Overlanding Motorcycle Trip to Bhutan 2023

Overlanding Motorcycle Trip to Bhutan 2023

Three friends from India go on a motorcycle overlanding trip through Bhutan over 8 days, covering the popular tourist spots as well as some remote parts.

In February 2023, my two friends Vish, Kiran, and I set out on an overlanding trip from India into Bhutan, on our motorcycles. All the planning was done a month before wherein we listed down the places to visit, route to take, distance to cover per day, documents required, stuff to bring along, booking of hotels / flights / vehicle shipping and approximate money that we would need during the trip.

Must Read :

  • Valid documents required : Passport, Driving License & Asia Travel Guard Insurance. For Motor Vehicle - Registration, Insurance & Pollution UC.
  • Visitors to pay a DAILY Sustainable Development Fee (SDF) of INR 1200/-
  • For visitor's personal motor vehicle, a DAILY permit fee of INR 4500/- (irrespective, be it a 2 or 4 wheeler).
  • Tourist guide and vehicle is MANDATORY. Cost for which will depend on factors like no. of visitors, no. of days, places to visit, route covered, etc.
  • Visitors are to book/stay only in Bhutan Tourism approved 3-star {and above) hotels/homestays.

On the scheduled day, we flew from Bengaluru to Siliguri and checked into the hotel booked in advance. We then proceeded to collect our motorcycles (as we had shipped our bikes ahead of time) from the vehicle transport company whose services we had booked. Took a taxi specifically to the City Centre Mall that had a Decathlon store, for some last minute purchases. For me, it was the basic INR 99/- polyester gloves that was well worth it, for I didn't purchase winter riding gloves and had just a pair of leather/mesh cuff length gloves. Big mistake on my part.

Money : Indian currency is accepted across Bhutan. Although there are a few ATM machines in Bhutan, the locals prefer to transact in cash. Withdraw enough cash that should last or be required for the duration of stay in Bhutan.

Our adventure began on Day 1 when we rode from Siliguri to the India-Bhutan border town of Jaigaon to reach there by noon. Having crossed the Bhutan border check post, our first stop was at the Immigration Office in the Bhutan border town of Phuentsholing, where we passed through necessary checks and obtained the required permits to enter the country. The staff at the office were very cordial and they directed us to clear immigration smoothly. We still had to procure the permits for our motorcycles from the Bhutan Road Transport Office but since it was a Sunday, we had no choice but to stay at a hotel for the night in Phuentsholing and get the vehicle permits the following day. We relaxed at the hotel but were all too excited about the adventure ahead.

Tip : Keep an eye out for the signage on the highway that shows directions to take a left off the highway onto a narrow road that will lead to Jaigaon.

On Day 2, having got the permits for our motorcycles, we started by 10:30am and reached Thimpu - the capital city of Bhutan, by 4:30pm. We got to the hotel of stay, that had typical Bhutanese traditional architecture and a rather bland facade. It had us fooled, for it was luxurious and posh on the inside. We enjoyed the local cuisine, and relaxed after a long day of riding.

Traffic : People of Bhutan abide by the traffic rules diligently. The horn is NOT used here at all. A general rule of thumb when on the road in Bhutan, when the vehicle ahead gives the left indicator, it means the vehicle behind can overtake and if it's the right indicator then do not overtake. A two wheeled motor vehicle is seldom found here. People in Bhutan prefer to walk the distance or use a 4-wheeler.

Day 3 was reserved for a visit to the famous Tiger Nest Monastery. We left hotel by 9am having had a quick breakfast. Reached the small town of Paro by 10:30am. We climbed up the steep hills and enjoyed the breath-taking views of the surrounding landscapes. We would stop ever so often to catch our breath from climbing those numerous steps and reach the Tiger Nest Monastery by 1:30pm. Our tour guide took the time to explain in detail the history and traditions of the monastery, even answering to any questions that we had. Got back down by 4:30pm and rode back to the hotel. The monastery is indeed a must-visit attraction for any traveller to Bhutan.

Food : Bhutan being a Buddhist country, the local cuisine is by and large vegetarian. They do import meat (chicken and pork) from India which generally is freeze dried, so isn't very appetizing for those who enjoy eating non-vegetarian food. Stick to trying out the vegetarian local cuisine and at best, request for eggs. Alcohol is available but limited to hotels and/or few small bars in towns. Alcohol is NOT served or sold on Tuesdays in all of Bhutan.

On Day 4, we visited the Dordhenma Statue, which was a massive Buddha statue located in the mountains. The ride from the statue was exhilarating as we passed through the Dochula Pass. We also visited the Punakha Fort and rode past Pelela Pass and Yotongla Pass. Here's when my hands were turnng red and going partially numb due to the cold. We reached the village at Chamkar where we stayed in a homestay. We were given pipping hot butter tea to get us warm. The hospitality of the locals was amazing. We enjoyed a wide variety of home-cooked meal before retiring for the night under thick quilts on mattresses to keep us warm.

Day 5 was one of the most challenging days of the trip. We rode past Kiki La pass and Thrumshing La pass. We stopped for lunch at Sengor and continued our journey through Yongkola Pass. This stretch was quite treacherous. It was 3 pm. Roads were bad, rain had our riding gear partially wet, two landslides along the way halted traffic and were stuck for almost an hour. Sunset came sooner than expected with dense fog making it very difficult to see the road ahead. Hands were going numb and unable to press on the brake levers completely. After a long, slow, careful, eye straining and exhausting ride we got to the hotel at Mongar, where we stayed for the night.

On Day 6, we rode past Korila Pass, which was not as challenging as the previous day. We were to ride and stop over at Trashigang but our tour guide and driver recommended that we consider visiting Trashiyantse. Although the remote village in Trashiyantse was located way up in the north-east of Bhutan and in the opposite direction of the scheduled route, we decided to go for it and stay there for the night. It was a unique experience to stay in a village where we got to experience such tranquillity. Post dinner, Kiran abd I strolled around aimlessly through the village roads, conversing with the local folk at the small shops.

Day 7 was a relatively easy day as we rode past small villages like Chahzam, Khaling, and Wamrong to reach Dewathang, where we stayed at a guest house for the night. Here, we marvelled at the beautiful landscape as the sun set in the distance, reminding us that this would be our last night here in Bhutan on this trip. A bitter sweet moment there.

On Day 8, we exited Bhutan at the small town of Samdrup Jongkhar and crossed back into India. We were advised to tank up our vehicles here and so we did. Vish had a personal commitment, so started early morning and rode to Siliguri where got his bike shipped back to Bengaluru. Meanwhile, Kiran and I decided to explore Meghalaya for the next couple of days but that is another story.

Tip : Before exiting out from Samdrup Jongkhar and into India, it's best to tank up fuel, which is relatively cheaper than in India.

Overall, our rather short eight day motorcycle trip into Bhutan was an experience of a lifetime. We rode through challenging terrains, witnessed stunning landscapes, and learnt about their culture. It was an adventure that we will cherish for the rest of our lives. Our gratitude to the tour guide Mr.Kinley and driver Mr.Karma, who were with us during our entire journey in Bhutan.

What better way to enjoy and travel to different places than with good friends and on motorcycles!

Featured post

Overlanding IN to SG - Part 3

Motorcycle trip from Bengaluru (India) to Singapore covering 7000km, in January 2019 by three friends. This third part covers Myanmar an...