival there it seems. So they were celebrating with dance and all. We could not understand the dance form, but still we sat there and watched it for nearly half an hour. It was pretty unique in the end. 








And then we went to the rock garden from there. When we asked many people about the route to the rock garden, everyone told us that our bikes won't go there! However we decided to go ahead, as we had already seen the mighty Rani's Nallah of Rohtang. We assumed that this road can never be worst than that. And we were right in the end! We had some good views of the tea estates on the way and the roads were pretty steep. The rock garden was also a pretty good place, with a water falls and many kinds of flowers. 





On our way back, there were some more processions as it was durga pooja. The entire town was celebrating and we were lucky to enjoy the festivities there. 





We even spotted the clock tower shown in the movie 'Barfi'! 



Our next destination was the Golden Pagoda. However, when we visited the place, it was under renovation. So we could just click some pics from outside, but could not go inside. Even this place had a good view.



And then we went to the Zoo in Darjeeling. It was there that we saw this cute creature for the first time - The Red Panda!




The Zoo was also a home to many other creatures found only in cold regions. Like the snow leopard and all. I was lucky to capture this cute girl there.




By the time we finished all these, it was already around 4.30 pm. We then got to know about the cable car in Darjeeling. We went to that spot at around 4.45pm. We also heard about a Tensingh Rock just 2 mins ahead of the place. We thought we would visit it first and then come back to the cable car. So, we went to the tensingh rock. It is supposed to be the place where Tensingh climbed that rock for the first time. So it got the name, Tensingh Rock. 2 of us even climbed a small rock there for fun. 


Then we went to the cable car, after drinking a cup of Darjeeling tea. By the time we went there, it was around 5.10, and then we got to know that it closes at 5.00! We had noone to blame but ourselves!  When we went back to the lodge, we found a Royal Enfiled of Karnataka registration! The lodge manager told us that guy had come alone! We were curious to meet him, but he was asleep it seems. Finally we checked out from our lodge and headed to Gangtok! For those who plan to go there through a train or something, Darjeeling is full of shared taxis. They will take you anywhere in darjeeling. I also have to mention, the road sense of those cab drivers was brilliant. They always used to give us space to overtake them properly, in those narrow roads. Our bikes were head turners all the way, as very few people go there in bikes. 

Gangtok is around 100 kms from Darjeeling. After riding for an hour and a half, we reached a place called Rangpo, which is the West Bengal-Sikkim border. The roads were pretty decent. The river Teesta was flowing parallel to the road, and we could hear its sound at the night, when we stopped. We had dinner at Rangpo, where we met this very helpful guy - Tashi. He saw us coming in bikes, and so he talked to us as he was a biker himself. He had been to North Sikkim and Bhutan also in bike and so he gave us all the guidelines that he could think of. Our actual plan was to exit Bhutan from Samdrup Jhongkar. But Tashi warned us that once you enter India from there, the 40 km stretch is very dangerous and many robberies happen there. We had even read about it in some blogs. Apparently, this Tashi was the first guy in Sikkim to buy a KTM Duke it seems. He also owned a CBR and a bullet. He gave us his number and asked us to call him whenever we face some issues, as he stayed in Gangtok only. He even told us he can arrange for rooms that night. We thought of calling him if we found no place to stay, and then left from there. After riding for another hour, we reached Gangtok at around 8.30. We even found pretty decent rooms to stay, and that is how, our 2nd day ended! We planned to get up at around 7.30 and head to the permits office next morning, as we had to take many permits to enter north sikkim, that too with our own bikes! 
On 6:53 AM by Yashwanth Rao   6 comments
Day-3 : Gangtok - Mangan
We had a pretty good sleep at Gangtok, and the next morning began with us standing in the queue at the permit office to get permits to enter North Sikkim and to Nathu La. Before that,, we had a nice hot bath there, which would be our last for many days! We had many photocopies of all the required documents. All of us carried many copies of our Driving Licence, PAN card, Insurance, Passport and many photos. When we filled and submitted the form, we got to know that we also had to get an approval from the Secretariat office. So we went there and waited for the chief officer there. But, it was a holiday season all over. All government offices were closed. However, luckily for us, since tourism is an important part of Sikkim, it was still open that day. We also met our friend there, Tashi, who came in a CBR to help us out in the tourist office. We were glad to have gained a new biker friend there. The officer came at around 10.30. His name was Mr.Pulgher. He was glad to hear that we have come from Karnataka and will be heading in bikes. It took around 2 hours there to complete all the formalities. We had to write a letter there requesting for permits as well. Finally, by around 2pm, we had all the permits acquired. We then had a light lunch there and left towards Chungthang, which was supposed to be our destination that night. 

Then, on the way we visited the Tashi viewpoint. It did offer a good view of some mountains all around. We bought the good luck flags there and put it on all our bikes. We spent around 20 minutes there. 

And again, my CBR was attracting interests of many passers by  One guy came and asked me again, 
"Kahaan se aaye ho? Kerala?"
"Nahin, Karnataka".
"Wahaan se chalaake aaye ho?"
(Well, this was the 20-30th time we were asked the same question already! So We had new answers ready  )
"Haan.. Udhar se hi chalaake aaye hain hum!"
"Kitney din lage?"
"3 din  Idhar se Gurudongmar road kaisa hai?"
"Road toh karaab hai. Dekh'ke chalna".. and it continued for another 2 minutes. 

Here onwards, we were used to think that we had come from Kerala, as it is more famous than Karnataka, and we rode all the way, as it would prevent us from explaining all the courier details :P

From this place, our biking in bad roads would begin. As soon as we rode for another 10 mins, we had to cross a bridge, and were greeted with a sign that read, "Welcome to North Sikkim". And from there, the roads turned from normal to bad. There were no tarmac roads here onwards and the roads were totally narrow, with many potholes and all. I couldn't even shift to 4th gear from here. All the way we were riding at speeds of just 30-40. 



However, we even got some stretches of tarmac roads also in between. We realized here that we cannot cover more distance everyday. After riding for around 60 kms, we reached this place called Mangan. It took us around 2-3 hours from Tashi view point. And the sun had already set by then. We had come across very bad roads by then. At some points, we had to even ride in 1st gear, cross streams and all. At Mangan, we came to know that it was the last petrol bunk we would come across. And we had to cover around 350 kms or so, by the time we come back to Mangan! We called it a night, filled our tanks and also carried around 8 ltrs of spare fuel. We spent the night at Mangan only. 

We had a good dinner there and the entire area is surrounded by mountains. We got a good view of many more villages in the hilly areas all around. We also came to know that one more group of bikers have rode towards Yumthang the same day morning. This day, we visited only one tourist place - Tashi view point, and the entire day was spent in just permit formalities and some biking. We were not too tired also. We had a good sleep, planning to get up and leave at around 5!

Day-4 : Mangan - Chungthang - Lachung - Yumthang - Zero Point 

From this day, our real Sikkim expeditions would begin. We got ready and left Mangan at around 6 am. There was a chill in the weather at the early morning, which kept us in a fresh mood. At mangan, we visited a view point. It was a beautiful view with sun rays falling over the snow capped mountains and we could see a river there at the valley as well. We spent around 10 mins there and left to Chungthang. 


Chungthang was around 30 kms far. The road was bad, and we had to cross some streams again. But the waterfalls we came across in this route were beautiful. We had many photo sessions all along the way. 

















After many photo breaks and GoPro video breaks, we reached Chungthang after another 2-3 hours. In these roads, covering 30 kms would usually take around 90 mins, and it usually drains you out, as the roads are bad all the way. And this led to our first problem during our trip - Puncture!  

The pulsar had a puncture here, and we had to blame ourselves, as we didn't carry a tubeless puncture kit! However, we managed to ride till Chungthang, where there was some dam construction going on in the interiors. And the local people pointed out that the construction company people had a mechanic out there, who has an air pump! We had to ride down in very bad slushy roads for around 20 mins to reach that place. And the roads were too bad! It was one of the worst slushy roads I had ever seen!  


However, after reaching there, he said he didn't have a puncture kit, but filled air into it. So we thought we could manage for another 30-40 kms in that condition and search for an air pump at the next village. We had a nice Maggi at Chungthang for breakfast. Here onwards, we would get only Maggi and Rice with Dal for breakfast/lunch/dinner all the way! And here, after our breakfast, we met some people who later learnt that we were from Kerala and we rode all the way in 3-4 days to here!  

The next main village we came across on the way to Zero Point was Lachung. There was a checkpost here, where we had to show our permits. After the formalities, we left towards Yumthang. On the way to Yumthang, we came across some very beautiful sceneries and we didn't miss a chance to take some good snaps. 








Once the rhododendron sanctuary at Yumthang started, the roads were covered with huge slippery rocks. We had no choice but to ride very very slowly. 


Yumthang is also known as the Valley of flowers in Sikkim. So we could usually cover just 10-12 kms in an hour. But it was off-season when we went there. By the time we reached Yumthang, it was afternoon already. But the valley at Yumthang offered a very very beautiful view. We were totally drained out of hunger by this time, and even though it was just around 2-3pm, all tourists were leaving back and all the shops there were getting closed! We learnt that after 4pm, the place will be very very cold and it may rain as well. However, we ate some biscuits, chocolates and dry fruits there, enjoying the view and spent nearly 20-30 mins. 








Our initial plan was just to go till Yumthang and ride back. However, after talking to some taxi drivers, we realized there is a place called Zero point another 30 kms away from that place, where we could play in snow. We were running out of time, as all the tourists were heading back. Still, once you go till Yumthang, you just cannot go back without going till Zero point! We didn't want to miss it. So, we started to ride there as fast as we could. The road from Yumthang to Zero point was actually good. It was a tarmac road as well! We assigned the duty of taking as many nice pics as possible to the pillion and started to ride, with least possible breaks. There was another checkpost at Yumesamdong. There, he told us that we actually had permits to just go till Yumthang and we had no permits to go till Zero point. However, he was glad enough to let us pass, after listening to our Kerala and riding all the way story  He asked us to come back within an hour and let us go, after keeping our original documents. 

The road was beautiful, and it was too cold. I would say, around 1-2 degrees, as we were surrounded by only snow and snow capped mountains everywhere. And the altitude was getting higher as well. We had started to feel the lack of abundant oxygen as well. We met a group of bikers, who were returning from that place. We gave them a biker hi-5 and didn't stop, as we were running out of time. After another 30-45 mins, we reached Zero point. It was a beautiful place, and we ran towards snow and just fell down over the snow to rest for a while. We were all shivering, but with excitement! We had seen one of the beautiful places in Sikkim by then! We took many more snaps, and then left back. 















We were the last group of people who visited Zero point that day. It was around 4.30 by the time we left, and the sun was running fast towards the west. Our 4-5 layers of thermals+jackets and our biker gloves couldn't protect us from the shivering cold chill out there. Our hands were numb already, and it was getting much colder as the dusk approached. Classic 500 was carrying a pillion this time and the other 3 bikes, we were riding alone. After riding for around 30 mins, we stopped, as we couldn't see the classic following us. We waited there, keeping our palms closer to the exhausts of our bikes. We had carried ample gatorade sachets with us, and we filled water in the bottles wherever we could. So here, we prepared some gatorade and drank it to get some energy. After waiting for another 20 mins also, the classic didn't show up. The sun had almost set and we didn't know what to do then. We were totally drained out, and the thought of riding back in search of the classic made us shiver more in that cold conditions! We decided to count till 10 and then ride back towards Zero point, praying in all ways to hear that thump again! 1..2..3..4..5..6..7..8.. Wait! We thought we heard the bullet sound somewhere! A little smile came across our faces. After another 30 seconds, we could see them again in those upward hilly curves! Thank god for listening to us!  When they finally came down, we got to know that one of their mobile had fallen down at zero point while playing and rolling over the snow! So after riding for 7-8 kms, they had to go back again, search for it and come back!  We scolded him properly for the carelessness and started riding again. We almost didn't stop anywhere else, after collecting our original docs at the check post. Even that guard was a little bit worried as we didn't come back early. We then called it a night, after reaching Lachung. We stayed there overnight at a pretty decent lodge, and were more than happy to eat the hot meal, sipping hot tea! We deserved that good meal after our coldest day so far!