All we want to do is travel the world together! This has been our life’s ambition since the time Swatabdi and I have known each other. What we didn’t know is that in order to travel together without any restrictions, we had to convince our parents, our extended family and the society at large that we love each other. In short, we had to get married! Our 8 year long courtship was not enough to convince our parents that we were right for each other and after months of convincing and loads of drama both our parents agreed. What we expected was a small ceremony where we would sign the necessary paperwork to give us the right to live together and travel together. But our parents; who were disapproving of our courtship a few months back suddenly decided to shower all their love towards us. The result was that we had to get married thrice, once for the law, second time to please the Hindu gods and third time to please the Sikh gods. We spent sleepless nights and tireless days in the planning and execution of the big fat multicultural Indian wedding which cumulatively cost both our families an amount with which we could have backpacked across half the world!
For the first time in my 8 year long corporate career I got a leave for 25 days and we decided to use this opportunity to travel as much as we can. We flew out of Kolkata to Siliguri on the very next day of our marriage reception in the early hours of the day while most of the guests in the house were still rubbing their eyes after last night’s party. While most people tend to travel the conventional way for their honeymoon comprising of exotic locations, posh resorts etc. We couldn’t wait to hop on to a motorcycle and head out to our favorite region in the country – The North East!
Siliguri to Guwahati (490 kilometers)
Since my Duke 200 was parked in Mumbai and our marriage took place in Kolkata, it wasn’t feasible to bring my Dukey to Siliguri and do the ride on it. Instead, we hired a Royal Enfield classic 350 from a motorcycle rental company called “Destination Adventure” which is owned and run by my good friend Santanu Banerjee. In order to ensure a comfortable ride, team DA gave us a brand new motorcycle with just 150 kms on the odometer and a temporary registration number plate. We were assured that the temporary number plate would not cause us problems while travelling but I was skeptical about the running-in of the brand new motorcycle. Regardless, we started our ride in the wee hours of a cold December morning from Siliguri with the aim to reach and halt at Tezpur for the night. We were comfortably cruising at around 90-95 kmph enjoying the views of the tea gardens of North Bengal and Assam when my skepticism was proven correct. Just about 200 kms out of Siliguri, the bike hit the reserve tank. I was shocked as I had tanked up the motorcycle just the previous night. The motorcycle was returning a mileage of just 15-17 kmpl! We were alarmed as all our calculations for the trip’s expenses went for a toss! I gave the bike a benefit of doubt and thought that someone in the hotel might have stolen the petrol, tanked up and continued forward. Within the next 200 kms the motorcycle again hit reserve! I spoke to the DA team and they suggested me to get the first free service of the motorcycle along with the engine oil change done at Guwahati. As a consolation, they managed a preferential service where our motorcycle was directly taken inside the service centre without any waiting period. By the time we got the motorcycle serviced it was already sunset so we checked into a hotel in Guwahati. We spent the evening catching up with one of our friends Siddharth Roy over some momos and ginger tea with the hope that this would be the only hiccup of the entire trip.
Guwahati to Bomdilla (350 kilometers)
Due to the delay on the previous day, we had to start from Guwahati first light in the morning. We enjoyed crossing the 1.5 kms long Sariaghat Bridge over the mighty Brahmaputra with nonexistent traffic of early morning. We were thrilled at the first glimpse of the snow covered Himalayas as we were about to enter Tezpur. A few bikers of Tezpur Bikers Club had taken out time to meet us and we happily obliged. We shared a cup of tea with them and continued to the Assam-Arunachal border at Bhalukhpong with the promise to revisit them on our way back. The road from Tezpur to Bhalukhpong was beautiful with many mustard fields around. Travelers require an inner line permit to enter Arunachal. One can also get the permits online but our application was showing “pending” on the Arunachal tourism website since forever so we had to apply for the permits at the check post at Bhalukhpong. Unfortunately, the permits are issued only at specific timings in the day which meant that we had to wait for around 2 hours at Bhalukhpong. We used this time to take long walks in the sleepy town and captured a few videos. During our wait we befriended Tejas Gowda and Shashnk Reddy who were on a road trip of north east all the way from Bangalore on their Mahindra thar. We had a common link of being members of the HVK forum on Facebook. By the time we received our permits the sun was about to set. We were contemplating to stay for the night at Bhalukhpong but Tejas and Shashank urged us to continue with them till Bomdilla. The road after Bhalukhpong started to get from bad to worse as we started ascending. Within a few minutes we were riding in pitch dark on nonexistent roads. Our only literal ray of light was the headlight of the thar which guided us. Bomdilla was asleep by the time we reached. We found a hotel and caught up over some old monk. After a couple of drinks Tejas realized that he had seen us somewhere before and before we could explain he referred to us as “The Proposal Couple”. We had a good laugh about it and ended the day with happy thoughts after a tiring ride.
Bomdilla to Tawang (180 kilometers)
After two days of transit riding we were starting for the first “destination” of the trip. We had a comfortable start from Bomdilla and enjoyed the views of the Himalayas. However, the road was a mixture of broken tarmac and unforgiving off roads which made us cover distances at a very slow pace. About 100 kms from Bomdilla we reached the highest point of the trip at Se La at 13700 feet above sea level. We spent considerable time at Se La by enjoying the ride around the paradise lake and clicking loads of pictures and videos of the milestone boards and the gate welcoming us to Tawang. When we were having a cup of tea at the cafeteria at Se La, a biker coming from Tawang came to us with a very grim and tensed look. He gave us a very stern warning about a patch of black ice about 2 kilometers before Jaswantgarh and advised us to be very cautious at that stretch. This made us a little worried and we immediately started towards Tawang without wasting any more time. We counted down the kilometers to Jaswantgarh and the warning turned out to be true! There was a stretch of around 250 meters of very slippery and very dangerous black ice on the road. The condition was so bad that it was even difficult to walk on that stretch without slipping. Thankfully, we had the company of Tejas who helped me to push the heavy Royal Enfield step by step across that stretch of black ice. It was a physically exhausting experience! We thought that the worst was over and we were relieved and continued towards Tawang. This turned out to be a big mistake as there were many other small but invisible stretches of black ice all along and we weren’t as cautious as we should have been. At one such descent, there was a small stretch of black ice right before a turn. I braked to slow the motorcycle down to take the turn and before we knew it, BAM! We found ourselves on the ground with the motorcycle on top of us and the cliff only a couple of few feet away! In spite of all its flaws, one of the advantages of the Royal Enfield is that one can add large sized crash guards. Fortunately for us, the team at Destination Adventure had installed these large crash guards which were covered with a rubber mesh which along with the panniers helped us walk out of the crash with minor bruises. We were startled to say the least and then started to ride extremely cautiously. Our tensed nerves were relieved when we reached the Nuranang waterfalls at Jang. Since it was winter we could not see the waterfall in its full glory but it was beautiful nevertheless! We finally reached Tawang, the town which we had been dreaming off, at around 7 PM. It was already dark and there was not much to do. At dinner Tejas and Shashank gave us valuable tips about our onward journey to Meghalaya. They also advised us to not take too much stress as it was supposedly a “honeymoon ride” and not a test of endurance. To which we jokingly replied that we have had our share of relaxed holidays and we wanted to have a honeymoon unlike anyone else’s. We had a satisfying sleep that night.
Tawang (50 Kilometers)
We overslept at Tawang! The challenging ride since the last three days; and the celebrations and the rituals of the week before had taken a toll on our body. Our plan for the day was to visit Bum La but by the time we contacted the agents for the permits it was too late. Therefore we decided to relax at Tawang and give our body much needed rest. After a lazy breakfast we rode to the Tawang monastery which is the largest monastery in India and the second largest monastery in the world! Located about 20 kms outside the main city and at a slightly higher altitude, the huge monastery is a daunting structure which looks much like a guardian angel to Tawang town. We spent the entire afternoon exploring all the nooks and corners of the massive monastery. The monks were friendly and we enjoyed interacting with them. Lunch comprised of delicious local cuisine which we devoured in no time. We came to the terrace of our hotel from where we enjoyed one of the best sunsets. We saw the sun hide behind the large Tawang monastery centimeter by centimeter as if giving the monastery its due respect. After the sunset, the sky was filled with multicolored hues starting from deep orange to blue to gray. It was a picture perfect moment!
Tawang to Bomdilla (180 kilometers)
We woke up early and experienced a beautiful sun rise from the terrace of our hotel. Last evening the sun had set behind the Tawang monastery. This morning, it rose from the opposite direction with its first rays hitting the monastery and making it shine in a golden glow! To be honest, we were a little scared of the black ice stretch at Jaswantgarh. Tejas and Shashank had left from Tawang the previous day so we were all alone to tackle that stretch. We started early for Bomdilla and rode with extreme caution. We reached the spot where we had fallen down and saw a few workers breaking the ice with sickle and hammer. It was a relieving sight and we crossed the stretch without much problem. The big stretch near Jaswantgarh was still the same. We unloaded our entire luggage and walked cautiously across the stretch and kept it. Next, we pushed the motorcycle one cautious step at a time and after a lot of nervous huffing and puffing, we crossed it. Our confidence was now back and we etched on to Bomdilla via Se La. We had an early dinner as our plan for the next day was to ride 400 kms to Shillong on broken hilly roads.
Bomdilla to Shillong (400 kilometers)
This day was dedicated to transiting from Arunachal to Meghalaya via Assam. We started early and rode downhill to Bhalukhpong, all the way feeling surprised of the fact that we had covered this stretch of pure off roading in pitch dark of the night. We couldn’t resist the mustard fields this time and stopped to click a few pictures and videos. As promised, we stopped at Tezpur for a cup of tea with the riders of Tezpur Bikers Club. From Tezpur to Jorabat was a boring ride on straight four laned highway. By the time we entered Meghalaya it was late evening. We asked for road conditions and the locals assured us that the road is good all the way to Shillong. The road indeed was a bliss to ride on. It was a two laned hilly road with loads of bends and turns and even though it was dark, I was thoroughly enjoying leaning on this stretch to such an extent that the panniers scratched the road a couple of times. Shillong is just like any other popular hill city with loads of hotel, houses and traffic. The whole city was decked up with lights for the Christmas celebration. We headed straight to the police bazaar area which is supposedly the most happening place in Shillong and saw a sea of people there. Finding a hotel in our budget was difficult so we booked an OYO and checked in. We walked till late night enjoying the whole celebratory feeling of the city.
Shillong to Nongriat village via Tyrna (65 kilometers ride and 4.5 kilometers trek)
Google showed us several touristy places to see and things to do in and around Shillong but we have never like conventional tourist spots. Tejas and Shashank had strongly recommended us to trek to the Double Decker Living Root Bridge at Nongriat village and that is where we headed to. The ride from Shillong to Cherapunjee was among the best rides in this trip so far. The snake-like road was on top of plateau with views of the gentle hills around. The fog kept playing hide and seek every now and then. Suddenly we found ourselves riding beside a huge valley with far off views. After crossing a lot of small and beautiful villages we crossed Cherapunjee and rode downhill to Tyrna village which is the base of the trek to the Double Decker Living Root Bridge. Tejas had given us contact to a guide name Wesley. We contacted Wesley, parked our bike in front of his house, kept our luggage, carried a change of clothes in a backpack and started the 4.5 kms long trek to Nongriat village. Wesley was proficient in English and very knowledgeable about the local flora and fauna. Swatabdi is a big fan of botany and she had a gala time asking a plethora of questions to Wesley about every possible tree, flower and insect. The first part of the trek involved us to climb down around 3000 steep steps to the base of the hill passing through many small villages selling refreshments and then started the ascent towards Nongriat through a small trail. In between we crossed many streams of pristine blue water using old and rickety iron bridges. It was super fun! After an exhausting trek of around 4 hours we reached the Double Decker Living Root Bridge at Nongriat. I seldom fall short of words when it comes to explaining experiences but this 200 years old handmade bridge made up of living roots of trees completely blew me away! There was a small and calm waterfall and a small pond full of fishes beside it. The whole vibe of the places was unexplainably spiritual and naturally beautiful! There are a couple of very basic home stays near the root bridge. We checked into Chel’s home stay and enjoyed the evening beside a bonfire in the company of travelers from Israel, England and Spain who were pleasantly surprised to know about our honeymoon journey. Dinner comprised of organic veggies plucked from the backyard of the home stay. The sound of the waterfall sang us a lullaby to sleep.
Nongriat to Rainbow Waterfalls and back. (9-10 kilometers trek)
Tejas and Shashank had strongly recommended us to further trek to the rainbow waterfalls from Nongriat. Apparently it is a waterfall which has a rainbow at all times and hence the name. We started from Nongriat after breakfast. The trail is taken only by a few travelers and hence it was much more virgin. We kept walking deep inside the jungle with almost nonexistent human interaction. We crossed a couple of water streams on even older bridges and saw a wide variety of animals like squirrels, spiders, lizards, etc. About two hours into the trek we started to hear the sound of a waterfall and thought that we were about to reach. We kept walking forward and the sound kept getting louder. But it was only after a trek of another hour or so that we got the first glimpse of the waterfall and what a sight it was! Milky white water was gushing down from the cliff and there was a pool of the bluest water I have seen at the base of the waterfall. The trail disappeared a few meters before the waterfall and we had to climb down huge boulders using nothing but our hands. Finally we reached this blessing of nature and I wasted no time and dived into the best swimming pool which I had ever come across in my life. We spent close to two hours having a blast. We climbed boulders and cliffs, jumped and dived into the pool and took loads of pictures and videos. Physically tired but mentally satisfied we started the 4 hour trek back to the village. Thigh muscles, calf muscles and other joints of the body were having a really tough time. The trek back to the village felt extremely difficult and we were totally drained by the time we reached. We met more fellow travelers of the HVK forum at Nongriat. There was Vijaylakshmi, Mohan and Hariharan from Chennai who were friends of Tejas and they already knew us as the “crazy honeymoon couple”. We spent good time chatting with them at dinner. As soon as we lay down on the bed we slept like babies.
Nongriat to Mawlynnong via Tyrna (4.5 kilometers trek and 100 kilometers ride)
Yet again, the day started with a trek. The walk back to Tyrna comprised of ascending 3000 steps but we reached there early in the afternoon. We loaded our bike and bid adieu to the beautiful kids of Tyrna village. Our route to Mawlynnong was via the same road to Shillong but the weather was totally different this time. There was dense fog all around and we finally got a sense why the state is called “Megh-Alaya”. We unfortunately missed the turn to the famous Nohkalikai falls in the fog and realized it only after going a long distance so we continued forward. A few kms before Mawlynnong the road became really narrow with dense banana trees on all sides making it difficult to anticipate the oncoming vehicles. We found it very difficult to find accommodation at Mawlynnong as even basic hotels were priced upwards of 2K for a night. Finally after wasting a lot of time we found a room in the attic of an under-renovation hotel which fit our budget. We then decided to explore “Asia’s cleanest village” and found it to be as clean as all the other villages of Meghalaya. By 7 pm everything was shut and we had a basic dinner at the only restaurant of the village. Overall we were a little disappointed with Mawlynnong and we would not recommend a night halt there.
Mawlynnong to Shillong via Dawki and Shnongpdeng (140 kilometers)
There was not much to do at Mawlynnong so we started for the much anticipated Umngot river bed at Dawki. The road passed through narrow villages giving us a slice of life of the people of the Khasi hills. We reached Dawki by noon and were delighted to see the clear water of the river bed. We hired a boat and enjoyed the whole experiences. There were places where we could see the reflection of the boat all the way to the river bed and it seemed as though the boat is floating in thin air! At one place I saw a bamboo structure built for people to take a jump in the river. I couldn’t resist the temptation and thoroughly enjoyed my share of diving and jumping! After monkeying around for a couple of hours we continued to Shonongpdeng which was similar to Dawki except it had lots of options to camp beside the river and do a lot of adventure sports. We were tempted to stay for the night there but we realized we won’t do justice to the place by staying just one night so continued towards Shillong. We reached Shillong late in the evening and saw even more people at police bazaar probably because it was the Christmas week. Finding a hotel proved more difficult than last time and we had to go beyond our budget to spend the night. This was our last night in the land of the clouds and we were about to take the honeymoon ride to an international level the next day!
Shillong to Jaigaon (480 kilometers)
We bid adieu to the land of clouds and started our journey to the land of the thunder dragon! Our onward journey from Jorabat to Shillong was in pitch dark and we only realized the beauty of the road when we rode on it this morning. The road condition was excellent with gentle turns and amazing views, it was a dream downhill ride for any biker. We briefly stopped at the Umiam Lake to admire the huge lake. It took us some time to cross the traffic at Guwahati and once we did that it was a speedy ride on the plains with the tea gardens accompanying us on both sides. We kept munching hundreds of kilometers and reached the border town of Jaigaon-Phuntsholing. We checked into a hotel and that is where disaster struck! We were aware that the embassy in Phuntsholing would remain closed on weekends however it completely skipped out of our mind and we found ourselves in Jaigaon on a Friday evening. The excitement of riding international now turned into a disappointment. We were now looking at spending Christmas Eve in the sleepy and boring town of Jaigaon.
Jaigaon to Gangtok (230 kilometers)
This was the first day in the entire trip where we didn’t have an agenda or a plan to go anywhere because of which we took our time to wake up from sleep. While having breakfast we had a discussion where we decided not to waste our Christmas Eve in Jaigaon. Almost immediately we started browsing for places and accommodation near Jaigaon. We were anticipating sky high prices for accommodation on Christmas Eve but luck was on our side and we found a bed and breakfast right at the famous M.G Marg in Gangtok for an excellent bargain and we booked it without a second thought. We wasted no time and within half an hour found ourselves back on the saddle. Sikkim is our favorite state in the country and we have tons of memories with it. Even though we didn’t have any plans to visit Sikkim on this trip but destiny made us ride on the ever familiar roads from Sevoke to Gangtok. It was a nostalgic experience. The ever vibrant MG Marg was lit up due to Christmas! The best place to party in Gangtok is café live and loud and we invariably found ourselves sipping LIITs and enjoying live music at their tables. The rest of the night was a blur of loud music, dancing and a lot of alcohol. We somehow walked back to our hotel late at night wishing everyone on the road a merry Christmas.
Gangtok to Jaigaon (230 Kilometers)
Sikkim has given us valuable life lessons every time we visited. This time Sikkim gave us a lesson in destiny. Swatabdi had forgotten her scarf at one of the shops the previous evening. We were all set to start for Jaigaon but Swatabdi insisted on going to the shop again to get the scarf. We were walking towards the shop when I saw a familiar face sipping tea on the roadside. The familiar face was that of one of my inspirations in life; and with childlike excitement I just asked him, “Biru?” The Bhutanese embassy being closed on weekend, we finding a good hotel deal in Gangtok, Swatabdi forgetting her scarf and both of us taking a walk to get back the scarf at the precise moment when Biru was having tea, it all fell into place! The cosmic forces in the universe had inclined together to make us meet Rohit Upadhayay on the road! The fanboy in me started jumping around. We didn’t find the scarf but we got the privilege of spending some quality time listening to stories of Biru’s Eurotrip adventures. Our day was made. That night we dreamt of doing a roadtrip to Europe together.
Jaigaon to Paro (180 kilometers)
The embassy at Phuntsholing opens at 10 AM and we reached there at 9:45 hoping to be among the first people to get the permits. We were proven terribly wrong when we saw that there about a thousand people already waiting. The situation was similar to a Durga Puja pandal in Kolkata. There was utter chaos. No one knew what to do or whom to approach for the permits. What made it worse was that there were agents who were standing in the queue with dozens of applications in their hands. For hours we stood in various queues which didn’t move an inch. There was a lot of pushing, shoving and shouting happening which pissed off Swatabdi. She went inside the embassy and somehow caught hold of an influential female officer and explained to her our situation rather sternly. In no time a new counter was opened for female applicants who were not in large groups and we managed to get our permits from that counter. By this time it was late evening and we rushed to the RTO office to get the permit for our motorcycle. There was a queue of drivers waiting for us and the office hours were coming to a close. Swatabdi again used the feminine card and we got preferential treatment and our permit was among the last to get approved that evening. Thousands had applied to visit Bhutan that day; only a lucky few were allowed to enter. While coming back from the RTO office I cut my toenail with the sharp side stand of the motorcycle and started our ride to Paro with a shoe on one leg and a bandaged toe in a flipflop on the other. We started for Paro with dying sunlight and braced ourselves for a cold ride. There was a brief spell of rain which made it worse. An hour into the ride my foot went numb. I somehow shoved my bandaged foot inside my shoe and continued riding. Thankfully the roads in Bhutan are good which made it easier to ride in the night. The cold though was still unforgiving. We reached Paro at 8:30 in the night and found most hotels to be either closed or fully occupied. Shivering and shaking we moved from one hotel to the other in search of a room. At a certain hotel Paro, the owner of the hotel took pity on our shivering souls and offered us a place to stay in the roof attic where the employees sleep. We took it! With temperatures dipping below zero and the roof attic becoming really cold, we tugged ourselves in the quilt, hugged each other tight and slept. It was a truly long day!
Paro to tiger’s nest (40 kilometers ride and 4-5 kilometers trek)
The last time I had visited Takstang Monastery, also known as The Tiger’s Nest, I was mesmerized by it and I wanted Swatabdi to witness the same. We first rode to the Drugyel Dzong which is a monastery which was burnt in a fire and now lay in ruins. We then proceeded to the base of the trek to the Tiger’s nest. The difficulty level of the trek to Tiger’s nest is slightly higher because of the altitude and the steep trail. Huffing and puffing we kept walking one step at a time. Swatabdi felt like quitting the trek a couple of times but I etched her on. The sight of the monastery which kept getting bigger and bigger was also inspiring. After almost 4 hours we saw the awe-inspiring view of the monastery. I fail to fathom the effort taken to build this monastery so high in the mountain. The monastery seems as though it is almost hanging on a cliff and can fall down to the deep valley below any moment! The trek was worth the effort. The trek downhill was slightly easier and we reached the base late in the evening. The rest of the evening we spent riding around in Paro and watching the beautiful Paro Dzong and the national museum which were lit up with vibrant lights in the night. We had hired the motorcycle for 16 days which meant that this was the last day of our trip. We celebrated the last 15 days over my favorite beer, the Druk 11000; and a plate of delicious momos.
Paro to New Jalpaiguri (350 kilometers)
We thanked the hotel owner for helping us with a place to stay and started the final stretch of the ride with mixed feelings. We would have loved to spend more time in Bhutan but our goof up of reaching Phuntsholing on a Friday made our stay a rather brief one. The long ride to Siliguri mainly comprised of reminiscing the memories of the last 15 days. Getting a mileage of 15 kmpl, the mustard fields of Bhalukhpong, the tough ride to Bomdilla, the skid on the black ice at Jaswantgarh, the beautiful sunset at Tawang, the trek to double decker living root bridge, the jump in the pool at rainbow falls, the boatride at Dawki, the Christmas Eve in Gangtok, meeting Biru out of nowhere, the fight for permits at Phuntsholing, the night stay in the cold roof attic, the trek to the tiger’s nest and now the ride back home, it was all coming back to us! We reached New Jalpaiguri station with 30 minutes left for our train to depart, gave back our motorcycle and boarded the train. Thus ending a honeymoon across the North East, a honeymoon of more than 3500 kilometers, a honeymoon of riding on hills, plains, off roads, ice, etc, a honeymoon of a million memories, a honeymoon unlike any other. :-)
We also made three super cute videos of the ride. Watch them here -
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