Riding along the smooth roads, with forest-clad peripheral mountains keeping me company, and the densely populated Brahmaputra valley with its lush green tea gardens and golden rice fields, the moderately populated hill regions and plateaus, and the sparsely inhabited Himalayas in the backdrop…. all of this came together to form a unique mosaic of natural and cultural landscapes to make my trip very special.”
Vishal Gupta, an avid biker and charter president of RC Siliguri Central, RID 3240, and before that an Interactor and Rotaractor, turns poetic while describing his recent exciting expedition on his beloved Harley Davidson Softail Heritage 2021, while participating in the Hornbill Festival. “Our 7-member group did a 6-day ride from Siliguri to Guwahati, Guwahati to Dimapur and then onwards to Kohima, Nagaland. I was the only Rotarian in the group and strove to promote Rotary’s public image by carrying the Rotary flag, and wearing the Rotary logo on my riding jacket,” he says proudly.
To encourage inter-tribal interaction and promote cultural heritage of Nagaland, the Nagaland government organises the Hornbill Festival every year; the first was held in 2000.
The festival is named after the Indian Hornbill, the large and colourful forest bird which is displayed in the folklore of most of the state’s tribes.
Going into raptures about his adventure, this avid rider who had been riding from 1997, is all praise for the people of Nagaland; “they were so kind, friendly and hospitable. For someone who loves to explore mountains, highways, rivers, good food, hospitality, the North East comes with a full package.”
Explaining his passion for riding, Gupta says for him, riding is not just about “getting up, sitting on a bike and reaching a destination. It needs planning and meticulous execution.” An automobile dealer himself, his planning began with getting his latest Harley bike from the US. “I chose a Harley because it is a heavy and sturdy vehicle and safe.” On the road it cost him around ₹32 lakh. They stayed in comfortable 3-star hotels and the money every participant in the festival spent, including the cost of petrol, hotels, food, etc was around ₹50,000 to 60,000.
His group’s ride began from Siliguri, and the first destination was Guwahati, and the 550-km stretch with “perfect roads, highway and disciplined riders and drivers, was delightful. On the way you will experience small towns like Malbazar, Tihu, Bangaoigon, and get a good choice of both veg and non-veg food, and the warmth of local people will mesmerise you.”
The next day the group started from Guwahati at 7am and reached Kohima around 8pm after a brief halt at Dimapur. Though most of the journey was on smooth roads, the team of riders did hit bad patches with rough and broken roads, particularly before they reached Kohima. In one particular patch, where the road was being made and had lots of stones and rubble and water to boot, his mobike skidded and he had a fall. “But I was at a very low speed and had a very light fall.”
A novice on bikes and riders, I ask him why couldn’t he control the bike as he was going at a very low speed, and he says, “The temperature was 3–4 degrees, the road was wet and my bike turned completely, which means 180 degrees. My Harley weighs about 485 kg, and when these bikes fall if you try to stop or break the fall, you will end up either breaking a bone or get hurt very badly.”
The riders found the food amazing; “I am a vegetarian and had no problem at all as all kinds of vegetarian food was available. But it was the people who made our trip. They were so protective and kept warning us about not going out on the roads as there is insurgency in that region.”
He recalls an incident; when the 20-odd riders rode into Kohima, “by mistake I took a wrong turn and ended up on the wrong side of the road. The policeman not only showed me the right route, but also stopped the traffic to allow me to get out from the wrong side of the road. Such gestures leave such a happy impression in your heart! Overall, it was a fantastic experience.”
Here is a valuable tip from this veteran visitor. “If you wish to explore Assam I strongly suggest you ride or drive from Siliguri and explore the beauty of the North East, its rich heritage and embrace the confluence of religions, traditions and customs. Don’t forget to buy the local Assam tea and visit the villages made of bamboo, it is one experience you’ll always remember,” adds Gupta.
You can follow Gupta on his youtube channel https://youtube.com/thehighwayrider