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Old 10th July 2010, 12:47   #1
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Default Bike Trip: Siliguri-bhutan (thimpu & Paro)

Hi fellow members, it gives me great pride and joy to bring u a travelogue of our famous Bhutan trip we took in December 2009 on our trusty Pulsar bikes.

The planning for the trip began quite casually when we heard about a friend going to the Bhutan India border for a wedding. Some brave soul cried out "Hey why don't we accompany him (pause, pause), ON OUR BIKES! There was a bit of laughter around, and some "Are u crazy!" comments could also be heard. But there were a few of us who thought what a fantastic idea that could be. An adventure, a bit of risk taking due to the political volatility in the region right now.

So 2 weeks before the actual trip, we started planning and gathering information. Everyone was excited and couldn't wait for the big day. As we planned, the trip got bolder and bolder. No longer were we just going to the border town of Phuentsholing, but our plans had extended beyond the border town to the capital of Bhutan at the geographical heart of the country, Thimpu. Then since we were that far into Bhutan we also decided to visit its sister town of Paro 80 kms away. So thats was it,the route was finalised. Siliguri-Phuentsholing-Thimpu-Paro-Siliguri. And so was the crew, 4 Bikes (1 Pulsar 220 of mine and 3 Pulsar 150) and six of us. I insisted on riding alone on such a long trip.
Google map link:
Siligurí, West Bengal to thimpu map - Google Maps

Then the night before the date of our planned departure, some bad news. There had been some political clashes in the route we were supposed to take. More specifically in Nagarkata (See Map). Groups for and against the statehood demand for Gorkhaland had clashed and the whole region was tense. What do we do? postpone? cancel? The answer was neither. We decided to venture out early in the morning instead of the late morning departure planned and cross the troubled area by 8 am.

The next morning we all gathered at the designated venue, six of us on 4 bikes. Though the plan was to leave by 6 am , we eventually made our departure by 6:30. First stop was 3 kms into our trip at the local petrol station where we filled up with petrol and air. Then after that our trip began. The roads were deserted early in the morning so we made great progress through the normally crowded city of Siliguri and entered the area known as the Duars.

The roads around this area, the Duars, were quite straight. But the condition of the roads were nothing to enjoy. Some sections were ok for doing 90kmph, on others we were barely doing 30-40kmph. We did not dare touch triple digits on our speedo because of the ever present danger of coming across massive potholes unexpectedly (I learnt that the hard way). This region famous for its tea gardens was a delight to the eyes, and since it was quite cold in the morning we took plenty of toilet breaks and got to enjoy the scenery as well.

The first problem of the trip started as we approached Nagarkata, the same place where there were ethnic clashes the day before. But our trouble was more mechanical. A friends Bike started smelling of burning engine oil, and the lower crank case on the right hand side had spots of engine oil on it. Luckily there was a small bike repair shop open and he diagnosed the problem as lubricant from the clutch cable coming in contact with the hot engine and burning. That was a huge sigh of relief as we thought maybe an engine gasket had broken or something, which would have delayed our trip by hours.

So then, it was a quick dash, 200 kms to the India /Bhutan border to the town of Phuentsholing. Since we had decided to have lunch at the border itself, we made few stops in between as we were all getting hungry and reached the border area by 11 am. The only other delay we faced was a massive traffic jam 3 kms from the border area caused by massive load carrying trucks.

Below I attach Pictures taken on the first leg of our trip from Siliguri to the Border town of Phuentsholing.

Pic 1: Dash through the jungles of North Bengal

Pic 2: 4 Bikes and six of us all filled up and ready to start off the journey.

Pic 3: What the Duars area is famous for, acres and acres of tea gardens.

Pic 4: Me on one of many toilet breaks.

Pic 5: The Oil leak being checked at Nagarkata.

Pic 6: Finally at the border of India/Bhutan. The Border gate to Bhutan.

Pic 7: Yummy finally lunch at 11:30 am. Mutton curry with rice(me on left).
Attached Thumbnails
Bike Trip: Siliguri-bhutan (thimpu & Paro)-p1010361.jpg  

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Last edited by amrisharm : 10th July 2010 at 13:07. Reason: pictures not corresponding to upload sequence
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Old 10th July 2010, 17:13   #2
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Interesting ride. Please continue. Love to see Bhutan through your eyes.
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Old 10th July 2010, 18:17   #3
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another crazy biker group!!

c'mon make us jealous... post quickly!
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Old 10th July 2010, 19:56   #4
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amrisharm,

Your travelogue makes me nostalgic, albeit vicariously.
My late father was in Bhutan for a period of six years and referred to Phuntsholing, Thimphu and Sherubtse unfailingly in his glowing accounts of his time there. Please keep your travelogue rolling.

One query : is a drive possible along your route in a car with low ground clearance- such as the Civic?

If so, I may be tempted to attempt a 'crazy' drive to these places.

Regards

Last edited by issigonis : 10th July 2010 at 19:58.
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Old 10th July 2010, 21:37   #5
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amrisharm : Its a very interesting travelogue.

I have a query. Is it possible to visit Bhutan without any documents like Nepal? Is it a free border?
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Old 10th July 2010, 21:56   #6
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Hey TauranBull,
If i am not wrong, you dont need a VISA to visit Bhutan if you are a Indian national. You would be asked to produce your passport or Voter ID proof to enter Bhutan. But i may not be completely informed!!
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Old 10th July 2010, 22:53   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Lightening-Fast View Post
Hey TauranBull,
If i am not wrong, you dont need a VISA to visit Bhutan if you are a Indian national. You would be asked to produce your passport or Voter ID proof to enter Bhutan. But i may not be completely informed!!

You are right. You can visit Bhutan with the ID proof of Voter ID and Pass port. Your Licence is not accepted as an ID proof. So better avoid Licence,PAN card and Ration card to visit Bhutan.I did drive alone all the way from Pondichery as a solo driver and bike in 1991. Reached Bumthang which is in the High altitude and about 450 kms from Phuntsholing(Bengal Bhutan Border) I did worked for 28 years in various parts of Bhutan. Still I visit quite ofter from Chennai Bagdogra by air and from there by train and Car.

Last edited by navan49 : 10th July 2010 at 22:57.
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Old 11th July 2010, 00:53   #8
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Reminds me of my solo mobike rode from Bombay to Bhutan in 1994.
I went again to Bhutan in Apr 2009.
Roads in Bhutan are excellent, no problem for any car, although there are currently some bad sections thanks to road widening between Phuntsoling and Chuzhom en route Thimphu/Paro.
You can read about how to get your permits for Bhutan in the following link, which has my travelogue from last year's drive:
hvkumar: kumar'snortheastdrivingholiday8
Remember, carry your passport, you will save going to Indian Consulate, that means also 1 hour saved.
Remember, the visas/permits are issued only on working days, so ensure you arrive the previous night and be at Immigration office at 9 am sharp.
When you are driving your own vehicle, you have to run across to the RTO (called RSTA) for the vehicle permits.

navan49, that must have been an incredible/miserable experience working in Bhutan in the 80s. Were you a Electricity engineer, I have known most Indians there to be power and civil engineers? Or teachers. Share with us some stories from your experiences there.

You can check out my 2 trips to Bhutan in the following links:
NORTH EAST 1994 - hvkumar | Google Groups

NORTH EAST 2009 - hvkumar | Google Groups
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Old 11th July 2010, 11:25   #9
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Hi all, I am glad to see you all enjoyed my travelogue so far, very encouraging for a new Team-bhp member like myself. Anyways it seems there are a few inquires that have come up so I shall answer them in order of the posts.

@" issigonis"

I am glad you enjoyed my pics, and my advice to you is to avoid taking your Civic to Thimpu for at least another 3-4 years. The whole stretch of 180 kms from the border to Thimpu is in a state of being widened so in many places the tarmac is non-existent. You will know exactly what I mean once I post the next lot of pics. After seeing those you yourself will come to the same conclusion.

@ "TaureanBull", "Lightening-Fast" & "hvkumar"

To enter Bhutan you do not need a visa as such, but you do need to make permits. And these permits have to be made for each and every place you intend to visit. Lets say for example you originally only planned to go to Thimpu and took out a permit just for that town, but then after getting there you decide to visit Paro as well then you have to make another permit for Paro. This applies to all the places in Bhutan. There are check posts scattered all over the highways and if you are caught without a permit for a particular place u are in, there is an instant fine of Rs 10,000 per person and maybe a jail term as well.

As for applying for these permits, all we had to do was submit an application along with a xerox copy of a photo I.D of us. In our case we all used our Drivers Licence and that was it.

As for getting our permits for our bikes, we did have to go to the local (Bhutanese) RTO, where we submitted xerox copies or all our bike papers. After that permits were issued.

Honestly we did not face any problems with the permits and all as we had a local guy at the border helping us out. The only problem we faced was the long wait as we got there around 12:00 pm and the offices were closed till 1:30 for lunch. After that we got our permits by 3:00pm and were on our way to Thimpu by 3:30 pm.

The whole cost of permits for 6 guys and 4 bikes was Rs300 (1 week permit for Thimpu and Paro).


@ hvkumar

Just wanted to know, why did you have to go to the Indian consulate?
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Old 11th July 2010, 12:47   #10
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Few weeks ago, we in our group debated whether we should go to Bhutan during year end vacations. we have not yet made up our minds.
i look forward to learn more from your log.
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Old 11th July 2010, 12:56   #11
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Hey amrisharm, a great writeup in the making, it appears. Interesting to see the eagerness in going into the adventure.

As SS-da mentioned, lets see Bhutan through your eyes.
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Old 11th July 2010, 14:37   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by amrisharm View Post
@ hvkumar

Just wanted to know, why did you have to go to the Indian consulate?
No, I did not have to go to Indian Consulate. I was told that if you produce any personal ID document other than a passport, you have to get it attested for its authenticity by the Consulate since the Bhutan Immigration does not trust them. I saw many others who had their driving licenses who had to run around for this. I had carried my passport (for this reason) so I straightaway went to Immigration.
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Old 11th July 2010, 19:53   #13
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@amrisharm : What I have gathered is there is a separate permit for vehicle and the person. But what I have not understood is where do you apply for the permit? Is there some office in India or Bhutan? In case its in Bhutan then it can only be through agent.

Is there some way you can procure permits before hand sitting far away say Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai etc? Every one would prefer to have permit before starting a tour from their place. In case of Vehicle permits what all documents are required?
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Old 11th July 2010, 20:31   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by TaureanBull View Post
@amrisharm : What I have gathered is there is a separate permit for vehicle and the person. But what I have not understood is where do you apply for the permit? Is there some office in India or Bhutan? In case its in Bhutan then it can only be through agent.

Is there some way you can procure permits before hand sitting far away say Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai etc? Every one would prefer to have permit before starting a tour from their place. In case of Vehicle permits what all documents are required?

Obtaining Permits in Bhutan – never in advance, only on arrival at border

You need 2 levels of permits to enter Bhutan in your own car. You can apply only after arrival, no advance permits for Indians.

First is the Entry Permit (equivalent to visa) for each person.

You can download the entry permit form from the internet.
If you carry your passport, go to the Immigration Office in Phuntsoling (the first Bhutan town) at 9 am Bhutan Time (IST 830 am), works on Mon-Sat, except Bhutan holidays. Produce the filled up form, along with your passport, 2 photos, copies of passport. Indicate that you want to travel to Thimphu and Paro (only these 2 places are permitted from this Office). You will be given your Entry Permit in 30-60 minutes. I had planned in such a manner that I arrived on a working day, else you may get stuck awaiting the offices to reopen after the weekend/ holidays.

In case you are not carrying your passport, first visit the Indian Consulate at Jaigaon, show them proof of your Indianness (driving license, ration card, etc, for each member in your team), and take their verification certificate to the Bhutan immigration office and do the same thing indicated above. Indian Consulate opens at 830 am Bhutan time, half an hour ahead of the Bhutan Immigration Office. Be at the Immigration Office at 9 am sharp to process your application ASAP before the crowd starts.

If you are driving your own vehicle (car or bike), you have to next obtain a Route Permit.
After getting your Entry Permit (take 5 photocopies), drive ahead to the Phuntsoling Bus Stand (300-500 metres), where the Road Safety & Transport Authority (RSTA) office is situated in the second floor of the bus stand building.

Produce your vehicle documents (RC Book, Driving Licence, PUC) in original and copies, along with original and copies of the Entry Permits. You will have to run around a couple of sections (Licensing, Registration, Cash), pay some nominal fees, and you should obtain the Route Permit for your car in 30-60 minutes. This office is also open during office hours.

Once you have obtained your Entry Permit and Route Permit, generously take photocopies of each and proceed to Thimphu. You will be asked to stop at 3 checkposts on the way to show your permits. Remember - all your documents should be in original and there is no corruption in any of the offices.

In case you wish to go beyond Thimphu and Paro, like to Central and East Bhutan (like I did), you have to re-do the entire process in Thimphu - where you will be given an extension of the original Entry Permits and similarly for the Route Permits. The Immigration Office in Thinphu is located in the the Norzim Lam (main road in Thimphu), and the RSTA also in the bus stand.
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Old 11th July 2010, 21:29   #15
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@HVK Sir : Hats off to you. Its not possible to gauge depth of your knowledge. Your replies are always comprehensive, precise and prompt.

BTW I am now studying your NE Trip 2009 on google group.

Thanks for that wonderful piece of information.
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