Wacky ride to the White Desert

If I had a horse, I’d ride off in the sunset, where dreams, and shadows lie. To a life, where pain and sorrow don’t exist, and to where hopes, and dreams become reality.

– Lindsay Turcotte

Well, I didn’t have a horse but I had something better, a 19 bhp RE Thunderbird 350cc and ride into the sunset, I did.

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Yours Truly

Okay, this time I am going to take a different approach. All the good experiences will be in pictures and all the things that didn’t go the way we planned (they are a lot!) will be in text.

Day 1 – Delhi to Jaipur

Mishap of the day – couldn’t reach Nahargarh Fort on time due to traffic and missed it…Again!

Day 2 – Jaipur to Udaipur

Mishap of the day – Visited Fateh Sagar Lake and some drunk people were arguing with the police in the middle of the road and thus traffic jam. Also, it was too crowded and yet people were not in festive mood.

Day 3 – Udaipur to Gandhinagar

Mishap of the day – Gandhinagar was not in our itinerary, we were meant to reach Bhuj by evening, but we spent too much time in Mount Abu and Dilware Temples that we had to change our plan.

Day 4 – Gandhinagar to Bhuj

Mishap of the day – After reaching Bhuj, we got to know that Lakhpat fort and Dholavira are very far from our place of stay, so we will not be able to cover them due to lack of time. Also, there was supposed to be a ferry service from Mandvi Beach to Okha to Dwarka that was recently discontinued. So, we missed that too.

Day 5 – Bhuj to Kachchh

Mishap of the day – During the moonlight, I had planned to click long exposure shots of the stars and the salt desert that glows during the night and I even carried a tripod with me all the way, but somehow, I lost the quick release plate and was unable to mount my camera on the aforementioned tripod, thus, wasting an excellent opportunity.

Day 6 – Kachchh to Sirohi

Mishap of the day – We planned to stay at Barmer to enjoy the sand dunes and camel rides and desert safari, but since, we got late..again, we dropped the idea and moved towards Jaipur as much as we could, and as the night got darker and the way got desolate, we had to stop for the night. Hotel California, anyone?

Day 7 – Sirohi to Pushkar

Mishap of the day – We were meant to stay in Ajmer and visit Ajmer Sharif, but couldn’t find a place to stay due to rush, so we moved to Pushkar instead.

Day 8 – Pushkar to Delhi

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We did cover Ajmer Shareef in the morning 😛

Mishap of the day – A 2 hour ride in Delhi Metro was enough to kill all the zeal and enthusiasm that was built in last 7-8 days. I truly hate coming back to Delhi.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I did have alot of fun on this trip and I clicked some excellent pictures, as per me ;), really enjoyed the hospitality of Gujaratians. Roads are in awesome condition, both in Rajasthan and Gujarat, only the Jaipur and Udaipur had traffic jams otherwise, the highways were clear from the capital to the western coast. Local food was delicious, both in Gujarat and Rajasthan. I returned home with a stock of local snacks and a promise to visit Kachchh again.

Some random clicks

 

Points to remember when undertaking a road trip – 

  • Don’t overestimate your driving capabilities.  😀
  • Don’t try to match the speed of your bike to the accompanying car, it’s dangerous as well as useless.
  • Drive safe and within limits, I saw way too many dead animals on the highway. It’s our responsibility to keep them safe as well.
  • Prepare itinerary carefully and keep backup options in case your main itinerary fails.
  • Always be prepared to make changes on the go, quick thinking goes a long way in the wild.
  • Don’t rely too much on Google Maps, they are accurate up to a certain level.
  • Put rest days in between, otherwise, you will get exhausted quickly.
  • Take your time, stop often, click pictures and enjoy the ride.
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Bhutan – A Land of Harmony and Happiness

Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends. – Maya Angelou

This marked my first trip out of the country, so it was very special for me and Bhutan certainly lived up to the expectations. It is as alien as it is familiar, it is a foreign country but gives you the feel of home as well. So, here’s how it went…

Day 1

Has it ever happened to you? You reach the Gate Number as listed on your boarding pass just on time only for it to change to the gate that is at the opposite end of the Airport and you run and when you are almost halfway there, the announcer changes the Gate Number again? No? Well, it happened to us. So, we settled in the flight and for my delight it had a number of empty seats, so there was only one thing to be done in that case, Photography!

You can see Mt Kanchenjunga in the above pictures.

We also witnessed the region of North East India that has been hit by the massive flood.

After 2 hours and 20 minutes, we landed at Paro Airport, one of the magnificent airports in the world, while landing, the plane has to descent between two mountains on each side and it’s enough to give you an adrenaline rush.

Our travel agent was waiting outside the airport with the car, and we were transported to Thimphu directly. On the way, we noticed things that were astonishing, even though the country is in Himalayan range and has the looks of Indian hill stations, the air is pure, architecture is orderly and the roads are clean and there is no traffic on the road and no one honks! People are so diligent and patient. Taxis and shops are run by women and everyone is dressed in the national dresses, Gho for men and Kira for women and every citizen has to wear them during official hours. There are no traffic lights in the city and traffic is manually controlled by Traffic Police. We had the whole evening to explore markets ourselves.

Found some cool things for souvenirs

Day 2

Woke up early as we had to collect the travel permit for Punakha from Thimphu office and it can’t be obtained from any other place. We went down to have breakfast only to know that we didn’t order it last night, so nothing was prepared and the raw material was also finished. There, we came to know that even though it is the capital city, people lead a simple and leisure life here. All the shops or restaurant opens after 10AM, so we had to starve for like another 3 hours. Luckily, it was a weekday, thus, at least we got our permit. From there, we covered Thimphu Chorten, Buddha Dordenma Statue, National Folk Heritage Museum, Takin National Reserve, Tashichho Dzong and National Library.

One thing that I really liked about Bhutan is that they have found a way of sustainable development, they are very close to nature and believe in traditional methods of living which results in minimum wastage of resources, conservation of environment. They don’t have big industries and major source of their income is Tourism and Handicrafts.

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One way of reducing and reusing the plastic bottle waste

They don’t believe in GDP (Gross Domestic Product), instead they measure their growth by GNH (Gross National Happiness), it is a measure of how happy or satisfied the citizens of the country are. Bhutanese people keep themselves busy in religious activities in order to avoid greed, jealousy, and cravings as these are the three root evils of Buddhism and it is the most prominent religion of the country. Thus, they maintain order, harmony and happiness among each other and towards nature. They have maintained the forest coverage of 72% of the total land area and thus is the only country in the world to have Zero Carbon Emission.

So, after covering all the places and gaining a proper insight into the Buddhism and Bhutanese way of life, we went to a bar to check the young and modern life of the natives. Going to a bar in Bhutan is an amazing experience in itself, the singers sing songs ranging from Nepali, Bhutanese folk songs and old Hindi songs from 80s or 90s. All the performers have day jobs, they don’t get paid for playing music, they just gather on the stage to flame the passion of music. It is such a good place to make new contacts and friends.

The guy above had a telecom shop next to our hotel

Day 3

Today, we left Thimphu and drove to Punakha, passing the beautiful Dochu La on the way. It was covered in clouds and was drizzling all around, it was one of the most loveliest sight and it felt awesome to be there. In winters, it is covered in snow, that makes it more beautiful.

We also went to the Punakha Dzong (fortress), it is a spot where two rivers Mo Chhu (mother) and Pho Chhu (father) meet. You can also spot the Elephant Hill behind the Dzong in the above picture.

Another place that we went to was Chimi Lhakhang (infertility monastery), couples who can’t have kids go there and seek blessings to have children. There are many cards with names and a couple can even get the name of the kid predicted. The temple and near village has houses covered in Phallus decorations, and it is their belief that putting erect penises on the outside of their doors would drive evil eye or malicious gossips away from their household.

Day 4

We drove back to Paro via Dochu La and Thimphu and stopped by a local farmer’s market to buy some fruits and vegetables. All of the farming in Bhutan is organic and Food Corporation of Bhutan is very strict about using chemicals in food or drink items. The wine or beer that is sold in Bhutan is also made by 100% organic fermenting methods.

During this long drive and frequent changing of temperature and altitude, two of our candidates got fever. So, we left them at hotel in Paro to rest and made our way to Chele La- it is the pass between Paro and Haa Valley, is 3988 metres above sea level is located at around 40 km from Paro.

As we sat there, having tea and Maggi, one spectacular thing happened, the clouds thinned to reveal the whole valley and it is certainly one of the most memorable moments of my life so far.

Upon returning, we went to National Museum of Bhutan, another thing that I noticed is photography is not allowed on the inside of the premises anywhere in Bhutan, be it museum or temple or monastery or Dzong or even shops. I am quite disappointed by that. Other thing we came to know that basic healthcare and education is free for the citizens of Bhutan and private practices are not allowed, all of them have to serve His Majesty’s office. Smoking is banned throughout the country.

Day 5

All the walking, stair-climbing done on previous days was preparation for this day. We went to Paro Taktsang or Tiger’s Nest. It is believed that Guru Rinpoche, the one who introduced Buddhism in Bhutan, flew there on the back of a tigeress and meditated there for around 3 years. It is a sacred place and is a group of around 13 temples and is situated at 10250 ft above the sea level. To reach there, first we had to drive for about 10 km from Paro, then had to trek for about 7 km, the trek is a little bit difficult and after you complete around 6 km, you have to take a staircase consisting of 800 steps to reach the temple.

Tiger’s Nest in all it’s glory

During our descent, we came across some delightful people, some were Chinese, some were Koreans, some from Bangladesh as well and locals too. To see everyone working together to reach the starting point safely was amazing, our language or ethnicity was different, but since we had the same goal, all of us were aligned and were in harmony. Something can be learned from this, I will leave it for the reader.

After Taktsang, we went to Paro market and did some souvenir shopping and even bought some groceries like Red Rice and Koka etc. and I was interested in buying a lunch basket but couldn’t find one with the cover, so had to leave it out. Lastly, we visited the lighting of Paro Dzong, which was amazing in itself.

Day 6

We arrived at airport early in the morning and said our goodbyes to the travel agent/driver that we hired. He was a great company for the trip and was a very resourceful person. We landed in Delhi at around noon after circling in air for about 20-25 minutes because of air traffic and after spending an hour in Delhi, I became irritated by the traffic and the noise from all the honking and my face had new pimples. I was finally home.

Things that would be of help if you decide to go to Bhutan :

  • Indian Currency is acceptable everywhere, 1 INR = 1 NU, but they don’t accept the currency note of 2000.
  • Get a local SIM for your phone as soon as you land, it’ll be very helpful, trust me.
  • Washrooms don’t have toilet seat water-jets, so make use of Toilet Paper.
  • Wi-Fi in most places don’t work, so be prepared to use your data pack.
  • Order breakfast before having dinner, otherwise you’ll spend the next day starving.
  • Shops and hotels don’t open up until 10AM in Thimphu, so keep some spare snacks with you at all times.
  • Some restaurants don’t add anything in the running order, so figure out beforehand, what and how much you want to eat.
  • Shop for gifts in Thimphu instead of Paro, it is cheaper in the capital.

In the end, I would say that Bhutan is a great country and if there is a heaven, it would be somewhere in Bhutan. You will not find any fast food chains or shopping malls there, all the stuff available in the market is hand made and food is pure. If other countries can manage to be 10% of what Bhutan is, I would say that humanity will survive far much longer. Commercialization and Globalization has not hit Bhutan yet, and I hope it never will.

And if you want to have a great trip like us, either luxurious or budgeted, contact the following, they won’t disappoint. They will provide and arrange everything, just drop a query mail –

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Deepak – 07679461287 / 08670786321

Prahlad – 07577346122

 

Reminiscing Ladakh

Once you have traveled, the voyage never ends, but is played out over and over again in the quietest chambers. The mind can never break off from the journey.

– Pat Conroy

…an excerpt from the diary that I should have written earlier…

4th July 2015

Today marked the seventh day of this trip. Last night, I was trying to learn long shot photography from Maddy, this guy has real skills. If we had a proper tripod, god knows what would he had clicked. All the other guys were busy drinking or smoking “maal”, so won’t go into details. But, all in all slept late and still woke up early.

 

It was one of the most beautiful mornings and I am glad that Akarsh – pony tailed Hitler permitted us to have a proper breakfast by the lake, we were in no hurry to leave this beautiful place. Pangong looked quite calm this morning and sun rays were scattered over the surface, I am still in awe of that place. The bikes were arranged orderly. The flags were waving in unison. I tried taking some pictures but they didn’t come out good – I wish I had a good camera or necessary skills. Well, I will borrow the pictures from Sunil uncle after the trip.

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We made our way back to Leh today and it took us about 6 hours and we got to climb Chang La again…last time it was snowing on the top and I had slipped on the ice and the locals taught me to ride the bike (only in the muddy area) and avoid the ice. Strange, water seems to be the lesser evil here. The road is full of bumps and Subhash uncle and his wife got injured yesterday. Hanvant already had his wrist broken and David bumped his head and also had his arm swollen.

So we got back to Leh safely by lunch, and I got Sonesh to click my pictures in the snow once again, but I am severely sunburnt and looked hideous, so won’t share them. We were told that tomorrow we will be leaving for Nubra Valley and had the rest of the day for us to do whatever we want. So, I head out to nearby places. Madhav and Sumant aka Lalaji stayed back to get some rest, and I was accompanied by Somesh for the monasteries – Shey and Thiksey. We were joined by Sunil uncle and Sooraj on the way and had lunch together and afterwards, enjoyed the peace and little bit of knowledge from the monks there. Apparently there is a monk school in Thiksey and it also houses a big statue of Future Buddha there, that is the reincarnation of Buddha that is yet to be born, in case evil arise again.

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After roaming around in the city, I got the fuel tank filled upto the brim as it will be needed tomorrow and also have prepared the jerry cans. After dinner, they registered for people who want to go river rafting in Zanskar, but since I already did that last to last week in the mighty Ganga, I am passing this opportunity.

We are joined by a group of Rajasthani people for the rest of the trip, and one of these has his birthday today and his friends didn’t leave any stone unturned to get it celebrated among us.

Overall, today was one of the better days of the trip, where no one got injured and everyone was properly rested. I am calling it a night early as I still have to catch-up with yesterday’s sleep.

P.S – For the SRK inside every Indian out there –

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