The seventh edition of the Royal Enfield Tour of Bhutan was an exhilarating experience as we traversed the magnificent Himlayan mountain range on RE’s adventure tourer. We were handed the keys to a brand-new Himalayan motorcycle that Royal Enfield had fitted with a throaty aftermarket exhaust. The plan was to ride through Asia’s happiest country while getting a taste of their minimalistic lifestyle and enjoying their flawless tarmac. Our team of 34 riders had to cover 1400km and ride across nine cities for the tour. The team was led by Aakash Ahuja and Unnikrishna Pillai from Royal Enfield.
We started off in Siliguri, a small city in the northern part of West Bengal which is a gateway to North-East India and Bhutan. After the documents check, motorcycle scrutiny, riding gear verification and briefing we headed to our first destination- Darjeeling. It was a short 63km ride to the world’s iconic tea-producing town where we got a taste of what the ride in Bhutan could be- narrow and extremely winding roads, fog and plenty of off-roading.
The next morning, after sipping a few cups of the local mint and honey tea, we left for Phuentsholing, the bordering town to India on the Bhutanese side. It was a tiring 178km ride in hot and humid weather, but was a good opportunity for us to get in sync with the Himalayan’s performance and handling. As we crossed Jaigon and entered Phuentsholing, there was a stark difference that we noticed. Suddenly the traffic was disciplined and roads were better. Inspite, of the tiring ride, it was a warm welcome for us in Bhutan.
The next day we headed to Paro. It was a 150km ride through the majestic mountains of Bhutan and witnessing their culture for the first time was a great experience. The RE Himlayan was happy in the mountains though. The 411cc mill is a boon and has plenty of bottom end grunt. It lets you climb the steep inclines effortlessly and overtaking is fun too. Even though the on- paper figures of 24.5bhp and 32Nm of torque seem slightly inadequate, in the mountains the engine does a good job. The next morning, we trekked to the famous Tiger’s Nest monastery, which is built in 1692 on an unimaginable foundation of a cliff.
The rides on the following days were just magnificent and never had I ever ridden before in such climates. There was a temperature difference of more than 20 degrees Celcius from where we started. Even though the roads were lit with colourful prayer flags, prayer wheels and dzong styled structures everywhere, the tarmac was windy, with deep valleys and cliffs on each corner. By the time we Thimphu, we had already ridden in dense fog, high rainfall and some rewarding sunshine too.
We had a rest day in the capital city while Rahim and Arun, RE’s technicians readied all the 34 motorcycles for the remaining part of the journey. After relishing some Ema Datshi a traditional dish made of cheese and chili we headed out for a 129km ride to Phobjikha Valley. It was the most scenic part of the ride so far and included plenty of off-roading fun. It’s where the Himalayan unveiled its true character. The 200mm and 180mm suspension travel on the front and rear, 180mm of ground clearance and the high grip Ceats made the bike glide through the uneven surfaces and gravel. Though, all the off-roading seemed worth it when we reached Phobjikha Valley. It’s set in nature’s most unadulterated and wild place with massive mountains, dense forests and vast stretches of unoccupied land.
Our ride was coming to an end and it was time to cover one of the longest parts of our journey on the following day- a 214km ride from Punakha, back to the border town of Phuentsholing. This ride was a blend of all we had experienced so far. But as we were already accustomed to the climate and the changing terrains, the distance seemed shorter. Also, we rode through the national highway (also through scenic mountains) for the majority of the ride, where the road was just pure tarmac with no undulations what so ever. We completed the ride and with a heavy heart and bag full of memories. We returned to Phuentsholing, from where we had to ride back to Siliguri, via Gangtok.
Bhutan offers some astonishing landscapes and mind-boggling views of the Himalayan mountain range while the roads and traffic discipline is impressive as compared to India. In fact, it’s a tough competitor to any European superpower and is a great example of the fact that- a country doesn’t have to be rich to happy and beautiful. And when it comes to the RE Himalayan, the bike just feels at home closer to the mountains. So, if you’re planning to escape from the urban humdrum and love riding, a motorcycle trip through Bhutan should be your next holiday retreat.