How long have you been into distance biking?
Long-distance motorbiking started three years ago, when I was in engineering college. I’d always been interested in travel, but a fun bike trip to Goa got me addicted to long-distance motorbiking. After a few places in south India, in 2005, I joined a Royal Enfield expedition to Ladakh. In fact, that’s where I met Hemanth, who was to be my companion for the North-East trip.
But why the North-East on a bike?
The North-East had always been on my agenda, mainly because it is so unexplored. And, I believe two-wheelers are the best way to explore any region. They give you a sense of freedom—so much so that we didn’t even consider any other mode of transport when we were fixing up our plans in December-January.
The entrance to the centuries-old Tawang monastery in Arunachal Pradesh (Photo by: Nitin Bhat)
Did you have any help while planning the trip?
Special thanks go out to Captain Karthik of Assam Rifles. A classmate of Hemanth’s, he had done a biking trip through the region earlier and had first-hand information on the terrain and the routes. That came in very handy while planning our trip, more so because the militancy problem makes it inadvisable to be out on the roads there after 6pm. So, we had our hotel accommodations in place two weeks before we left Bangalore.
What were the bikes you were using?
Both of us were riding Royal Enfield bikes: I was on a Machismo 500, which I bought last year, while Hemanth rode an Electra. Being responsible riders, we were equipped with riding shoes, knee guards, good quality jackets and proper full-face helmets. Also, to carry our luggage for a month, we used Cramster saddlebags, which were very convenient. We also carried a few basic spare parts. The bikes were serviced properly before we loaded them on to the Guwahati Express.
So, the biking started in Assam?
Yes. But because of the way the roads are laid out, we had to enter Assam seven times—once to get from one point in Arunachal to another point in Arunachal! On the first leg, we rode along the lower bank of the Brahmaputra and through the famed tea estates. We also spent a full day at Kaziranga on the way. The elephants and rhinos were a bonus.
What was next on the itinerary?
Bhat admires the view near Along, Arunachal Pradesh (Photo by: Nitin Bhat)
Meghalaya. We had allotted just a day for this state and, in retrospect, I really wish we could have spent two-three days here. We went to Shillong, of course, which was beautiful: The roads are well maintained, the people are warm and friendly and their traffic sense is really commendable. Because our time was limited, we couldn’t go anywhere else but Cherrapunji, one of the wettest places on earth. We were literally driving on clouds on the way to Cherrapunji—the road is a biker’s paradise.
And then you were in Nagaland…
Nagaland is spooky. The whole place has an eerie feeling about it. The day before we entered the state, there had been a fierce gun battle between two militant factions and around 10 people, including a few civilians, had been killed in Dimapur—our next halt. But we decided to go ahead with our plans and we found the city totally normal. We covered Dimapur, Kohima, Mokokchung, Impur and all the places in between. The 150km Kohima-Mokokchung stretch is the most deserted I’ve ever seen. In fact, there was an element of fear in every moment we spent out in the open country there, more so because it was impossible for us not to attract attention, with our Karnataka-registered vehicles and huge backpacks and saddlebags. Despite that, we loved every moment spent there. Nagaland is so beautiful.
What was Arunachal like?
Hemanth (in a sweater) and Bhat at Cherrapunji, Meghalaya (Photo by: Nitin Bhat)
Easily the best state we visited. In line with our high expectations, we had allotted six days for this place and we weren’t disappointed. We covered Parasuramkund, Tezu, Pasighat, Along, Itanagar, Bomdila and Tawang. The 1962 Indo-China war was fought around Tawang and Bomdila and there are a lot of war memorials in and around there. Unfortunately, we couldn’t go to the Sangetsar Lake, which we really wanted to see, because of bad weather. In fact, on the way back from Tawang, atop Sela pass, we had to ride in temperatures close to -10 degrees Celsius amid heavy snowfall.
With the unrest and inclement weather, how easy was it to stick to your schedule?
There are a lot of uncertainties involved with biking in the North-East. For instance, we were planning to ride the 200km distance over a national highway from Tezu to Pasighat in Arunachal in a day. What we didn’t know was that there’s barely any road and umpteen river crossings—and not a single bridge! At some places, the streams were 1ft deep, which we could tackle on our own. But there were also major tributaries of the Brahmaputra, which were at least half a kilometre wide. In these situations, we had to depend on local fishing boats to take us across. This obviously took up a lot of time and we had to make an unscheduled halt in between, at a place called Roing. We took two full days to cover the distance, instead of one.
Sikkim was also on your agenda, right?
Bhat at the Sela lake, Sela pass, Arunachal Pradesh (Photo by: Nitin Bhat)
Yes. But we were behind schedule by two days and hence, could spend only two of the allotted four days here. Apart from Gangtok, we went to the Rumtek monastery and Chhangu lake. We had planned to go to Nathu La, but that didn’t happen because we weren’t aware permissions had to be secured a day in advance. Though beautiful, we found Sikkim—or, at least, the places we visited—quite touristy. From Gangtok, we biked our way to Kolkata and caught the train to Bangalore.
That’s some adventure. High points, low points?
Once, in Nagaland, we had stopped for a break in a deserted place. Suddenly, a group of seven or eight Nagas appeared from nowhere and started questioning us. They only had their native dialect and we could only offer Hindi or English. We had a really tough time explaining that we were just travellers from Bangalore. After about 10 minutes, we managed to put our point across and scooted from that place.
On the brighter side, at Roing, we met a local chap by the name of Mida. We were keen to continue to Pasighat, though it was already evening. But he tried to persuade us otherwise, saying that no boats would be available for a river-crossing. He forced us to stay back in Roing for the night and also arranged accommodation for us. As it turned out, his advice was spot on.
The biggest takeaway from the trip?
I’ll answer that with a few questions: Have you ever had throngs of people wave at you in a remote village as you roar by? Have you ever had policemen stop you to share a cup of tea? Have you ever felt one with nature and your bike, that holy union of three entities?
Well, I have. For me, the simple joy of being there is the greatest takeaway from the trip.
All carriers connect Guwahati to most major cities. Return economy fares range between Rs10,000 and Rs20,000.
As told to Sumana Mukherjee. Share your last holiday with us at firstname.lastname@example.org