The high fees of stay in Bhutan might seem like a convenient way to milk visitors for money. But think about it - how does the tiny population sustain its unique identity when wedged in between 1,5 billion Chinese in the north and more than one billion Indians in the south? That’s right, the high fees keeps the low paid Chinese and Indians away. To make this strategy less obvious, the fees apply to all visitors regardless of their origin. And the surplus from those who can afford to visit has provided all citizens of Bhutan with free education and free medical services. In other words, you visit an educated people that have achieved child mortality next to zero because you visit. I guess that indirectly made me a nice person.
Ah, waking up to another day in tranquility
With one more permit I went to Punakha Valley with my new-made friend Kinley and his pal Tashi. What a peculiar team. By Bhutanese standards Kinley is quite an eccentric. Not only does he drive the only other big motorcycle I saw in Bhutan - a KTM 640 - but he has seven of them. That makes him the first and only domestic motorcycle tour operator (check it out: www.himalayan-adventures.com). He has an astonishing ability to get you and me through to places famous for being inaccessible. Last year he successfully led a group of Austrian bikers to Everest Basecamp (!), and he is currently sketching a new tour across the bureaucracy-ridden China, from Bhutan to Mongolia. And yes, he is the mastermind that made my solo ride in Bhutan possible.
Punakha Valley: Kinley here demonstrates a classic Bhutanese pose
So if you’re looking for something more exclusive than a roundtrip in much visited India or a motorcycle vacation in straightforward Mexico, then Kinley is your man. And if you ride all day and get an aching back you might want to visit the Thai massage institute run by his more reserved friend Tashi, a former Dubai flight attendant who struggle with apple-eating ghost hitchhikers. Then again, Tashi doesn’t drive often because – as he expressed with great sadness – the color of his car is yellow.
The roads winding though this typical Bhutanese woodland are infested with ghosts needing a ride
Definitely, the Bhutanese seems to be occupied with many a strange phenomenon. One of the most interesting first-encounter questions I received during the week was this: “In Norway, do you have many UFO sightings?” It was refreshing after months of “how much do your bike cost”. Although I had to disappoint him, he was flabbergasted by my follow-up tale of six unexplained flying objects videotaped in Cape Town last year. It sort of made me special, and he leaned over: More wine? Now, this is to point out the true interest and grand hospitality I received everywhere. At a pub stage in downtown Thimphu I joined a guitar jam session, and the preference where surprisingly the same burnout classics as in home parties in rural North Norway. I cursed myself for not knowing the lyrics to “Living next door to Alice” - I would for sure have made a few groupies.
Oh no, the exit gate to India
Wow, afternoon sun in my face. For the first time I was traveling west instead of east, and the return to West Bengal improved my overall impression of India. Oh well, not much was needed. The Nepalese border was well hidden behind a grimy bus stand, and I spent the night in a Kakarbhitta guest house where the owner was pale and sweating and had a bad cough. In the backlight I saw a spew of virus-infested spit eject from his tremor ridden lungs. “Yes, we… cough… brrr… have a room. Here is… cough… your dinner… cough…cough.” For some mindless reason I thought I was immune.
This bridge is 113008 centimeter long. Nice to know.
They call it the Terai, the Nepalese flatland. It has many swamp-like areas from the melted masses from the 8848 meter high ridge in the north. The tarmac lay in a straight line, like a rolled-out carpet, but a heavy army presence and plenty of road check points slowed the advancement. Daybreak was made in a non-descript town. Gunshots in the night, and I could wake up to the final leg to Kathmandu. I started to feel woozy, had a puncture, and remounted the tire the wrong way. No time to fix it. The road became increasingly bad as it turned northwards and gained altitude. I lost more time. It became dark. The lack of a battery and a good headlight forced me to loiter behind trucks. Another road block. Waiting. Waiting.
I spent a week in bed. The exceptions were a few headaching walks in the Thamel district where I made myself unpopular by telling every adventure-seller to make a trek up their own behind. The Kakarbhitta virus had caught me. It was a sorry thing because I really wanted a holiday in the mountains. An independent Australian walker named Michael gave me the perfect invitation to Everest Basecamp, and clearly we could walk and talk for weeks. What a nice chap! But my fitness was down the drain. At the same time it was a forthcoming election with a ten day strike and curfew and what not. I’d decided to get away before showdown. But going where?
Here are few facts: Burma doesn’t permit entry from India by vehicle, and Chinese Tibet-policy requires that you exit through the same border as you enter (something that kinda ruin the progress). In effect these two countries block the overland route to the east. I had to make a jump over these obstacles. Some sort of shipping. That brought me to another problem. Kathmandu is 1700 meters above sea level, and Nepal has no marina.
Question: What is this warehouse worker pushing into the X-ray machine at the airport?
Answer: My suitcase
Bangkok. The very name promises… certain things. But the food alone is a good enough excuse to stay for weeks. And I did. Seventeen days to be precise. Getting the motorcycle through the airport custom was such an elaborate project that I should have brought a laptop with Tetris to support my boredom while waiting for the formalities to carry on. It was hot as hell, and once in a while they requested me to sign documents which purposes were written in a Thai language so bureaucratic that they couldn’t even explain the purposes themselves. The only thing that was crystal clear was that if I failed to re-export the motorcycle within eight weeks I would be liable to pay the insane duty of 898.000 Bath. That is about 22.800 US dollar, a sum I will never be able to pay. So I signed.
The latest model from Rana Baatbyggeri
While this was going on I forgot to saturate my intestines, hence experiencing something new and - may I add - confusing akin to the first morning in the early eighties when I woke up in puberty. This time the symptoms were a sudden urge to undress in a public place and cling on to an air-conditioner whilst drinking three liters of refrigerated water. I later got to learn that the phenomenon is called “heat exhaustion” and is, supposedly, not good for you. Balto experienced something similar on the way to town, regrettably so severe that he will not fully recover without a little surgery. The engine overheated thus the oil lost its lubrication abilities. My mistake. The result became a vague but notable click-click sound that was not mended with a simple valve adjustment. However, the bike is tough, not really complaining about anything, which is pretty impressive after sucking more fuel than the weight of a Volvo and doing so through all sorts of grueling conditions.
Mechanical striptease at Mr. Yut’s place
Within a week I received fresh back-up parts from Lars in Denmark. He manages a gem of a web shop (check it out: www.dinmc.dk). If DinMc was a restaurant they’d earn five stars in the Michelin guide for their service alone. It was some excitement attached to whether or not the parcel would arrive undamaged, if arriving at all. The reason for this excitement was a sudden urge in areas with a noteworthy Muslim representation to thrash Danish and Norwegian property. In addition I got a five kilo gold reward on my head for a cartoon I didn’t make and didn’t publish. I haven’t even seen it. Heck, not even THEY have seen it.
The reason why the Norwegian embassy in Damascus was demolished
(and why the embassy in Thailand is next)
And who are THEY? They are goofballs, and goofballs are everywhere regardless of religion. They are diluted by the rest, like a drop of lemon in a bottle of mineral water. Of course, when making a label on the bottle, the single drop of lemon gets an awful lot of attention. The result is obvious. Or maybe not, but I’ll give it a shot: If you do not like lemon you’ll probably not buy the bottle, which is sad because if you did buy the bottle when expecting the strong presence of a flavor you do not like you’d likely be disappointed in a very positive way. Hmm...
Nonetheless, in respect to my mothers need to sleep at night (she has a rough time as it is) I’ve promised to avoid countries with a predominantly Muslim population until a certain president once again steal the limelight by demonstrating that he has the diplomatic skills of a goofball. For me that means a temporary close-down of the Malaysian border and the road beyond. Instead I'll go looking for colonel Kurtz, and – to prove my point above - I’ll do so with the enemy.
That’s right, the Turkish girl is back. But is she back with a vengeance?
Our veteran travellers share their tips (and great stories) for staying healthy, happy and secure on your motorcycle adventure.
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