India 🇮🇳: Motorcycle diaries – Ripped tyre, no petrol & the benefit of people everywhere (day 7)

Today: 348km | Total: 1,871km

I guess it had to happen at some point. After getting away with 2,000km cycling the Sultan’s trail last year and almost 3,000km through Vietnam this year … I had my first flat tyre. Not just flat, but ripped. I guess i didn’t stop quick enough to prevent that big a damage. Only stopped when it felt very shaky on the back wheel and by then it was too late.

Soon after i got to Serfanguri (ca. 40km from where i started), a bunch of mechanics took care of the bike. The rental agency surprised to hear, as the tyre was relatively new. Well, Rp2,600 (U$37) ain’t the end of the world. Within 50 mins of my arrival they had organised a new tyre and repaired the bike. Bigger issue now was that i had no cash and the closest ATM was back where i started this morning – so 40km backtrack.

In all my hurry i forgot that i was low on petrol. Well, i assumed that there was a reserve. What i failed to realise is that i run on reserve mode since i rented the bike. Right on top of a motorway bridge the bike stopped. I left it to find petrol. Now it was not without a sense of irony that i run out of fuel literally in front of a big refinery of India oil. Must have been 50 petrol trucks there… But no station. A guy in a moto shop nearby gave me a lift to a petrol station 5km away. Thank you very much. Problem solved and my ride towards Siliguri could continue.

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I stayed on the highway to make up time though probably spent an hour talking to family with Easter wishes. So it wasnt until nightfall that i reached a small city close to Siliguri and got stuck in extremely heavy traffic (stop and go on a sunday evening). Unbelievable but true… i run out of fuel a second time. 🤷‍♂️

Just one of these days. Friendly locals helped again in a heartbeat, which leaves me with an overwhelmingly positive feeling at the end of the day and shows the positive side of literally never being alone almost anywhere in India.

Now just a little more to go back to Siliguri and off to Mumbai – my last stop in India and with some familiar faces waiting.

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India 🇮🇳: Motorcycle Diaries – Back in Assam: Scenery 😁, towns ☹️, hail & discrimination (day 5/6)

Today: 543km | Total: 1,523km

Leaving Meghalaya behind – Back to Assam (day 5, 243km)

This day was not such a great day. I left Meghalaya behind me and headed back to Assam – sadly unavoidable unless i go back to West Bengal via Bangladesh. At least some nice views of Umiam lake to say goodbye to this amazing state (my personal favourite so far).

Day 5: 243km back to Assam


From there mainly motorway to entertain the speed addiction 😈, but eventually some villages on country roads and a long bridge to cross the Brahmaputra into Tezpur.

Streetlife vs. Streetdeath

First two bits that failed on the bike – the tachometer (don’t look at me) and a part of the luggage rack (bad roads). Fine!

Sad reality is that once you leave Meghalaya, the dirty towns of Assam take over. No judgement, but plainly obvious. The countryside is actually nice be it flat as a pancake (eg not as interesting for bikers as the hills of Meghalaya).

Roads were lets say average. Mix of tarmac and sand. I helped a bunch of locals to move a truck that was stuck in the sand – a little payback for the help i received in Sicily last year.

Driving here remains an on the edge thing – driving in the wrong direction on a two lane motorway for bikes, cars and trucks is common and some car wrecks tell a horrible tale.

Not too late in the day i reached Tezpur (apparently the culture capital of Assam) and booked myself into an OYO. When i went there they told me they don’t accept foreigners. Hotel policy. Well, OYO website says different, but more importantly… try that in Europe and what will happen to you? Complete discrimination.

Don’t i just love india. Felt great yesterday and even amazing this morning (all folks dressed up nicely for easter and good friday)… And now i feel like escaping again. No interest in sightseeing. Just get me a cold lager please.

The caste system

The caste system divides Hindus into strict hierarchical groups based on their karma (work) and dharma (duty). The lowest level is occupied by outcasts referred to as the untouchables.

There are about 3,000 castes in India and while discrimination based on caste is unconstitutional since the 1950s, it still plays a vital part in society (eg same caste marriage remains the norm) and wealth levels still correspond to caste affiliation in general.

Cruising in the Assam countryside (day 6, 300km)

Today i didn’t start overly early (for it was not only one beer in the evening). I left Tezpur on the national highway, but quickly maneuvered to ‘smaller’ roads. Meant off-road for many stretches. General direction west and Bhutan always on the right hand side.

No spitting

Spitting is a bad and widespread habit in many parts of India. More developed states have put penalties on it (like Sikkim), but in most places it is very common.

I am no longer surprised to see a car in motion or stationary opening its door and someone (usually male) spitting on the road. And i am careful when overtaking 💦.

The reason is usually a red tobacco the indians chew and then get rid off. Its local name is Gutka. Disgusting 🤢.

Right message, wrong spelling 🤣😂

It was mostly a nice cruise today and i was listening to travel podcasts on the way (for German readers, the podcast is called Weltwach – thanks for the rec Lars).

Interesting today were several wooden bridges that i needed to cross albeit with a strange feeling for some. The bike is heavy afterall.

Just as i was on the homestretch for today, i got into a sudden thunderstorm with hail the size of table tennis balls. While i quickly put on rain gear, the impact of the ice hurt and prevented any progress. The helmet came really handy as i listened to sound of someone throwing ice cubes at me. All cars and trucks stopped. Wow!

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Towards the afternoon some tea plantations reemerged and after 300km i eventually made it to Bongaigaon – a 100k inhabitant, industrial city and my last stop in Assam.

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India 🇮🇳: Motorcycle Diaries – Exploring Meghalaya’s South (day 4)

Today: 294km | Total: 980km

What a day! In almost 300km on the bike with sun, hills, on & iff road, complete fog and at night … I explored the south of Meghalaya with its waterfalls, the Bangladesh border, Asia’s cleanest village and living root bridges in Cherrapunjee forest. By doing the latter i scored myself an unexpectedly hard hike at the end of the day. Totally exhausted (and happy). Time for 🍕 and a 🍻!

Gallery of snaps between the main stops today

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Elephant 🐘 falls

Made up of three separate segments, these falls are only 30min ride away from Shillong. There name, given by the english, stems from an elephant looking rock that used to exist yet has been destroyed by an earthquake years ago.

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Dawki – Touching Bangladesh

Boasting some impressive nature and a suspension bridge, this place is located where the planes of Bangladesh begin.

Usually it is marketed for its clear waters and many tourists opt for a boat ride. Must have been the rain, because when i was there the water was completely muddy. Still, impressive scenery.

Amazing are also the long queues of trucks loaded with rocks that are waiting to cross the border to Bangladesh (given this country has no hills, stone must me a priced commodity).

Mawlynnong – Asia’s cleanest village

Yes, you are reading right. Mawlynnong was voted Asia’s cleanest village in 2003 and has retained its cleanliness til today. Wandering about this feels amazing, people are lovely and indeed all is clean and houses, gardens and streets tidy.

In the village you have a bamboo structure called sky view that offers views over the planes of Bangladesh (well, if it isn’t too hazy). I asked the owner why this village is so clean and he told me that all changed with the arrival of Christian missionaries in 1887.

Now it’s not up to me to judge if religion is the key, but so much is fact – the difference between mainly Christian Meghalaya and say Assam (mainly Hindu/Muslim) are stark.

Seven sister falls – come back in rain season?

Impressive rock wall, but hardly a waterfall to speak of. Sadly. Need to revisit when there is more water about.

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Double-decker living root bridge – mind the steps…

The last stop on my list today was one of the living root bridges that exist in the Meghalaya (a creation of the Khasi tribe), most famously a double-decker one.

There are two ways to access the bridge i.e. You can descent either side of the valley. I went with google that leads you to option A. In the map below. From reading, option B is the easier one.

It wasn’t easy just to find the road indicated in google, as it leads you initially to a dead-end (two indians i met on the way turned around because of this). With a bit of trial and error you’ll eventually make it to the end of the road – point A in map below.

Now the real work starts… 3,500 steps straight down into the valley. That equals more than 700m of altitude differential. Half way you pass a bunch of houses (small shop included) and eventually you reach a small village where the bridge is located.

There are homestay options, which i would recommend as the place and its people looked lovely – no motorised vehicles, all nature.

As for the bridge, Rp20 get you in. There ponds to swim in and a generally cool atmosphere. Read more about the amazing living root bridges here.

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Soon it was night and the full moon was my guide as i climbed the 3,500 stairs back up. Sweat was running in streams! Thankfully i got some water from the lovely family half way and after 1,5h i was back up by my moto and ready to ride back to Shillong – night shift. What a ride! 🌪️

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Now i understand why people do this bridge as a full or multi day trip… 😉

India 🇮🇳: Motorcycle diaries – Full throttle 😈 in Meghalaya, the ‘Scotland of the East’ (day 3)

Today: 298km | Total: 686km

India just doesn’t stop surprising and show off its tremendous differences. Today was just another example as i reached the state of Meghalaya – the 3rd state on my motorbike trip and the 10th overall (just 19 more to go, one day 🤣😂).

First up a few snaps with the Royal Enfield Classic posing across Meghalaya (the 📸 was busy today)

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Get me out of here

I woke up late in the run down hotel i booked late last night. I didn’t sleep well despite having been supertired yesterday, as i was fighting off mosquitos all night, was without ventilation (energy-saving or power cut 🤔) and with the entertainment of an Armageddon type thunderstorm all night. Despite the relentless efforts of the resident muezzin and his adhans, nothing happened before 9am. I also skipped breakfast and left this hotel and city as fast i could.

Adhan – muslim call to prayer

The muezzin calls six times for prayer starting with sunrise. Means the times change every day and are location dependent. Check your times here.

Hello Meghalaya!

My general direction was south-east, further towards Bangladesh. On the border is a national park i want to visit, but that is for another day. First up, i wanted to get to Meghalaya’s capital – Shillong. And that was quite a few km away…

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The scenery improved significantly once i was out of Goalpara and even more so once i crossed from Assam into Meghalaya. I became more hilly (the highest peak in the state is almost 2000m and it did get cold late afternoon) and very, very curvy with many tiny villages wayside. So let’s bend it like Beckham!

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Topographical map shows hilly Meghalaya surrounded by the planes of Assam & Bangladesh

It just didn’t stop… Must have been close to 200km of relentless turns and twists today as i yanked my moto up and down the hills. The roads here are good meaning in good condition and with two marked lanes. Not much traffic either and generally decent driving (well, cutting corners remains popular). Absolutely a dream for any biker.

A Christian state with woman matter

The whole state felt different in general. 75% are Christians (vs. only 2% countrywide, one of three states with Christian majority), english is the main language (no more Bengali though there are several spoken native tongues) and people look different (more akin to people from Myanmar than your typical indian look if there is such a thing). There are little churches all over Meghalaya and seemingly a complete lack of Hibdu temples or shrines not to mention mosques.

The state is also referred to as the Scotland of the East due to its hilly and green countryside and i guess the rainfall too, which is nowhere higher than here in the world (12m annual rainfall!). I actually felt like in Cairngorms national park at times and like in Colombia in others.

Different to most india, the women carry the family name and inherit the wealth (matrilineality) – a tradition stemming from the three key tribes (Khasis, Jaintias and Garos) and by far not the only place in the world with such customs. I guess that makes local woman a tough match for muslim admirers.

This time i reached my destination before nightfall and after refreshing in a fantastic homestay (Rockski B&B), i enjoyed some continental food in Shillong. Great place this city – while very busy traffic wise, it is clean and organised. What a difference to Assam (well, lets not judge so quickly).

India 🇮🇳: Motorcycle diaries – Crossing the Brahmaputra & offroad on ‘highway’ 46 (day 2)

Today: 203km | Total: 388km

I didn’t get going overly early and rather enjoyed a long chat with Laura (about to go to sleep being 11h behind) and the comforts of my hotel room – god only knows when i might encounter such ‘luxury’ again (the hotel was only 3mth old).

Into Assam

First up i headed 90km in a broadly southerly direction towards the city of Dhubri in order to cross the Brahmaputra river by boat (or i could wait until 2026 for the completion India’s longest river bridge at 23km).

 

Bangladesh was now always on my right and half way i crossed into Assam. There was a noticeable increase in muslim population as i rode along. 90% of Bangladeshi’s are muslims (following a large concentration / migration as part of the Indian partition, which created the muslim states of East and West Pakistan – the former now being Bangladesh). At 35% it is also high for Assam itself – more than double than Indian average (15%).

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India’s main rivers

India relies heavy on its rivers for everyday life and considers them holi in the Hindi religion. The three longest ones are Indus, Brahmaputra and Ganges though only the latter flows most of its length in India. To that extent, many other and shorter rivers like Godavari are actually more meaningful.

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Crossing the Brahmaputra river at Dhubri

Your basic options are smaller (very flexible timing) or larger ferries (neither with great safety records). I opted for the larger one to get a somewhat decent space for the rather heavy moto.

Afternoon ferries to the opposite side leave between 2.30pm and 3pm. I went with the latter (to make sure i have to wait even longer 😂) to arrive at Fakirganj. Quite an experience with an estimated 100+ people on what felt like a DIY boat, a lot of motorbikes and all sorts of goods on board. Last ferry also meant it was packed.

It took us 2hours as we cruised on the might Brahmaputra – 2,900km long and very deep at 38m average & 120m max depth… WOW! Beautiful scenery accompanied us throughout. Truly breath-taking!

There is quite some order on the boat – Women sit below deck while men above. What happens when it rains i dont know. The boat also features india’s cleanest and least smelly toilets with direct deposit into the river should you use them.

I spent the two hours talking a lot to locals (well, i haven’t met a foreigner since Siliguri) in broken english since i command zero Bengali. We talked about my country, my girlfriend, my travels (we watched the Lhotse video together and a snowboarding one from chamonix) and took lots of selfies. I was even asked for an autograph – a first!

Once arrived all people left and the crew managed to get the bike safely back to land. Time to hit the road again.

Following state ‘highway’ 46 – muddy potholes with speed bumps

Once off the boat i just typed a distant location into google with the aim of stopping somewhere on the way. What a mistake …

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First the map took me on highway 46 into ever more muddy roads until i needed another ferry. Enough ferried for today… So 180 degree turn and back. Same muddy roads, ponds… Worst i have been on with a moto. It all reminded me of the Sicily experience last year (Boys week: Sicily road trip) though i didnt get stuck this time.

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The additional handicap was the onsetting darkness and lack of road markings or lighting. What i thought was hilarious were the potholes upgraded by speed bumps – i mean it was not exactly a highspeed track. What a poor road!

Eventually i made it to highway 12 and could race the only property i found on booking – Hotel Moon Moon in Goalpara. Very visible muslim population and the most bureaucratic check in so far (maybe focus your energy more on the bathroom next time!). Both the city and hotel are a complete waste of time – dirty, noisy, dodgy .. You name it.

Anyway, after 113km in 4,5hours since disembarking the ferryboat i had made it. Time to sleep. I am exhausted. But love the adventure and the insights into this part of India i gained today. Road tripping baby!