LOST IN BHUTAN: 6 BIKERS, 20 DAYS, 7500 KMS OF INSANITY!
Chapter 12: The ride through heaven, to heaven, through hell!
Route: Wangdue – Phobjika Valley – Pele La – Trongsa – Yotong La – Jakar – Bumthang
Distance: 220 kms
Road conditions: This ride a mix of good roads and bad roads. If travelling in winter expect lot of wind chill and some distance of riding in clouds.
As the morning approached, the riders woke up to the tunes of beautiful bird chirpings and crisp sunlight. It was the time to ride again, explore. So with this tune, the ride began.
As we prepared to depart, we were welcomed with some really awesome, strong kickass but “Complimentary” coffee. Now that’s a great start!! While enjoying the coffee and admiring the beauty around, the group decided to head to Phobjika valley and probably ride ahead to Bumthang in one day if time permitted. Sounded like a chill out ride, doing all happy time and smiles. But what waited for us was far from what we imagined.
As the group set out on ride, the climate was cold and beautiful snow-capped mountains in horizon, the atmosphere was just mesmerizing. The ride was very smooth, with freshly laid tarmac, smell of the tar. The curvy roads, looked nothing more than a corner carvers dream, and within a span of 10 minutes, the group had already set into their rhythmic riding formation with Deepan as usual in the front. Occasional halts were taken to click photographs of the breath-taking views this country had to offer.
Once in Phobjika, the approach road began passing through two mountains, thus hiding the amazing beauty the valley had to offer. Just as the curtains being taken off of the stage before the performance, the valley started to reveal itself from the curtains of the mountains in horizon. It was right then and there itself, we stopped, admired the beauty, gazed at the canvas, taking in all that we could, devouring the view of the magnificence which was at display. A small halt and few clicks later it was time to enjoy the terrain. With Sherman as usual doing his #Shermangiri, I and Sachin decided to head ahead of the road.
A few curvy roads later, we decided to halt on the side of the road which offered a plain spot to just sit and relax. With the steeds parked in formation, it was time for the customary group selfie and pic with the valley in the background. The entire view of the Phobjika was just amazing. One may fail to understand how nature can display such diversity of colors in one spot. The brown mud, green forests, olive farms, blue skies, white clouds and the wilderness just added to the beauty. A good one hour later, it was time to head ahead for our further exploration.
We followed as the road led us, without a second thought what lays ahead, admiring the surreal surroundings. The road soon turned from smooth tarmac to old dusty rough country side road. As the time passed, it was noon and the beauty of Phobjika had mesmerized us. Hence we started searching for a couple of places to stay. Unfortunately for us, the cost was sky high and limited choices were presented for food. With broken hopes of staying in Phobjika, we decided to continue our journey ahead to Bumthang, which was 180 odd kilometres from the current location. This presented us a challenge of riding continuous for another 5 hours and probably in dark too.
The views kept getting better and better as we proceeded in central Bhutan towards Bumthang. Waterfalls on road sides turning into water passes, dense jungle everywhere, lot of clouds in the back drop!! It was just magical!! Ride went on extremely well till we reached Trongsa and it was then, that it started getting dark and the sun had finally started to set and the decrease in the presence of light started showing up.
In this process, we had crossed Pele La pass after we moved from Phobjika towards Trongsa. Unlike Ladakh, where every pass has huge board, here in Bhutan only couple of passes with noticeable heights like Chele La and Thrumsing La have big boards.
The Chilling black hell!
It was after Trongsa the adventure began. Our mild ascend had started, and with the huge mountain in sight, we were under the impression that the destination lies on the top of this mountain. And so the climb to Yotong La pass began, and it continued on for a while, and it was then the group realised, we were in deep trouble. Well, the temperatures started to drop and so did the visibility. Soon we found ourselves at the base of a mountain yet again. There came a point when we kept climbing altitude and it was pitch black. Things started to get worse!! Dense fog had started to build up!! The temperatures started to drop rapidly, from double digits to single and even lower. Our fingers started to feel cold, leather gloves made it even worse, to a point where one could hardly move them. The helmet visors started to fog up, Akhils goggle made it even worse for him and at once, he even reached the edge of the cliff due to non-visibility. Thanks to Sherman and his prompt screams on Scala, Akhil was safe. With Sachin and Deepan at the fore-front, my visibility was limited to their tail lamps and hazard lights. The visibility reduced to just hardly 5 metres and dropping temperatures, we were experiencing mountain chills at almost to sub – zero levels. The White aux lamps of my bike made it even worse. We could see a white blanket of light, blocking the visibility. At once when I turned them off, it was then that I realised we were above almost 11,500 ft.
This continued over for well over an hour, and with the roads getting sharper and sharper with the temperature probably sub-zero, it was one recipe for disaster at raising altitudes. The adrenaline pumping moments the boys kept pushing through and we knew we had no options, even worse, the fear of non-existent visibility. With Death Valley on one side of the road and with occasional vehicles coming from the front on a narrow single lane road things were pretty rough for us with insane potholes. With speeds dropped down till 10-15 kmph, it was during these moments, the boys realised that Scala could be used for more than gossiping and discussing about chick, it had saved one riders life, and had kept the group together!
Nonetheless everyone made it through safely. It was one hair raising experience. An experience which taught us that while touring never under-estimate the power of Mother Nature. That over-confidence can cost you dearly. An experience which separates men from the boys. But also taught us an important lesson, the very essence of group riding!! It was an experience, which occurs once in a lifetime, which changes your perspective in which you view travelling.
Like all other Bhutanese people we met even the hotel staffs at Bumthang were very humble and courteous. Dinner, free Wi-Fi, excellent rooms and secured parking made us feel we were in heaven. Since we had pushed ourselves to ride till Bumthang we had next full day off to relax, explore and spend time in Bumthang.
This was one night, which I believe we all would take to our grave and still smile about it. An adventure which happens once in a lifetime, an experience so frightening that even the thoughts about it would send chills down your spine. Tonight we had the most adventurous ride of our entire road trip and this night was spent just chit chatting what we went through.