Diipti: Where did your wanderlust lead you to?
Atanu Sinha: I am a cycling enthusiast and a good part of my fitness regime includes cycling around the city with my group of friends. In 2012 around Feb, one of my friends suggested biking across the North Eastern route in June, stretching our legs along the mountain trails!
11 to 12 of us were excited about this trip; we received promising weather forecasts. But as the dates approached, quite a few backed out. Ultimately, we were a group of 5; Rafiq, Vikram, Drupal Deepak and I all set on this adventure!
We planned a 7 day, non-stop bike route, covering 1000 kms stretching across three climatic zones ranging from hot and humid, to wet and windy to the tundra region with alpine forests. The weather changed drastically as we passed through these different zones. The temperature dipped from a cool 12°C to a freezing 1°C.
This was a cycling trip in the mountains, which meant hilly terrains and a lot of uphill climbs. Add to that rain and slippery roads, making it a dangerous equation. All the routes we trained on in Bandra were nothing in comparison, but that was the challenge we wanted to experience!
Yuktie: Wow, sounds like a thrilling adventure!
Atanu: It was, every bit of the way! Bhutan is a very clean and neat country. Everything there is well organised and planned. We had planned a 7 day non-stop ride across the country, but wherever we did stopped, we saw so much beauty. (trails..) They really do take care of their country.
Diipti: Tell us more about the journey.
Atanu: We were scheduled to ride across 1000kms of the countryside. Apart from our bikes, we had 2 pickup vans for carrying our luggage and cycles, in case of bad terrain. Every morning we would start riding at 7 am, stop for short food breaks and continue till 5.30 pm in the evening, as it gets dark early in the mountains. One of the days when we were at the peak of our riding, when we did a total of 120 kms in a day which included a 19 km uphill climb and 70km downhill!
Apart from this, we had to ride through blind bends, other vehicular traffic; just navigating was a thrilling experience in itself.
Yuktie: What were the highlights of your journey?
Atanu: Throughout the journey, we came across pro teams during their practice cycling sessions from various parts of the world. There were three English teams among them; I could not believe that some of them were 50 years old, that’s how fit they were! I was amazed by their disciplined pattern; they cycled at amazing speeds, took brakes at the right time, ate rationed meals and got back to the drill. We were in complete awe of them!
Yuktie: Nirvana moment?
Atanu: Just being up in the mountains was amazing! Every time I set out for a vacation, I try to head to the hills. In India, I have travelled to Masoori, Nainital, Kedarnath and Badrinath. There is something magical about the mountains that just makes me want to head to them again and again.
Yuktie: How is Bhutan as a travel destination?
Atanu: The people are very friendly and as I said, it is a very clean and well-maintained country. They accept Indian rupees and we experienced no language problem.
Diipti: How did coming back to Mumbai feel like after being in such a heavenly place?
Atanu: On one level, I feel sad about the way we disrespect our country, seeing all the litter around and bad infrastructure. But on another, it was an amazing experience that I will never forget all my life. At one point during the ride, my bike broke down; while I was trying to fix it, there was a hail storm. Yet, somehow, I got through it! It was thrilling to share the memories of braving through such experiences with my family, especially my son.
My friends and family were so excited about this adventure, that one of my friends, who is a writer and book designer, compiled our photographs and experience into a book!
I have currently stopped cycling for a while due to an injury but I want to get back to riding again.
Yuktie: 3 Must-Do’s?
Atanu: While cycling, oxygen consumption is very high; there is higher tendency of muscle tear and cramps. Prepare with a lot of cardio workouts before the trip. Try the traditional rice and chilli dish, but only if you are a chilli fan; it really is very hot!
Diipti: Top Tips?
Atanu: There are 2-3 important rules about Bhutan: You have to have a guide at all times, you cannot backpack or travel alone without permits.
We travelled in August and even though forecasts looked promising, we experienced a lot of chilly weather and rains in the mountains. Always carry warm and quick dry clothes in the mountains, be prepared for cool temperature as well as rain.
Energy bars and chocolates are not enough; you need a lot of good carbs and our Indian foods are so good at it. Take things like theplas, khakras along. Unlike what most people may think, these come in handy on such trips.
Check your gear every morning before the ride. Also, on most days, we kept our cycles inside the guest house as a safety precaution.
Yuktie: Any research that paid off?
Atanu: Yes. I really found something interesting while reading about Bhutan before the trip. Bhutan has climatic zones, the subtropical zone which is warm in winter and hot, very humid with heavy rainfall in summer.
The mid-Montana zone is more temperate, with cool or cold winters, hot summers and more moderate rains.
The Alpine zone is where summers are short and cool, and winters are cold with a lot of snowfall. Will you believe, we rode through all those zones in a matter of a few days!
Also, when you go for such a trip, knowing your gear is very important. We prepared for every problem! We carried along with us extra tyres, chains, learned how to fix punctures; we even learnt to disassemble our bikes and put it back together!
The funny thing is, not a single one of us had a puncture throughout the trip!
Diipti, Yuktie: Wow! Well, it was super talking to you! Hope you are on to your next adventure soon!
Atanu: Thank you! I hope so too!
(Excited about this story and want to plan a bike trip of your own? Get in touch with Atanu at firstname.lastname@example.org)