Behind the Scenes

Since we finished our trip we’ve received quite a few questions from people about the nuts and bolts of how we did it. We’ve tried to answer a few of the most common ones here – more are always welcome! 

How did you manage to cross all those borders?

Well for us we’d got our visas beforehand so no problem there. And for the bike it actually turns out not to be too much hassle. Normally you need a “carnet de passage” when passing through a foreign country with a vehicle – a kind of internationally recognised waiver of customs and import taxes – but for the places we were going through we could actually get away without one.

India-Nepal Border: Nepali immigration

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From India to Nepal we were on an Indian registered bike and just had to fill in a couple of forms for the Nepalis and pay a small daily tax. From Nepal back into India we were on our Nepali bike and had a paper obtained from the Indian Embassy in Kathmandu allowing us to take the bike into India for a month on condition that we promised to bring it back to Nepal. This involved paying a small security deposit which, no, we won’t be getting back given the bike is now in Myanmar 🙂

From India to Bhutan, there was no check on the Indian side but for the Bhutanese we had to organise everything through a travel agent in advance and to be accompanied throughout our time there. Going back from Bhutan into India there was no check on the Indian side. And finally, the one everyone asks, from India to Myanmar yes we were very lucky as we’d managed to get a special permission from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs given our work with an Embassy in Yangon.

Did you get lost?

Hardly ever. We relied on Google Maps on our iPhones to plan our route and navigate each day (the schedule we’d made beforehand was pretty soon out of the window so it was a case of just deciding each morning where we’d ride to).  Google Maps did prove very reliable apart from their estimated drive times which were woefully off. The only downside was iPhone battery life – next time we’d opt for the snazzy on-board charger connected to the bike battery that we spotted on another Enfield in Kohima…

Map

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 What did you take and how did you carry it?

Apart from a couple of changes of clothes – including an evening dress for Emilie which she insisted she never travels without – not so much. A camera, first aid kit, pocket knife, torch, a tool kit we had no idea how to use but that was handy to equip roadside good Samaritans with, and that was about it. We allowed ourselves a 40 litre backpack each, stuck a rain cover over each one and then just bungeed them on to each side of the metal luggage rack we’d had fitted onto the bike.

Before we set off: The packing list

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Where did you stay?

We hadn’t planned anything in advance so just worked this out each day once we’d figured out where we would probably reach that night. We found that the reach of TripAdvisor is really quite impressive and for almost all of the towns we stopped in there would be a listing that we’d use to give us some pointers. In the really out of the way places it was instead a case of just turning up and asking around. And in the one case where we got stuck in a small village in Nagaland for the night with nowhere to stay, we were soon offered a bed in the house of a wonderful local family.

India, Nagaland: Home for the night

Any scary bits?

Security was probably our main fear beforehand. Having been ambushed and robbed a couple of years ago myself on a mountain road in Nepal, it was hard to get it out of my head that this might happen again. Then there was the general insecurity of India’s North East with its rebel movements, criminal gangs and police and army patrols who don’t always play by the book. Thankfully, we got through the trip unscathed, though that’s not to say there were not some tense moments at police and army checkpoints or while driving through certain areas with a well-deserved reputation for insecurity and criminality.

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India, Manipur: On the road to the border

What was far more dangerous however was the driving itself. This was overwhelmingly due to the state of some of the roads, whether it was potholes, water, mud, rocks, drop offs, landslides or a combination of the above. There was also the question of the “unconventional driving style” of some other road users, though this was only really an issue on the busier roads which were not the mainstay of our route. We did have a few near misses it has to be said, and yes a couple of minor crashes. But, bar a few bruises and scrapes, we came through pretty much intact.

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Bhutan: The rough road out

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How did you manage to blog?

Rather excessively we each took a MacBook laptop with us (Emilie figured that otherwise there’d be a daily fight over keyboard time, and she’s probably not far wrong). These we just stuffed into the back of the backpacks  so they got bumped and hammered on a daily basis but remarkably continued to function. As we had local SIMs in each country we could piggyback the laptops onto our phones’ 3G connections when there was no wifi. However, the speed was always pretty slow which meant publishing to the online WordPress interface became a real headache, taking an age and frequently needing several attempts. It also meant uploading video was not a realistic prospect. Overall, we’d love to have blogged far more than we did!

What would you change if you did it again?

Number one would be to allow more time. Even though we took an extra two weeks from what we’d estimated it was still far too short. We should have factored in many more days for rest, blogging, detours, illness and breakdowns. Apart from that, we’d be sure to take some maintenance lessons! 

Finally in terms of how we did it, a note on the claim of being “independent travellers”: in fact we never would have been able to complete the trip had it not been for the amazing kindness and generosity of complete strangers. From giving directions, to helping us when we were broken down, to offering us food and a bed for the night, we were overwhelmed by the number of helping hands we received throughout the trip. A huge thank you therefore to the wonderful people that we encountered along the way and without whom we never would have made it home!

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4 thoughts on “Behind the Scenes

  1. Hi guys, some friends and I found your blog while searching for information on cycling across Myanmar. Your trip looks incredible! And I have some questions about the Myanmar side of things that I would be very grateful if you could try to answer.

    1. What were the challenges faced in getting permission to cross the India/Myanmar border? we would be going the opposite way, from Myanmar into India, and aren’t sure if they’ll let us in.

    2. Were you allowed to travel freely inside Myanmar? Or were you required to have a guide, restricted as to where you could stay, etc?

    Thanks, and bravo!

  2. i too am cycling but the other way : from India to Myanmar….i would rather not have to pay for guides and all that…..suggestions ? ideas ?

  3. Hey guys.
    I had been planing to do India to Thailand via myanmar and back. Idea got into mind after some 25000km (in total trips) on my bike including some solo trips too. Would like to know is it possible for an indian citizen to do so? I know visa is d main issue. Can you throw some light regarding how could visa be arranged to do so. I know the last thing would be to conact the embassy but if there is some idea regardingthe approach then that would be good as they dont issue regular visas to do so. What is the best season to do so? And ofcouse if you can connect me to your burmees travel agent that would be useful.
    thanks.
    Amit.

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