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wag-a-bond Oct 20th, 2011 20:26

Tawang and Shillong on motorbikes

Deastination : Tawang, Arunachal Pradesh and Shillong, Meghalaya.
Start date : 30.01.2011. from Kolkata
End date : 11.10.2011. at Kolkata
Riders : Faisal Chowdhury, Abizar Patel, Shiraz Sarwar and Indrajit Deash. Members of Eastern Bulls, Kolkata Bullet Club.
Bikes : Royal Enfield Machismo 500, Standard, Classic 350 and Electra 4s respectively.

DAY 1 (30/09/2011)

We started at last after a lot of uncertainties.
Last afternoon around 2-2:30, we gathered at Howrah station to book our vehicles with the railways. We have plans to carry on our bike trip from Guwahati on road. The contact at the parcel dept was not available. And other agents were at their heeds to get a deal. But all failed to do our job. There was still a little hope for which we had to wait for hours. I finally, left for office at 5 pm to attend to my commitments. And so did Shiraz. Faizal bha and Abizar kept waiting keeping their fingers crossed. After 7:30 in the evening we got the final verdict that our bikes won’t get on board on any of the train from Howah to Guwahati.
Plan B: Let’s ride.
Abizar was suppose to drop my bike to my office, and we would head for Siliguri tomorrow after breakfast.
Plan C came in place and was somehow a surprise which gave us an opportunity to book our bikes from Sealdah. But it came as a shock in the morning when we came to know that the bikes are being loaded on Kanchanjangha express by Abizar and Shiraz at 2 in the morning, sounds good still, but the catch is that our own tickets on Saraighat Express is at stake. The train could get cancelled.
The reason to all these troubles and uncertainties is because of goods train carrying petroleum products caught fire between Malda and NJP. Now all trains are either delayed and diverted through Bihar or cancelled off the chart. We are now badly stuck between A, B and C.
I came back from office at 7 in the morning after all night’s work. I was not aware of this situation. Could hardly get an hour of sleep, and then once again we were all on calls to get the latest situation and think of the wildest alternatives. At around noon, we got confirmation from agents and friends that both the trains are leaving for their destination. Finally we are looking forward to something.
We reached Howrah station on time. Ali, Saurav and Paras was there to see us off. Saraighata Express left Howrah at 3:50 pm, on scheduled time.
The journey was as usual in a sleeper coach, since we didn’t get reservation on AC. Well most of us were pretty tired of all the hassle in the past two days. We tried to get a little sleep in turn. Well, the dinner was worth waiting for. Abizar’s Maasi (aunt) had come to meet us at Malda.

DAY 2 (01/10/2011)

Train crossed Siliguri at 4 in the morning. We reached Guwahati at 12 in the noon. Checked in at a nearby hotel named, Realto. Standard tariff of Rs.1400/- for double bed AC room, good enough to refresh from the long train journey,
Our bikes were coming in Kanchanjangha Express from Sealdah, which was suppose to reach at 4pm. So after meeting Abizar’s relatives and exchanging the 1000 currency notes to 100s (in Arunachal 1000s and 500s are not accepted everywhere, as per the information we gathered) that we were carrying, we had lunch at 4. We went to the railway station to find out that Kanchanjabgha is late and is expected at 8pm. So we took our time to visit the parcel agent on the other end of the station. After searching a lot we found Mr. Chandu, After having related conversation with him regarding the delivery og our bikes, we all headed to an invitation at Abizar’s relatives place. Had quick snacks, and rushed for the railway station once again. We were dropped by the driver along with 2 jerricanes of petrol, sufficient for our bikes to reach the nearest petrol pup. Bu the train was still delayed and was expected at around 9pm. We had no choice, but to wait at the station.
Our bikes finally arrived at 10pm, and it took another hour and half to get delivered. The reason we were so keen on the delivery was to unload them personally. We had previous experiences with the bad handling of the coolis, and even though we were care full, the coolis did their job. There is obviously no light inside the wagon, so I lit up my pocket torch only to find out they were very casually standing atop my bike and were unloading heavy packages. We literally had to stop them from throwing heavy boxes from over the bikes, Faizal bhai had a broken clutch leaver and bend handle (which happened in our presence), I had a tampered tool box and head lamp hood, Abizar’s stopper was broken and Shiraz had minor bruises.
In Guwahati almost all the petrol pumps, except for the RNL pumps, close by 9pm. So we tried to head for the RNL pump, but were lost. With limited petrol in our tanks, we preferred not to take the risk but pack dinner and head back to the hotel, as it was already very late at night for Guwahati. We packed our bags with the plans to refill at the earliest and reach Tezpur at the earliest to get the Inner Line Permits done to visit Arunachal.

Day 3 (02/10/2011)

Since the alarm in my phone doesn’t wake me up, I had asked Shiraz to put the alarm in his cell phone, It did rang at the planned time, 5 o’clock. I woke up and tried to wake Shiraz up. But he didn’t. So I kept his ringing phone on his pillow, next to his ears with the hope that he would recognise his set alarm. It kept ringing, till the time I has freshened and return to shake him up from his sleep. It was almost the same in the other room, as the alarm set by Abizar didn’t work. Faizal bhai was quick to respond to my knock.
We started from Guwahati at around 7am, after refilling our bikes. The road condition to Tezpur was mixture of good and bad. Abizar’s bike broke down a little before the crossing to Tezpur. Rest of us took U-turn to find him in a tree shade. Faizal bhai quickly diagnosed the problem, and we found his battery was dead. We had to apply jump start technique and reached to the Bablu’s Bullet workshop at Tezpur. Abizar had to buy a new battery for some thousand bucks. And by the time we were taken to the Commissioner, who was supposed to issue us the ILP. Since its 2nd October, Gandhiji’s birthday, a Sunday and Durga puja festival, all the staffs were unavailable. So the Commissioner couldn’t help us out on that. We were advised by Mr.Rajdeep Sharma , our contact in Tezpur, to start for Bhalukpong, as there is another office out there which would be able to issue the ILP. After getting our bikes readied, we started at 12 in the noon and reached Bhalukpong by 2 o’clock. It was the same story here as well. We even searched at the residence of the ‘barababu’, Mr.Tarababu and Mr. Santosh.
Finally, we got our permits done through an agent named Vikram at the photocopy shop, next to the check post in exchange of Rs.100 as brokerage. We started from the check post at 4pm. Within an hour, it was getting dark and considering the ‘mashallah’ road condition, which reminded me of Ladakh, a stretch of Bhutan and mostly north Sikkim. We had to stop by a resort named The Retreat at a place called Elephant Flat. All the rooms were already booked by family tourists from Kolkata, who had just arrived from Tawang. We were left with a choice of a single bed room and another 3 bed room at the entrance. The three bed room was pretty damp and less maintained, and the single bed room in the new building, was clean and enough for four of us to adjust for one night.
We didn’t take breakfast, nor lunch for the day. With empty stomach and tired as dead, after the day’s ride, we ordered quick snacks and tea. The place is nice and supposedly with a view of the valley which we couldn’t enjoy in the dark.
After dinner we were on a stroll in the garden, where we enjoyed looking up in the sky to discover millions and millions of stars, which are hardly to be seen in town. And the sound of a nearby stream was an addition to the natures’ flavour.

Day 4 (03/10/2011)

Shiraz’s alarm did wake us all except for Shiraz. We came out to the open lobby where we were sitting on the floor last night. The view was completely different. Lush green mountains were waiting for us to take a look. We freshened up and started our bikes after breakfast. We left the place at 7:30. Refilled our tank in a nearby petrol pump, and headed for Tawang.
The road was horrible, in fact there was no road as such after Bomdila, only gravels and mud and dust. Bomdila was around 80 kms from Elephants Flat, where we refilled our bikes again seeing a petrol pump, because we didn’t know where would be the next fuel station. It was a very nice and big town, where we could have had our lunch. But the mood was to have lunch at Munna. Munna is a very small, purely residential village. So lunch was delayed till we carried on to a roadside hotel with fantastic view in the back veranda, where our lunch was served. After a while came the worst road ever. My rear tyre got punctured. I tried to signal Faizal bhai, which he couldn’t follow. So I stopped my bike in a small town. Abizar was coming next. But he didn’t ee me at all, as he was only concentrating on the horrible roads. Shiraz coming next to him finally stopped at my shouting. Luckily the puncture repair kit was with him.
We replaced the tube and it was pretty exhausting. It was the first time that I had replaced a tube. Otherwise to take out the wheel and visiting a nearby puncture repair shop is easy in the plains. Abizar came back after sometime and he too helped to finish the job. The whole process took up around of precious one hour. The weather was getting worse. Fog and cloud brought evening very quickly. There was a place to stay in Sanghe, 7 kms from this site. Faizal bhai didn’t turn up by this time. So we left a message to a passing by vehicle that we intend to stay at Sanghe and that he should meet us there. After we started, Faisal bhai was to be found a little ahead coming back for us.
Anyways, when we reached Sanghe, it was almost dark. There was a government guest house named Dzongrila. Nice and cosy for a place like that, but all five rooms were booked for military personnel and their families taking part in an event. We were allowed to pitch our tent in the compound, but seeing the weather condition and the chilling atmosphere, we persuaded the caretaker-cum-cook to arrange the sitting room for us. The only hitch, there was no toilet. We were allowed to freshen up till the military persons had arrived. The night was chilling. Me and Shiraz had occupied the two couch and Abizar and Faizal bhai took out their sleeping bags on the floor. Nobody could have a sound sleep in the night.

Day 5 (04/10/2011)

We started after breakfast at around 8:45am. The road to Sella Pass was again horrible. And in addition to that the weather made it worse. It was almost dark and foggy in the daytime. Some say this is world’s 2nd highest pass and others the Tanglangla in Ladakh. In any case, it was tough as it was suppose to be. But the descent was much better and less steep. We crossed Jung, Lhou and reached Tawang at around 2pm. We checked in after lot of searching at DhungFu. Nefa was good, but no attached toilet for the 3 bedroom. This seems to be the common factor out here in Tawang. The rooms we took are Rs.1200 and Rs.1400 each.
We immediately had to rush for the permit for Bumla to the DC office. The office closes at around 3:30pm but on our request the permits were provided. Then we had to rush for the Brigade office, where we had to fill up another form. We witnessed the flag off at precise 17:15hrs. Came back for a late lunch with Dosa and chow mean, which was pretty tasteless. We were very tired, but had to visit the Brigade to collect the permit for tomorrow morning to Bumla. After coming back me and Faizal bhai took a visit around the market.

Tawang is a city/town like Gangtok 10 years back. There is no mall in particular but the general market is a centre of interest for the tourist. At the start of the market there is a section which looks like the big prayer wheel in Paro, Bhutan. But that has an old look and is less busy. The town goes to sleep pretty early. The shops prepares to close down from six onwards as its in the east, its gets dark by then. So around 7 or 8 it’s mostly a vacant street.
We went to Orange, a local pub cum diner. The take the last order till 10pm. It’s a nice place to visit in a town like Tawang. Once you enter, you won’t feel that you are miles away from the metro. The food is quite good along with the ambience. Somebody visiting Tawang must come to this place. Thanks to Shiraz who found the place to dine.

Day 6 (05/10/2011)

Got up early and took breakfast at the Bengali restaurant downstairs. Aloo paratha was good. This small restaurant is much better than the one in the opposite, where we had late lunch last evening. They may play recent Tollywood music, but the food is pathetic.
We started for Bumla at 8am. There are several army check posts on the way where you need to show your permit. Bumla is not more than 40s, but the road is so poor that it takes hours. Basically it’s not meant for civilians. My bike was not supporting the incline, especially when I’m riding behind someone. Everybody has his own rhythm and in a road like this you cannot follow a queue. So once I stop or slow down to maintain distance from my previous rider, going ahead is getting difficult. And its obvious that my bike is falling short of power to incline. Faizal bhai with his intense experience took over my troubling bike, and his 500cc was a piece of cake. It’s so mighty that you can only taste its real power in the hills.
There was a stretch where the road was only boulders, steep and slippery with running stream was the toughest junction. Faizal bhai leading ahead with my troubling bike was stuck in a boulder and fell because his leg was stuck in between the crash guard. Abizar and shiraz was stuck too. I was in the 500cc and its was not a problem with the mean machine. To get out of that situation we had to push the bike from behind. Faizal bhai was pumping the accelerator and I was pushing from behind, inhaling all the pure CO₂. After we reached a platform, I was breathless. And so was rest of the riders who were helping each other. Due to high altitude and thin air, there was a lady in an Alto was almost crying as she had to climb that stretch because the car wont climb with the passengers.
Faizal bhai took his 500cc and Shiraz was helped by the local labourers, but I and Abizar decided to walk those last 3 kms. It started slowing after a while. And we took shelter for a while in an under construction Army igloo. It was around 10 minutes walk from there to the summit, but we couldn’t ignore an inviting lift from a passing by vehicle.
We witnessed the Indo-China border. Through the army monocular we saw the China post which was not visible through naked eyes. The monocular made in Germany was that powerful. We were served hot tea and pakora by the army guys. It was getting late and we were asked to leave soon as the weather was getting worse. We collected our bikes from down. The descent was pretty easier compared to the climb. But the weather got worse and started snowing. I reached an army post quickly as I was leading with my troubling bike. I was invited by the army guys to warm up in the fire inside their post. I was almost wet and shivering. Faisal bhai’s plug got problem which took some time for the rest to reach the post. We decided not to skip Madhuri lake named after Madhuri Dixit filmed in Koyla. We reached Tawang at 4pm.
Called up home and roamed around the market a bit and had dinner at the small restaurant down stairs.

Day 7 (06/10/2011

It was time to visit the Tawang Monastery. We were lucky to witness teacher and student monks stand in the courtyard and pray in union. Visited the museum where articles of 300 years old were kept for display. The main hall was big as usual, and a statue of Buddha was to be seen not less than 35 feet high.
We started from Twang towards Guwahati at noon. When we reached Jaswantgarh, Faizal bhai was left behind with a flat tyre. Abizar went back to find his delay. After confirming the case, with the oncoming vehicles, I had sent Shiraz to help him out with the puncture repairing kit. It was almost 3pm, and we were an hour delayed. By the time I tried to fix my horn. The Commander-In-Charge of the post Mr. Ray initiated a chat with me.
Sella pass from Jashwantgarh looked terrible in dark clouds. But when we reached the snow fall had just stopped and the valley was filled with patches of white. Few young local tourists were dancing and cheering on Hindi film songs to express their joy. I was admiring the rainbow, and Faizal bhai was in a hurry as always.
At four after a 100km ride we reached our planned destination at Sanghe. This time we could arrange a room for us. The cook prepared army’s canned fish for us in dinner. Since we didn’t have lunch, took early dinner and slept. But before that I was experimenting on capturing the beauty of the hills in moon light with my camera. The 5 min exposure came decent, with patches of road lit by the passing vehicle like a florescent snake in the dark.

Day 8 (07/10/2011)

We started at 6:30 in the morning for Tezpur. Stopped at Munna for breakfast. Had 15 eggs while we were waiting for the Maggie. It was a mistake though for the shop keep to keep a tray full of boiled eggs in front of hungry riders. Then we headed nonstop for Bomdila. Refilled our tanks and again nonstop to Bhalukpong. Had to notify the police at the check post. Reached Tezpur at around 3:30pm. We could have reached for Guwahati , but we preffered to stay at Tezpur. Tomorrow is the play for Shillong. But we were discussing on a second thought of skipping Shillong and instead going for Kaziranga. The idea was nice, but it was not feasible because of uncertainty in confirmed lodging. During this season lot of tourists visit these places with 2 to 3 months prior booking. We had a late lunch at around 6 o’clock or should I call it an early dinner.

Day 9 (08/10/2011)

We had a lazy morning. Got up late and started for Shillong at 9:00am. We reached Nongpoh. Habeeb bhai was waiting for us. We had lunch together at the Woodland dhaba. Habeeb bhai is doing an architectural design for the owner of the joint, Baajo with a classic 500cc.
Shillong has change a lot compared to the childhood memories. It feels like one of the congested roads of central Kolkata, full of cars on roads. Due to the natural calamities in Sikkim, all the tourists seem to be steered to the North East. Shillong was pretty over crowded with tourists.
The evening was completely stolen by a friend of Habeeb, Mr.Raza. A man could be so hilarious without consuming a single drop of liquer, I witnessed for the first time. It’s rare. Time passed by and we were falling off our seats in laughter.
Thanks to Habeeb bhai for the wonderful hospitality.

Day 10 (09/10/2011)

We left Shilling for Cherapunji a little late. Meghalaya roads are a paradise for riders. We visited the caves too. It was so crowded that I didn’t feel like going further down.
We started for Guwahati via Shillong. The roads were awesome as usual. It was a pretty pleasure ride while come back at the end of our journey. I was stung by a bee on the way. Reached Guwahati in the early evening and boarded in the same hotel. Then dropping our luggages we rushed to the railway station to book our bikes at the parcel office.

Day 11 (10/10/2011)

We had to wake up early in the morning to rush to the station. We boarded the train right on time. Three seats were together and one was there in a different compartment. We adjusted with a young fellow before dinner.

Day 12 (11/10/2011)

We reached Howrah station in the early morning at around 6 o’clock. Faizal bhai’s relative was there to pick us up. Fasizal bhai dropped us home one by one.
The next evening, we had to reach Howrah station to collect our bikes.

The entire experience was fantastic and remarkable. I hope the roads will be better sometime soon and it would be much easier and smoother to travel to the not so travelled parts of India.

View photo album out here :

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