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73 Harleys tame 1,000km Bhutan terrain

Take a band of 73 big burly Harley-Davidsons and shake it up with a weeklong high-altitude Himalayan adventure in Bhutan.

The resultant cocktail is nearly 1,000km of adrenaline rush through torrential rain, mudslides, slippery-as-hell roads, sub-zero Celsius and huffing for oxygen at 11,000ft.

It could be a crazy idea to push cruiser bikes into off-road terrain, but the hardy Harleys took it all during the ride organised by the Bengal chapter of HOG (Harley Owners Group) from May 24 to 29.

“The idea was to get HOG riders from across India to participate in this international ride. The participants were HOG members from Bangalore, Chennai, Indore, Pune, Delhi, Jaipur, Odisha, Jharkhand and undivided Andhra Pradesh,” said Manoj Joshi, president of HOG, Bengal chapter.

The Bengal HOG had 20 riders who rode up to Chalsa in the Dooars. Members from the other parts of the country teamed up at Chalsa for the onward journey to Bhutan.

Bhutanese royal Sangay Wangchuk hosted the guests throughout their stay in Bhutan.

They started on the morning of May 24 and reached Thimphu in the evening. The bikers hit a steep gradient on May 25, driving to Haa at 11,000ft and carefully moving down to Paro.

Day III, or May 26, tested the rain endurance of man and machine after the group reached Punakha for an overnight halt. The riders on the storm manoeuvred through relentless rain, landslides, slush and falling rocks.

“The roads were bad… this was the most difficult stretch,” Joshi said. “A few bikes broke down while some got stuck in the mud. Everybody lent a hand and played mechanic too.”

It was quite an experience for bikers from the sun-roasted parts of India as the Celsius often dived to zero and the cutting wind pierced through even the smallest of holes in their thick jackets.

May 27 was special in the sense that a huge bike night was organised at Taj Tashi hotel while Wangchuk had arranged a local trip the next day. On May 29, the bikers left Thimphu for Chalsa.

“This ride was one of the highlights of the HOG calender. A lot of planning went into it… arranging pick-ups and back-up vehicles. All the Harley models available in India participated in the ride, though the lighter Sportster category did well in the mountains,” Joshi said.

Edward Lee, a member from Bengal, said his Superlo was a breeze. “The bike performed well in snow, rain and slush. It’s an experience to be remembered,” said the 40-year-old tannery owner in Calcutta whose four-year-old son rode pillion. “Imagine 73 Harleys moving together. The noise itself is an experience,” he said.

Suraj Juneja, a businessman in his mid-thirties, said his Iron 883 purred perfectly through the trip. “It was an experience to cherish.”

Praveen Singhania, one of the organisers and director of NDT Laboratories, said: “Apart from a few hiccups on the border, all else went smoothly. The ride in Bhutan was organised with clockwork precision by Wangchuk.”

Singhania told the HOGs to fire up the engines for another ride. “We want to make the Bhutan ride a fixed item in our calendar,” he said.

Harley-Davidson India managing director Anoop Prakash applauded the effort. “The first International HOG ride to Bhutan is testament to the strong riding culture and passion for the brand here in India. We applaud the Bengal HOG chapter for leading the ride and we look forward to more inspiring rides to epic destinations.”