#CEATxPlorer: Exploring the untraced North Bengal Himalayas

#CEATxPlorer: Exploring the untraced North Bengal Himalayas

The people who know me, know me as The Mustang Rider. They also know that all my rides are done on my beloved Optimus, my KTM RC390. It was my love for my motorcycle that made me name us themachineandtheman. Surprisingly enough, for this trip, it was not with me… I rode a cruiser this time around. 

Thanks to xBhp, I got a chance to review the CEAT Gripp XL tyres during this roadtrip. But as I mentioned before, the steed was radically different from what I usually ride and what I am used to riding. I took up this roadtrip on a Royal Enfield Classic 350. Radically different because I am more of a sports-tourer and I have never been very inclined to ride a cruiser. 

To be honest, I was not particularly thrilled with the idea but then the rider in me kicked in and it said, “Sagar, it is just a motorcycle and it can move too… like, really move!” This motivated me to simply accept the offer and make the most of this ride. 

The initial plan for this roadtrip was to explore North Sikkim as it had recently opened up after the lockdown due to the pandemic. I was really excited because my last trip to Gurdonmarg wasn’t a spectacular memory, to say the least. So I had every intention of making it one this time around. I planned well and I was ready to go. But fate had some other plans. 

All my planning went for a toss as a day before I was to start the ride, my elder brother called to inform me that Sikkim was closed again due to the rise in the number of Coronavirus cases. Stuff like this is one of the biggest heartbreaks a motorcyclist can suffer and I am sure that all of you can relate to that. But the show must go on so I chalked out a new plan and this one consisted of me exploring some untraced parts of North Bengal Himalayas. 

Since I was not riding Optimus for this one, I decided to travel to Siliguri via a train and get an RE from a rental there. This process was all the easier for me as my elder brother has a bike rental in Siliguri by the name of Destination Adventure. Easy peasy. For this roadtrip, I also had Debanjan Mondal tagging along with me as the cinematographer for this trip. He is like a brother to me and I am quite used to riding alongside him so this part was sorted too. 

We reached Siliguri around 9 AM so yes, the start was delayed. But the good thing was that I had already asked Santanu Da to get the tyres of the RE changed before we reached Siliguri, so that saved us nearly a day. 

Day 1: Siliguri-Mirik-Lepchajagat

We got all the necessary work done on the tyres and the bike was ready to go. Despite our best attempts to save some time, we were running almost 3 hours behind schedule. We started for Lepchajagat from Siliguri at 1 PM. That was the planned destination for the day. 

Initially, hustling through the traffic and dealing with the pollution was getting on my nerves but it did not take us long to reach Sukna. And from there on, it was cleanliness and greenery all around. This was the time when I really began to enjoy this ride and get into my zone. 

Riding through the forest, we stopped at Dudhiya for some photos and post that, started the climb towards Mirik. It was around 3 PM and it already started to get dark and really cold. We crossed Mirik around 4 PM and things only got worse as from then on, it was really dark and foggy too. After quite a few photo-breaks, we reached Pashupati. It was freezing cold and pitch dark. 

We had already covered quite a bit of distance and through different kinds of riding conditions so I had gotten a good feel for the bike and tyres. Since I am used to riding Optimus, I found it a little difficult to tackle corners on a RE. But the confidence inspired by the CEAT Gripp XL tyres something else entirely and very soon, I found myself more than comfortable to ride through the corners. 

Moving on, we were on our way to Lepchajagat but there was a spot which inspired some stunning night photography. I was really starting to fall in love with this ride as the cold and the fog is a mixture which may be tricky to deal with, but it is a pleasure just as much. We finally reached our destination for the day, Lepchajagat, at around 7 PM. The temperature was around 4 degrees Celsius but it dawned on me only after getting off the bike. 

In Lepchajagat, we stayed at a regular Motel for the night. We went out to have dinner and called it a day. We were hoping that the next day would see us riding in clear weather and also for a view of the mighty Kanchenjunga, the reason why we halted at Lepchajagat. 

Day 2: Lepchajagat-Dowhill-Kurseong-Siliguri

Whatever we hoped for went down the drain so the day started as kind of an unlucky one. The weather was even foggier. An upset me started for Lamahatta. It was a big day for us too as we had to go to Lamahatta and then back to Siliguri via Kurseong. So we had to start early. 

The mood was grumpy but I was willing to push a bit to try to enjoy the ride. There was a left turn towards a tea estate and just because it was in the direction of where we were ‘supposed’ to get a view of Kanchenjunga, we took it. After following that road for a while, we saw something ‘whitish’ among the clouds and despite not being fully sure, the kid inside me was jumping with joy. 

I knew that it was Mt Kanchenjunga. The random left I took on a whim treated me to this delight and so, I made the most of it as a photography session ensued. After drinking in every bit of that beautiful view, we decided to go on further towards the estate. Closer to the tea estate, there was a steep off-road section. 

Initially, I was a bit sceptical about riding on off-roads with the RE but I had a lot of faith in the tyres so I decided to push on. And I was right because right after the first patch, I gained a lot of confidence. The tread pattern of the CEAT Gripp XL tyres worked wonders as I pushed through the dirt quite easily. I was really happy that I did not have to miss out on some beautiful photos of the tea estate and quite a bit of the credit goes to the tyres. 

With all the fun I was having, I kind of lost track of time so we decided to hit the road. I wanted to push on and make some time in order to reach our designated destination for the day with some time left but only after a few kilometres, I saw a pine forest. So I decided to halt for a little and get some more photos. It was noon already so our plan for the day had to be improvised. The choice was between Lamhatta and Dowhill. 

CEAT Gripp XL: Tyre Review

As I mentioned earlier in the travelogue, I was not used to riding a cruiser motorcycle like the RE Classic 350. Because of that, I was a bit apprehensive about taking up this roadtrip and stepping out of my comfort zone. But it went so much better than I thought it would and a big credit goes to the tyres.
Starting with the highways, the CEAT Gripp XL tyres lend you ample confidence to deal with the tarmac be it on the straight roads or in corners. The compound used for the construction of these tyres ensures adequate grip in dry conditions. The wet grip is fantastic as well because of the tread pattern that helps in preventing aquaplaning
Another benefit of the big-block tread pattern of CEAT Gripp XL tyres is that when you are off the tarmac, it really grips the surface even if it is loose. It provides superb control both, on and off the road, and that is why, if you want to ride to some unknown places where the terrain and climate undergo continuous change, this is one of the best set of tyres you can get especially for Royal Enfield.

We decided to skip Lamhatta as we had to reach Siliguri at the end of the day. So we headed towards Dowhill directly and that was a choice that we did not regret. By the time we reached Dowhill, it was already dark… the perfect time for some photos especially since it consistently makes the list of the most haunted places in India. 

We took some photos at the famous haunted church and then in the dense and, predictably, scary pine forest. It was getting really dark and really cold so we decided to ride back to Siliguri but not before some photos of the Kersoung TV Tower. After a rather long ride braving the cold, we reached Siliguri around 8 PM. A delicious home-cooked meal was followed by some much-needed rest.

Day 3: Siliguri-Rongtong-Lataguri-Bindu-Siliguri

Day 3 of this roadtrip was supposed to be an industrious one. We had to cover a lot of kilometres and at the same time, get a lot of good photos and footage to bring to you guys. Again, we planned to start early and again, the plan failed because I overslept. But we were able to start around 9 AM and rushed to Sukna and Rongtong. 

We were able to cover a lot of ground and quickly because of the fantastic tarmac. It was a lot of fun too as we had a lot of corners to satiate our hunger with a generous sprinkling of hairpin bends. I had already gotten a taste of the kind of performance the CEAT Gripp XL tyres had in store for me and so, dealing with those corners was doubly fun. 

The day was progressing really well as in addition to covering ground quickly, we were also able to get some wonderful photos and videos. Now it was time to make our way towards Dooars but we had some traffic to tackle too. Since we had started late, we decided to skip breakfast. By 11 AM, we reached Sevoke and got a few photos at the Coronation Bridge but it was brief since the local police did not allow us to stop at the bridge. 

Post that, we made our way to Lataguri and now the roads had started to become greener and more scenic. We grabbed lunch at Malbazar but we did not waste a lot of time. In no time, we were back on the road. It was a great switch from the hustle and bustle of the urban roads to the quiet serenity of riding through the dense forest. Nature is at its best whenever you get to ride through a forest. 

Making our way towards Bindu, a beautiful dam, we found out that it was closed. It was a little disappointing but we made up for it with a photo session in and around the Chapramari Wildlife Sanctuary. Then something fun happened. I found a jungle trail and I am a sucker for those. The RE may not have been the best bike to tackle those but then, I have done sillier things in the past! 

After some fun on the trail, I realized that it was around 3 PM and it was starting to get dark. So we decided to get a move on. Now, I had tested the tyres in various conditions and they came out on top every time, there was something missing. CEAT tyres are known for their ability in the wet and so, I decided to put this set of Gripp XL tyres through a wet test. 

Being a local, I knew just the place to do that and also to end the ride with a beautiful sunset. I had been to this place many times and yet, it held the allure to draw me to it many more times. There’s this river bed near the Gorumara Peacock point and it also serves as my ‘biker hideout’. So we quickly made our way to our last destination for this roadtrip because we did not want to miss the sunset. 

As always, the place did not disappoint. A river crossing with a stunning sunset as the backdrop… things rarely get better than this for a biker. It felt like I was a kid again. And because of feeling that way, I crossed it around 5 times. I was having fun and Debanjan was getting that perfect shot. In the end, we both got what we were looking for. 

After everything was done, we decided to sit down for a while and just drink in the beauty of the palace. Despite quite a few plans falling on their face, despite the cold, despite the oddities I faced, I was satisfied. See, all of those things are the part and parcel of being a biker but at the end of the day, that is what we crave… don’t we? 

Since I belong to these parts, I was waiting for a long time to cover the North Bengal Himalayas but somehow, never did. I am really happy to have spent 3 days doing just that. As always, I would like to thank xBhp and CEAT for this opportunity and also, to the readers. As you enjoy this travelogue and the photos, I am gonna get to work on figuring out where to go and what to bring you next. Until next time… 



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