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Old 27th June 2015, 18:14   #1
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Default HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson

I’ll be honest. Though I’ve always had a serious addiction of all vehicles since I was a kid, my loyalties initially lied with cars alone. Motorcycles were something that always sat on the *ahem* pillion seat, until around 2003. After years of saving up, I bought my own bike and with that, I learnt the joy of exploration. For many years, I did trips around Maharashtra and Goa, but India's North-East always remained elusive.

Imagine then how ecstatic I was, when I was given the opportunity to go one step ahead and ride across the Indian border into the picturesque, hilly Kingdom of Bhutan! This international ride was organized by the Bengal Chapter of Harley-Davidson, and this was its second iteration.

The H.O.G. ride to Bhutan has been made an annual event. It was held from the 20th-25th of May this year. The ride saw the arrival of around 31 Harley-Davidson riders from India, with owners traveling from different parts of the country. This included some hardcore enthusiasts who rode down from Bangalore, Kochi, Goa, Maharashtra, Sikkim, Assam and of course, West Bengal.

Insight into Harley-Owners Group (H.O.G.)

Harley Owners Group or H.O.G. was created in 1983 as a way to build stronger relationships with Harley-Davidson's customers, by establishing ties between the company, dealers and owners. It has also doubled up as a brand loyalty program that helps retain riders within the Harley family.

In the 1920's, Ray Weishaar of Harley-Davidson’s racing team 'Wrecking Crew', helped popularize the nickname 'H.O.G.' in reference to Harley-Davidson by carrying the team's mascot - a small pig, around on victory laps.

How does H.O.G. function with regard to chapters and dealers?

Each chapter is supported by a sponsoring dealer, and is led by a cadre of customers who volunteer as officers for the year and organize the group. Roles include Chapter Director, Treasurer, Secretary, etc.

How many members & chapters does H.O.G. have worldwide / in India?

Globally, H.O.G. has around one million members, making it the world's largest motorcycle riding club. There are over 1,400 chapters in 140 countries. In India, H.O.G. has over 5,000 members, who are active through 14 chapters.

How do you learn more / register for a H.O.G. event?

Harley-Davidson owners can write to rideindia@harley-davidson.com. Riders can get in touch with the local Chapter Manager at the nearest dealer.

Last edited by Aditya : 1st July 2015 at 10:29.
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Old 27th June 2015, 18:19   #2
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Disclaimer: The credit for the beauty seen in the images goes to the brilliance of the Bhutani landscape. Any photography skills are purely incidental.

Date: May 19th, 2015
Location: Bagdogra-Phuentsholing
Distance: 165-170 kms (approx.)
Google maps link

HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson-1.jpg

My journey began from Bagdogra after flying down from Mumbai. Joining me was Milind from Harley-Davidson and Halley, who was the other press rider. Our motorcycles were brought down from New Delhi, and were unloaded very close to the airport. Straight off the bat, the unloading process turned out to be entertaining. With no forklifts or solid ramps available, we found a nearby construction site. After unwrapping the heavily packaged steeds, we finally met our partners for the trip - a white Harley-Davidson Street Glide and a Street 750, along with a Road King that would be primarily used by Milind.

The unloading part was reminiscent of the Top Gear Patagonia Special. The truck was backed into a sloping section, and the motorcycles were cautiously taken out. It was here that we got our first taste of being a high-end bike owner in India. Nearly every worker at the site crowded around the bikes for photographs / selfies and of course, asking the typical Indian questions of “Sir iska price kya hai?” and “Mileage kitna deti hai?” The price would make their jaws drop in disbelief, and the fuel economy figure would invite a disapproving nod.

Brides to be in their veils:
HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson-01.jpg

HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson-2.jpg

The bikes are carefully taken out after the truck is aligned with the raised ground:
HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson-3.jpg

Classically styled Road King:
HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson-4.jpg

Biggest of the bunch - the Street Glide Project Rushmore:
HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson-5.jpg

Youngest partner on the ride, the Street 750:
HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson-6.jpg

Doesn't take much time for these machines to grab attention:
HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson-7.jpg

Finally, we geared up and headed to the closest petrol pump to fuel up. No peace there either, as we found a crowd gathering and taking photographs. A typical problem we faced is the lack of respect for another person’s property. You have to constantly tell people not to sit on the bikes and this often falls on deaf ears. The requests then turn into orders and the people listen, albeit with a groan or two.

A quick tank up in the searing heat and we were off towards Phuentsholing. We hired a local cab to take our luggage along with one of Harley’s service technicians with us to the border. The route we took was around 170 kms long. The road from Bagdogra via NH 31C is straightforward and there aren’t any major deviations to take you off the main highway. The main deviation comes at the coronation bridge that crosses the Teesta river. The highway then runs parallel to the Mahananda wildlife sanctuary. If you ever get confused, there are a good number of helpful locals to guide you. Smooth roads mean that you can hit high speeds very easily. However, like most highways in India, the route is lined with small villages and towns. Most of the locals don’t even look in one direction while crossing the highway, and leave the onus of saving their life up to the motorists, so it’s best to stay below 80 km/h.

Our journey began late in the afternoon, so we found ourselves hungry and dehydrated from the heat soon after. We spotted a local eatery named “Maa Manasha Hotel” at around 5 pm and feasted on some freshly made phulka rotis and some chicken curry along with sinus clearing-ly potent onions. I wasn't quite sure where we were and through one of the locals, learnt that we were near Madarihat. The locals also told us to be particular about following the traffic laws once in Bhutan. As we came to learn through our ride, Bhutan may be separated from India by a little border, but the two nations are worlds apart when it comes to respect for road discipline.

The bikes take a breather while we tank up ourselves:
HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson-8.jpg

The roads along NH 31C are quite smooth:
HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson-9.jpg

Little artifacts like these can be found at a few shops on the way:
HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson-10.jpg

HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson-11.jpg

Electric rickshaws have made some good headway in these parts:
HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson-12.jpg

A quick lunch and were back on our way. Up until now I was on the Road King, in order to get a hang of the big bike. Post lunch, I got astride the Street Glide Project Rushmore. On first impressions, this tourer is quite massive. Tipping the scales at 372 kgs, this machine does need some muscle to get off the mark and steer at low speeds. However, its looks are quite deceiving. Once you’ve crossed the 25 km/h mark, the Street Glide is surprisingly nimble and easy to use. The motorcycle came equipped with a music system and the sound quality was decent too.

You have to fight the urge to play around with the system while riding:
HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson-18.jpg

Lazily cruising while listening to some classic rock was great, but eventually we started losing daylight and needed to get moving faster. The roads from Bagdogra to Phuentsholing are a 70-30 split between good and bad, with the rough section coming in as you get closer to the border. There’s no lighting along the route, so it’s always advisable to get there during the day time.

We were fast approaching the border, our helmets and jackets getting splattered with hundreds of bugs on the dark roads near Jaigaon. We finally reached the Indo-Bhutan border and rode into Phuentsholing exhausted and elated. Our home for the night was Hotel Druk, which was strategically chosen because it shares a wall with the immigration office. A quick introduction with the H.O.G riders who reached earlier that day, and we called it a day post dinner.

Last edited by GTO : 27th June 2015 at 18:58.
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Old 27th June 2015, 18:19   #3
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Date: May 20th, 2015
Location: Phuentsholing-Thimphu
Distance: 175 kms (approx.)
Google maps link

HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson-phuentsholingthimphu.jpg

The next morning we were up by 8 am to get cracking on the immigration formalities as soon as possible. We were targeting a departure from the border by 11 am, but when you’re managing a horde of riders along with their bikes at one go, it’s difficult for things to go to plan. We grabbed breakfast by 8 am and were asked to get the bikes saddled up before heading to the immigration office. Meanwhile, the Bangalore riders arrived and parked up in the hotel compound.

Hotel Druk is located right next to the immigration office. Last year, the ride started from Chalsa:
HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson-15.jpg

Nearly every building in Bhutan has been traditionally designed:
HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson-16.jpg

Our partners in crime:
HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson-17.jpg

How often is a parking lot this interesting?
HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson-19.jpg

The bikes are saddled up before we head to the immigration office:
HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson-20.jpg

HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson-21.jpg

Machines from Kochi and Bangalore get some much needed rest:
HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson-22.jpg

Manoj Joshi - director of the Bengal Chapter helped coordinate the formalities. Documents required include one copy of your passport / voter ID card (carry the original as well) and passport-sized photographs (keep 8-10 handy) along with a form provided by the immigration office that you have to fill in. Once inside, the immigration officer will check the details on your form, take a picture of you, and scan your finger (a screen shows you everything being done, so you can spot any errors). The process was quick and we stepped out while the others were getting in for their clearance.

Quick note: Make sure you switch off the roaming facility on your mobile phone once in Bhutan. Any usage will attract international charges. You can buy a Tashi Cell SIM card in Phuentsholing. Even if you don't want the SIM card, nearly every hotel / restaurant / cafe in Bhutan has WiFi.

The immigration office:
HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson-23.jpg

I took a walk around Phuentsholing and realized how unique our border with Bhutan is. You see, there's a little gate at the border with less security than some residential buildings in Mumbai. This is more or less an open access zone and people can move freely between the two countries. Despite a difference of mere metres, the two nations are worlds apart.

HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson-13.jpg

The gate at the India - Bhutan border:
HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson-14.jpg

I was on the Indian side when I took the pictures above and in the backdrop is noise, honking, crowds, etc. Move across the gate into Bhutan and there's not one driver honking, the roads are clean and the environment is hauntingly peaceful.

At this point, I went to local store. The Indian Rupee is widely accepted in Bhutan, which is great and saves you a lot of trouble. However, you will get your change back in Bhutanese Ngultrums (both currencies have the exact same value). Sufficed to say, it's best to use up your change within Bhutan, since it won't be accepted in India.

Finally, with all the personal formalities completed, we fueled up and headed to the transport department to get the vehicles cleared. Documents required here include copies of your driver's license, vehicle RC, PUC certificate and insurance papers.

Time to ride!
HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson-24.jpg

The road transport authority office:
HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson-25.jpg

HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson-26.jpg

Red-tape dealt with, it was finally time to leave and the group headed out with the engines revving hard. We got to the first check post by around 2:30 pm, where our paperwork was verified by the authorities. The road to Thimphu isn't very far, but the route is full of twists and turns in the mountains, meaning your average speed will be around 50 km/h.

The first check-post en route Bhutan:
HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson-27.jpg

A prelude of the roads that follow:
HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson-28.jpg

HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson-29.jpg

We continued riding and gradually experienced the best part of rising altitudes - dropping temperatures. The sweltering heat started to leave us and the narrow, greenery-covered roads started leading us to rider heaven. As the altitude rose, we started to face a little fog and slowed down. The Phuentsholing-Thimphu highway is smooth, but quite narrow. I thoroughly enjoyed pushing the Street Glide, corner after corner, much to the astonishment of some fellow riders, given the sheer size of the bike.

HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson-30.jpg

HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson-31.jpg

Last edited by Aditya : 30th June 2015 at 17:44.
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Old 27th June 2015, 18:19   #4
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Bhutan is a nation that takes ecological protection very seriously, which means that the green cover is ever-present. A cool, hilly nation with each road lined with foliage = more relaxation than any massage could ever provide. Around 3:30 pm, some of us stopped over to take in the breathtaking view, got a little stretch in and whipped out our cameras for a few quick snaps. We continued riding for another 2 hours or so and got closer to the outskirts of the capital city. The group had split into 2-3 parts on the way, so we had to regroup before the Bhutan Dragons arrived to escort us into Thimphu.

HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson-32.jpg

The highway is barely visible amid the thick green cover:
HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson-33.jpg

Super smooth roads make for some fantastic riding:
HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson-34.jpg

Riders stop over to get a quick stretch in:
HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson-35.jpg

The fog slows us down periodically:
HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson-36.jpg

A few more pictures from the ride..
HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson-37.jpg

HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson-40.jpg

HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson-41.jpg

Every stop is an occasion :
HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson-42.jpg

HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson-43.jpg

Around 6:30 pm, the convoy was back together and we rode into Thimphu with the Bhutan riders. The ride into Thimphu was quite an experience. Bhutan is a very peaceful and quiet nation, so evidently, the rumble of several Harley-Davidsons was something completely out of the ordinary. We rode through the city as the locals (including the police) glared and took photographs.

The convoy then entered the hotel. We grabbed some tea and light snacks before heading to our rooms to freshen up for dinner. At night, we were reminded that our ride the next day would begin at 8 am Bhutan time (GMT+6 hours).

HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson-44.jpg

The capital at night:
HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson-45.jpg

Last edited by GTO : 27th June 2015 at 18:55.
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Old 27th June 2015, 18:19   #5
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Date: May 21st, 2015
Location: Thimphu-Punakha
Distance: 95 kms (approx.)
Google maps link

HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson-thimphupunakha.jpg

Our ride to Punakha began on a frigid morning.

Hotel Riverview offers a great view of the main capital city. On one hand you see the Changlimithang Stadium and the main market, and on the other, you see the rain-lashed, fog-draped, lush greenery-covered mountains and the lazily flowing Thimphu river. Thimphu has cool weather most of the year and temperatures rarely cross 22-25 degrees Celsius. That morning, the temperature may have been around 10 degrees. Cold weather has never been my cup of tea, so while the view was nothing short of therapeutic, my shivering hands were making it comically difficult to take a picture. A quick pack up and I was then down with the bikes to get a few snaps and warm up the Street Glide.

The capital on a monsoon morning:
HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson-1.jpg

HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson-3.jpg

The Thimphu river flows through the city:
HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson-4.jpg

The motorcycles are well-rested and raring to go:
HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson-5.jpg

HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson-6.jpg

HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson-7.jpg

Around an hour later, the riders got down, grabbed some breakfast and headed out to fuel up. Soon after, we lined up outside the hotel to ride to a view point.

The group lines up outside the hotel:
HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson-8.jpg

A city built in the mountains:
HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson-9.jpg

Riders pose for a quick group photo:
HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson-10.jpg

Some of the riders stop over to fuel up:
HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson-11.jpg

After a few minutes at the view point, we headed towards the Buddha Dordenma statue. The statue is 51.5 metres high, making it one of the largest statues of Buddha in the world. It is made of bronze and is draped in gold. The throne that the statue sits on, is a large meditation hall. The Buddha Dordenma is located atop a hill in the Kuenselphodrang Nature Park and overlooks the southern entrance to Thimphu Valley.

Images cannot justify the size of this breathtaking statue:
HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson-12.jpg

HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson-13.jpg

HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson-14.jpg

The Bhutan Dragons i.e. Harley-Davidson owners of Bhutan:
HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson-15.jpg

Hundreds of prayer lamps lit in a room near the statue:
HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson-16.jpg

HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson-17.jpg

HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson-18.jpg

The statue may have been a tourist attraction, but many of the Indian visitors around there insisted on taking photographs with us. 20 minutes later, we were back on our way to Punakha. An hour of riding later, we spotted a few more riders from India on Royal Enfields on their way back towards the main capital city. We then stopped over at the Druk Wangyel Cafe at the Dochula Pass for an early lunch at around 12:30 pm. The cafe is located opposite the Druk Wangyal Lhakhang (Temple), and features traditional architecture right from the entrance. We walked into the warmth of the dining hall and spotted framed pictures of the royal family and the King and Queen of Bhutan.

HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson-20.jpg

Fog blankets the mountain pass:
HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson-21.jpg

HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson-22.jpg

Druk Wangyal Chortens - the construction of these 108 chortens was commissioned by the eldest Queen Mother, Her Majesty Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuk:
HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson-23.jpg

HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson-24.jpg

HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson-19.jpg

The Druk Wangyel Cafe:
HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson-25.jpg

Portrait of the royal family:
HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson-26.jpg

Framed picture of the King and Queen of Bhutan:
HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson-27.jpg

Last edited by GTO : 27th June 2015 at 18:54.
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Old 27th June 2015, 18:19   #6
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Lunch was a mix of rice, spiced beans, mixed vegetables, fish curry, chilly chicken and noodles. Also on the menu was "Ema Datshi" or chilly cheese. The name of the dish is quite literal. It's essentially chilly peppers cooked in cheese. The dish looks harmless because of the white sauce, but it's spicy enough to cause a taste bud genocide. Sufficed to say, I learnt this rather late and two gallons of water later, I was able to see through my watery eyes again. Friendly note: Traditional Bhutani cuisine is spicy in general. Try it with caution.

Ema Datshi - the national dish of Bhutan:
HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson-28.jpg

HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson-31.jpg

HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson-32.jpg

HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson-33.jpg

There's a lot of merchandise / handicrafts available at the cafe as well:
HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson-34.jpg

HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson-35.jpg

HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson-36.jpg

HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson-37.jpg

The mud on the seat gives us a prelude of the roads that lie ahead:
HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson-38.jpg

After lunch we were back on our way and in less than 1 km, the bikes had to go from cruisers to dual-purpose machines as we reached the main Thimphu-Punakha highway. You see, the roads between Thimphu and Punakha are being re-developed. The government has started extensive road work to make Bhutan's highways on par with Europe's. In this, their biggest challenge is the terrain. The civil authorities have to blast through mountains, clear the debris and make the surface stable enough to build roads on. This, of course, means that people traveling between Punakha and Thimphu have to drive on some really rough surfaces.

It's one thing to take these roads on with everyday bikes and quite another to tackle them with high-end cruisers. Surprisingly, the bikes took on the challenge quite well. Yet again, the Street Glide proved to be very nimble and fairly easy to manage.

HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson-39.jpg

The road becomes an obstacle course. No challenge for anyone who lives in Mumbai :
HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson-40.jpg

Around 2.5 hours of riding later we entered Punakha and made our first stop at the Punakha Dzong. This palatial heritage structure has been built over the confluence of the Pho Chu and Mo Chu rivers. The surroundings are an ideal setup for someone looking for self discovery and meditation.

That's exactly what we did 10 minutes later. Dasho Sangay Wangchuck had arranged for some tea and snacks at a little field down the road. It was right beside the river and the sheer bliss of the beauty that surrounded us made me wonder if I had died and gone to heaven. The next hour or so was spent simply sharing stories, having a laugh and short periods of collective silence where everyone would just appreciate where we were. If Pink Floyd played on a sound system at the time, we'd probably turn into butter.

HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson-41.jpg

Punakha Dzong:
HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson-42.jpg

HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson-43.jpg

The surroundings make you wonder if you're on a movie set because it's beyond picture perfect:
HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson-44.jpg

The Punakha Dzong is built over the confluence of the Pho Chu (Father) and Mo Chu (Mother) rivers:
HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson-45.jpg

HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson-47.jpg

We stop by the riverside for some tea and snacks:
HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson-48.jpg

No matter how beautiful the landscape - the bike always comes first :
HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson-49.jpg

However, we still had to get to the hotel for the night, so we woke our muscles up, got back on the bikes and headed towards Hotel Zangto Pelri. We reached our stop for the night by around 6 pm. Everyone met up at night after a quicker refresh. We grabbed some dinner and hit the sack by midnight.

Hotels get traditional decor on the inside:
HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson-50.jpg

The dragon i.e. Druk, is a national symbol of Bhutan:
HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson-51.jpg

Last edited by Aditya : 30th June 2015 at 17:45.
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Old 27th June 2015, 18:19   #7
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Date: May 22nd, 2015
Location: Punakha-Bumthang
Distance: 225-230 kms (approx.)
Google maps link

HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson-punakhabumthang.jpg

The next day our ride to Bumthang begins. This was a daunting stretch that was filled with twists, turns, road works, fog and rain. The factor that can slow you down the most though, is the temperature. Punakha is located at an elevation of around 1,300 metres. Bumthang rises to around 2,800 metres and with that, comes an dip in temperature. The estimated time taken would be around 4.5 hours, but including stop overs, it could stretch to 6 hours or more.

Having taken the Street Glide until now, for this stretch, I got astride the "Made in India, for India" Street 750. I was looking forward to riding the Street, since the roads ahead would include a lot of bad stretches, which would make the baby Harley ideal because of its maneuverability. I took the bike out for a little spin just to get a hang of it after more than 2 days with the gargantuan Glide.

The Street is quite compact. It sits low, has a small footprint and the engine feels Japanese. Harley-Davidsons are crude, raw and every gear shift feels like hitting an anvil with a hammer. The Street 750 though, is refined, rev-happy and agile. After the Street Glide, it felt like a toy, but was properly fun to ride - though with my 6.5 ft. frame, I was riding it while almost sitting on the pillion seat.

The Zangdhopelri hotel:
HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson-1.jpg

Bikes await a quick wash:
HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson-2.jpg

There was still some time before we left though because many of the motorcycles were being tended to by the service team. The Bhutan riders for one, face the issue of not having any official Harley-Davidson presence in the region. Their motorcycles are imported from the USA, and have to be serviced by non-company technicians. Once the service work was done, we saddled up and were off.

HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson-3.jpg

Initially, the roads were good, but eventually we were back on the rough patches. The Street 750 was great to chuck around, but the low ground clearance meant a lot of foot-rest scraping. Dodging the potholes and muck was a load of fun though. We even passed a few small scale land slides and boulders.

There is barely any section of the countryside that isn't covered in natural forests:
HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson-4.jpg

HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson-6.jpg

We dodge a handful of boulders on the way:
HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson-7.jpg

Riders roll past:
HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson-9.jpg

HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson-10.jpg

HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson-11.jpg

I'll let the pictures do the talking:
HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson-14.jpg

HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson-15.jpg

HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson-151.jpg

Eventually though, we had to come to a stop because the road ahead was being cleared. There was a small part of a mountain that had been rigged with explosives. The civil authorities asked us to get through quickly as they had a schedule to stick to. We got past the mountain and not 2 minutes after crossing, we heard multiple explosives go off! It was quite a noise - sounded like muffled lighting.

Steep drops line the route:
HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson-16.jpg

Riders come to a stop as the mountain ahead was rigged with explosives:
HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson-17.jpg

Roads? Broken. Spirit? Intact!
HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson-18.jpg

A secondary school spotted on the way:
HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson-19.jpg

HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson-20.jpg

As the roads get smoother, we take a little break:
HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson-21.jpg

Wondering how treacherous the drops get? That thin line is the road we would be taking:
HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson-22.jpg

We kept marching on and grabbed lunch around 3 pm. One of the riders got into a little accident right outside the restaurant while trying to navigate a tricky U-turn. The bike was at a low speed and the rider got away without a scratch, but the foot rest and brake pedal broke. We then loaded the bike on a pick-up truck.

HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson-23.jpg

The damaged bike gets loaded onto a goods transport pick-up and is sent back to the capital:
HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson-24.jpg

Soon after, we were back on our way. By the time we were done with lunch, it was around 5 pm. The sun started to go down and with it, so did the temperature. Darkness fell and with no street lights along the way, the ride started to get a little challenging. I can't pin point the exact temperature, but riding beyond 45 km/h was nearly impossible. I was shivering on the bike and was putting my palm on the engine to warm it up. There were several brief moments where my hand would go numb and get stuck on the accelerator.

At this point, the group had split up into many parts and I was with two of the Bhutan riders. The road to Bumthang, like most roads in Bhutan - has little to no traffic. What makes it better is the fact that the drivers are so courteous. The road was dark, filled with muck on one side and broken patches of asphalt on the other. The truckers ahead of us would go further into the muck patches so that we could safely ride on what little road was available. My hand would hurt from repeatedly giving a thumbs up to so many of the drivers who would make room for us to pass.

Dark roads and dropping temperatures made the final stretch quite challenging:
HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson-25.jpg

We finally reached the Bumthang Mountain Lodge by 8 pm, our finger tips frozen by the weather. We washed up and cleared the insect graveyard on our helmets, before heading down for dinner. The riders spent some time chit-chatting and we learned some interesting facts about Bhutan:

- The Government of Bhutan has pledged to conserve the country's biodiversity and green cover. The establishment aims to maintain 60% of its land for forested areas, and over 50% of that has been allocated to protected sectors such as national parks and nature reserves.

- There isn't a single traffic signal in Bhutan! Police officers directly handle traffic even in places like Thimphu, where the traffic density is relatively higher.

- Education is provided free of cost in Bhutan. Even medical care in Bhutan is provided by the government, without any charge for citizens or even tourists!

Having learnt a little more about our northern neighbour, we called it a day, knowing that a long ride back awaited us the next morning.

A few snaps of the dining hall:
HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson-26.jpg

HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson-27.jpg

Last edited by GTO : 27th June 2015 at 18:30.
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Old 27th June 2015, 18:19   #8
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Date: May 23rd, 2015
Location: Bumthang-Thimphu
Distance: 280 kms (approx.)
Google maps link

HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson-bumthangthimphu-2.jpg

The next morning we were geared up and ready to ride by 8:30 am. The bikes got a quick check up and we were on our way. The route we would take was the same way that we came, except this stretch would be a lot harder. This was the same stretch of road that had road works and rough patches that we had done before, only with a more strict time restriction. Here are a few snaps from the day, from the rare moments that we stopped.

The group gets ready to leave:
HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson-1.jpg

The vast green expanse is never-ending:
HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson-2.jpg

HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson-3.jpg

HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson-4.jpg

HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson-5.jpg

We hit a roadblock on the way and have to wait for around half an hour:
HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson-6.jpg

HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson-7.jpg

We reached Thimphu at around 5:30 pm. The H.O.G. night would be held at a different hotel that evening. H.O.G. nights are usually held at the end of a ride, just for the group to get together and relax after a long spate of terrain taming. The party went on into the wee hours of the night. Some riders went back to the hotel a little after midnight, while others stayed out to explore Bhutan's night life.

HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson-8.jpg

HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson-9.jpg

Last edited by GTO : 27th June 2015 at 18:22.
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Old 27th June 2015, 18:19   #9
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Date: May 24th, 2015
Location: Thimphu-Paro-Thimphu
Distance: 105 kms round-trip (approx.)
Google maps link

HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson-thimphuparo.jpg

For the first time in days, we had a chance to wake up late. The main part of the ride had concluded after we returned to the capital. The original plan was to ride to Ha and Paro. However, we chose to ride only to Paro and return. The road to Paro is as perfect as the Stelvio Pass in Italy. The curves have just the right gap between them, so you can hit the turns at a good speed. The road surface was super smooth and it was fun to watch the riders ahead of me snaking along the bends. We may have been on Harley-Davidsons, but were taking each turn with a knee down (well, almost) and I felt like I was on the Isle of Man.

The airport is located at Paro, so as you approach the main city, you can spot airplanes flying quite close overhead. Our stopping point was along the highway, so we could see the Paro Taktsang (Tiger's Nest) monastery. The location can be accessed only after a trek that takes at least 2.5-3 hours. Sufficed to say, no one was in the mood for that, so we took a few snaps before heading to a cafe in the main city.

The Paro Taktsang is nestled among the mountains:
HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson-1.jpg

HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson-3.jpg

HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson-4.jpg

Harley-Davidson Rocker C:
HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson-5.jpg

As expected, the horde of bikers garnered a lot of attention, with locals surrounding the parked bikes for photographs in mere seconds. We grabbed some coffee before heading back to the hotel. There was an air of shared disappointment, because for almost all of the riders, this was the last day in Bhutan. We wrapped up and went back to Thimphu.

The nation's culture emanates through the architecture as well:
HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson-6.jpg

Paro is home to farmlands as well. All the vegetables sold in Bhutan are organic:
HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson-7.jpg

Roads smooth enough to land a plane on. The government aims to replicate these roads throughout Bhutan:
HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson-8.jpg

Riders head back towards Thimphu:
HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson-9.jpg

HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson-10.jpg

Dinner was at 8 pm and we spent our time remembering stories from the ride. Riders who came down from different parts of India shared incidents from trips till Bhutan as well.

Members who attended the ride last year, commented on how much better the ride was this time, since the rains were more forgiving. A load of shared memories and laughs later, it was time to say goodbye to our comrades from Bhutan. We exchanged contact information to stay in touch and turned in for our last night in Bhutan.

Jasha Maroo - a Bhutani spicy chicken stew:
HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson-11.jpg

Kews Ema Datshi i.e. Potatoes with chilly cheese:
HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson-12.jpg

Date: May 25th, 2015
Location: Thimphu-Siliguri
Distance: 365 kms (approx.)
Google maps link

HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson-thimphusiliguri.jpg

The next morning, we bungeed our bags to the bikes and left for Siliguri. I was on the Street Glide on our ride back to India. The Thimphu-Phuentsholing highway led us back and we were riding not stop. The move downhill was filled with lots of blinding fog. There were points where you could see the beginning of a cloud climbing up a mountain side. It was a sight that could make your heart skip a beat because it looked like a waterfall going backwards. After getting our documents checked at the two check posts on the way, we finally entered Phuentsholing and stopped over for lunch. The riders from Sikkim and Goa joined us shortly after.

HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson-01.jpg

The first glimpse of India while leaving Bhutan:
HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson-02.jpg

After lunch, we rode back into India with an invisible force begging us not to leave. The moment we crossed into India, the traffic and honking overwhelmed us. We rode through cramped villages and highways and at one point, almost trampled a snake that was easily 10-12 feet long in the middle of the highway.

We went around 20 kms off-route in the middle and had to backtrack another 20 kms to get back on the right route. At one point we had to stop at a railway crossing and were swarmed by the locals. The usual questions of price and fuel economy poured in.

We crossed village after village before finally reaching Siliguri. We entered the hotel parking lot and it finally sunk in that the ride was over. The bikes would be loaded up and shipped back to New Delhi that night. We went back to the hotel to pack up. My flight back to Mumbai was the next day in the afternoon.

Bhutan, as a country, is rare in our world of industrialization. The preservation of its natural heritage has given the country a picturesque landscape, no matter what part you're in. The people are among the most polite and hospitable I have ever met and though it's a small country, the world has a lot to learn from them. Calling the ride to Bhutan an experience of a lifetime would be an understatement.

It was a week of discovery, exploration and learning more about a country that is so close to us, yet we know so little about. In summation, all I can say is - thank you Bhutan for giving me a death bed memory.

HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson-04.jpg

Last edited by GTO : 27th June 2015 at 18:20.
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Old 27th June 2015, 19:09   #10
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Default Re: HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson

Thread moved from the Assembly Line (The "Assembly Line" Forum section) to Travelogues. Thanks for sharing!
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Old 28th June 2015, 12:55   #11
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Default Re: HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson

Thanks Tushar for a nice travelogue. Very well written, it has made me fall in love with Bhutan. I plan on visiting Bhutan after reading through your account of a wonderful road trip. I will not be riding though but as a country Bhutan seems pristine and we should learn a lot from it. Credit to your nice write-up, I will get to experience Bhutan in person.
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Old 28th June 2015, 13:25   #12
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Default Re: HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson

Awesome t-log Tushar. Though words and images can never do justice to the beauty of places like Bhutan, your log has given us a glimpse of Bhutan's culture, landscape and the yum food sitting in our homes.

Hope to drive down the route you guys did, some day! Cheers
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Old 28th June 2015, 18:59   #13
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Default Re: HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson

Nice write up and beautiful pictures. Thanks for sharing. I was just curious if you rode your own steed or a company provided one.
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Old 28th June 2015, 20:41   #14
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Default Re: HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson

Fantastic write-up and beautiful pictures. Just curious to know, any idea on how many Superlow participated in the event?
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Old 29th June 2015, 09:41   #15
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Default Re: HOGS in the Hills - Bagdogra to Bhutan with Harley-Davidson

Quote:
Originally Posted by psurelia View Post
I was just curious if you rode your own steed or a company provided one.
The vehicles were company provided.

Quote:
Originally Posted by ebmrajesh View Post
Just curious to know, any idea on how many Superlow participated in the event?
Don't have an exact count, but there were around 2 or 3 Superlows.
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