Are you happy? Being a part of this ever-turning wheel of time that shackles you to the responsibilities that become the core driving force of our lives as we grow up? Are you happy being a part of thousands of dying dreams as we carry on with this pursuit of making our lifestyle better? With the onset of modernisation, materialistic pleasures are driving us far away from the basic concepts of happiness. With each tick tock of the clock reminding us of the deadlines, we are forgetting happiness cannot be owned, worn, consumed or earned for that matter. It is a deeply spiritual experience that binds you to embrace life with gratitude, grace and not to forget, love.
The urban jungle has become a wild place to be but I didn’t want to be a part of this grind and hustle anymore. My ‘call of the wild’ was different. A two-wheeled pursuit was in order. A pursuit that would take me to the land of llamas, to arguably one of the happiest countries in the world – the Kingdom of Bhutan.
For this surreal adventure, I wanted a trustworthy companion but at the same time, a master of Adventure as well to explore this unknown and mystical land. It might sound a little metaphysical but when you spend thousands of kilometres with a motorcycle, a bond is born. A bond that connects the man to the machine. Seeing the same Suzuki V-Strom SX which I rode on the Independence Ride covering almost 6000 kilometres made me realise one thing - we were destined for another adventure, another pursuit.
Riding through the tea estates of Siliguri on our way towards Phuentsholing was as refreshing a start as the first sip of chai in the morning. But I had no clue that I was leaving caffeine-induced relief behind towards a kingdom where dopamine floats in the air.
I have coined a theory which requires immediate scientific interference. A theory that the Bhutan gate that we crossed to enter the border town of Phuentsholing isn’t your normal gate, it is a freaking portal that teleports you to a different world altogether. It feels like you have entered a kingdom where time stands still, everything has a sense of calm associated with it, one can hear their own breath and where every face smiles back at you.
With all the chaos, we also left straight roads behind as the Kingdom of Bhutan greeted us with a welcome appetizer of flowing corners. Gawking at the smooth roads snaking through the mystical valleys also made the V-Strom SX smile ear to ear, since it had also found its element. A happy motorcyclist, riding a happy motorcycle, through the happiest country in the world? The prologue was written and now it was time to turn the pages, sit black and experience this glorious paperback.
The Sangye Migyur Ling monastery was our first proper introduction to the Bhutanese culture. Perched on a cliff, the whole structure was glorious to say the least and a standing testimony to the fact that this is how you should pull off remakes in the modern world. This monastery is a replica of of an 11th century structure erected by a Tibetan mediaeval poet famous for his journey from revenge-motivated witchcraft to enlightenment.
Since there wasn’t any signboard leading me towards my happiness, unscripted was the way to go but I constantly prayed that whatever lay ahead, would exorcise the demons in my head. Soon after, a thick layer of fog engulfed the smooth tarmac, bringing with it a dense mist of uncertainties. But that’s when you feel one with the motorcycle, utterly focused on nothing but the road. We penetrated deeper into the Kingdom of Bhutan as more and more rounds of corners served as welcome drinks kept coming up. Apart from corners, what also became regular sights were vibrant fluttering flags and layers of Himalayas visible in the distance, sprinkling some more mysticism to the already otherworldly experience.
By then, the dusk had already started dominating the skies, reminding me of one popular saying that goes darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that and hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that. The bright illumination at my disposal, courtesy of the powerful LED headlight setup of the V-Strom SX kept the night crawlers at bay and so began my last leg towards Paro.
Although several itineraries on the internet suggested that I should explore Thimphu first but for a change, I didn’t want to care about what the people of the internet had to say. This rewiring of my nervous system led me to have a word with the locals. Since the roads were so good, I was looking for the ultimate adventure, before taking a deep dive into the Bhutanese culture. One gentleman suggested to scale the highest motorable road in Bhutan and even before he could finish his sentence, the powerful 250cc single-cylinder engine of the V-Strom SX already roared to life.
A quick weather update revealed that the temperatures were sub-zero in Paro and since Chele La Pass sits at a towering height of 13,000 feet, it was even colder up there. All the layers that I was carrying with me, were summoned to my rescue and then it began - the crusade to scale the height motorable road in Bhutan. The road that leads towards Chele La Pass from Paro is a rather narrow one but is laced with a green shadow of lush green meadows. Usually, the sunlight battles the cold but in this case, the sunrays were filtering through the forest cover, only to add a magical touch to the already stunning vistas.
After riding the V-Strom SX through the kingdom of Bhutan for two days, I could sense why I love this motorcycle so much. Despite the terrain, temperature or time zone for that matter, the V-Strom SX delivered on all counts. Thin sheets of frozen ice kept making frightful appearances on the road but the V-Strom SX graced it all. In situations like these, it all boils down to the trust that you have on your steed. You want to latch on to it, forming a sort of unison while praying that it doesn’t throw you off the saddle. This trust is not bought off the showroom floor by cramming the spec sheet, it comes by when you explore the wilderness with your motorcycle.
A vibrant sea of fluttering flags and snow-capped mountains welcomes us to Chele La Pass. It stood at a formidable height but the smooth roads made the task at hand a bit easy. In the distance, we could also witness the glorious Jomolhari peak, arguably one of the most sacred mountain peaks in Bhutan which literally translates to the ‘Goddess of Mountain Deity’. As I was taking in the surreal views, a very thoughtful conversation with a local revealed that the Bhutanese people tie these religious flags on top of high mountain passes for the contentment and betterment of all the sentient beings. Irrespective of their species, race, colour, gender or community. And this is something which I’ve carried back to India, apart from some phallus-shaped souvenirs.
Now that I had my ultimate adventure, it was now time to delve deeper into the Bhutanese culture and history. It was now time to unravel a few more iconic landmarks of Paro and the first was Drugkyel Dzong. Dzongs are basically monastery fortresses that have played a pivotal role in Bhutan’s defence over the past few centuries. This particular dzong was erected in 1649 to commemorate Bhutan’s victory over the Tibetan invaders. The Drugkyel dzong is a standing testimony to the fact that even the humble folks such as the Bhutanese people would give anything to maintain the sovereignty of their country.
The streets of Paro, in a very expected manner, were riddled with some happy and hardworking people. The sprint towards the main town of Paro was dispatched within minutes because I could sense it, even the V-Strom SX was running on endorphins, not gasoline. After crossing the town, we landed at the base of the Rinpung Dzong, standing tall in all its authoritative glory, because it is home to the district Monastic Body as well as government administrative offices of Paro district.
History excites me so before bidding goodbye to the ancient city of Paro, we wanted to hold our breath and take a deeper dive. Then it appeared, almost camouflaged in a deep gorge – Tachogang Llhakhang, - the iron chain bridge of Paro which dates back to almost 600 years ago. Oh my, the stories that this bridge must have witnessed by bracing the sands and even snows of time!
Wanderers like you and me, we seek our happiness out on the open roads. The wind becomes our best friend and the gorgeous vistas, our ally. Mythology, be it of any country, suggests that the divine beings that walked this earth before we mortals ruined everything, had wings. The modern human beings? Well, we have motorcycles. The same thought took over my head as we blasted towards Dochula Pass, our first stop in Thimphu which serves as the core of modern bhutanese civilization. Surfing on the big, fat wave of Suzuki V-Strom SX’s mid-range grunt, we had scaled another pass in the matter of just two days. Draped in the signature shade of Champion Yellow, the V-Strom SX was the centre of attraction at the Dochula Pass. In the meantime, I also made a new friend and named him ‘Your Majesty’ since he turned out to be a majestic Tibetan Mastiff. we moved on to explore the 108 stupas that are mounted on the Dochula Pass. It is believed that it is one of the most surreal mountain passes around as one can get a panoramic view of the snow-laden Himalayas.
The comfortable ergonomics of the V-Strom SX made traveling around Bhutan absolutely effortless so I could spend some more time gawking at the changing landscapes and be one with the culture. Being the final day in Bhutan, I wanted to soak it all in. The tranquility. The peace. The escape from chaos that this country offers. And what better way to find some peace than to lose the essence of time at a monastery? And the monastery, accidentally turned out to be Dechen Phodrang monastery which literally translates to ‘The Palace of Great Bliss’. We arrived at the perfect time as there was a prayer procession going on inside the monastery. Several student monks were chanting the holi mantras as the air got filled with the rhythm of their instruments creating an otherworldly aura which engulfed us completely.
The last Shangri La on earth - that’s what they call Bhutan in modern times. If you have no philosophical connection with the world, Shangri La is a place even beyond the realms of heaven. Where there is no God - just a bunch of divine beings that have found eternal peace and enlightenment. Having spent 4 days penetrating deep into the Kingdom of Bhutan and having countless enlightening conversations with the locals, I have every reason to believe that Bhutan is indeed the last Shangri La on earth.
I slept better here, I became more calm and all the cacophony inside my head was replaced with the sounds of nature and divine chants. In fact, Bhutan is such a place which made me switch my music playlist from Heavy Metal and Hip Hop to Blues and feel good bollywood music. All the shackles that I had around my head weren’t just broken but they were thrown in a pit and burned to the ground in Bhutan.
In fact, it is an absolute paradise for motorcyclists with its endless set of corners laced with smooth tarmac and surreal vistas unfolding in the backdrop. Astride the master of adventure, the Suzuki V-Strom SX, my pursuit of happiness ended in the lap of Bhutanese wilderness. A surreal adventure inside an amazing country made even better with a potent motorcycle. What more could a motorcyclist ask for?