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How hope took me to 16 countries in 75 days

“I have bad news! Rohan was kidnapped while on his journey, I am not sure how. I will receive more information in an hour. But we should prep our team and make a plan to rescue him before it’s too late! We need to fly to Albania and get him back to safety!”

In short, that was the dream, my friend Rishin back in India had, once I told him about my plan to make a solo motorbike trip to central-east Europe! Basically, they were scared for me. Same as most of the people, to whom I told my plan. I had similar advice from other European friends as well; to be careful when I am riding alone into eastern Europe, watch out your motorbike and all that. And of course, my parents don’t know yet (they do realize I traveled).

I believe every country has its share of issues. From my personal experience, I genuinely believe people are kind deep down, but society and circumstances make them into what they are. When you think about it, don’t you think, hate and fear are more comfortable to consume than hope and trust?

So that’s what my journey was about. Hope. How I hoped that I would have enough money to finish the trip. That I would survive without any major incidents. How I hoped I could cross borders without any issues with my Indian passport. And most of all, how I hoped that my 22-year old city bike – a 97 make Suzuki GS 500, the cheapest reasonable conditioned motorbike I could find on the online used market – would survive this adventure. Guess what I named her? Hope!

Day 1: Barcelona – Last minute packing, clearly visible!

Thus began my journey from the beautiful city of Barcelona, with no set plans except an average accommodation budget of 10 Euro per day and a direction in my mind. “To East,” that was the plan. Thanks to friends, couchsurfing, and Airbnb campsites, I breezed through west Europe without any crazy expense. Once you are in the Balkans, things are affordable! Hence for ten days, I had a planned itinerary because I was staying with friends and couchsurfing. Then it became daily planning or rather deciding on where to go the next day.

What followed was an overwhelming experience with gorgeous nature and amazing humans. So many beautiful people, kind locals, fellow bikers, crazy cyclists, the hitchhiker with zero money, the couple travelers, veteran travellers in their 40’s and 50’s, the buskers, the dreamers, people from all the corners of life.

People

The Balkans were really different from Europe, one of the reasons to head this side. I truly felt the word Eurasia in the Balkans, the mix of both cultures, which was quite interesting, especially for someone who is from Asia and has explored the West and East. Learning the history on the go was another brilliant experience. Especially how iron curtain influenced life in eastern EU countries and how religious beliefs were impacted because of that and how it varied from Europe or Asia. Albania was the most interesting in terms of diverse landscape and history; I felt that somebody literally took what George Orwell wrote in the book “1984” and executed it in Albania. How they are thriving to make the outside world see that things are not that bad and unsafe as others think.

On the other hand, I met people who were trying to make it to Europe somehow, in search of a better life. The time when you become speechless to say anything other than good luck and give a smile, and somewhere a pang of guilt to be privileged enough to be on this trip.

In the span of 75 days, I rode 10852 kms, crossed 11 border checks, set foot in 16 countries. Starting from Spain to France, Switzerland, Italy, Austria, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Albania, Kosovo, Macedonia, Greece, Bulgaria, Turkey (took a detour to Turkey to attend my friend’s wedding <3), Romania, Hungary and back to Spain.

There were moments I had to remind myself of the depth of this journey, and there were moments when tears filled my eyes because of pure joy. By the end of trip I felt light, physically (I managed to send back things I wasn’t using, and also lost some weight), and emotionally (a feeling I cannot explain, it was bliss!) and I found another proof of my belief that you don’t need many things to live a good life.

Day 75: Before the last ride. @France

I am grateful to friends and their friends who happily connected me to hosts, answered queries. I am grateful to all the circumstances and events which led to this fantastic journey! The universal signs, the stupid decisions, the selective ignorance, and support from my friends (if I ever ran out of funding, I was planning to call you guys). Thank you!

To conclude, a reminder for every capable person; we are itsy bitsy tiny creatures in this enormous, beautiful world. Make it meaningful :).

Final route: Blue – Onward journey & Yellow – Return

Bonus picture: I want to say, even animals are kind unless provoked!

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Music, Travel and I

I am a hardcore music lover irrespective of genre, It’s like I live in a musical, and sometimes I wish, life had background music. Imagine yourself waking up to your favourite song, and you moonwalk out of your bed! Feel good music playing for all the happy moments and lullaby to sleep!

And whenever I travel, I never miss an opportunity to embrace the mystic power of music, be it live music clubs, street artist, random jam sessions by acquaintances!

Like when I was in DC, one of my colleague, a DJ himself, took me to this space for artists, where experienced artist jam with amateurs, a place where amateur artist get the opportunity to learn from the pro. I got to witness a trippy impromptu Jam session, where young people started rapping, and the pro’s tagged along created a beautiful mashup of music out of thin air!

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The old jazz club in Paris “Le Caveau de la Huchette”, where they have live concerts every day! Cosy place in the basement of a 16th-century building. Old couple dancing to the music was a treat for eyes.
The music and dance was a delight and a moment of joy.

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The fantastic street artists trio in Amsterdam, it was a joy listening to them. I got caught in there world for a good 20 mins!

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The Amazing drum circle in Brooklyn, New York

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This dance with traditional Thai music, Try closing your eyes listen to it with your heart! Imagine yourself in a long lost time. I was hooked on to classical Thai music.

On my wishlist

  • Traditional Sufi song/dance
  • Mongolian throat music

Do you feel the same? Have you ever took the time to listen to these wonderful artists?

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Riding/ Driving from India to Bhutan

I have been receiving many queries regarding my recent bike trip to Bhutan, on how the trip was, what are things to keep in mind and so on. So I decided to put together a series of articles on the how’s, where’s, when’s, what’s, etc. of travelling in Bhutan. Hope it helps!

This post is about getting a permit for your vehicle, if you are riding/driving from India. If you are looking for info on getting entry permit for individuals, please refer my previous post Bhutan permit for Indians.

Where?

Phuntsholing is the border town, located on the Indo-Bhutan border opposite Jaigaon, West Bengal.

Permit office is located, just near the border. You can get your vehicle permit only after you receive your tourist permit.

There is no provision to get a vehicle permit from the tourist permit office. So once you receive your tourist permit, You need to visit the RTO ( Regional transport office) with your permit, the office is located in the local ‘Bus Stand’.

Prerequisites

  • All up to date valid documents of your vehicle, including PUC certificate
  • If it’s a rented vehicle, you should carry rental agreement.
  • Keep a copy of all the documents.

You will need the fill up of a form, and the form is available in the building itself. There you have options for getting Xerox copy as well. They will also help you with any doubts and arrange your docs, as per needs.

Traffic manners

The moment you cross the border you will see the difference in the driving manners, people in Bhutan follow traffic rules; hence everything is in order, as a responsible tourist, make sure you respect their law and follow traffic disciplines. Also, try not to honk unnecessarily like in India.

If you are riding a motorbike, don’t think you can overtake a car while in the city, you need to follow lane rules and stay behind other vehicles, no matter what.

I hope this helped. Feel free to comment with suggestions or queries.

PS:

  • This post is meant for Indians.
  • This trip was made in DEC 2016, and rules might have changed when you are reading this.

 

Bhutan permit for Indian travelers  

I have received many queries regarding my recent trip to Bhutan, on how the trip was, what are things to keep in mind and so on. So this is part of the series of articles regarding Bhutan Trip.

One of the most common queries is on how to get Visa/ permit.

Once you cross the border, what you are going to experience is an overwhelming amount of friendly people. So don’t worry too much, the process of getting a permit is pretty much straight forward, and officials will always help you in the way they can.

Prerequisites for visa application.

Valid Indian ID: original and copy
Photograph: you will only need one photo, but carry more just in case
Permit request form: which is available inside the office as well as the Xerox shop outside the permit office.
Where?

Phuntsholing is the border town, located on the Indo-Bhutan border opposite Jaigaon, West Bengal. If you are flying into Paro, you can get the permit at Paro international airport.

Procedure

Permit office: You will find two counters, one in the ground floor – meant for a work permit and other in 1st floor, is intended for tourist.

Once you are there, you should start with a counter to the extreme right.

There you will find a verification counter; you need to submit the filled the form mentioned above, along with one photograph and ID copy. Once verified they return your application and will assign a counter for you, which will be written on your form.
In the next counter, they will take your fingerprint and photo for the entry. Once this process is done, you will be assigned to another counter.
You just need to submit the forwarded form here, and wait for them to call your name and you will be handed you permit.
Permit validity

Permit you receive here is only for Paro and Thimphu, and maximum validity is seven days. You can’t even enter HA, which is near Paro. If you want to travel to other places or if you want to extend your travel days, you will need to do that in Thimphu.

I.e. if you want to go to Ha or Punakha, you need to get a permit from Thimphu.

Remember Bhutan is very strict when it comes to tourist in their country. Hence our movements are monitored, so make sure you show your permit at the check post, they won’t stop you and ask.

Also, tourist won’t get a permit for all places, which you will be able to figure out once you are there.

Permit for solo traveler

At Phuntsholing

Some days they won’t give the permit if you are travelling solo. In case, the best solution is to join another group or find other solo traveller and submit the form together.

Though you are submitting forms together, the permit will be separate for both individual, So you won’t have to stick together for the rest of the trip.

At Thimphu

Here its better you don’t combine, here they give a single permit for a group. Hence apply as a solo traveller.

You will be asked to submit a Letter of an undertaking which says you take the full responsibility of your solo travel, also to make it stronger you can mention someone local, that they are guiding you (Assuming you have made friends with a local tour guide or someone from there.)

I hope this helped. Feel free to comment with suggestions or queries.
PS:

  • This post is meant for Indians.
  • This trip was made in DEC 2016, and rules might have changed when you are reading this.