Imagine leaving behind the comfort of your daily routine and embarking on a 6,700-km ardous, exciting, adventure-packed trip on a motorcycle. For Dubai-based Gene George, a maintenance engineer at ENOC and his wife, Jolly Anne Joseph, a dental specialist, this dream became a reality when they traded their work suits for leather jackets and helmets and set out on an epic adventure from Kochi, in southern India, to Bhutan, high up in the Himalayas, in March this year.
From winding roads, spectacular scenic sights and unpredictable weather, to risky boat rides with the bike in tow, their journey was filled with challenges and surprises, but they enjoyed it all and returned with delightful images not just in their cameras but also in their mind’s eye.
‘We are adventure seekers and enjoy going on short or long trips as often as possible,’ says Gene explaining their love for motorcycle rides and the outdoors. ‘Motorcycles and outdoors always inspire us.’
For the record, this trip was not the couple’s first bike adventure. Their previous motorcycle trips include a 2018 ride from Kochi to Goa (a distance of around 800km) and a journey along the Pacific Coast Highway in the USA in August 2022. Clearly, since their first trip they had been bitten by the bike bug which fired them up with a passion for travel and exploration.
Gene and Jolly chose a two-wheeler for their journey because it allowed them ‘to experience the journey more intimately and be more in tune with nature.
‘Travelling on a two-wheeler definitely moves the soul... all the senses are activated and it’s very nice– the wind, the weather. It’s very different from travelling in, say, a four-wheeler.’
It also meant the couple could enjoy the aroma of the food from roadside foodstalls, the scent of the flowers on plants dotting the roadsides which would not have been possible if they were in a car. For them, the journey is just as important as the destination, and riding a bike enhances that experience.
‘I just fell in love when I first rode the BMW GS 1200,’ says Gene, explaining what led him to choose this mean beast for their exploration.
Jolly adds that the bike’s pillion seat is very comfortable and even has armrests for added comfort.
Gene found the bike in a preowned bike store in Mumbai. After checking it out, he decided it was the one for them to ride across the country.
Gene and Jolly’s planning and preparation for their motorcycle journey across India was thorough and extensive. ‘First thing was to prep the motorcycle for such a ride,’ says Gene. ‘Apart from servicing it well, you have to put in new tires, new batteries, spare bulbs, etc.’
They also made sure to have appropriate riding gear for varying weather conditions.
‘We always ensure that we ride with proper safety gear,’ says Jolly. ‘That includes helmet, gloves, jacket, protective vest and arm, knee and back protection.’
Additionally, they always rode only during daylight hours. ‘We would book a hotel only upon arrival in a particular town or city.’ The idea was not to be in a hurry to reach a particular place but instead to enjoy the journey.
They also avoided pocket and side roads instead hugging the highways to ensure safety and security.
Once the bike was primed and ready for the trip, they began packing essential items needed for the trip– for themselves and the bike. ‘Essential tools such as an air compressor, a puncture repair kit, and a battery jump starter, among others were included in our ruck sacks. We also packed raincoats and rain boots,’ says Jolly.
They included clothes that were easy to wash and dry, as well as riding gear and a couple of cameras. The helmets were fitted with intercoms so they could communicate with each other easily and safely while riding.
Since Jolly had limited leave, it was decided that she would join Gene in Kolkata and return to Dubai from Bhutan.
The first leg of the trip was from Kochi to Nellore in Andhra Pradesh, a distance of 820km. Gene still remembers waking up at 3am to hit the road at 4.
‘Andhra Pradesh was super hot, and my cooling vest came in handy,’ he recalls. Reaching Nellore at around 7pm, he retired for the night. ‘My target was to cover around 700kms a day but the GSA is a mile muncher,’ he says, with a smile.
The next day he was off to Bhubaneswar in Orissa a distance of 1,075kms.
A short detour to see Chilka lake later, he was back on track and reached his destination by 8pm but not before enjoying some ‘delicious guavas from roadside vendors’.
Day 3’s mission was to reach Kolkata in West Bengal, 450kms away.
‘West Bengal has numerous paddy fields on either side of the highway, which reminded me of my native place in Kerala,’ says Gene. Here he was to meet his wife before continuing the journey to Bhutan.
‘I must say, the street food in Kolkata is super delicious. We tried the famed sweets and delicacies before hitting the road the next day.’
Keen to enjoy the sights and sounds of the city, they visited Victoria Palace, India Museum, Prinsep Ghat, Hoogly river and Howrah bridge and the Birla planetarium before getting ready for the next leg of the journey.
‘Our plan was to reach Phuentsholing which was 700-odd kilometres from Kolkata and a day of hard riding could take us to Jaigon the border town to Bhutan.’
It was here that they had one of their more exciting and unforgettable adventures– though this one was not exactly on the road. Deciding to take a risky shortcut across the Hoogli River on a bamboo raft, Gene and Jolly got on board the rudimentary raft. Wanting to record the moment for posterity he asked Jolly to shoot a video of him getting the bike onto the raft.
All was going well, Jolly was ready with camera and Gene began riding the bike onto the raft. However, as the bike’s front wheel got onto the raft, he lost balance a bit and the two-wheeler began tipping over into the river. ‘Thankfully there were a few people on the bank who rushed to help,’ recalls Gene. ‘They helped support the bike. Otherwise, it and I would’ve fallen into the river.’
The entire incident was caught on video and shared on Instagram, garnering over 30,000 views.
One of the more scenic routes was the next leg of their journey from Siliguri to Jaigon via Darjeeling a distance of 250kms.
‘The ride took us through hairpin bends after hairpin bends,’ recalls Jolly. ‘We could see amazing mountains and soon the mercury dropped to the early twenties making it a pleasure to ride. The route took us through dense forest area.’
The next day was a big one– the trip to Bhutan’s capital, Thimphu.
‘Our tour operator Sangay met us at the India-Bhutan border post and we directly rode into Phuensholing,’ says Gene.
Getting a permit for riding a motorcycle in Bhutan is mandatory and after the formalities were over, the couple were ready to start their first leg of journey in Bhutan.
‘Our first destination was Thimpu the capital city and we set off with our guide and car in front, and us on trail. Enroute, we visited the Buddha Point, Trashicode Dzong and the Town of Gedu which is almost 9000 feet above MSL.’
The initial impression of Bhutan left us in awe, says Gene. ‘All the people we met had smiles on their faces and riding in Bhutan is an eye opener for visitors from the sub-continent.
‘Thimphu is the only capital in the world without traffic signals; the traffic is self-managed,’ remarks Gene. ‘They respect the road and obey the speed limits at all times. Even the traffic signals are managed by school students,’ adds Jolly.
After an extended tour of the city and the suburbs enjoying visits to several touristic places of interest, the couple rode to the 520-foot long Punakha Suspension bridge that offers some spectacular view of the river and valley. ‘Walking across the bridge is quite a thrilling experience, a minor panic attack ensures as one reaches the middle when the bridge sways due to winds.’
Another fascinating place they visited is Tiger’s Nest, a monastery perched 3000 meters above sea level. ‘It was a mesmerizing view from there. It’s really beautiful,’ says Jolly. Along the way, they met friendly locals who were curious about their journey and eager to engage with them. ‘Young guys want to race with us when they see a big motorcycle. You just smile at them, wave at them, and they’re happy.’
A couple of days in Bhutan and then on to Paro before the riders hit the road once again heading to Chennai and then Kochi some 3200 kms away.
‘You will never finish exploring India in a lifetime.’ remarks Gene.
PLENTY OF CHALLENGES
Gene and Jolly’s motorcycle trip was not one without challenges. As Gene recounts, ‘Andhra Pradesh for instance was super-hot.’ To combat the scorching temperatures, they had to stop frequently and use a cooling vest to stay cool. Finding vegetarian food was another hurdle, as Jolly explains, ‘we always try to have only vegetarian food on the road. It is safer.’ They also had to deal with a dead battery and low tire pressure, but luckily, they were well-prepared with tools.
The duo shared insights on how they balanced the physical demands of the journey while enjoying the scenic beauty. According to Gene, being physically fit is crucial when undertaking such a trip. ‘A month or two before we took off, we made an effort to improve our stamina and fitness levels,’ he says. The duo also took frequent breaks during the journey and drank only water or coconut water to keep themselves hydrated.
So how much did the trip cost them?
‘In all we spent around INR200,000 (approx. Dh9,000),’ says Gene. But it was surely worth every single rupee, they say.
If there is one tip the duo can offer aspiring adventure lovers, it is to not procrastinate. ‘If you like to do anything, do it now. Don’t keep it for the future, go ahead with it.
‘Once you are past a certain age, like we are, you want to make merry while it lasts. We don’t know what’s going to happen in the future, so we started off, and hopefully, we will do more in the future.’