Land of Thunder Dragon | Cross country Bhutan riding
Yes, mostly it was ardency for an adventure in our way. Not so hard but yet to accomplish many. And when it’s Bhutan it was combustions of energy with the sheer strength of mind. Moreover, Bhutan was the first nation to recognize our independence before any other state in the world. So for us our next riding expedition to Bhutan was type of a ride that came out of loyalty. It was more like traveling through the fairy tales of childhood books. Myths of Druk- the dragon and fables of Gods of the mysterious high lands, Chalet shaped homes painted in mosaics of lotus and the exotic flora and faunas! Trees seem to touch the sky and there are spiral tracks that lead you to the place where the king promotes the Gross National Happiness – even in the twenty first century!
towards trashigaong, Bhutan
Towards Trashigaong, Bhutan
Bhutan is just few kilometers above from our northern border. Its history is pinned up with mythological believes. Spirits, legends and reincarnation are parts of daily life. The name of the country itself, to its native peoples Druk Yul, means Land of Thunder Dragon.
Our bike was always a curiosity for the mass. This tiny Buddhist kingdom is mesmerizing in its unique culture and charms, native people got used to with motor vehicles but not with bikes. The main road which we had followed runs from east to west, shielded down from the west to east by the majestic mighty Himalayan mountain range. This little country is a sandwich between world’s largest and most populated nations – India and China. Here, traveling by bike means a lot of pedaling uphill or breaking down super steep slopes. Some time riding though the cross country means – either you got to seat on the saddle or walk with the bike – it’s too hard to ride up or too fast to pedal anymore.
Our flight from Dhaka to Paro was delayed for 9 long hours. So we had nothing to do at Zia International Airport of Dhaka. Bhutan has many restrictive policies like only Druk Air is flying to Paro! So may be that’s why they are quite gentle handling any adverse situation. We have got outmost hospitality even in ZIA.
First glimpse of Paro was breath taking. That reminds me of Katmandu – Lukla flight when we have landed on a very tiny air strip of Lukla surrounded by mighty snow capped mountains. But in Paro’s case, it’s a quite a big valley than lukla. Due to wind it was taking time to “land on the moon”. Flowing rivers and spectacular hills made entire scenario more enjoyable. First, the pilot announced the crew names and local time to change every ones watches. Light fog and gusty wind gave us another opportunity to thrill with a bumpy maneuver. He had to keep the plane steady as everyone rushed to the airplane window to see everything more closely. An illusive golden evening light was covering the valley. We were lucky in a way, it was clean. Paro valley is short, just rightly spaced to land an Airbus A319.
It was evening when we landed on the airport and faced the refreshing air of Himalaya. An official from Ministry of Foreign Affairs were waiting for us as our trip was jointly supported by Bangladesh and Bhutan. We have flagged our ride as “Friendship”.
We worked our way to get to the capital as soon as we can. Officials from both nations were waiting for us at Clock Tower Squire. First thing that grabbed my eyes was the architecture of the airport building. The Pagoda style house fairly dark red in color was leading me to think some thing from Harry Potter!
We took a rest day for fixing our bikes and meeting up formalities for the ride. Bhutan is not that friendly for every traveler except those from the SAARC countries. Actually we don’t require having much paper work like other travelers. Still may be Bhutan is the only place in the world where you need to have permission to travel just outside of the capital.
Next morning we had to talk to journalists with the whole ride plan before we headed off for Dochu-la. We were following a car to get out of the capital. It will not be more than 15mins of ride; we had found a huge problem with the rear wheel of Pantha’s bike. It tilted corky. In first look – it was out of our mechanical skill. So we were rushing for a mechanic in Thimpu. But most unlikely we haven’t got him till that time we have already fixed it and yes without the brake! It was fixed but we had to place the hub a little diagonally so that when wheel rotates it doesn’t touch the frame.
We had nothing to do but to keep our fingers crossed for a safer journey. Dochula was 18 kilometers long climb and that kind of long slope was what we were going to face for the first time in our life! Quite a big push! The sky was opened up, prayer flags were every where and the Himalayan wind was so refreshing it tempted us to stop at regular intervals. Moreover taking photos consumed our time too.
When we arrived at Dochu-la, it was all dark except the beautifully illuminated monastery. We could not see far beyond the lights as the fog covered the earth. Oh, what a mistake, there is no place or lodge to spend the night. “Go straight, like 2 km, don’t follow the turn, its there” finally we got the direction from a local.
The night was cold and chilling and above all it was raining. So we could not enjoy our first night in the wilderness under the beautiful vast sky.
It was just as steep as it could be to drive up or down. Bhutan’s roads are reasonably good but only for motor vehicles. I am sure no one ever thinks of riding a bicycle as a means of transport. So it was nothing but seating on the saddle of the bike for next 3 hours. It was more like 60km’s ride.
Wangde is a fairly plain valley, having a vigorous flowing river, a big fort and a nice wooden grilled bridge. After completing the formalities at the check post we started pedaling up to the town center. It is the most chaotic town we have came across as of the bus-stand situated just middle of the town. We were scheduled to have our breakfast here but it was not that pleasant to spend some time. So we moved on.
So far this is the best place we rode. Its almost plane and having a majestic view with a daunting river flowing far below from the cliff hanged road. Left hand side was occupied with towering tall granite walls and the right side was just vacant till the other range of mountain starts.
Eventually just after taking the lunch it started raining again. It was really hard to pedal uphill in this rain and more over it was chilling. 4 riders had different speed, that’s why if any body went faster; he would be waiting for others to meet again.
It was 5pm, three of us were waiting for Mamun, our ride mate. It was long since we have waited by the shade of a hanging rock face. But nowhere are so comfortable, wet clothing, rains and in additionally liches (jok) were near around. Few motor vehicles have passed and we knocked them whether they have seen our fourth rider. It was foxing as one driver said “Yes I saw him resting” other said “No No” finding no way we stepped backward in search of him.
Two heavy duty trucks were coming and we waved our hands for asking the same question. Yes this time Mamun flapped his hand from the tiny window of the 10 wheelers. He requested the driver to help him by giving a drop at Pele-la which is only 15 km apart from our current location. We never wanted to get a ride by any support vehicle. But the situation was furious, rain; cold, steep slope and more over inexperience Mamun could not measure the stress! In a way that was a good decision to get the transport on time, otherwise it could be fatalistic for him. We had faced another problem with lodging. There were two restaurants cum hotel but they were packed that’s why we had to find it at DungDungNegesha.
Bhutan is on the way to development. Before the trip many of our friends were saying- you will find the country hard as there will be no cell phone, TV and other means of entertainment.” Internet will be an impractical thinking. And also language problem. But now, every youth can speak better English. I had to dig it out why? Elementary schools are based on English and they are rightly cultured with native etiquettes. So language is not a problem in most cases. It has wide mobile network from west to east including GPRS which is fairly fast to log in to Facebook! Every hotel has TV facilities with 24 hours cable channels. It was great to enjoy “Man Vs Wild” in that wilderness.
We were now heading towards Tongsa. Actually we had received fabulous hospitality from the local govt. we found an Indica (a brand of TATA motors ) stopping by our path and asked us “ Are we fine?” actually the whole schedule has changed due to first day’s delay. All nodes of our path had been instructed from the Thimphu. So every Ddonkha/ district we had traveled, embraced heartily welcome from the local authority.
Trongsa is an ancient city having a Watch Tower atop a hillock overlooking the town it self. Trongsa is very import place due ancestral home of the present Royal family of Bhutan. The Trongsa Dzong was built in 1648 and is one of the most beautiful Dzong in entire Bhutan. Now it’s been used for monastic schooling and administrative work. This Dzong is an artechutral marvel, built on split levels on a narrow spur having a view for both the eastern and western trade routes thus it was the vigilance point for trade and security. These were the parts of our conversation with deputy governor of the local govt. He also mentioned about Trongsa Museum which will be opened daily from morning till noon. But most unluckily we had to hold on to the time for riding.
Before getting into Chume, we have found an amazingly beautiful valley full of flowers and colored vegetation. The entire area is called Bhumtang valley. As far the eye can see the most magnificent scenery is available. So we stopped for the day. But lodging was not available in that restaurant we had ordered Momo. Finally we could decide to pitch our tent out side of the restaurant premises. But Prodip Roy – a construction engineer helped us by providing one of his rooms for the night.
Before our journey begun, we had a plan to send an extra day on our biggest religious festival called Eid. Which was the day after tomorrow. So we had requested him if its possible we want to extend our stay at this place. He was more than happy after knowing it. All the day we walked around for collecting vegetables and food for our festival dinner. We have already invited our neighborhoods for the special dinner. It was a great supper all together in the middle of Himalaya. It was so quite that even we could hear the echo of our words!
Jakar – was just another chilling place to stay couple of days. Beautiful part is the following river. We kept on riding for next destination Thangchibi. Actually it was an elementary school where we were going to stay; though we had not got any option rather staying in the tent. But that night was the coldest by far. When we had found chimney and a fire place in side of the class room, I was thundered, why is that? But yes after getting dark violent cold (!) captured us. Thank God we are not staying outside – Raian, youngest among us, exclaimed it in this way.
Ura, has the same flavor of Chume, but stone wall beside the paved road added some extra beauty. We cooked our lunch and rested for sometime but were keeping in our mind 3780 meter high Thumshingla is waiting for us. Not that far but Pantho was suffering with a constant pain in his left knee. So finding no other alternative we had to tow his bike for next 8 km to reach Sengor within the day light.
Lingmithang was few kilometers before Mongar. The hotel we stayed was situated in a Y junction. Now we have faced the heat of the burning sun. We dropped like 1800 meter in one day from Sengor in one day.
There was another pass before we have reached Seherichu, it has little height of 2298 meter named “Korila”. Sherichu has a forest office and a nice volley ball ground by the Donting River. A hotel is also available but can hardly offer couple of seats which is already occupied by long distance trucks. So we had to seek help from the local forest officials for night halts. It was available but due to the massive catastrophic earth quake most of house got some cracks on its wall and no one lives there during nights. We selected a better one out of two independent house and stayed the night there. But always kept the door open for cut and run!
Well we were almost at the end of our journey. Tomorrow we were going to get to the Trashigang which is our finish line and not more than 40km is left. We started little earlier to reach our destination before lunch. But no sooner had we started my rear wheel rack collapsed. Luckly that didn’t cause any harm to my wheel or tire.
Last check was 9 km apart from the Trashigang. The police men showed some building from the down. “It’s very close” according to them.
We stopped every possible way to make the ride longer as its going to meet the finish line. But 9km is not that far even for walk. One thing is true this short distance seems bigger that it’s length due to humidity and hot Himalayan sun.
We could see the town only when we where in only 50 meters, all the way we wanted to see its beauty from far but for Trashigang it was like a maze!