Royal Enfield Tour of Bhutan 2012
I was forwarded an invitation by Adil to go on a Royal Enfield Tour of Bhutan. I had been to Bhutan several times before and love the place, so I jumped at the opportunity. Somehow in all my biking life I had never ridden a Royal Enfield for longer than a few minutes, so this was an opportunity I was not going to miss. A few exchanges of mail with RE organiser Adarsh Saxena and all the logistics were in place. I was to ride a RE 500cc Classic.
The starting point was Siliguri. I made my way from Bagdogra airport to the West Bengal Mainak Tourist Lodge and saw it swamped by RE bikes. More than 30 bikers from Delhi, Ranchi, Bhubaneshwar, Kerala, Gujarat, Mumbai, Vizag, Hyderabad and Jharkhand were participating. It was a fantastic mix of people from different walks of life. Three riders had ridden all the way from Kerala, one from Anand, Gujarat and one from Ranchi, one from Odissa. These guys had done thousands of kilometres even before the actual tour had started! Real riders, I say! Others had shipped their bikes from their hometowns.
The RE Club of Siliguri welcomed us with a huge banner and bikes of their members parked along it. It was fascinating to see many bikes customised for long distance touring. The best out-fitted was a 350 from Ranchi of Sunil, a lawyer by profession. His bike had everything that one can imagine including two Indian flags! GPS and navigating aids were a common sight. The biker from Anand had fitted an air pump and water bottles as if he was going to encounter the driest roughest terrain. The bikes that had been ridden over 3000km to reach Siliguri were all cleaned and shiny new. The luggage was packed with unique methods. Cramster saddlebags were the most common but not having access to other makes, the innovations were really Indian. You never see such strap-ons on a tour in the west.
The first morning was spent in checking the riding gear and bikes by RE organisers Adarsh and Aakash. Then it was a trip to the team doctor, a young man from Mumbai. In the afternoon we had an introduction and a briefing of what was to come. We had two tour leaders in Sachin Chavan (GM RE) and Adarsh. Aakash looked after the maintenance end. There was a back-up with doctor, a professional tour organiser and a vehicle for the media that filmed along the way. Next day we were off to Darjeeling, the first leg, in a roar that can only be created by thumpers.
The roads were just okay. I was shocked. I have been on these West Bengal roads every decade since 1960 and they are still pathetic! A few stretches through the tea gardens were good and seemed like a dream. Darjeeling, like most of our hill stations is overcrowded, dirty and uncared for. Just the mall area has any semblance left of what it must have been. My room-mate was a professor from Hyderabad IIT. We took a stroll in the evening that was not at all inspiring. This is the legacy of middle class tourists, wherever they (we) go.